NCF Nation: Troy Aikman
There's 2012 backup B.J. Denker, a JC transfer who was a late addition last summer. And there's Jesse Scroggins, another JC transfer who had academic issues at USC after signing in 2010.
Both have some skills. Neither, however, would be considered a sure-thing, particularly when you consider how valuable Scott was in 2012.
It's possible then that coach Rich Rodriguez might consider a third, youthful option, and it turns out that he's received a commitment from a quarterback that Sports Illustrated believes might have an "instant impact": Anu Solomon.
SI ranks Solomon No. 1 among incoming freshmen QBs in terms of potential "instant impact":
Solomon was a four-year starter at Bishop Gorman. Over that span, the Gaels went 57-3 and won four state championships. Solomon passed for 10,112 yards and 138 touchdowns to just 17 interceptions throughout his career, and he participated in nationally televised showcases against high school powerhouses from California, Florida, Arizona, New Jersey and Maryland. He told Rivals.com analyst Dallas Jackson in October, "The coaches have told me that they want me to come in and compete for the starting job."
Arizona fans are rightfully excited about Solomon, who seems like a nice fit for Rodriguez's spread-option offense.
But the Pac-12 blog would like to insert a "Be Careful What You Wish For." The Wildcats might be better off if Solomon ends up redshirting. At the very least, it would be better for Solomon to see spot action rather than take over the starting job.
Why? Well, the history of true freshman QBs is pretty spotty, other than Jamelle Holieway, who won a national championship as a true freshman at Oklahoma in 1985. And, of course, Holieway's best season was his first for the Sooners.
Few true freshmen QBs start from Day 1, and most are forced into action, rather than winning the job outright. Holieway only stepped in due to an injury to Troy Aikman. Same with Peyton Manning at Tennessee. Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Georgia's Matt Stafford all became the starters when more senior players faltered.
Chad Henne went 9-2 as a true freshman leading Michigan in 2004, but he was surrounded by a lot of talent. We can all agree Robert Griffin III became a spectacular player, but Baylor went 4-7 with him as a true freshman QB.
The best recent example of a true freshman QB in the Pac-12 is USC's Matt Barkley in 2009. He was the first true freshman to start at QB for a top-five team since Michigan's Rick Leach in 1975. That USC team finished 9-4, losing three of its final four regular season games. The Trojans had lost seven games the preceding six seasons. Barkley threw 14 interceptions and 15 TD passes.
We've seen a number of freshmen QBs play really well of late. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, and in the Pac-12 Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley posted outstanding seasons this past fall, with Mariota winning first-team All-Pac-12. And, of course, there's Andrew Luck. He turned out OK.
But they all were redshirt freshmen when they became starters.
It's also notable that a lot of true freshmen QBs, such as Barkley, enroll early and participate in spring practices. That gives them a significant advantage in terms of getting use to the speed and complexity of the college game.
Solomon won't report until fall camp.
Solomon might indeed become a revelation for the Wildcats next fall. He could win the job, play admirably and three years later become an All-American.
But history suggests he won't be immediately ready, and that the best course is patience. It seems like at least a year of seasoning really helps create a tastier quarterback.
That would be UCLA's true freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, a charismatic, strapping young man who left high school early in order to compete for the starting job and immediately discovered that many believe he will lead the football program out of the wilderness of mediocrity into the promised land of Pac-12 championships. And, of course, while on that glorious path, he will plant a footprint on USC's collective forehead.
Hundley admits it's been a bit surreal having folks he doesn't know know who he is, even when it's "volleyball girls" saying "Hey, you're the savior!" He's enjoying taking it all in. But any euphoria over his newfound celebrity has been put in perspective by the realities of the practice field this spring
"Going from high school to college, it's really a big difference," he said.
Yes, it is. Just ask Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, who have struggled as UCLA's starting quarterback over the previous two seasons.
