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Tuesday, March 13, 2012
ASU QB competition is wide open

By Ted Miller


TEMPE, Ariz. -- On Jan. 6, Mike Bercovici was chilling with some friends when he got a call from Arizona State receiver Aaron Pflugrad. There, it seemed, was some big news for the Sun Devils' backup quarterback.

In a surprise to many, junior Brock Osweiler, the Sun Devils' starting quarterback, had decided to enter the NFL draft.

"My mindset changed immediately," Bercovici said. "I was really excited when I heard the news."

Of course he was. It's natural that the backup becomes the favorite to win the job when the starter leaves. Osweiler's decision meant Bercovici was suddenly in line to become No. 1 on the depth chart a year earlier than expected -- as a true sophomore.

But, as everyone also knows, Osweiler also wasn't the only person who bolted the Sun Devils. When coach Dennis Erickson was fired, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and his spread passing attack moved on to UCLA. Enter Todd Graham and his spread-option, Oregon-esque offense, which asks the quarterback to be a running threat.

Mike Bercovici
Mike Bercovici was last season's backup at Arizona State, but might not be the best quarterback for new coach Todd Graham.
Bercovici has a big arm but isn't really known for his ability to run the ball.

"I'm not as familiar with the zone read," he said.

The guy who lost out on the backup job to Bercovici last preseason, sophomore Taylor Kelly, however, does have experience running the spread option. And, oh by the way, redshirt freshman Michael Eubank, an impressive athlete at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, was recruited by Graham to play quarterback at Pittsburgh.

"He tells me he knows me. He's told me that numerous times since he's been here," Eubank said. "But I'm fighting for the job like the rest of the guys. I don't feel like I have any advantage just because I know him."

What we do know: This feels like an honest-to-goodness battle. This offense seems to fit Kelly's and Eubank's comfort zone better than Bercovici's, but Graham's offense also emphasizes throwing the ball downfield -- much more so than Mazzone's quick-hit passing attack. Bercovici can hurl the rock downfield, there is absolutely no doubt about that.

But Graham isn't talking so much about the different skill sets of his signal-callers. For one, spring practices only start Tuesday, so he hasn't seen them in action. But he makes clear that there's a lot more to playing the position than passing and running.

"We spend a lot more time focusing on the intangibles, the mental part of it," he said. "The guy who will win this job will be the guy who can lead our team."

That said, becoming proficient with the spread option is a key component of the competition. But it's not all about athletic ability and blazing speed, either.

"The read zone is a part of what we do," Graham said. "We want to hurt them with our legs but slay them with our arm. Most of the guys in this system have been between 4.8 and 5-flat [in the 40-yard-dash], but if you have great technique you can be very deceptive in the option game."

(Graham said his offense best compares to what Chad Morris runs at Clemson and what new Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn ran as Auburn's offensive coordinator).

None of the three has any real college experience. And all three are young, so whoever wins could be in line to be a three- or (in Eubank's case) four-year starter. Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said each will get equal time with the first-team offense until a pecking order establishes itself.

"I don't have a timeline for when we're going to cut it to a two-man race or when we're going to name a starter," Norvell said. "It's a process and it's going to take its course. We're going to see how the guys compete."

And the competition is almost certain to extend well into fall camp.

Said Norvell, "I think I'll find it hard to name a starter after just 15 practices."