Preseason position reviews: Quarterback

Last year, we fretted that the so-called "Conference of Quarterbacks" was losing its luster at the game's most important position. Only Oregon and Washington -- with Jeremiah Masoli and Jake Locker -- were 100-percent certain at QB heading into 2009.

Well, seasons change, and 2010 is an entirely different story, even with Masoli's unfortunate demise.

Only two teams, Oregon and Arizona State, will enter preseason practices uncertain at quarterback. Four teams boast QBs with legitimate shots at postseason honors, and two of those are widely projected as first-round NFL draft picks this spring.

So this position of strength seems like a good place to start our preseason position reviews.

Great shape

  • Washington: Jake Locker is a certain No. 1 draft pick this spring who could go No. 1 overall. While his passing figures to be more refined in year two under Steve Sarkisian, it's his running ability that keeps defensive coordinators up at night.

  • Stanford: If Andrew Luck opts to enter the NFL draft after his third season on the Farm, he almost certainly will be a first-round pick and could go higher than Locker. Which, yes, means he could be the top overall pick. While he's a more traditional pocket passer than Locker, he's also a good athlete.

  • Arizona: While Nick Foles had his struggles in 2009, he also threw 19 TD passes (vs. nine interceptions), despite not taking over the starting job until the fourth game. It's reasonable to think he'll take another step forward in 2010. A strong supporting cast doesn't hurt, either.

  • USC: While Pete Carroll's over-the-top praise of Matt Barkley got a bit old last fall, it only takes a few minutes watching the true sophomore to recognize his talent. He looked great this spring. Don't be surprised if he is in the conversation for All-Pac-10 honors by season's end.

Good shape

  • California: Kevin Riley has had his ups and downs, and that inconsistency has irritated Cal fans. Still, he's an experience guy who could be in store for a strong senior campaign.

  • UCLA: While Kevin Prince didn't put up good numbers last year as a redshirt freshman, there were plenty of moments when he flashed ability. While it's unclear how well the Bruins new "pistol" offense will work, projecting considerable improvement from Prince is entirely reasonable.

  • Washington State: Jeff Tuel is smart and poised and showed a lot of guts after taking over the starting job as a true freshman. If his offensive line gives him time, he's capable of making plays downfield.

We'll see

  • Oregon: Coach Chip Kelly has produced a productive quarterback every season since he arrived in Eugene as the Ducks offensive coordinator. There's no reason to believe either Nate Costa or Darron Thomas won't continue that run. But QB remains THE question for what could be a very good team in 2010.

  • Oregon State: Sophomore Ryan Katz is a good athlete with a good arm, and he's got a good supporting cast around him. But you don't know how he will react when he steps into the spotlight because he has yet to take a meaningful college snap.

  • Arizona State: It's a good bet that either Brock Osweiler or Steven Threet will be better than Danny Sullivan was last year. The real question, however, is how much better. And, unlike the two teams above, the supporting cast on offense is decidedly questionable.