Dec. 4, 2009.
That was the date of Brett Nottingham’s last start in high school. On that night, Nottingham started for Monte Vista in a 44-7 loss against De La Salle in the California high school state playoffs. Nottingham would not start another football game until this past Saturday against Fordham, and he’ll have to wait another year for his second start, as head coach Pete Mangurian announced this weekend that the quarterback will miss the rest of the season due to a wrist injury.
Nottingham’s stat line as the Lions’ starting quarterback was less than stellar. He went 12-23 for 144 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. Nottingham also lost 60 yards on five rushes (four of which were unsuccessful attempts to avoid sacks).
The expectations for Nottingham in his first start as a Lion were, admittedly, considerably higher. For months, the buzz had been building around campus since news broke of Nottingham’s transfer to Columbia. Nottingham, a former Stanford backup and four-star high school recruit, had a football résumé unlike any other Columbia quarterback.
Nottingham was supposed to be our Aaron Rodgers. He was supposed to throw for 350 yards and 5 touchdowns last Saturday. We—meaning everyone who has suffered through years in football exile—were simply too optimistic. Indeed, our unrealistic expectations for Nottingham set him up to disappoint us as fans.
But it’s not like Nottingham was an everyday star at Stanford. Before coming to Columbia, Nottingham sat on the bench as several quarterbacks—including one who was considered the best quarterback prospect in decades and others who were more trusted by the coaching staff—wrestled away the starting job. Is it so inconceivable, then, that Nottingham was a little bit rusty this past Saturday against the highly ranked Fordham Rams?
And although the best quarterbacks in the NFL mask the mistakes of their teammates, Nottingham is far from Rodgers, Peyton Manning, or Tom Brady—he is not going to beat defenses by himself. Columbia’s offensive line allowed five sacks to a Fordham defense that had totaled just six sacks in its previous three games. Nottingham was sacked four times. Sophomore backup QB Trevor McDonagh was sacked once. And those numbers don’t include all the times Nottingham seemed to be hurried or battling some form of pressure, which happened on nearly every pass play.
That being said, let’s not lose faith just yet. One unimpressive performance is an extremely small sample size upon which to base any profound judgments, and Nottingham’s career is not over. He will be a senior next year and should have the opportunity to be the starting quarterback. This year, over half of the team’s offensive linemen, tight ends, and wide receivers are first-years or sophomores. By the 2014 football season they’ll have another year of development under their belts, and they’ll be better equipped to protect Nottingham and take advantage of his skill set.
Columbia’s 2013 season is not finished, either. The defense, led by senior middle linebacker Zach Olinger, can only improve after surrendering 606 yards of total offense to Fordham. On offense, McDonagh—who made more pass attempts last season as the backup to senior Sean Brackett than Nottingham did as a Cardinal—will take over for the Stanford transfer. He is also fortunate to be playing alongside both Marcorus Garrett, the best running back in the Ivy League, and a talented group of pass-catchers that includes 2011 All-Ivy tight end Hamilton Garner, 2012 leading receiver Connor Nelligan, and potential breakout wide receiver Ryan Flannery, who had six catches for 108 yards on Saturday after just seven catches for 50 yards all of last year.
So, while Nottingham’s debut fell far short of expectations, let’s not revert to the pessimism of years past. One blowout loss and a couple of key injuries do not guarantee last place in the Ivy League. Columbia may not challenge for the league title, but let’s be realistic about the development of the football program in the second year of the Pete Mangurian Era. A winning season is still within reach.
Daniel Radov is a Columbia College first-year. Free Advice runs biweekly.