Pac-12 spring focus on QBs, new coaches

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
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The overwhelming sentiment in college football is that having an accomplished quarterback coming back as you head into spring football is a good thing. Even a most excellent thing. Of course, overwhelming sentiments often end up getting poleaxed by what ends up happening when toe meets leather.

Last spring, USC was celebrating the return of the most celebrated quarterback in the nation, which made the Trojans top national title contenders. California, Oregon State, Utah, Washington and Washington State felt pretty darn set at the position. Meanwhile, Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA and Stanford had big questions at quarterback.

How did that turn out?

Still, quarterback is typically the Point A of where we in the Pac-12 start looking forward to the next season.

Those teams with big questions at quarterback last year? They are feeling pretty happy about themselves this go-around. Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA and Stanford have quarterbacks who are sure to be on watch lists for national awards. Ducks QB Marcus Mariota is among the front-runners for the Heisman Trophy.

Meanwhile, three teams are looking for a new starting quarterback: Arizona is replacing Matt Scott, California is replacing Zach Maynard, and USC is replacing Matt Barkley. Those are wide-open competitions without a clear front-runner.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsDespite a head-coaching change, Oregon likely is feeling confident heading into spring workouts with Marcus Mariota back at QB.
Then there are teams that have experience at quarterback but not entirely the right kind -- or, at least, there's some uncertainty who will be behind center to start 2013.

Coming off a 1-11 season that included generally horrible play at quarterback, it's fair to say Colorado's QB competition is wide open, even more so with a new head coach and new offensive system (the pistol).

Oregon State went back and forth with Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz throughout 2012. That competition will be rejoined this spring, though it's 50-50 whether we'll have any post-spring clarity on the ultimate pecking order. Travis Wilson took over at Utah as a true freshman when Jordan Wynn went down to injury, but he probably will need to win over new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson.

And while Washington and Washington State have returning veterans with plenty of starting experience -- Keith Price for the Huskies and Connor Halliday for the Cougars -- their inconsistency in 2012 will inspire some intrigue this spring that perhaps a youngster could put up a meaningful challenge for the starting job.

Of course, there are other spring story lines of note.

After four new coaches saw their first Pac-12 spring in 2012, three more newbies arrive this year. That's a lot of change over two seasons, but coaching changes are a constant in the Pac-12 and college football in general.

Mike MacIntyre will begin a massive rebuilding project at Colorado, and Sonny Dykes faces a minor rebuilding project at California. In contrast, Mark Helfrich at Oregon won't be rebuilding anything or changing much in terms of scheme or how the Ducks operate. But he is charged with winning 11 or 12 games and playing in a BCS bowl game every year.

Another rebuilding project that begins this spring: Lane Kiffin and USC.

Kiffin and the Trojans had an epically disappointing 2012 season, becoming the first team ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press poll to finish with six defeats. That landed Kiffin on the hot seat, inspiring him to remake his staff, most notably replacing his father, Monte Kiffin, with former California defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

It still remains to be seen if Kiffin will continue as offensive playcaller.

The Trojans will not only be looking for a quarterback this spring, but they also will be adopting a new base 3-4 defense. So there's a lot to get done.

USC can take heart in its 2012 misfortunes, though. Teams that head into spring believing they've already got it all figured out, well, they just might not. And teams that seem laden with questions might find some exciting answers few saw coming -- Taylor Kelly!

The overwhelming sentiment entering 2013 spring practices is that Oregon and Stanford are again the cream of the North Division and that Arizona State and UCLA are the front-runners in the South. A significant part of that is all four seem set with very good and potentially outstanding quarterbacks.

Teams with QB issues, meanwhile, are questionable to worrisome.

While there are plenty of story lines to follow this spring, we won't know for months whether those overwhelming sentiments get poleaxed once again.

Ted Miller | email

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