What's clear is the quarterback quandary in Westwood won't be resolved until the fall. Prince, who has flashed ability when healthy (which hasn't been often), is sitting out while still recovering from a knee injury. Brehaut has turned in a solid spring but hasn't yet won over his coaches. Hundley, the best athlete of the three, is still trying to digest the playbook and get a feel for the speed of the game.
"It's to be continued," offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said. "I don't think anyone has clearly put themselves in position to say they are going to be the starter."
UCLA has a strong history at the position: Bob Waterfield, Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban, Tom Ramsey, Troy Aikman and Cade McNown come to mind. But the position has been pretty lousy since Drew Olson left in 2005.
More than a few observers believe Prince will be the starter if he is 100 percent in fall camp. But that's a big if. As a redshirt freshman in 2009, Prince threw the ball fairly well at times. And he did a solid job with the options portion of the pistol last year, particularly in the upset win over Texas. Of course, that's also when he also first hurt his knee.
"He's a proven player... not a proven consistent player," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "The question for him is whether he can stay healthy."
Brehaut replaced Prince but struggled. In seven starts, his efficiency rating ranked 96th in the country and ninth in the Pac-10. Brehaut said he's focused on his footwork this spring, while Neuheisel wants Brehaut to become more proficient checking down to his second and third options.
"I think Richard has played well," Neuheisel said. "I still thing there is a lot more improvement to be had, whether it's by him or someone else, before we're going to be playing the position as well as it needs to be played. He still has too much predetermination in him. That's got to get weened out."
That leaves the savior.
"He's taking strides, but a lot has been thrown at him that he's never done before," Johnson said. "So there are times he is a deer in headlights."
And when those headlights are on him, Hundley typically chooses to run. That's not the right thing to do based on the play call, but Hundley can make the wrong thing seem right when he busts a big gain with his feet, and that's not lost on his coaches.
"He's going to be a guy who is wrong sometimes," Johnson said. "But we encourage him that if he is going to be wrong, do it fast, do it hard. Because he has the athletic ability to overcome some of those mistakes."
Prince and Brehaut are aware that fans are clamoring for Hundley.
"Of course, everyone roots for that incoming guy who no one has seen yet," Brehaut said. "That's something Kevin and I, as veteran guys, can't worry about. There's nothing we can do that's going to affect Brett. It's all about making sure we know what we are doing and are executing like we know how. As long as we're doing that, we're doing our part."
While Hundley admits to struggling this spring, he still has his eyes affixed to the prize: the starting job. He left high school early because he had a clear goal to get on the field as soon as possible.
That savior stuff? It's amusing for now. But the business ahead is serious and far more taxing.
"It's pretty funny. When I first got here, that's how some people knew me," Hundley said. "Everyone jokes around about it. But I make sure everyone knows I'm only one person. You can't really save a team. And that's not really what I'm here for."
Team of the week: Stanford rolled up 510 yards of offense against one of the nation's best defenses in a 42-17 win against Arizona. The Cardinal defense wasn't too shabby either while holding the Wildcats to 15.6 points less than their season scoring average. A Facebook page has been set up to promote the Cardinal's potential availability for an at-large BCS bowl berth.
Biggest play: Call this the biggest "replay." With four seconds left in the UCLA-Oregon State game, Bruins quarterback Richard Brehaut completed a 12-yard pass to Randall Carroll to put the Bruins in position for a 51-yard field goal. But it appeared the play clock had expired, as the field officials ruled. But the Bruins challenged the call and won, getting 1 more second to play, and kicker Kai Forbath connected for a 17-14 win.
Offensive standout: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck dominated a good Arizona defense, completing 23 of 32 for 293 yards with two TDs in the Cardinal's 42-17 win. He also ran for 25 yards on three carries and avoided getting sacked even once by a defense that led the Pac-10 in taking down quarterbacks.
Defensive standout: USC linebacker Malcolm Smith, who's missed two games with a knee injury, recorded seven tackles and a sack against Arizona State and he also returned an interception 74 yards for a TD in the Trojans' victory.
