Chris Cullum

Now that the Auburn Tigers are officially the national champions of college football, many of the nation’s best quarterbacks have tough decisions to make. Should they declare for the NFL draft a year early and capitalize on their skyrocketing draft stock whether or not they’re ready to play at the highest level or should they return to school for another year, fine tuning their skills and trying one last time to win a national championship (you know, if they’re in to that sort of thing)?

If these situations sound familiar it’s because they just happened with college quarterbacks Cam Newton and Andrew Luck respectively.

Newton, probably knowing that his stock will never be higher after winning the Heisman and a national championship, declared for the draft a few days ago and is projected to be a rather high draft pick.

Andrew Luck, on the other hand, decided to return to school for another season even though the Carolina Panthers already had their draft card filled out with his name on it sitting on the podium at Radio City Music Hall.

Neither decision is right or wrong, but each one has been scrutinized to some degree by the media. What if Newton’s workouts don’t go well? What if Luck plays poorly next season and his draft stock plummets? Welcome to the life of an elite college quarterback.

I won’t bore you with the story of Cam Newton, since you’ve probably heard it before. To say his draft stock has grown exponentially since the start of the 2010 season would be a drastic understatement. It came as no surprise, then, when he declared for the draft shortly after winning his team a championship. With everything in the news about Newton and his eligibility in question by just about everyone, why would he come back for another year? So he can play another season of Southeastern Conference (SEC) football without several key players from this year’s team, including nearly his entire offensive line? So NFL scouts could have another year to dissect his throwing motion, or his accuracy, or anything else NFL scouts look for in a quarterback (basically anything that was ever said about Tim Tebow a year ago)?

Even though this was clearly the decision to make for Newton, he is still being questioned by some in the media who say he’s not ready to be an NFL quarterback yet. See the problem here? Because he doesn’t have the conventional tools of a blue chip NFL quarterback prospect (like those guys Alex Smith and David Carr) he’s thought of as not being ready, but going back to school only hurts his draft stock.

Andrew Luck’s situation was far more publicized, if only because of his probable draft status. After an excellent year at Stanford University, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Luck would be drafted first by the Carolina Panthers, making tens of millions of dollars in the process. By not declaring, he was skewered by many sports pundits for leaving all of that money on the table and because of the possibility of him hurting his draft stock next season. Normally a college kid would be praised for his decision to return to school for another year to pursue his degree. I realize that Andrew Luck is not an ordinary college kid and that turning his back on all of that money wasn’t the popular decision, but why should he be faulted for that? If anything, shouldn’t he be praised for making the unpopular decision?

It’s quite the conundrum that these kids face. Declare for the draft and be told you’re not ready, or go back to school and be told you’re a fool. Welcome to the life of a college football quarterback.