- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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The last four Heisman Trophy winners were quarterbacks who started as freshmen. Two of them, in fact, won the bronze trophy as redshirt freshmen. So while no freshman at any position had won the Heisman before Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel did in 2012, it's obviously no longer taboo to start a freshman behind center.
Heck, every Pac-12 team has used a true or redshirt freshman starter at QB over the past decade, a seemingly established trend that includes names like Jake Locker, Jeff Tuel, Matt Barkley, Brett Hundley, Sean Mannion and Marcus Mariota.
Still, the notion that five conference teams might start freshman QBs in 2015 seems a bit, well, alarming, particularly in the Conference of Quarterbacks, where every team is expected to have a stockpile of talent competing in systems that reward savvy and experience, as Pac-12 playbooks tend to be thick.
Obviously, times are changing. Prep quarterbacks are arriving on campus as more finely tuned products, and coaches are no longer afraid of handing the keys of the offense to a teenager.
Sophomore Luke Del Rio's decision to transfer from Oregon State, which was announced Thursday, means the Beavers will start a freshman at QB this fall -- that's all they have at the position on their roster, barring a late transfer or JC addition. True freshman Seth Collins and redshirt freshman Nick Mitchell essentially are running at 1A and 1B this spring, with redshirt freshman Marcus McMaryion being a third option. Coach Gary Andersen has indicated he'd like to make a call sooner rather than later so a clear pecking order could be coming soon.
Early reports out of UCLA indicate that touted recruit Josh Rosen has looked comfortable and capable this spring as an early enrollee. The same could be said of fellow true frosh Jake Browning at Washington, who is competing with redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and junior Jeff Lindquist.
While Washington State's Luke Falk played well in relief of Connor Halliday last year, making three starts as a redshirt freshman, he's being challenged this spring by redshirt freshman Peyton Bender, with coach Mike Leach making sure everyone knows he's far from decided on the competition.
While many are projecting the Oregon QB competition as a battle between junior Jeff Lockie, Mariota's backup, and Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams, Mariota's own triumph in a QB competition over the older, more experienced and favored Bryan Bennett suggests it is premature to rule out redshirt freshman Morgan Mahalak and true freshman Travis Jonsen (formally Travis Waller).
It's also noteworthy that five other Pac-12 QBs previously started as true or redshirt freshmen: Arizona's Anu Solomon, California's Jared Goff, Colorado's Sefe Liufau, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and Utah's Travis Wilson.
This trend toward freshmen behind center isn't only a West Coast thing, either. Heading into spring practices, freshmen were in the running for jobs at Georgia, Florida, Texas, West Virginia, Boston College, Michigan, South Carolina, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Northwestern and LSU, among other schools.
While veteran players figure to prevail in more than a few of these competitions, it's clear there's been a shift in thinking with quarterbacks.
Age no longer comes before beauty.