The three finalists for the 2006 Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award presented annually to the nation’s best college quarterback are Colt Brennan of Hawaii, Brady Quinn of Notre Dame and Troy Smith of Ohio State.

All three finalists come from winning teams this season. This is a pretty solid trio, but two different Cougars, John Beck of BYU and Kevin Kolb of Houston, could have easily replaced Brennan on this list. Both seniors led their teams to conference championships and posted among the most successful stats across the board.

Brennan compiled the most phenomenal statistics for the entire season (373 of 517, 4,990 yards, 53 TDs, 11 picks) but his final regular-season performance against Oregon State was essentially a bust. He tossed two interceptions and misfired during a failed game-winning drive attempt in the last few minutes of the contest. It was Brennan’s first national exposure of the season with ESPN carrying the game on the West Coast in the late evening hours, and it turned out that the most impressive elements in the Hawaii offense were a couple players by the names of Nate Ilaoa and Davone Bess.

Perhaps Matt Hayes of The Sporting News summed up Brennan the best: “…in three games against BCS teams, the Rainbows were 1-2 and Brennan had seven touchdowns and four interceptions. Against the remainder of a dog-filled schedule — and I’m throwing Boise State among the dogs, too — he had 46 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s Timmy Chang, everyone. He’s not a Heisman Trophy candidate.”

To that, we might add, he’s also not the nation’s best college quarterback, as represented by the Davey O’Brien Award criteria.

Brady Quinn will graduate with most of Notre Dame’s passing records safe and secure in his personal accomplishments file. He has been the cherubic poster boy face of the Fighting Irish for the past four years, guiding the Golden Domers to a 30-17 record during his signal-calling tenure. Perhaps the most glaring weaknesses on Quinn’s resume are his 0-4 record against vaunted rival USC, and a winless record in two blowout bowl games versus Oregon State and Ohio State.

Still, it’s difficult to argue with the numbers he has posted against a more difficult schedule than Brennan has faced this year (274 of 432, 3,278 yards, 35 TDs, five INTs). The merits of his career record should also be considered since the sum of his collegiate experience factors into the field general that he is today (914 of 1,567 for 11,614 yards, 93 TDs, 37 INTs).

Troy Smith is the most likely of the three finalists to win the O’Brien honors. He soundly outplayed Quinn on a national stage in last year’s Fiesta Bowl–an indelible image not lost on the award’s voters. Smith has been nothing but money in every big game he’s played in since last year’s loss at Penn State, helping the Buckeyes compile a nation-leading 19-game winning streak heading into the Tostitos BCS National Championship game.

Perhaps the most impressive factor in Smith’s favor, and certainly more important than his stats (199 of 297 for 2,507 yards, 30 TDs, five INTs) is that he managed to convert himself from a run-first-type quarterback (136 carries, 611 yards rushing) last year to a poised pocket passer (62 carries, 233 yards rushing) this season. His field vision improved dramatically in the process, enabling him to utilize the vast array of offensive assets at his disposal in the heat of the battle.

Remarkably, Smith’s completion percentage also improved from 62.9 to 67 percent, and his sack count actually dropped by one from last year. Still a dual-threat to tuck the rock in and run, if need be, Smith forces opposing defenses to account for his mobility as well as his accurate arm. His improvisational playmaking abilities are reminiscent of the great Cornelius Greene, the Buckeye QB in the mid-1970s who would have won the Heisman Trophy had it not been for a teammate by the name of Archie Griffin.