The Pac-12 likes quarterback talk. After all, it's the conference of quarterbacks.
Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA each have A-list signal-callers returning in 2013, but there's at least some degree of quarterback intrigue at the other eight schools. Arizona, California, Colorado and USC have wide-open competitions with no clear front-runner, while Oregon State, Utah, Washington and Washington State have varying degrees of uncertainty behind center.
So which situation is most interesting?
Kevin Gemmell: What makes the Oregon State quarterback competition so interesting is the fact that you have two players who are already proven. Sean Mannion could probably start for most pro-style teams in the country. And so could Cody Vaz.
There is no single element in football more important than quarterback play. You could have the greatest defense in the world. But if the offense can't score points, it's a wasted effort. You could have an outstanding wide receiver -- but if no one can get him the ball, what's the point? A great running back is nice, but when teams load the box, you have to be able to pass.
No team enjoyed the spoils -- or spoilers -- of quarterback play more last season than the Oregon State Beavers, which seemed to have a love/hate relationship with its signal-callers all year long. Had it not been for outstanding quarterback play, there's a good chance Oregon State doesn't beat UCLA or Arizona (courtesy of Mannion). And had it not been for outstanding quarterback play, there's a good chance Oregon State doesn't beat BYU (courtesy of Vaz). Then again, if it hadn't been for shaky quarterback play, maybe the Beavers beat Washington (courtesy of Mannion) or Stanford (courtesy of Vaz).
At times, both quarterbacks were life preservers for their teams -- bailing them out in tough situations. Other times, they did the Santa thing, handing out free footballs. Both quarterbacks have outstanding potential and could certainly make waves for all-conference honors -- if they can square up their consistency. And if Mike Riley can decide on one.
It's a great problem to have. I promise you that Sonny Dykes, Mike MacIntyre, Rich Rodriguez and Lane Kiffin -- four coaches breaking in new quarterbacks this spring -- would love to have two quarterbacks with multiple starts competing for the gig. And not just starts -- but quality starts in big games at home, on the road, against ranked teams. Both guys know what it's like to win -- and lose -- a big game.
It's unlikely we're going to get an answer about the starter this spring. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if it's not until a week and a half before the Beavers kick off the season at home against Eastern Washington (we're not expecting any Week 1 hurricanes in Corvallis), before Riley picks his guy. And with a rejuvenated running game and a rising star in Brandin Cooks catching balls -- whoever wins the job will have a nice well of experience from which to draw from. And whoever carries the clipboard will be the most experienced backup quarterback in the league. That's what makes this competition so intriguing.
Ted Miller: This is a hard one for me. I think there are a lot of interesting quarterback situations in the Pac-12 this spring.
When USC has a quarterback competition, it's always national news. Just because it's USC.
I'm curious about how quickly new Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre can teach his quarterbacks the pistol offense -- and then pick one to lead his team. It seems as though new California coach Sonny Dykes and former elite recruit Zach Kline are a perfect match, but Berkeley has done funny things to promising quarterbacks the past few years. And do Utah (Travis Wilson), Washington (Keith Price) and Washington State (Connor Halliday) have decided front-runners to lead their offenses next fall? Probably, but you'd think at least one might surprise us.
Yet no team's trajectory seems so tied to what it can do at quarterback in 2013 as Arizona.
The Wildcats have 11 starters back on defense. Yes, it was a rotten defense in 2012, but that returning experience -- really the entire two-deep -- strongly suggests it should improve next fall. They also have six starters back on offense, including All-America running back Ka'Deem Carey, second-team All-Pac-12 receiver Austin Hill and three starters on the offensive line, including both tackles protecting the new quarterback.
Yet Rich Rodriguez's spread system demands a lot of a quarterback. Further, the next Wildcats quarterback will have huge shoes to fill, as you guys well know the Pac-12 blog thinks very highly of the departed Matt Scott, who was second-team All-Pac-12 and ranked sixth in the nation in total yards.
The question is whether B.J. Denker, Jesse Scroggins, Javelle Allen or incoming freshman Anu Solomon, who doesn't report until the fall, can approach the numbers and leadership Scott offered last year.
The Pac-12 blog, alas, is skeptical, and is therefore worried many, many Arizona fans will come to his Scottsdale home in December -- hat in hands -- and say, "You were right. Matt Scott was really that good. Sorry we participated in the bludgeoning of you in the comments section. Here's a chilled bottle of Grey Goose. And some fresh belon oysters. And $10,000."
Denker played pretty well in relief of an injured Scott against Colorado, but, well, that was Colorado, and Carey was going nuts against the hapless Buffs. Scroggins was good enough to be a USC backup, but he washed out academically and fell out of favor before going to a junior college. Allen is a redshirt freshman. Solomon a true freshman.
In other words, the position is a complete mystery. The Pac-12 blog loves mysteries. Fans, not so much.
If the Wildcats can get solid quarterback play in 2013, they will be a factor in the South Division. But if the position is shaky, they could stumble below .500.
The question is whether Arizona's quarterback mystery is like something Hercule Poirot will tie a nice bow around, producing satisfying clarity at the end, or if it will end up looking like something from Dennis Lehane -- dark, messy and fraught with human fallibility.