Short of winning a national title, quarterback Vernon Adams accomplished just about everything he could have hoped for at the FCS level. Twice the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, and twice the runner-up for the Walter Payton Award, his talent far exceeded that of the players he competed with and against.
If he was a minor league baseball player, he would have been promoted shortly after leading Eastern Washington to a win at Oregon State to open the 2013 season. But that, of course, isn't how it works, and "Big Play V.A." continued to punch well above his weight class in a third straight run to the FCS playoffs in 2014.
Following his announcement this week that he will transfer to Oregon for his final year of eligibility, two obvious questions have been asked: How will his game translate to the Pac-12 level? And what kind of impact will he make for the Ducks?
Adams made a living getting outside the pocket and throwing accurately on the run for the Eagles, and that's something UC Davis coach Ron Gould, an Oregon graduate, said won't change with the bump in competition.
"If you're able to do those things at the FCS level, then you're going to be able to do those things in FBS," Gould said. "The only caveat is getting used to the speed of the game. They're a tad bit faster [on defense], but does he have the arm strength and ability to put the ball where it needs to be? Yes. Does he have the ability to dissect defenses? Yes. That's what he's been doing since his freshman year."
If there are any doubts about his ability to match up athletically against Pac-12 defenses, Gould said Adams' performance in Eastern Washington's 59-52 loss to Washington in September (31-for-46, 475 yards, 7 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) should have cleared that up. Especially considering the Huskies were loaded with NFL talent.
"That's a Pac-12 school that went to a bowl game. Ability is ability," Gould said. "I watched tape of that game, saw him in a phone booth [in the pocket], and this young man got out of it and threw a strike downfield on his way to putting up 52 points. The guy is an incredible athlete. He's special and he makes everyone better."
If not for a relative lack of size, Adams might have started his college career at the FBS level, but at or just below 6 feet, he didn't generate much buzz. Due to his stature -- and the utilization of the graduate-transfer rule -- the inevitable comparisons to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson have come about. Those won't be going away anytime soon, and neither will the occasional mention of Drew Brees to showcase how an undersized quarterback can find seemingly limitless success.
Illinois State coach Brock Spack was the defensive coordinator at Purdue at the end of Brees' career there and led the Redbirds past Eastern Washington in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs in December. Spack was careful to make it clear that it's premature to compare Adams to QBs such as Brees and Wilson -- "those type of guys don't come around very often" -- but noted all three have the ability to keep plays alive and make good decisions.
A major part of Illinois State's plan for containing Adams was to keep him in the pocket as much as possible (Adams rushed for minus-8 yards on 6 carries in the game). But even in the pocket, Spack said, Adams is capable of delivering the ball accurately and on time.
"He can do it all in any system," Spack said. "He protects the ball well; he doesn't throw it up for grabs and doesn't throw the ball across his body. The thing you want to see the QB do is throw it in catchable spots, and he does that ... always under control. It's hard to simulate."
Neither coach was willing to say unequivocally that he believes Adams will be the starter at Oregon next season -- without a more intimate knowledge of the rest of Oregon's quarterbacks, it wasn't their place -- but they agreed that if there is an FCS player who could come in and start without the benefit of a spring practice, Adams would be the guy. Regardless, they -- along with the rest of college football world -- are intrigued to see how the experiment works out.