Looks like a down year for Pac-10 quarterbacks
Most teams in conference will go with unproven players this fall.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
Tom Hansen, the 71-year-old Pac-10 commissioner, invariably had a preamble to his short talk in front of scribes and broadcast types at the league's media-day football gathering in the summer.
"I always figure you can judge the strength of our league by its quarterbacks," he would say. "So we're looking for another great year of Pac-10 football."
Hansen gives way in six weeks to Larry Scott, who comes from a CEO role with the Women's Tennis Association. If he borrows Hansen's script, I'd anticipate his introductory words to go something like this:
"Thanks for coming today, ladies and gentlemen — especially all you guys in the back in the dark suits from the NCAA enforcement staff. We appreciate it, even if you only had to drive from your apartments down there on Jefferson next to USC.
"I'm told by my predecessor that a good gauge of the coming Pac-10 football season is its quarterbacks. So I guess I'm suggesting that 2009 will be the year of the, uh, deep-snapper in the conference."
Forgive Scott if he wonders where Jake Plummer and Aaron Rodgers went. The recently concluded spring football sessions at Pac-10 schools serve to underscore a trend in the conference: We're in the midst of one of the most fallow stretches in the history of Pac-10 quarterbacking. Which is like saying Jon Stewart is fresh out of one-liners.
Pointing toward fall camp, no fewer than six Pac-10 schools will begin with new quarterbacks. At three other venues — California, Washington, WSU — the job will go to somebody who had it part-time, either through coach's decision or injury.
That means there's one program, Oregon, where there's an incumbent quarterback solidly in place, and he's a 5-foot-8 runt whose talents happen to fit perfectly into the variables of spread-option football.
Where have you gone, Mark Brunell? Where's Drew Bledsoe when you need him?
Look at the recent NFL draft. Mark Sanchez of USC moved up sharply in the months before it. Meanwhile, anybody else from the Pac-10 moved out, went the other way, beyond those seven rounds. Sanchez was the only quarterback drafted from the league.
The state of Arizona gives you the relevant look. Arizona State just got done with Rudy Carpenter, who started 43 straight games at ASU. Arizona is waving goodbye to Willie Tuitama, who was always seen as the nominal savior of Mike Stoops' program.
Neither Carpenter nor Tuitama was drafted.
What remains in the league might be the most faceless collection of quarterbacks ever accepting the torch at one time.
Not to say there won't be some gems in this group; Aaron Corp of USC had to be good just to fend off Matt Barkley, whom some are already calling a future No. 1 NFL draft pick. At Stanford, Andrew Luck appears to have the chops to deserve mention someday among all the greats there. Lyle Moevao's balky shoulder apparently is going to give Oregon State's Sean Canfield the chance to prove he has more upside.
Elsewhere, there are awkward handoffs and fervent hopes that some of the quarterback follies are in the past. At UCLA, Rick Neuheisel decided he had declining hair to pull out and has inserted Kevin Prince for Kevin Craft, who threw a school-record 20 interceptions last year, including six for touchdowns.
WSU returns Kevin Lopina, but his portfolio shows 11 interceptions against zero touchdown passes last year, and the Cougars must hang with the belief that a rehabilitated Marshall Lobbestael will win back the job or at least urge Lopina to some better numbers.
As for Washington, we know Jake Locker is a wondrous athlete. But so far, he's a .487 career passer and the Huskies have precious little to show for his time here.
The Pac-10: Conference of champions and championship quarterbacks. But the recession seems to know no bounds.
Pac-10 spring football report card
The big story — For the first time in the five-year Mike Stoops regime, there seems relative stability across the board, although the Wildcats are having to break in a new sophomore quarterback. That will be either fleet Matt Scott, who ran for 188 yards on 23 carries last year in a reserve role, or 6-foot-5 Michigan State transfer Nick Foles.
Best of show — Among those with the best camps were freakish TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Delashaun Dean and PK Alex Zendejas, nephew of 'Cats 1982-85 standout Max Zendejas. Meanwhile, the heir to the small-receiver throne vacated by Mike Thomas might be sophomore-to-be William "Bug" Wright.
Missing you — Blake Kerley, a 29-game starter who injured a knee last year, missed drills and will have a hard time unseating junior C Colin Baxter, who is likely to be on the Rimington Trophy watch list.
Of interest — Stoops will make $1 million during the 2009-10 school year. New basketball coach Sean Miller, who hasn't yet coached in a BCS conference, will make $2 million.
The X factor — Seemingly, it has been forever since Arizona wasn't featuring Willie Tuitama at QB. The progress of Scott and Foles will determine how far the Wildcats go.
