For fans of next-generation quarterbacks, the football place to be this weekend is Seattle. Josh Rosen shows up Saturday with UCLA (4-3, 2-2) at Husky Stadium. Sunday at the Clink rookie Deshaun Watson is the man for the Houston Texans (3-3).
Since the Huskies and the Seahawks have great defenses, you might want to order in a freighter of nachos and a triple-strength seat belt for the weekend couch because some heavyweight throw-downs will rock your domicile.
The homeboys, Jake Browning and Russell Wilson, aren’t too bad either.
The weekend might be called The Future Carson Wentz Festival, named for the Philadelphia Eagles’ second-year quarterback from North Dakota who created a nation full of man-crushes with his superb play in the Monday night win over Washington.
Some pundits are already awarding him the NFL MVP trophy, but what is much less ridiculous is that Wentz is having the kind of impact on the Eagles that Wilson did in his first couple of seasons — solving the most important position with early belief in a QB’s skills and leadership.
That’s what Watson is doing in Texas and what Rosen, a junior eligible for the draft, seems destined to do for one of the first five teams in the 2018 NFL draft.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll gushed about Watson, citing his passer rating of 101.1, sixth among NFL regulars and three spots ahead of Wilson’s 96.1. Watson, who won the national college championship with Clemson in January, also averages 7.2 yards per rush, best in the NFL among those with 25 or more carries.
“I’ve already jumped all over that” in video study, Carroll said. “He is really good. I’ve already checked him out. They have a lot of stuff they do with him. They’re not hesitant to have him run — take-off, and designed run plays as well. It’s a very difficult attack.”
Watson’s coach, Bill O’Brien, seems nearly as dazzled. The Texans moved up from 25th in the first round to 12th to grab Watson, 22, the third QB chosen behind Mitchell Trubisky (Bears) and Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs).
“He’s a very impressive young man — you can see that right from the time you met him,” O’Brien said by teleconference. “He had to grow up fast as a teenager. I don’t think anything is too big for him. He has a saying: He tries to get one percent better at something every single day, and I think that has served him well.
“Obviously, this will be the first time he plays in Seattle against their defense. Everything is new for him, but I think he has a great demeanor and good poise.”
Similar things have been said about Rosen, who also hasn’t played at Husky Stadium because of the Pac-12’s unbalanced schedule. He’s second nationally among FBS QBs in passing yards (2,620) and tied for eighth with 19 touchdown passes.
“He’s probably the top guy in college football throwing the ball,” said Huskies coach Chris Petersen. “He’s tremendous, for sure. This is going to be a really big test. We certainly haven’t seen anybody that can throw the ball like he throws it.
“It doesn’t matter who is in there (defensively for Washington). He’s going to complete his passes. That’s what they do, and they are really good at it.”
Rosen has the giant numbers, but Browning is the Pac-12 leader in passing efficiency (154.7), with Rosen second (148.2). Washington has more balance with the run, and a huge advantage on the defensive side: The Huskies lead the conference in fewest points (10.6 ppg) and yards (236 ypg), and the injury-pickled Bruins are 11th (36.7 ppg) and 12th (494 ypg).
Before the season, there was talk that the Pac-12 had four legitimate contenders for the Heisman Trophy in QBs Rosen, Browning, Washington State’s Luke Falk and USC’s Sam Darnold. The Trojans’ star has sagged with a passel of turnovers and other mistakes, and Falk has been good but not spectacular.
It is more than fair to say Saturday represents the clash of the Pac-12 QB titans, even if Browning hasn’t quite had the swash to his buckle of his sophomore season. Part of that is the graduation of bombsmith WR John Ross to the NFL and other personnel changes on offense.
“Jake has a tremendous command of what we’re doing,” Petersen said. “He’s competing as hard as anyone we have. I think there’s other areas we’ve got to step up, and his game will look better.”
For all the attention, training and support young QBs get from an early age, the mystery of success remains deep. The attrition rate is high. NFL scouts armed with sophisticated metrics and advanced testing whiff at a steady rate.
But Rosen and Watson come to town with track records strongly suggesting (health permitting) long, lustrous pro careers.
Seattle football fans get to see both on the same weekend, and Browning and Wilson get to enjoy the view from the back seat.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.