Special teams standout: Arizona State's LeQuan Lewis had a 100-yard kickoff return against USC. The return cut the Sun Devils deficit at USC to 29-21 and seemed to ignite a comeback that ultimately fell short.
Smiley face: California, UCLA and USC each have had their heart questioned this year. All three showed heart this weekend while winning games many thought they'd lose.
Frowny face: Arizona State and Oregon State. The Sun Devils mounted a nice comeback but (again) let a game slip away. Lots of what ifs (again). And we are as baffled as coach Mike Riley about the Beavers' spiritless performance at UCLA.
Thought of the week: If Stanford and Oregon keep winning, it seems likely that both Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck and Ducks running back LaMichael James will get invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. The Pac-10 sent two to New York in 2005 (USC's Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush), but the last time two different conference schools produced finalists was 1988 (USC's Rodney Peete finished second to Barry Sanders; UCLA's Troy Aikman was third).
Questions for the week: Is the Pac-1o going to end up top-heavy? It seems like there's a solid chance that Oregon and Stanford will win the rest of their games. But what about everyone else? Arizona is the only other ranked team, and it's got some tough games ahead (USC, at Oregon, Arizona State). It's possible the final rankings will feature two top-five Pac-10 teams and no one else. And could there really be five teams with losing records?
Do this: Google "Pac-1o commissioner Larry Scott" then do "Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen."
Yeah: Stunning. Nearly two million hits vs. 105,000.
While some traditionalists -- and the Pac-10 still has plenty of those -- might not believe that's necessarily a good thing, what Scott has done in one year is dramatic: He's made the conference big news. Even when his grand plan for a "Pac-16" fell apart due to a Texas two-step, Scott's bold behind-the-scenes maneuvering was the lead story of an usually busy college football summer.
When the machinations finally ended, the conference added two teams, Colorado and Utah, and everyone now waits to see how Scott will parlay that into a media deal that keeps the conference financially competitive with the SEC, Big Ten and ACC.
But that answer won't come until 2011. The present "next big thing" is this week: A bi-coastal showcase of Pac-10 football coaches and players. And new, aggressive Pac-10 marketing.
Danette Leighton, an Arizona alum and the Pac-10's new -- and first -- chief marketing officer, uses terms like "sizzle" when she talks about how the conference plans to present itself to the media and public.
"It's about presenting Larry Scott's vision," she said.
That vision means elevating the Pac-10's national profile and waging war on the "East Coast bias" -- real or mythical -- by reaching out in order to overcome instead of merely complaining about perceived slights. That vision means putting the Pac-10 in front of a national audience as much as possible, even if much of that audience supports other conferences and is inclined to boo an interloper from the West.
Cheering or booing -- that means folks are paying attention. And those eyeballs, Scott believes, will translate to increased revenue and a better position in the college football pecking order.
As for the new stuff this week ... You can see the new Pac-10 website here when it opens at 2 p.m. PT on Tuesday. And you can pose questions to the coaches and players available during Thursday's media day on the new Pac-10 Twitter page.
The Pac-10 blog will be tagging along to all three destinations (image: Pac-10 blog walking up to Pac-10 coaches, "Hey, are you guys playing cards?"). That means lots of stories and videos over the next few days. So you may want to take a few days off.
Here's the media days itinerary:
Tuesday (New York)
5 p.m. ET: News conference at the Manhattan W Hotel featuring all 10 coaches and the unveiling of new Pac-10 logo and football trailer. Pac-10 QBs will visit Times Square -- where the Pac-10 football video will be playing on the Jumbotron -- and the Empire State Building.
6 p.m.: Private cocktail reception at W's "Whiskey Blue" with TV executives, corporate sponsors, former players and other VIPs.
8 p.m.: Coaches eat dinner with ESPN's "GameDay" crew. Coach spouses will see Broadway musical, "Promises, Promises."
