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Friday, August 26, 2011
Andrew Luck leads quartet of Pac-12 QBs

By Nathan Salinas

Talent and experience at quarterback is a common theme for four presumed title contenders in the Pac-12 this season. Nick Foles at Arizona, Matt Barkley at USC, Darron Thomas at Oregon and Andrew Luck at Stanford give their teams reason to believe they belong in any conference championship conversation.

But each gives their team reason for concern, missing ingredients in their championship recipe.

Andrew Luck, Stanford
His talent is no secret -- he was projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft before opting to return to Palo Alto. But his talent goes beyond just throwing the ball. He has averaged more than 10 yards per carry (excluding sacks) and was sacked only six times in 2010, the second-fewest among QBs with at least 250 pass attempts.

Missing ingredient: Proving himself in the biggest of games. The one hole in his resume was in last season’s game at Oregon when Luck was only 4-for-13 on passes longer than 10 yards, and two of those were intercepted.

Darron Thomas, Oregon
In his first season as Oregon's starting QB, Thomas was a game manager in 2010. He was sacked only 10 times and didn't throw a fourth-quarter interception. Thomas complemented Oregon’s potent rushing attack: In play-action passes, Thomas threw 19 touchdowns and only two interceptions, leading to an impressive 175.8 passer efficiency rating.

Missing ingredient: Thomas needs to be more effective in the short downfield passing game. He completed only 61.5 percent of passes five or fewer yards downfield, significantly lower than most of his Pac-12 counterparts.

Matt Barkley, USC
Like Foles, Barkley enters his third season as the starter, at the reins of an effective short passing game. He completed 73.8 percent of passes thrown 10 yards or fewer downfield, which led to 18 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

Barkley also played well against the blitz, throwing 14 touchdowns against two interceptions. He got rid of the ball early, and to the right spots against the blitz, allowing receivers to run more than seven yards after each catch.

Missing ingredient: Barkley needs to be more effective using play action. He completed only 58.2 percent of play-action passes and averaged eight yards per attempt in play-action opportunities.

Nick Foles, Arizona
Foles enters his third year as the Wildcats’ starter. He is known for his quick release and vision in the short passing game. He completed 72.5 percent of passes thrown 10 or fewer yards downfield against AQ schools, with 10 touchdowns and just one interception. He also did a nice job of locating the ball and leading receivers, allowing them to average almost six yards after each catch.

Missing ingredient: He completed only 38.4 percent of passes 15 yards or more downfield.

For exclusive video, stories and blogs about quarterbacks from every level of competition, check out ESPN’s “Year of the Quarterback” page.