Monday, November 1, 2010
Checking in on the 'Conference of QBs'
By Ted Miller
Recall the image of the preseason -- four Pac-10 quarterbacks strutting their stuff on the East Coast. How could they possibly live up to the hype?
And yet the Pac-10 in 2010 has (mostly) lived up to its billing as the "Conference of Quarterbacks," just as many envisioned in the preseason. Only things haven't exactly played out as folks envisioned they would.
What was expected and has occurred: Stanford's Andrew Luck proved to be one of the nation's elite quarterbacks.
Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas has 21 TD passes and just six interceptions.
What wasn't expected and has occurred: Oregon sophomore Darron Thomas is pushing Luck for first-team All-Pac-10.
What was expected and has occurred: There's been mostly impressive quarterback play, top-to-bottom.
What wasn't expected and has occurred: In that measure of impressive quarterback play, Washington's Jake Locker ranks near the bottom.
Three of the four members of the East-Coast contingent, Luck, USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles have delivered on their high preseason expectations, though Foles has missed two games because of a knee injury. And, other than UCLA, no team's play at the position could be rated a disaster, though the Huskies surely thought Locker would be significantly better.
Injuries have been and could continue to be an issue.
Start with Locker, whose disappointing season took another hit when it was announced Monday that he will miss the visit to No. 1 Oregon on Saturday because of a broken rib. He sits out as the conference's second lowest-rated passer and one of just two who ranks outside the nation's top-50 (66) in passing efficiency.
UCLA has been miserable at the position in large part because of injuries to Kevin Prince, who is now out of the year with a knee injury. He played fairly well running the Bruins new "pistol" offense when he was healthy and could put in a full week of practice. Still, the Bruins are the only team that has been consistently terrible throwing the football, see a No. 117 ranking (out of 120) in passing offense.
Next, head over to California, where Kevin Riley was hoping a strong senior season would prove that he also should have been invited on the East Coast tour. He's likely done for the year with a knee injury suffered Saturday at Oregon State, and what preceded was hardly distinguished play.
Then there's Foles, who's missed the past two games with a dislocated knee cap. He's expected to return -- if fully healthy -- to start the marquee matchup at Stanford on Saturday, but backup Matt Scott's strong performance in his stead suggests there won't be too much patience if Foles shows some rust early.
Of course, Foles looked like a potential Heisman Trophy candidate early in the year, and there are few players in the country who have as strong a track record during fourth-quarter crunch time.
And, speaking of Scott, let's hear it for backups! Scott delivered when called upon, just as Nate Costa did for Oregon when Thomas went down with a shoulder injury at Washington State. Can Keith Price now do the same for Washington?
Washington State sophomore Jeff Tuel, the seventh returning starter from 2009, has completed 60 percent of his passes and thrown 14 scoring tosses. He has been one of the few bright spots for Washington State.
As for the new guys, Thomas has been spectacular. He's 13th in the nation and second in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency. He's completed 60 percent of his throws with 21 TDs and just six interceptions. He's also rushed for 311 yards and two scores.
Fellow sophomore Ryan Katz has been off-and-on for Oregon State, though mostly on of late. The big-armed Katz has thrown 11 TD passes and four interceptions. At Arizona State, junior Steven Threet has put up big numbers in good and bad ways -- see a conference-leading 268 yards passing per game and a conference-leading 13 interceptions.
Still, Threet is leading an offense that is multiple times better than it was in 2009 while he was forced to sit out after transferring from Michigan.
While it hasn't been all rainbows and ice cream at the position, the play, in general, has been great to solid. And there's further good news: At least seven starters will be back in 2011 -- eight if Luck opts to return for his junior year instead of becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
At this point, only Washington and California will be looking for new starters this spring, though UCLA's future at the position also is probably in question. And Price and junior Brock Mansion, Riley's replacement at Cal, at least will get some quality work as a starter that could serve them next fall, if they win the job.
Oh, and by the way, Colorado and Utah, who will joining the conference next fall, both are scheduled to welcome back their starting quarterbacks, with Utah sophomore Jordan Wynn, the nation's 11th-rated passer, likely to immediately enter into the quarterback conversation.
So after a couple of sputtering seasons, the Conference of Quarterbacks is back on firm ground.
It's not exactly a pressing issue now, but surely folks in the about-to-become Pac-12 offices are starting to look ahead: Who do we bring East next August?