Wednesday (New York, ESPN)
Morning: Coaches will ring the opening bell at NASDAQ and then conduct East Coast media interviews.
11 a.m.: Bus to ESPN offices in Bristol, Conn., where players and coaches will do interviews on all ESPN platforms.
5 p.m.: Charter flight from New York to Los Angeles; check in Peninsula Beverly Hills Hotel.
Thursday (at Rose Bowl, all times PT)
9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Coach and player group interview session (field)
9:30 a.m. - Introduction and format - Dave Hirsch
9:35 a.m. - Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott
9:45 a.m. - Paul Wulff & DE Kevin Kooyman, Washington State
10:00 a.m. - Dennis Erickson & PK Thomas Weber, Arizona State
10:15 a.m. - Rick Neuheisel & FS Rahim Moore, UCLA
10:30 a.m. - Steve Sarkisian & LB Mason Foster, Washington
10:45 a.m. - Jeff Tedford & LB Mike Mohamed, California
11:00 a.m. - BREAK
11:15 a.m. - Lane Kiffin & QB Matt Barkley, USC
11:30 a.m. - Jim Harbaugh & FB/LB Owen Marecic, Stanford
11:45 a.m. - Mike Riley & RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
12 noon - Mike Stoops & QB Nick Foles, Arizona
12:15 p.m. - Chip Kelly & DT Brandon Bair, Oregon
12:30 p.m. - Pac-10 video presentation
12:30-2:30: One-on-one coach/player interviews during luncheon.
5:30 p.m.: Reception at the Fox Network Studios: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman host Pac-10 presentation.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
What does the Pac-10 envy from other conferences? Read on.
The Pac-10 envies ... the SEC in general: The SEC struggles against the Pac-10 head-to-head but the Pac-10 can't match the hype machine. The SEC is rolling in revenue and fan passion. It's got the nation's best television deals and bowl contracts. It pays its coaches more. It always tops the recruiting rankings. An SEC team seems to always get to play in the national title game even if its record is no better than a handful of other teams. It seems like the Pac-10 is inferior to the SEC in every way. Other than, you know, the football part of football.
The Pac-10 envies... the Big 12's quarterbacks: What in the name of Elway, Aikman, Palmer and Leinart is going on here? The Pac-10 is the "Conference of Quarterbacks"! How the heck did the ole, grind-it-out Big 12 take away that title? You turn away for just a few seconds and these fly-over states stop using the wishbone and start hurling the rock 50 times a game, making the Heisman Trophy a debate about Big 12 quarterbacks. Three Pac-10 teams rank among the nation's top 25 in rushing, but only one in passing, while seven Big 12 teams rank in the top-25 in passing -- including five of the top 10. What in the name of Barry Freaking Switzer is going on here?
The Pac-10 envies... other conference's cost of living: While Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State are in college towns, the other seven Pac-10 teams are located in urban areas, with California, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Washington located in cities that rank among the most expensive in the country. An assistant coach making $100,000 at Auburn needs to make $163,000 if he wants to keep pace at Stanford. That $4.4 million Pete Carroll makes at USC? He'd only need to get $2.7 million to maintain his cost of living in Norman, Okla.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
There's a lady who is sure all that glitters is gold, and she's reading the Pac-10 bloooooog!
- Arizona starts spring practices with the quarterback competition on centerstage and Robert Golden moving from corner to safety.
- Former UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman is full of B.S. As in his new college degree.
- USC is hoping to sign another top prep player Friday afternoon. More Q&As with USC coaches.
- This former hot shot Washington quarterback recruit is about to break through in another sport.
- Jon Wilner looks at the ongoing search for a new Pac-10 commissioner and some of the names that are being bandied about.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Bob Stoops turned 48 earlier this week. And while the Oklahoma coach is revered in the Sooner State, it wasn't a holiday or anything.
At least not that we know of.
Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel put his spin on Stoops' birthday in a unique way. He compared the career stages for other notable Oklahoma football coaches when they turned 48.
Barry Switzer's wishbone was struggling a little when he turned 48 in 1985 with Troy Aikman as his starting quarterback. Bud Wilkinson was in the middle of his run for the U.S. Senate in 1964. Chuck Fairbanks was trying to rebuild a struggling program at Colorado, well after his salad days at OU. Bennie Owen was getting ready for his 19th season as the Sooners' head coach. And Howard Schnellenberger was preparing for his fourth season as Miami's head coach, only 23 victories into his college head-coaching career.
With Stoops apparently excited about continued coaching at Oklahoma, it will be interesting to see what happens for him in the years after his 48th birthday.
Of a more immediate interest for him will be his team's trip to Washington to attack some nasty road karma. Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle writes that Stoops currently has a nation-best 20-game home winning streak at Owen Field. During that same time, the Sooners are a more pedestrian 12-9 on the road.
Those recent road woes have raised the stakes for Saturday's game at Husky Stadium.
"For me, this is the game of the year because this sets the tone for our future road games and sets the tone for our team," redshirt freshman LB Travis Lewis told the Chronicle. "It's easy playing in front of 85,000 who love you, but what about the 80,000 who hate you?"
It will make Saturday's game the biggest test for the Sooners so far this season. If Stoops can win, he would become the fourth OU coach to have won 100 games during their careers at the school, joining Wilkinson, Switzer and Owen.
Pretty select company, indeed.
Kind of like being included with these morning links:
- Lawrence Journal-World columnist Tom Keegan predicts that Kansas QB Todd Reesing will be the difference in the Jayhawks' key game with South Florida. But in order to win, Kansas must neutralize South Florida DE George Selvie, who has been dubbed "The Baddest Man in College Football."
- New Mexico State will have endured 35 practices before it finally opens the season Saturday against Nebraska.
- Teammates may kid Texas LB Roddrick Muckelroy about sounding like a squeaky mouse, but they love his production on the field.
- Injured Texas Tech CB L.A. Reed is expected to play Saturday night against SMU and could even start against the Mustangs.
- Nebraska has confirmed a three-year scheduling deal with Fresno State. The Cornhuskers will host the Bulldogs in 2011 and 2016 and visit Fresno in 2014.
- There's no quarterback controversy at Iowa State, where both Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates understand their roles. But perhaps the biggest reason for the Cyclones' 2-0 start has been their special teams.
- Missouri backup TB Jimmy Jackson is OK with his reserve role in the Tigers' backfield.
- Former Colorado coach Eddie Crowder, who died Tuesday at the age of 77, leaves an unmatched legacy at Colorado. Former Boulder Camera sports editor Dan Creedon writes about some of his favorite memories of Crowder.
- Baylor QB Robert Griffin isn't a normal 18-year-old college student, on or off the field.
- Increased attention to his schoolwork helped Kansas State CB Courtney Herndon grow up. He's on track to graduate after playing the game of his college career last week.
- State Fair of Texas officials are excited about changes around the Cotton Bowl and it has nothing to do with the introduction of chicken-fried bacon as a midway food staple. The Cotton Bowl's new seating configuration will expand capacity to 92,180 -- making it the ninth-largest stadium in the nation.
- Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman is learning about the big adjustment from the NFL to college football.
- Tulsa World columnist Dave Sittler said media members whiffed by placing no Oklahoma State players on the preseason all-conference team.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
8:00 PM ET 20 Duke 1 Florida State 8:17 PM ET 2 Ohio State 10 Michigan State 4:00 PM ET 5 Missouri 3 Auburn 12:00 PM ET 17 Oklahoma 6 Oklahoma State 7:45 PM ET 7 Stanford 11 Arizona State 3:30 PM ET 25 Texas 9 Baylor 12:00 PM ET 16 UCF Southern Methodist 10:00 PM ET Utah State 23 Fresno State