On tap — The schedule is backloaded — the last four are Cal, Oregon, ASU and USC. So after a likely 2-0 start against Central Michigan and Northern Arizona, the 'Cats must make hay in three straight road games at Iowa, OSU and Washington.
Outlook entering fall — There's more overall depth in the program since the late '90s under Dick Tomey. If the QB play is adequate, Arizona should capitalize on the momentum of playing in its first bowl game in 10 years.
The big story — The offense, which will feature a new quarterback replacing four-year starter Rudy Carpenter, tried in vain to keep up with a defense that should be very good.
Best of show — Shawn Lauvao, a guard all his career, has made a good transition to LT. Sophomore Garth Gerhart, brother of Stanford RB Toby Gerhart, won the center job. Defenders who had strong springs include safety Ryan McFoy (moved from linebacker), DE James Brooks and LB Brandon McGee.
Missing you — Three of ASU's best offensive lineman — Matt Hustad, Zach Schlink and Adam Tello — sat out spring practice rehabbing injuries.
Of interest — He only enrolled in mid-school year, but Brock Osweiler, the 6-8 freshman QB, already has impressed and could play as a freshman. He originally committed to Gonzaga for basketball after his freshman year of high school, then switched gears.
The X factor — QB and offensive line appear to hold the key for ASU. At QB, senior Danny Sullivan, who has seen some reserve action behind Carpenter, likely will lead off in the fall, but could give way to either Osweiler or RS freshman Samson Szakacsy. In a side note, ASU staffers visited Texas in the offseason and plan to install some read-option.
On tap — The latter half of the scheduled looms much tougher than the first, although ASU visits Georgia on Sept. 26. A key early game is OSU in Tempe on Oct. 3.
Outlook entering fall — Lots of coach Dennis Erickson's recruits are pressing older players on the depth chart. This could be a salty team if the defense can keep it in games until the offense comes around.
The big story — Bears went about remaking themselves at QB and linebacker, seemingly the only impediments to a challenge of USC in the fall.
Best of show — WR Marvin Jones, a sophomore, looks like the best wideout on hand, and LB Mike Mohamed, who played a lot last year, should be fine.
Missing you — RB Jahvid Best, who could make a run at the Heisman Trophy, sat out rehabbing after minor foot and elbow surgery. NG Derrick Hill missed time with some recurring knee issues. WR Verran Tucker spent time working on academics.
Of interest — Chris Guarnero looked solid at center as the replacement for all-star Alex Mack. Steve Marshall, 52, came from the Cleveland Browns to replace OL coach Jim Michalczik, and head coach Jeff Tedford added ex-Oregon and Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who will call plays.
The X factor — After a two-year, unsettled competition with Nate Longshore, Kevin Riley has the nod at least for now at QB against Brock Mansion. But he completed only 51 percent last year, and the Cal passing game has to step up to a championship level.
On tap — Bears should know where they stand early, with a conference opener at Oregon on Sept. 26 and against USC the next week in Berkeley.
Outlook entering fall — Lindy's preseason magazine pegs Cal 12th, and the Bears could have an even bigger year than that if Riley plays at a high level. The defense could be the equal of USC's.
The big story — In one of the few Pac-10 venues with proven quarterbacking, Jeremiah Masoli operated behind a patchwork, inconsistent offensive line. Overseeing it was first-year coach Chip Kelly, who replaces the dean of Pac-10 coaches, Mike Bellotti.
Best of show — Among those playing best were CB Walter Thurmond III, TE Ed Dickson, WR Jamere Holland DT Brandon Bair. C Jordan Holmes progressed nicely as the heir to Seahawks draftee Max Unger at center.
Missing you — OT C.E. Kaiser, rehabbing from offseason ankle surgery, and linemate Bo Thran (knee injury early in camp), sat out. RB LaMichael James, a scatback and possible backup to standout RB LaGarrette Blount, lost valuable reps nursing a shoulder.
Of interest — New WRs coach is Scott Frost, the ex-Stanford and Nebraska QB, but the biggest stir comes from new firebrand DL coach Jerry Azzinaro, a former New England Golden Gloves novice heavyweight champ with a brown belt in combat judo.
The X factor — Replacing three NFL prospects on the offensive line is the big challenge, especially given Kelly's ability to orchestrate high-tech offense. And Oregon lost quality in the secondary in draftees Jairus Byrd and Patrick Chung.
On tap — Ducks are pointing to a Thursday-night opener at Boise State and follow it with four straight home games against Purdue, Utah, Cal and WSU.
