Monday, 26 August 2013

An update on Pac-12 QB Races

With game week preparations underway at all 12 schools in the conference, the time has finally come for teams to name starting quarterbacks. Some teams never had quarterback competitions because they had established returning players at the position. There's no need to tell you who is the starting pivot at Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Arizona State, Utah, or Washington because those six schools aren't replacing a departed starter. The other half of the conference? Well those six schools have spent the spring and summer holding competitions between at least two and as many as five candidates.

Real game prep has started which means it's time those other six teams to disclose what they plan to do at the most important position.

Arizona - It is hard to get a read on this one because Rich Rodriguez has hinted that Arizona could play as many as three QBs in the opener and he has outright stated that he will not name a starter before the first game. B.J. Denker seems to be the favorite because he's a senior and was on the field with the Wildcats last year and even started one game when Matt Scott was injured. Jesse Scroggins, the former USC transfer is probably more talented but he missed the entire spring with an injury and then after finally getting healthy he suffered a setback and missed a large portion of fall camp. The third option is true freshman Anu Solomon who by all accounts is more talented than either Denker or Scroggins but of course, he just graduated high school two months ago.

I have always been of the opinion that naming a true freshman as your QB is the equivalent to punting on your season and announcing that you plan to take your lumps this year while building for the future. Unlike another team that I'll get to in a moment, Arizona has something to play for this year and has the talent at other positions to be a dark horse for the Pac-12 South crown. The decision at QB is going to be the difference between Arizona winning as few as six games and as many as nine. Fortunately for Arizona, They open the season with Northern Arizona, UNLV, and Texas-San Antonio which means they have three patsies that they could beat by bringing a QB out of the stands. I think this is a two man race between Denker and Scroggins and it will be decided on the field after week two and maybe even after week three.

California - Sonny Dykes' first QB in Berkely will be true freshman Jared Goff. Goff, a four-star recruit who enrolled in the spring, beat out redshirt freshman Zach Kline, the number two ranked QB in last year's class whom many people (myself included) had pegged as the favorite to win the job. The move to a true freshman makes sense for Cal. They are a rebuilding team and aren't competing for anything this season. the offensive talent around Goff is very young as well and it is ideal for Goff, Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper, Darius Powe, et al to take their losses together this year and try to build positive momentum for next season and beyond.

Goff seems like the right guy to play for Dykes. He's a tall, spindly passer at 6'4" without much meat on him. His body type and throwing motion definitely compares him favorably to players like Nick Foles and Colby Cameron who have had success playing under Dykes. As for Kline, He's obviously a tremendous talent and he will represent value to other programs if he decides to transfer. I will say that I don't necessarily think this battle is over and we could see Kline make a comeback and win the job one way or another during the season similar to Kevin Hogan initially losing the job to Josh Nunes out of camp at Stanford last year and then supplanting him later in the year.

Colorado - Coach Mike MacIntyre announced today that the Buffs QB will be junior Connor Wood. Wood was a highly touted kid out of high school and originally went to Texas but transferred to CU after one season. Senior Jordan Webb, a former transfer from Kansas seemed like the favorite to win the job after starting nine games last year before a hand injury. However, Wood reportedly made great progress this season and really took off after attending the Manning Passing Academy. Wood is the only real blue chip talent on the Buffs roster so it makes sense for MacIntyre to roll the dice with the guy who possesses the higher ceiling.

Oregon State - This might be the closest QB race in the country and it might not be resolved before OSU's bowl game. Junior Sean Mannion and senior Cody Vaz are battling it out for the job and in a rare twist, both have proven to be quality starters in the past. Mannion and Vaz both started games last year and both were at one point benched in favor of the other man. Mannion threw for 2446 yards and 15 touchdowns in eight starts but added 13 interceptions. Vaz started five games and threw for 1480 yards and 11 touchdowns with only three interceptions. Vaz seemed to have the job on lock down following the regular season but necessitated an offseason competition after completed just 15 of 28 throws with two interceptions and 10 sacks in the Alamo Bowl against Texas.

Coach Mike Riley has confirmed that both QBs will play against Eastern Washington and he will decide a starter based on performance on the field. Given the veteran status and proven track record of both players, this job could still be up for grabs in November.

*Update: Mike Riley just named Mannion as the starter against Eastern Washington on Saturday. It'll likely be a blowout so Vaz should make an appearance in the 2nd half. I doubt this one is truly over.

USC - It was a three man race up until about two weeks ago when Lane Kiffin eliminated blue chip true freshman Max Browne from the competition. It's now a race between sophomores Max Wittek who started in Matt Barkley's stead at the end of last season (and looked mostly terrible) and Cody Kessler. Talent and upward potential seems to be a wash as both QBs were decorated recruits and have a lot of raw ability. Performance has been up and down for both guys as neither has been able to put together consecutive great scrimmages. Both passers are expected to play against Hawai'i on Thursday and a decision on a permanent starter might not be made until USC gets into the heart of it's conference schedule.

Washington State - This seems to be a phony competition. Coach Mike Leach has maintained that junior Connor Halliday must fight for his job and that he is not set in stone as the starter when the Cougars face Auburn in week one. By Leach's own admission though, freshman Austin Apodaca is the only player challenging Halliday and Leach has not seen enough from him so far to warrant the starting gig. Even though it hasn't been announced yet, you can surely expect Halliday to take every snap against Auburn and every other Wazzou opponent barring injury or exceptionally poor performance.

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