Comparisons to former Stanford quarterback, two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up, and 2012 No. 1 NFL Draft pick Andrew Luck have followed Josh Rosen from high school to UCLA.
The top-rated quarterback in the 2015 recruiting cycle, Rosen stormed onto the college football scene a year ago with the same swagger he showed at St. John Bosco High School. He also happened to torch Virginia’s defense much like he would a Trinity League opponent on a Friday night.
Rosen’s hype upon arriving at UCLA, coupled with his attention-grabbing debut, overshadowed just how well his freshman season turned out. The qualifier to Rosen’s season was that it was good — for a freshman.
Sure, he didn’t contend for the Heisman, nor did he lead UCLA to its first conference championship since 1998. However, setting UCLA’s program record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception, while amassing 3,669 yards passing, should be quite impressive.
The expectations set for this first-year quarterback speak to the immediacy with which our society gets what it wants: food, transportation, information. We lack patience no matter the arena, and we’re especially impatient when it comes to sports.
Keeping with the Andrew Luck theme, however, Rosen vastly exceeded the standard. Luck completed less than 60 percent of his passes for 2,575 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2009, his first season quarterbacking the Stanford Cardinal. The next year, he made the jump to 32 touchdowns and a near-71 completion percentage.
Rosen won’t come anywhere near Luck’s 453 rushing yards in the 2010 season, but the UCLA sophomore should shatter Luck’s 3,332-yard passing benchmark.
That’s without the benefit of the redshirt season Luck had at Stanford.
Rosen won a competition for the starting job just months after arriving on campus, forcing the five-star recruit to learn to balance the rigors of being a college freshman with the detail work needed to command a Pac-12 offense.
Now in the groove, the quarterback said he feels prepared to make strides in his second year at UCLA.
“I know what’s coming, so I can plan ahead. I know how practices are going to go,” he said. “It’s just being able to pace myself.”
Familiarity goes a long way in this sport. An oft-repeated mantra among players and coaches when talking about the adjustment from high school to college, or from college to the pros, is that the game “slows down” as familiarity develops.
A slower game means more time to scan the field for receivers; quicker reactions to defenses; and in general, more confidence.
Another area in which the coming season should elicit more comparisons to Luck is Rosen’s growth off the field. His name drew connections to another hugely-hyped quarterback this spring, but not in a flattering manner: UCLA head coach Jim Mora invoked former Heisman winner Johnny Manziel as a cautionary tale.
Despite having one of the best debut seasons in college football history (making him the first freshman winner in nearly 80 years of Heisman Trophy voting), Manziel is as synonymous with his toxicity to NFL franchises. The Cleveland Browns cut the former first-round pick this year after a series of transgressions, the worst of which was a domestic violence charge.
Rosen has been involved in nothing comparable; his worst misstep was appearing on Instagram in a ball cap with an explicit message for presidential candidate Donald Trump. Hence, cautionary tale.
Nevertheless, Rosen’s offseason brought a deluge of stories about his maturation. Sports Illustrated dedicated an entire cover story to the topic just this month, with the tagline:
He’s already more of a star than Luck in that sense, a byproduct of both the early hype and his presence in Los Angeles. The added scrutiny has made Rosen talk more about being a leader — that was the most-repeated point of emphasis when he addressed media at UCLA’s first fall training camp session earlier this month.
It wasn’t just Rosen himself talking about his ability to lead, either. His summer roommate offered a stamp of approval:
“We view football very similarly, and we have the same aspirations,” center Scott Quessenberry said. “In the summer, he took on a very large leadership role, vocally and just showing everyone he wants to lead.”
Quessenberry cited Rosen’s work with freshman Devin Modster, as well as Rosen’s command of a new-look offense under coordinator Kennedy Polamalu.
Early indicators point to a savvier Josh Rosen in 2016. The strides he takes will dictate this UCLA team’s ceiling. If the comparisons to Andrew Luck do indeed come to fruition, the Bruins can expect success similar to those Stanford squads.
Skill, more than Luck, can carry Josh Rosen to a great height … and give UCLA its first Pac-12 championship since 1998.