Posted by Adam Jacobi
The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given annually to the nation's top senior quarterback, announced its 2010 winner today. Wisconsin signal-caller Scott Tolzien , who led the Badgers to an 11-1 record and a berth in the 2011 Rose Bowl, won the award today.
Now obviously, the pool for this award is always going to be diluted on account of it being limited to senior quarterbacks, and the tendency of high-level QB prospects to declare for the draft before their senior season only further weakens the available list of candidates. Tolzien won this award over a rather tepid list of finalists: Andy Dalton , Colin Kaepernick , Christian Ponder , and Ricky Stanzi.
Or, more to the point, Tolzien wasn't up against Cam Newton , Kellen Moore , Andrew Luck , Ryan Mallett , Dan Persa , or Brandon Weeden. And that's good for Tolzien, because his statistics and the context surrounding them are totally underwhelming. While Tolzien led all seniors with a 169.80 passing efficiency and 74.8 completion percentage, he was hardly the focal point of the offense or the main engine getting it into the end zone; Tolzien recorded just 16 passing touchdowns, compared to his team's otherworldly 46 rushing touchdowns (of which Tolzien had none). Tolzien's total yardage accounted for just 42.6% of Wisconsin's yards, which compares rather unfavorably to Colin Kaepernick's 57.7%. And yes, Wisconsin is ranked higher than Nevada and was involved in more blowouts in which Tolzien's services weren't needed ... but TCU just so happens to be ranked even higher than Wisconsin, was involved in many blowouts of its own, and Dalton's total yardage was still 51.6% of his Horned Frogs' total yards. Also, keep in mind Tolzien was facing a defense with eight men in the box basically all the time, thanks to Wisconsin's thundering ground game. That's a luxury Dalton and Kaepernick didn't enjoy, and they still outperformed Tolzien in every category except passing efficiency, where Tolzien's lead is utterly marginal.
Beyond this year, though, Tolzien's numbers scarcely fit the typical profile of a Unitas Award winner. Beginning in 1995, when noted option enthusiast Tommie Frazier won the award with Nebraska, the average passing touchdown total of the Unitas winner has been 32.5 TDs ... or basically twice that of Tolzien and his 16 touchdowns. The only winner in that timespan with fewer than seven more touchdowns than Tolzien was (no surprise) Frazier, and even he threw for 17 TDs his senior year.
It just seems, like John Clay inexplicably being named a Doak Walker finalist, as if Tolzien is being given this award in lieu of a team award, since Wisconsin is ranked fourth and hooray for that. And it's not as if Tolzien had a bad season, either; his performance against the Iowa defense, especially when he drove the team down the field for a touchdown in the third quarter with only Montee Ball healthy (and Ball lining up at wideout since Nick Toon was out, no less), was really a fantastic display of passing. But by and large, there's just no way Tolzien was a more deserving recipient of this award than Dalton or Kaepernick.