Future stars emerge in NFL

So often when the word ‘trend’ is brought up in sports people tend to associate it with something negative happening.

The NBA has a trend of drafting younger players; baseball’s trend now is big hitting and no pitching; and the new trend in hockey is, well, no one cares.

However, the trend catching on in the NFL is proving positive. With his winning-streak-snapping victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has become the latest small college star to emerge at quarterback in the league.

Coming from Miami University, Roethlisberger never got quite the hype some other big school quarterbacks may have received. The Mid-American Conference has some solid teams, but it’s not the SEC, Big 12, ACC or other conferences with an automatic BCS bid.

Perhaps too much light was cast upon Philip Rivers and Eli Manning, the two quarterbacks from schools in bigger conferences and who were selected in front of Roethlisberger during the NFL Draft.

Rivers and Manning should, and probably will, succeed in the years to come.

Roethlisberger leadership of the Steelers, though, has set the bar pretty high for the rest of the quarterbacks in the Class of 2004, especially for those picked in front of him.

The small-time school versus big-time school argument should officially be declared a draw now. The players in the college conferences that get all the airtime are often outplayed by some little known player from a small school.

Steve McNair got the train rolling, highlighting the recent trend of becoming a stud quarterback from a small college and making his mark in the NFL.

McNair went to Alcorn State: He ended up throwing for more than 16,000 yards, becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist, and proving himself in the pros.

Some notable quarterbacks currently in the NFL from lesser-known schools include: Cleveland’s Jeff Garcia, Jacksonville’s Byron Leftwich, the New York Giants Kurt Warner, the New York Jet Chad Pennington, Oakland’s Rich Gannon, Houston’s David Carr, Carolna’s Jake Delhomme, Minnesota’s Daunte Culpepper and maybe the best quarterback in the game today, Green Bay’s Brett Favre.

That’s quite an impressive list of players, which make up about one-third of the league’s starting quarterbacks (Gannon may miss the rest of the season.)

The unofficial motto of the NFL is that any team can be beat on any given Sunday. The parity the NFL has achieved is now being matched in college football. Don’t judge the player by the amount of prestige his program has achieved. Somewhere on the college field, the next great unsung quarterback is playing and leading his team to victory.

So when you see that Conference USA game on ESPN on some weekday, don’t simply blow it off, you may be missing a future star.