NCF Nation: Mike Rlley

Pac-12 QB competitions update

April, 16, 2013
4/16/13
1:00
PM ET
Four of the five Pac-12 teams that entered spring with wide-open quarterback competitions are now finished with practices and are headed into the offseason.

So ... what did we learn? A little but not a lot. We didn't expect much resolution and we didn't get it. So, hey, we lived up to expectations.

Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon State and USC entered the spring with wide-open battles. Of them, only Oregon State is still practicing, and coach Mike Riley has said he won't decide between Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion until the fall.

Which is sort of the message with the other four, too.

Still, here's our best tea leave reading.

Arizona

When I was in Tucson at the beginning of spring practices, coach Rich Rodriguez and offensive coordinator Rod Smith kept saying they just wanted to find a QB with whom they could win.

At the time, I kept thinking, "Well, duh." But I get it now. The translation: Matt Scott isn't walking back down the stadium tunnel. It's difficult to imagine 2013 production at the position will approximate what the Wildcats had in 2012.

The general takeaway from spring practices? The Wildcats probably can be at least adequate on offense and win a few games and be competitive throughout the season with B.J. Denker at quarterback.

The second takeaway? The guys who weren't able to participate this spring -- USC transfer Jesse Scroggins and incoming freshman Anu Solomon -- are Denker's true competition.

So ... this is still wide open and it's wide open in a predictable way.

Denker has the most experience in the offense. Scroggins has a significantly better arm. Solomon is seen as the future. The question with him is readiness and whether he will benefit more from a redshirt season (Pac-12 blog guesses "yes") than playing immediately, even if in only limited packages.

California

California's QB competition also remains officially unresolved, but the scuttlebutt seems to strongly favor redshirt freshman Zach Kline.

Further, there was some movement. For one, senior Allan Bridgford, quite reasonably, recognized he was the odd man out and opted to transfer. Second, it became a three-man race between Kline, junior Austin Hinder and surprising true freshman Jared Goff.

The post-spring depth chart was sort of interesting, though it's likely the Pac-12 blog is reading more into stuff than it should. While all three were separated by the time-honored "OR," Goff was first, Kline second and Hinder third.

Typically, "ORs" go in alphabetical order. You don't need a Berkeley degree to know that's not what happened there. Perhaps this is a case of youngest to oldest?

A further wrinkle: Hinder is the best runner of the troika by a wide margin. It wouldn't be surprising if he's given some specific, situational packages to run next fall.

Colorado

Colorado started with six candidates -- though not with equal standing -- and the top two after spring practices might surprise some, particularly those hoping for new blood: juniors Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman.

Before spring practices began, more than a few folks believed redshirt freshman Shane Dillon was the favorite. But he often looked raw while Wood and Hirschman seemed far more comfortable with the new offense under Mike MacIntyre, something that likely is due to their having significantly more experience.

Of course, there's no reason Dillon can't find his stroke this summer and jump back into the competition. The most obvious precedent of a guy overcoming a poor spring to win the starting job is Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, who was well behind Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank a year ago.

Further, just like Arizona, Colorado has its own touted incoming true freshman: Sefo Liufau.

Youth is an advantage in some ways. The Buffaloes aren't going to win the Pac-12 in 2013. There's something to be said for, if the race is close, going with Dillon or Liufau and accepting immediate growing pains with an eye toward 2014 and beyond.

++USC

USC's QB situation is interesting, in large part because one guy clearly outplayed the competition this spring: Sophomore Cody Kessler.

But Max Wittek is undeniably a more talented passer; he might have the strongest arm in the Pac-12. He also is a strapping 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, while Kessler is a scrappy 6-foot-1 215.

USC isn't known for scrappy. Some might call that, on occasion, a shortcoming.

So there is a bit of controversy here as coach Lane Kiffin didn't seem inclined to say after the spring game -- Kessler passed for 242 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions compared to Wittek's 145 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions -- that Kessler was ahead.

Of course, this could just be a minor, media-driven quibble. For one, Kiffin might release a depth chart in a few days and put Kessler ahead. So there you go, media!

Or Kiffin, unlike his mentor and predecessor Pete Carroll, might want to keep the competition going as long as possible. He might want to see who asserts himself as the screws tighten. Nothing invalid about that. Will we media sorts similarly harrumph if Riley does the same even if Vaz/Mannion decisively outplays Mannion/Vaz?

(Carroll liked to "anoint" -- his frequently used term -- a QB as early as possible so he could take over requisite leadership for the position).

The problem Kiffin has is some see him sometimes prioritizing talent over performance (see, OT Aundrey Walker), which diminishes the perception of true competition. Carroll seemed to fall into that during his later years at USC before bolting for the Seahawks.

Anyone remember the old USC glory days of "Competition Tuesdays?"

Wittek might end up earning the starting nod. But it will not benefit him if there's a sense in the locker room that he didn't truly win the job. If Kiffin hands him the keys to the offense -- not saying he will, only "if" -- then it will be a disservice to Wittek as much as his teammates.

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