Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Pac-10 spring position battles
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Now we talk quarterbacks.
Because that's what just about every Pac-10 fan -- other than Oregon and Washington adherents -- will be talking about this spring.
Even Oregon State, which saw Lyle Moevao throw for 2,500 yards and 19 touchdowns, has a bit of quarterback intrigue, or did you forget how well Sean Canfield played while Moevao was hurt (3-0 with two starts)?
We're supposed to do only five entries here. But we're going to do six.
Washington State gets left out because Marshall Lobbestael, the favorite to win the job, will be limited this spring as he comes back from a knee injury.
And so does Oregon State because the Beavers are choosing between two known quantities, while the following teams will be evaluating one more or more candidates with almost no significant playing experience.
Please note, however, that the likelihood of these competitions being settled this spring is remote. In fact, the coaches evaluating these competitions may not even announce a pecking order until the season opener is on the immediate horizon.
That's just how coaches ride.
1. USC: Mitch Mustain vs. Aaron Corp vs. Matt Barkley
Quarterback at USC is the premier position in college football. Under Pete Carroll, two quarterbacks have won the Heisman Trophy, and Mark Sanchez
figures to become the third to be selected early of the first round of the NFL draft. So part of being a Trojans quarterback means dealing with the hype, which will be a part of the winnowing process this spring. Mustain is talented, but sometimes tries to force the ball where it just won't go. The speedy Corp, who was Sanchez's backup at the end of 2008, would be the most athletic quarterback to play for Carroll. And Barkley was only the top prize of the 2009 recruiting season.
2. California: Kevin Riley vs. Brock Mansion
- This is a gut check for Riley, who clearly isn't happy with how things went in 2008. He was yanked as the starter when the Bears were 3-1 and he'd completed 57 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and just one interception. His performance over the second half of the season suffered as his confidence sank, though a shoulder injury and concussion probably deserve more blame than they've gotten. Mansion, a sophomore, is a prototype, 6-foot-5, 230-pound pocket passer who was a touted recruit in 2006. Experience should give Riley the early edge, but Mansion is a legit contender to start in 2009. And both will be getting used to new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.
3. Arizona State: Danny Sullivan vs. Samson Szakacsy vs. Chasen Stangel vs. Jack Elway vs. Brock Osweiler
- In the battle to replace Rudy Carpenter, rising senior Danny Sullivan is the veteran backup who has patiently waited his turn. Sophomores Samson Szakacsy and Chasen Stangel are the top challengers. Elway has to prove he's more than his last name. But the guy to watch is Osweiler. He's a 6-foot-8, big-armed, athletic true freshman out of Kalispell, Mont., who originally planned to play basketball at Gonzaga. He'll participate in spring practices, and his name keeps coming up when you ask ASU folks about who might run the offense in 2009.
4. Arizona: Matt Scott vs. Nick Foles vs. Bryson Beirne
- If Arizona is going to build on last year's breakthrough, it's going to have to find at least an adequate replacement for Willie Tuitama. Scott and Foles will start as 1A and 1B. Both have good arms. Scott's athleticism might give him an edge. Foles, a Michigan State transfer, is a prototypical 6-foot-5, 230-pound drop-back passer who loves watching game film but won't scare anyone out of the pocket. Whoever wins the job will have a solid supporting cast, topped by tight end Rob Gronkowski, to ease the adjustment.
5. UCLA: Kevin Craft vs. Kevin Prince vs. Chris Forcier vs. Richard Brehaut
- The first issue will be how Craft responds after throwing a school-record 20 interceptions last season. Will he show leadership, take charge of the huddle and fight for his job? And, oh, make better decisions with the ball? If not, look for Prince to be the top challenger. There were moments last year when Craft was struggling when Prince's redshirt was nearly cast aside. Forcier didn't take advantage of his opportunities in spot action, and coaches will turn to touted incoming freshman Brehaut only if those three languish.
6. Stanford: Tavita Pritchard vs. Andrew Luck
- Pritchard started every game last year -- not to mention that he led the monumental upset effort of USC in 2007 -- but the Cardinal needs more from its quarterback if it's going to make the next step as a program. Ranking ninth in the conference in passing, no matter how tough the running game is, won't cut it. Luck was one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation in 2007, and there was considerable discussion about taking his redshirt off last year (it became coach Jim Harbaugh's singular annoyance to be asked about it every time Pritchard struggled). This one is wide open and likely will endure -- like most of the other aforementioned competitions -- in
to the fall.