Take 2: Best shape without starting QB?

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
12:00
PM ET
Our topic today: Which team that has a TBA at quarterback is in the best shape?

The choices: Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA. (We're leaving Washington State out because Jeff Tuel is a heavy front-runner, no matter how coy Mike Leach is about things).

Kevin Gemmell: Oregon -- by far -- is in the best shape of the teams yet to name a quarterback. For starters, they have the most exciting player in the conference in De'Anthony Thomas. Regardless of whether Bryan Bennett or Marcus Mariota wins the job, Thomas is going to take a 2-yard swing pass and turn it into a 50-yard touchdown. Probably a few times. He's going to make the new guy look really, really good.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesChip Kelly might not know who Oregon's starting QB will be, but he can be sure that he'll have a talented supporting cast on offense.
And it's not like the Ducks have a history of rebuilding projects whenever Chip Kelly needs a new quarterback. How'd Darron Thomas work out? A berth in the national championship game and a Rose Bowl victory. Not bad. Same could be said for obscure JC transfer Jeremiah Masoli, who only led the Ducks to the 2010 Rose Bowl.

The offensive line should be fine protecting him with key returners like Hroniss Grasu, Carson York and Nick Cody. Plus, Oregon rotates offensive linemen so liberally the quarterback is going to have fresh bodies flanking him.

There are plenty of weapons already in place for the starter-to-be. Be it Josh Huff (status pending), tight end Colt Lyerla, who is a star on the rise, and Kenjon Barner to carry the load on the ground.

When you look at the rest of the teams sans starting quarterbacks, there are just too many questions to confidently say it's going to be a smooth transition. UCLA and ASU are starting from scratch with new coaches and new systems. Colorado is probably headed for a long season and Andrew Luck's successor has to replace -- well -- Andrew Luck. Good luck with that (pun, definitely not intended).

Oregon's transition might not be silky-smooth, but it's going to be a lot easier than the other four teams trying to replace a starter. The schedule works to the Ducks' favor with the first four games at home, which should give the new guy plenty of time to get comfortable. They might find themselves in a shootout at Washington State in the fifth game, but they don't even need to leave the Pacific Northwest until mid-October.

This offense is plug-and-play and whoever gets the job is going to be just fine.

Ted Miller: Sometimes you're screwed on a Take 2 when you go second. Kevin states a strong case. Does anyone really believe the Ducks' quarterback will be a liability this year? The answer is no.

Of course, that level of certainty could be burden, as could taking over the starting job for a top-five team. No team in the nation with uncertainty at QB this spring will be ranked higher in the preseason. Know what a disappointing regular season now looks like in Eugene? 10-2. In other words, this Ducks QB job brings a lot of pressure and high expectations. Being "pretty good for a first-year starter" will rate a fail with many fans.

None of that will be the case at UCLA. Bruins fans are starved for quarterback play that is just north of mediocre. The good news is that they will get at least that this fall. And they may be pleasantly surprised.

Start with this: Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. He transformed Brock Osweiler from a basketball player playing football to a second-round NFL draft pick. Mazzone is a charismatic guy -- though a follically challenged one -- who knows how to teach. He's been called a QB guru. Guys like Tim Tebow, Philip Rivers and Christian Ponder seek him out.

[+] EnlargeNoel Mazzone
Chris Williams/Icon SMISophomore QB Ricky Town received an offer from UCLA and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.
Then there are the three guys competing. You have the quarterback of the future in redshirt freshman Brett Hundley, and you have two seniors who have seen just about everything in Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut. Hundley has tons of potential. He's an athletic guy who's pass-first. Sort of like Osweiler, only 4 inches shorter.

Prince and Brehaut have been maligned by Bruins fans, and not entirely without justification. Both have produced strong games. And both have played poorly. Inconsistency is not a good thing for a quarterback. But both have nothing to lose in their final year of college football. If both are healthy, they can be solid QBs. They certainly are better suited for Mazzone's spread than the pistol they've been running the past two years.

The talent around them isn't bad. There's a good stable of running backs with Johnathan Franklin, Malcolm Jones and the rising Steven Manfro. TE/WR Joseph Fauria is going to be a high NFL draft pick next spring. The offensive line has a chance to be, well, OK.

Mazzone has options here, too. He can hand the job to Hundley, knowing he's got two experienced guys who can play if he needs them. Or he can start one of his veterans and bring Hundley in for special packages, perhaps steadily increasing his reps as the season goes on. (Mazzone, like most coaches, has always said he prefers just one guy, so know that second scenario is mostly me throwing a speculative thought into the air).

Further, whoever wins the job won't be operating under the microscope like the Oregon starter will. Expectations for the Bruins aren't high. If the QB is just solid -- say, ranking sixth or seventh in the conference in passing efficiency -- then he will be widely viewed as succeeding. And if he can get seven or eight wins, Bruins fans will extend new coach Jim Mora's honeymoon a season.

Ted Miller | email

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