Monday, May 14, 2012
Pac-12 QB competitions unresolved
By Ted Miller
There were a lot of new and few answers this spring in the Pac-12.
The new is four new coaches: Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, Todd Graham at Arizona State, Jim Mora at UCLA and Mike Leach at Washington State. The lack of answers comes mostly at quarterback, though it now seems in vogue for coaches to downplay -- or refuse to provide -- a post-spring depth chart, thereby leaving just about every position allegedly up for grabs.
Or as Oregon coach Chip Kelly cryptically explained when asked if any Ducks questions were answered this spring, "I don’t know what that phenomena is, but we don’t have answers that are answered after spring, Grasshopper."
He didn't say "Grasshopper," but it seemed to be strongly implied.
A strong spring game helped Jeff Tuel in his bid to be Washington State's starting QB.
USC and Washington entered and exited spring with QB certainty, with Matt Barkley and Keith Price ranking among the nation's best. California, Utah, Arizona and Oregon State appear solid at the position. Washington State is just short of set with Jeff Tuel, as Tuel's lights-out performance in the spring game -- 19-of-21 for 285 yards and two touchdowns -- made his position seem strong with an injured Connor Halliday on the sidelines.
That leaves Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA. All five entered spring with QB uncertainty, and they exit it that way.
The Ducks QB situation was a national story after Darron Thomas surprisingly -- and unwisely -- opted to enter the NFL draft. Before spring began, Bryan Bennett, who played well in relief of Thomas last year, seemed like a strong frontrunner over Marcus Mariota. But Mariota overwhelmingly outplayed Bennett in the spring game, an ESPN3 broadcast that was the Ducks' only open practice, looking good as a runner and passer.
Still, Kelly only acknowledged what everyone saw and said onward to the summer.
Arizona State and UCLA started spring with three legitimate challengers at QB. While it seemed as though there was daily speculation of an emerging pecking order, both programs placed "ORs" between their troikas on their post-spring depth chart. While it would seem that Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank are ahead of Taylor Kelly for the Sun Devils, and Brett Hundley and Richard Brehaut are ahead of returning starter Kevin Prince for the Bruins, those competitions are unresolved, according to both head coaches.
Same can be said for Stanford, though the Cardinal only have a two-man race with Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes. Neither played terribly well in the spring game, so Andrew Luck's very, very large cleats remain unfilled.
Still, know that the coaches have a pretty good idea of the pecking order, even as they opt to be coy. Mora said he'll name his starter by Aug. 16, while Graham intimated his ultimate decision isn't far away.
"We're a lot closer than what it appears probably from the outside," he said.
Colorado's QB competition never really got started. Pre-spring frontrunner Connor Wood, a Texas transfer, was pretty much handed an opportunity to take the job with Nick Hirschman out with a foot injury, but Wood failed to break through. While Wood may well still be the frontrunner, it's also possible incoming freshman Shane Dillon could get into the mix, as could Jordan Webb, a former starter at Kansas who may end up in Boulder via transfer.
Coach Jon Embree isn't eager to prolong the indecision.
"If it's a clear cut deal, I'm not going to waste time," he said. "I think it's important that the team knows and that quarterback know that they're going to be leading the team."
What this all means is that nearly half the Conference of Quarterbacks is undecided at the position and likely will remain that way until mid-August. Or later.
Of course, feel free to consult the heavens -- or the message boards -- for hints at what might lay ahead.