An NFL draft light on great quarterbacks is good news for college football fans: The 2013 season is loaded with talented and accomplished players at the most important position in sports. So throughout the rest of the summer, we're counting down the top 10 quarterbacks in college football, one per week until the season kicks off. These rankings are based on college ability, not necessarily NFL potential. This week, San Jose State senior David Fales checks in at No. 9.
9. David Fales, San Jose State
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Thirty-four years ago, the year ESPN came into being, when the idea of an all-sports channel was ridiculous, it would have been even more ridiculous to suggest airing San Jose State football games from coast to coast. It may still sound crazy to a large segment of our population.
But in this age of excessive cable sports, every college football season seems to bring a new network anxious to secure rights to broadcast games. When once America had to take its limited Saturday schedule and like it, it's now almost incomprehensible for every game not to be televised. Football is football is football, and it sells.
Half of San Jose State's 12 games in 2013, for example, have already been selected for national television broadcasts, on ESPN and ESPN2, on Pac-12 Network and CBS Sports Network. Others will eventually be selected for TV as well. San Jose State has been to only two bowl games since a run of three California Raisin Bowls -- yes, a real thing -- against MAC teams in 1986-87 and 1990, yet, like almost every other FBS team, it is now seen as a commodity worth televising to a mass audience. Yes, a mass audience. Not like the Super Bowl, or Alabama-LSU, but 1.9 million people for the Military Bowl against Bowling Green two days after Christmas, which is more than almost any college basketball regular season game.
This means that you will have ample opportunities to watch David Fales play football this fall, and this is a good thing.
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We have inherent biases against mid-major players, of course, because of who they play against and who they're not playing for, which means that natural questions arise when evaluating a player like Fales -- and claiming that he's the ninth best quarterback in America.
How'd he slip through the cracks?
Back in his high school days, Rivals.com and Scout.com both rated him a two-star prospect. They weren't alone in their evaluations, given his lack of scholarship offers. He initially ended up at Nevada backing up Colin Kaepernick, but he decided Chris Ault's system wasn't right for him.
"I realized that what they wanted to do wasn't a good fit for me," Fales told the San Jose Mercury News last season. "They wanted me to be more of a runner. I looked at everything, saw where it was going and didn't want to waste my time."
After two years of juco ball at Monterey Peninsula College, he was signed to fill the void left by the abrupt departure of Tate Forcier at San Jose State, where he does still run plays out of the pistol but directs what's considered more of a pro-style passing game.
Why should I care about a San Jose State quarterback?
It's hard to believe, but compared to many teams, San Jose State boasts a somewhat decent history of sending quarterbacks to the NFL. They may have been a 10th-round pick and an undrafted free agent, respectively, but Steve DeBerg and Jeff Garcia combined to start 240 NFL games. Plus, you may have heard of another couple SJSU alums: Bill Walsh and Dick Vermeil.
There may not be a lot of tangible success, beyond a handful of Big West titles and the California Raisin Bowl, but as with most any program, look deeper and you find some surprises -- oh, he went there? Him too? Years from now, Fales may be among that list of surprises.
Is he really that good? He doesn't play against anyone.
Rest in peace, WAC. Your midnight shootouts were treasured by a handful of us, and now we have to hope they carry over to the Mountain West. In one season of WAC play, Fales directed the nation's sixth best passing offense and finished third nationally in efficiency and first in completion percentage. He completed 72.5 percent of his passes for 4,193 yards with 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he averaged more than nine yards per pass attempt. For a first-year FBS starter coming up from the juco level, these are impressive numbers, no matter who the opponents were.
But he wasn't just torching Idaho and New Mexico State, although, yes, he threw eight touchdown passes against them too. In the season opener -- his first career start -- he led San Jose State to the brink of a monumental upset against a Stanford team that finished seventh in the AP poll. In a 20-17 loss, Fales finished with 217 yards, a touchdown and an interception, not the greatest of numbers, but not a bad outing for a first start on the road against one of the best teams in America. Later in the season, he threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns against a BYU defense that allowed 14 points per game, and in the Military Bowl he posted 395 yards against the MAC's best defense, Bowling Green.
Not exactly comparable to throwing for 300 yards against, say, Alabama, but against his toughest challenges, on paper, Fales more than held is own in helping lead San Jose State to its first 11-win season ever. Fales loses his 1,000-yard rusher, De'Leon Eskridge, and perhaps more important, he loses coach Mike MacIntyre to Colorado as the Spartans transition to their new league. But given the way he adapted so quickly last year, it's hard to imagine Fales not achieving similar success under new coach Ron Caragher.
NFL scouts have quickly taken notice: Fales showed maturity as a passer, going through his progressions, moving well in the pocket and delivering the ball with impressive timing. He may not have the strongest arm in the country, but that doesn't mean he can't be another Andy Dalton. To put it simply: He looks smarter than most everyone else on the field and is one of the most pro-ready quarterbacks in college football, San Jose State or not.
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Between the excessive number of bowl games and the presence of obscure college football on just about every day of the week, some would argue that the sport has reached a saturation point in terms of television exposure, that bowl games shouldn't open the doors for .500 teams and games should always be played on Saturdays. But the increase in exposure for everyone means we have much better exposure to the hidden gems of the sport.
One of the 10 best starting quarterbacks in the nation plays for San Jose State. He may be a future Pro Bowl quarterback, or an average NFL starter, or neither. But he plays the college game at a high level, and whether it's against Stanford or Wyoming it's still worth watching.
All of which makes Fales a perfect fit for the cable television sports age. He's not a household name, not going to win the Heisman, not going to the Rose Bowl. But even 15 years ago you may have never seen him play. Now, if you happen to find yourself in front of a television on a Friday night, or during the late-night time slot on a Saturday, catch a San Jose State game if you can. If you're an NFL fan, you may be watching your future starting quarterback. If you're a football fan in general, you'll see one of the smartest and most accurate passers in college football involved in an entertaining and likely high-scoring game.
In this era, we can know who Fales is as a player beyond the box scores and wire reports. We can hear that this junior college transfer playing for a former also-ran football program -- one that went 1-12 in 2010 -- could be a first-round pick in a quarterback-rich 2014 NFL draft, and we can, if we so desire, confirm these perceptions by tuning in to watch him play nearly every week. Beyond "character," there are no more mysteries with draft prospects to the public. More numbers than ever are at our disposal, as our more chances to see a quarterback with our own eyes.
There are problems with television's stranglehold on the sport, of course, but everyone gets a stage now, and David Fales is the type of quarterback who makes the exhaustive television coverage worthwhile.
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