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Quarterback questions dominate Big East media day

8/4/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
NEWPORT, R.I. -- Only three quarterbacks made the trip here for Big East media day, but you couldn't go anywhere in the Hotel Viking without hearing talk about the position.

Lingering questions abound throughout this league when it comes to the guys under center, and that's one reason why the conference race seems so wide open. And it's why so few teams are being mentioned for the Top 25 this preseason.

"Quarterbacks have a tendency to sway a lot of media and fan attention, and I think rightly so," Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt. "It's very difficult to win a championship at the high school, college or NFL level without an outstanding performance from a quarterback.

"Because of the guys who have graduated from our conference, and all the new potential kids, it's tough to jump on board as strong as when Pat White was here or Mike Teel was here."

Look around college football, and the teams that draw the most buzz are the ones with established, big-time signal callers. Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford and Jevan Snead are the biggest factors in why their teams are ranked so highly.

In the Big East, though, only two proven starters return in 2009, and even those guys aren't completely without question marks. South Florida's Matt Grothe will set the league's all-time career yardage mark early in this season, but he needs to cut down on his penchant for turnovers. Cincinnati's Tony Pike came out of nowhere for a huge junior season, but he needs to prove he can stay healthy and play better than he did in his four-interception performance in the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech.

Still, just about every other team in the conference would like to have their quarterback situations so settled. Pitt was picked to win the league in a close vote by the media, but one of the biggest question marks remains under center. Senior Bill Stull played well early last season but faded badly late, culminating in a disastrous showing in a 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl.

Wannstedt opened up competition for the job in the spring, allowing Pat Bostick and Tino Sunseri to challenge Stull. But Stull appears to have fended them off.

"Billy's the guy, and it's his job to lose," Wannstedt said. "We have enough talent at quarterback to win, and I think Billy will have a good year. I'm very optimistic about it."

Pitt fans are decidedly less optimistic, and Wannstedt knows he hasn't had the greatest track record with quarterbacks.

"It's been a thorn in my side since I've coached, for some reason," he said. "On my tombstone, my wife's going to put something about quarterbacks."

West Virginia's coaches are excited to see what fifth-year senior Jarrett Brown can do. Brown has a ton of potential and talent, as evidenced by his selection to both the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and Davey O'Brien award watch lists this preseason. But he's only started two games while sitting behind White his entire career. No one really knows what he can do with a full season at the controls.

Brown calmly answered question after question about replacing White, but it was clear that he's grown a little tired of the subject.

"He raised the bar high," Brown said. "I'm trying to set it higher."

Rutgers has the offensive line, defense and schedule to make a strong run at the conference title. But with Teel gone, there are no experienced quarterbacks on the roster. Coach Greg Schiano said senior Dom Natale, who ascended to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart in the spring, would be in the lead this month. He also expects senior Jabu Lovelace -- who was Teel's backup before breaking his leg last season -- to push for the job after missing the spring.

Of course, Scarlet Knights fans will be keeping a close eye on heralded true freshman Tom Savage this month to see if he can win the job.

"I'm not opposed to playing a true freshman there," Schiano said. "But you have to take into account, if you play a true freshman, that there are some things you're going to have to live with. Does that still give you the best chance to win? If the answer's yes, then you do it."

Connecticut's quarterbacks did little to help the Huskies win last season. Running back Donald Brown was the star, and coach Randy Edsall called for only six passes in the International Bowl win over Buffalo. That will change this year with the installation of a no-huddle, multiple-formation attack that either Zach Frazer or Cody Endres will lead.

"I did a lot of research this spring and summer on the game of football, and in my research I found out that you are allowed to throw the ball in this game," Edsall joked. "So now that I know that you can throw more than 10 times a game, we're going to try and do that this year.

"The thing about football is, the object is to win, and you do things based on your team's ability and what gives you the best opportunity to win. When we had Zach and Cody in there, I certainly saw that those guys are more suited to throwing the football."

Louisville also faces a quarterback battle between Adam Froman and Justin Burke, as the Cardinals don't have a bona fide star at the position for the first time this century.

And of course nobody is quite sure what to make of the Greg Paulus situation at Syracuse. The former Duke basketball player is trying to play quarterback after not picking up a football since high school and while going through just a month of fall practice.

Orange coach Doug Marrone said he didn't even know who Paulus was when he first heard about the transfer possibility. Now, he wouldn't bet against him jumping ahead of current No. 1 quarterback Ryan Nassib, who himself has never played a down of college football.

"Once you talk to him and spend time with him and evaluate the (high school) film, then you say, 'If anyone can do it, Greg Paulus can do it,'" Marrone said. "(Offensive coordinator) Rob Spence always explained the position prior to us being involved with Greg as, we need someone like a point guard who can see the field. It's funny, because then all of a sudden Greg comes along."

A point guard at quarterback? Why not? In the Big East, there are almost no sure things at the position.