MINNEAPOLIS - The college football recruiting class of 2001 had several promising quarterbacks, but the consensus No. 1 recruit never set foot on a NCAA field.
He was a little busy becoming arguably the greatest catcher of the 2000s.
Cretin-Derham Hall’s Joe Mauer, a three-sport star committed to play football at Florida State, by all accounts as dominant on the gridiron as the baseball diamond. Minnesota already had a football star destined for NFL greatness in that recruiting class - perhaps you’ve heard of Holy Angels receiver Larry Fitzgerald - but Mauer remains a “what could have been?” fantasy, especially for Seminole fans who saw an uncharacteristic period of losing during the time Mauer would have been in Tallahassee.
And with a historically poor quarterback class for the 2005 NFL draft, could Mauer have played his way into first-round consideration?
So, what could have been?
Mauer was the Gatorade Player of the Year for football his senior year of high school, but his ability to excel at both football and baseball put him in rare company, said college football recruiting guru Tom Lemming.
“There aren’t a lot of guys who could do that,” Lemming said. “Bo Jackson, Joe Mauer, Deion Sanders. That’s it, really.”
Mauer, who stood 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds coming out of high school, would have been well prepped to take the reins of the Florida State offense, Lemming said, because of his experience running a pro-style system at Cretin-Derham Hall.
“Everyone ran a pro-style offense back then. There weren’t a lot of dual-threat quarterbacks yet,” he said, also noting Mauer’s athleticism would have made him elusive in the pocket and a dangerous scrambler.
Florida State, meanwhile, was saying goodbye to Heisman trophy winner Chris Weinke. Weinke, also from St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall, had played minor league baseball before becoming the cream of the crop as a quarterback in his late 20s.
“Both those guys were great athletes with very strong arms,” Lemming said. “Mauer compared favorably to Chris Weinke.”
With Weinke gone, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden had to rely on redshirt freshman Chris Rix at quarterback, a streaky player who was most notable for untimely interceptions and oversleeping for a religion exam, making him ineligible to play in the 2003 Sugar Bowl.
Mauer was noted for his consistency in high school - particularly for his hand-eye accuracy - and was a poster boy for responsibility throughout his Twins career.
Assuming Mauer was merely half as prone to turnovers as Rix (and the backups that replaced Rix when Bowden had seen enough of him for the day), here’s a look at what Mauer might have done to turn a few Florida State losses into wins.
Freshman year (FSU record: 8-4, won Gator Bowl): Rix had six turnovers in a 49-27 loss to No. 2 Miami on Oct. 13, 2001, but Mauer minimizing early mistakes give No. 14 Florida State a 33-28 win. Two Rix fumbles changed the tide of a 34-28 loss to North Carolina State; a surehanded Mauer ekes out a 24-21 win. Maryland’s strong season means no BCS bowl game, but a win in the Gator Bowl. Final record: 10-2.
Sophomore year (FSU record: 9-5, lost Sugar Bowl): Tropical Storm Isidore soaked Louisville, Ky., but it was Rix’s interception that turned the tide against the Seminoles on Sept. 26, 2002. Mauer saves FSU from embarrassment then, and snatches a win from North Carolina State. (Not even Mauer could have saved Florida State from missing a game-winning field goal attempt against then-No. 1 Miami.) But in the Sugar Bowl, Bowden doesn’t need to use freshman Fabian Walker at quarterback - nor ask wide receiver Anquan Boldin to take over - with Mauer at the helm, who starts to generate some Heisman buzz. They top Georgia 23-21. Final record: 12-2.
Junior year (FSU record: 10-3, lost Orange Bowl): Mauer’s Seminoles make it through the regular season like the real-life ‘Noles, and an ill-fated matchup against rival Miami in the Orange Bowl ends in heartbreak for Florida State. Another missed field goal gives the Hurricanes a third-straight win over FSU. Final record: 10-3.
Senior year (FSU record: 9-3, won Gator Bowl): The stars align for Mauer’s senior season. No two-pick performance from Rix means Florida State starts the season with a revenge win against Miami. Same with Wyatt Sexton’s poor game against Maryland. And a 20-13 Florida win flips in FSU’s favor to end the regular season. The undefeated Seminoles demolish Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, but Mauer finishes third in Heisman voting to Matt Leinart and Adrian Peterson. Final record: 12-0.
With his college days behind him, Mauer would have been a heavily-recruited NFL prospect.
“He was a first-round kind of player,” said Lemming, the recruiting expert. “He would have played in the NFL for sure.”
The 2005 NFL draft had little depth at quarterback. Utah’s Alex Smith was the first-overall pick, but only two other quarterbacks were taken in the first round.
Coming off a high-profile win in the 2005 Sugar Bowl, pro scouts rave at Mauer’s well-rounded game. After Smith goes first to San Francisco, Mauer joins former Cal Bear Aaron Rodgers in an uncomfortably long wait in the green room.
When Kansas City and Houston take Derrick Johnson and Travis Johnson with the 14th and 15th picks, respectively, there aren’t many teams left with picks in the first round who have a need at quarterback.
But the real world, Packers general manager Ted Thompson famously stuck to his draft board to take Rodgers, despite having needs at other positions and future Hall of Famer Brett Favre in his prime.
Rodgers is known for his confidence, pure throwing skill and ability to create and extend plays. Mauer already showed signs of being adept at picking apart complex defenses with his accurate arm and ability to scramble.
Could it have been Mauer taken to be Favre’s heir apparent?
This Thanksgiving, Minnesotans should be thankful they never had to contemplate their favored son donning green and yellow on Sundays.