Perry Hills isn't the arrow-throwing gunslinger Maryland fans want, but he's the quarterback the Terps need right now.
Or at least that's Randy Edsall's determination, as he named the redshirt junior Hills the Terrapins' starter under center for their season opener against Richmond next Saturday. Whether Maryland's depth chart turns out to be fluid or not, Hills will start Maryland's first game for the second time in his career, but a full three years after the last time. He's had a remarkably unusual career arc – he was forced to start years before Maryland could've wanted, then performed admirably, then suffered a two-seasons-gone injury and only emerged last year as a third-stringer.
Times, then, have changed. Or haven't they? This is the second time Hills has beaten out classmate Caleb Rowe for Maryland's starting job, and the first time he's had to surpass Oklahoma State transfer Daxx Garman. We try to avoid generalizing groupthink here, but Maryland followers expressed a certain amount of surprise when Hills formally got the starter's gig on Friday. A few months ago, when I sized up Maryland's QB battle, I utterly disregarded him. Shame on me.
All of this is odd, because Hills has a better pedigree and a substantially better stat line than either man he beat.
Even though he's a 6'3 ex-high school wrestling star , it's easy to think of Hills as the little engine that could. In 2012, he started Maryland's first seven games after C.J. Brown tore his ACL just before the start of the season. Hills was playing behind a garishly terrible offensive line, but he had Maryland at 4-2 and in a competitive homecoming game when a crack-back block on an interception return snipped his own ACL and derailed Maryland's season. Hills tried hard, but his passes looked wobbly, he got hurt, and Maryland wound up 4-8. It's easy to see why his return to the starting position isn't the most exciting thing in the world. But that's not fair to Hills.
Hills has only played in eight career games, and his snap counts really put him closer to seven. But that's still two-thirds of a college football season. His efficiency's been fine, and so have the rest of his passing numbers. Here's a wide comparison between Hills's eight career appearances and all Big Ten quarterbacks from 2014 who appeared in two-thirds of their teams' games. This is slightly less flattering, but the mostly freshman Hills isn't out of place:
|Big Ten Qualifiers, 2014
|Perry Hills, career
Based on his career line, Hills stacks up as roughly an average starting Big Ten quarterback from 2014. He wasn't superb, but he was more competitive than he's often credited for being.
He wasn't some chump, but Hills also wasn't a star when you last watched him regularly. Then again, neither was Brad Craddock back then, and he worked out OK. College football moves in cycles, and players can become miles better without anyone in the press box or the bleachers finding out about it. Even if Hills hasn't improved a lick, he can probably hang in the Big Ten. And yet, by all accounts, improving is exactly what Hills has been doing while we haven't been paying attention.
That he'll start Saturday for Maryland is a surprise. But it shouldn't be, because Perry Hills has been here along.