Pac-12: Christian Ponder

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.

OSU's Rodgers looks like a Heisman candidate

October, 27, 2009
Posted by's Ted Miller

Just about everybody's got their "he's-getting-no-respect!" Heisman Trophy candidate.

Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh might be the most dominant player in the country. Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder has been as outstanding as his team has been disappointing. Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore has 21 touchdown passes -- most in the nation -- and just two interceptions.

Yet Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers might eclipse them all.
 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
 Jacquizz Rodgers has rushed for 810 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.

"I don't know what to say about that, but I think he's one of the very best football players in the country," said coach Mike Riley when asked if Rodgers should be a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Rodgers, a sophomore, ranks second in the nation with 14 rushing touchdowns and 10th with 115 yards rushing per game. He's also caught 42 passes for 279 yards with a touchdown.

And he's not fumbled once. In his career. In 478 touches.

He's also piled up his numbers this season against two top-10 teams and another ranked 20th. Four of the defenses he's faced rank among the nation's top 32. Three rank among the top 20 in run defense.

Rodgers has been piling up his numbers running behind a line that replaced three starters and presently starts a true freshman tackle and a former walk-on at guard on the left side.

Remember how he ripped apart USC last year for 186 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman? Well, he got 113 yards and a score on Saturday in the Beavers' 42-36 loss in the Coliseum, playing much of the game, by the way, on a sprained ankle.

So throw in the toughness factor.

Riley doesn't have much used-car salesman in him. He's not a guy who's going to hyperventilate over his players in an effort to grab the national spotlight.

But you get the sense he wants some for Rodgers. Why? Because Rodgers deserves it.

"In a ton of ways, he's playing at the highest level in the country," Riley said. "If you are looking for someone with a deal like that, I do not see what he wouldn't qualify."

Oregon State 's schedule ahead is easier than what came before. The Beavers host a struggling UCLA team on Saturday. Rodgers still gets to face the conference's two worst run defense -- Washington and Washington State -- on consecutive November weekends.

There are two measuring-stick games: at California on Nov. 7 and the season finale at Oregon on Dec. 3.

If the Beavers can beat UCLA and Cal, they figure to jump back into the national rankings -- their three losses all came against nationally ranked teams (Cincinnati, Arizona and USC).

If they can carry a four-game winning streak into the Civil War, that rivalry game could have major implications in the national, as well as the Pac-10 pecking order.

And if Rodgers turns in a red-letter performance against the Ducks' stout defense and finishes the season with, say ,1,500 yards and 20-plus touchdowns on the season, the defending Pac-10 offensive player of the year should get more than a pat on the back and a helmet sticker.

He'd deserve an invitation to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.



Thursday, 10/2
Saturday, 10/4