Outlook entering fall — Lindy's pegs Oregon No. 15. That might be optimistic, unless the Ducks can improve a defense that allowed 28 points a game and work up a facsimile to last year's offensive line.
The big story — QB Sean Canfield, long considered a bigger talent than incumbent Lyle Moevao, positioned himself to start in 2009 with Moevao out rehabbing from shoulder surgery.
Best of show — Canfield turned in one of the top springs until throwing three interceptions in the final scrimmage. Also starring were LBs Keaton Kristick and David Pa' aluhi and WR Darrell Catchings.
Missing you — Besides Moevao, the Rodgers brothers missed contact, WR James coming off a collarbone break and RB Jacquizz a shoulder-blade injury.
Of interest — Beavers' ability to find pass-rushers seems intact, with move of promising Gabe Miller from TE to DE, where he has natural ability.
The X factor — The secondary has four new starters, and half the offensive line will be new.
On tap — Beavers have a lighter load than recently, starting with Portland State, UNLV and Cincinnati (at home). That should help solve some of OSU's usual struggles getting out of the gate.
Outlook entering fall — Moevao could be back healthy in the fall, but his surgery was fairly major, so Canfield gets the call. He throws a better deep ball, which could open the field even more for the shifty Jacquizz Rodgers. If the secondary is adequate, it could be a similar kind of season to the kind OSU fans have become accustomed.
The big story — QB Andrew Luck of Houston, a rising sophomore, emerged and took the job away from a couple of others, including incumbent Clover Park grad Tavita Pritchard.
Best of show — Luck was it, throwing for 352 yards and five TDs in the Cardinal spring game. SLB Alex Debniak had a good session as did NG Ekom Udofia.
Missing you — QB Alex Loukas, who had fallen to No. 3 on the depth chart, tore up a knee. Oft-injured OL Allen Smith fractured a patella but may return by fall camp.
Of interest — Coach Jim Harbaugh plans to use some players both ways this year, including standout FB Owen Marecic at SLB; Debniak, who will see snaps at RB (he ran for 94 yards in the spring game); and Richard Sherman, who has been moved to CB but might see some time at his old WR spot.
The X factor — Stanford's success with and against the pass will be the key after a season in which it threw for only 11 TDs and was ninth in the Pac-10 in defending the pass, tying Washington for worst with only seven interceptions.
On tap — With Oregon, USC, Cal and Notre Dame in November, the schedule is more truculent late than early (though Stanford plays four of its last five at home). Still, winning the season opener at WSU looks like a must for the Cardinal.
Outlook entering fall — Harbaugh has accomplished making the Cardinal more physical; now the upgrade needed is in the passing game with Luck, a heralded five-star recruit out of high school. Cardinal needs to find a way into its first bowl game since 2001.
The big story — After his debut season at UCLA was fraught with quarterback problems, coach Rick Neuheisel named redshirt freshman QB Kevin Prince over returning 12-game starter Kevin Craft.
Best of show — Standouts included Prince, RS freshman CB Aaron Hester, LB Kyle Bosworth, DT Bryan Price, WR Nelson Rosario, RS freshman TB Johnathan Franklin.
Missing you — TB Christian Ramirez, front-runner for the job, missed most of the spring with a bad hamstring. OT Mike Harris was out with a broken bone in his foot and TE Ryan Moya was sidelined after meniscus and Achilles surgery.
Of interest — Bruins will add C Kai Maiava, a transfer from Colorado who sat out last season, and brother of ex-USC LB Kaluka Maiava. Neuheisel named to his staff ex-Bruin and former Pittsburgh Steeler Carnell Lake, as well as former UW defensive coordinator Tim Hundley, who is coaching CBs.
The X factor — Obviously, Bruins need a major upgrade at QB, where Craft drove Neuheisel crazy, throwing 20 interceptions with seven TDs. But they're also lacking on the OL, where opportunities will await three HS and two JC linemen arriving in the fall.
On tap — Bruins have a Sept. 12 date at Tennessee — with a Lane Kiffin-Norm Chow sub-theme — and their initial three league games in October will be telling (at Stanford, home against Oregon and Cal).
Outlook entering fall — Astonishingly, Bruins, sitting in the middle of one of the nation's richest talent pools, didn't have a player drafted by the NFL for only the second time since 1961. That will begin to change under Neuheisel, with some younger players overtaking veterans. UCLA almost has to be better on offense than 2008, and should go bowling if it doesn't backslide with the loss of defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker to the New Mexico State head coaching job.
The big story — Aaron Corp, 6-4 rising sophomore, was named No. 1 starting QB in the post-Mark Sanchez era, and USC went about replacing three highly drafted LBs. Trojans claim successors Chris Galippo, Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith are faster than the departed Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga and Clay Matthews.
Best of show — Coach Pete Carroll called 5-8 RS freshman TB Curtis McNeal the "MVP" of spring camp. DE Everson Griffen began turning loose some of his vast potential. Soph Armond Armstead moved from DT to DE and won a job. FB D.J. Shoemate was Carroll's "most improved player." OT Tryon Smith emerged as a starter.
Missing you — TB Joe McKnight had limited work because of assorted injuries, curbing progress under new QBs coach and play-caller Jeremy Bates. C Kristofer O'Dowd, top-ranked at his position by at least one magazine, sat out rehabbing a shoulder.
Of interest — Much attention was paid Bates — successor to new Washington coach Steve Sarkisian — a Tennessean who has had three NFL stops, the last in 2008 working with Jay Cutler in Denver. QB Matt Barkley, fresh out of high school a semester early, nosed into the No. 2 spot, Carroll saying he picked things up faster than any past USC quarterback.
X factor — Corp will have to prove his worth in the fall, and might have to fight off Barkley. Meanwhile, the kicking and punting spots will be open in August.
On tap — Trojans have a testy second game at Ohio State before easing into the conference against Washington and WSU. October will be a challenge; it begins at Cal and ends at Oregon, sandwiched around games with Notre Dame and Oregon State.
Outlook entering fall — Trojans figure to be a top-five item in the polls going in. They're young in several spots, but as usual, capable enough to make a run at the national title.
The big story — New coach Steve Sarkisian tried to infuse some energy into the program with an upbeat approach, opening practices to the media and public and running workouts in a high-octane manner.
Best of show — QB Jake Locker returned from his September thumb injury and looked strong, completing 16 of 18 for 200 yards in the spring game. RB Chris Polk positioned himself as a possible starter with 95 yards rushing that day. DE Darrion Jones upgraded his level of play. LB E.J. Savannah returned to the field after run-ins with previous coach Tyrone Willingham and should form a strong unit with Mason Foster and Donald Butler.
Missing you — RB Terrance Dailey, the 2008 rushing leader with 338 yards, is off the team with academic issues.
Of interest — The OL will have a new look, with 33-game starter Ben Ossai moving from tackle to guard and soph Senio Kelemete (moved from DT) and RS freshman Drew Schafer having edged into No. 1 spots entering fall. Tight ends, a minimal part of the passing game under Willingham, were more in evidence.
The X factor — This team has a lot of needs, and two of them are improvement in the secondary — the Huskies had only seven interceptions, two by linebackers — and the offensive line.
On tap — Huskies begin with three straight at home, two of them against LSU and USC. It's likely unfavorable that several games that might seem winnable — Stanford, UCLA, Arizona State — are on the road, and some that figure to be longshots — USC, Oregon, Cal — are at home.
Outlook entering fall — Huskies underachieved at 0-12 last year (duh). Just by playing hard and with the help of a healthy and improved Jake Locker, they should be in line to win several games.
The big story — After an abominable 2008 season (2-11), the Cougars worked at being more physical, especially on both lines.
Best of show — RBs James Montgomery, a transfer from Cal, and holdover Dwight Tardy looked good in what is probably the team's strongest position. LB Louis Bland continued his promising play as a freshman. S Chima Nwachukwu and CB Brandon Jones (Cal transfer from O'Dea) stepped up.
Missing you — DT Bernard Wolfgramm missed some reps nursing a rehabbing back, and several others, including O-linemen Brian Danaher, Micah Hannam and Tyson Pencer, lost time coming back from shoulder injuries. QB Marshall Lobbestael, whose action was limited after last fall's knee injury, should be ready by fall.
Of interest — DE Casey Hamlett, a transfer from the terminated program at Western Washington, showed promise. CB Romeo Pellum was just dropped from the program after violating team rules. DE Cory Mackay, whom coach Paul Wulff had cited for a strong spring, was seriously injured last week in a pickup-truck accident while returning home from finals week.
The X factor — Too many problem areas to name, but if the Cougars could get big improvement in three, they'd be QB, offensive line and defensive line.
On tap — Cougars are on the road at USC, Oregon and Cal, but those are likely lost causes, anyway. WSU will never have a better spot for a keynote address than the Stanford opener in Pullman on Sept. 5.
Outlook entering fall — It would be a surprise if WSU finishes anywhere above 10th. After last year's history-making woes, just cutting the average margin of defeat in half would represent a big stride forward.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
email@example.com | 206-464-8281
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