Pac-12 is loaded with quarterbacks

2011-08-14T10:00:00Z 2015-03-25T18:21:06Z Pac-12 is loaded with quarterbacksBy STEVE GRESS, Corvallis Gazette-Times Corvallis Gazette Times
August 14, 2011 10:00 am  • 

Arizona defensive coordinator Tim Kish must have looked at the Wildcats' 2012 schedule and wondered what in the world the program had done to tick off the new Pac-12 Conference schedule-makers.

There is no easy schedule in the Pac-12 - well maybe at Utah where the newcomer Utes miss preseason top-10 teams Oregon and Stanford - it appears the Wildcats may have the toughest stretch of any this season.

First, Kish has to figure out a way to contain Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, a Heisman Trophy favorite entering the season.

Next up is the dual threat of Oregon's Darron Thomas. Then it's Matt Barkley and USC. And it doesn't get all that much easier the next week when the Wildcats travel to Corvallis to take on Ryan Katz and Oregon State.

Those first three QBs are the top three returners based on passing efficiency in 2010.

The conference has been known for its quarterback play over the years and 2011 will likely be no different.

"Year after year we seem to produce the best quarterbacks and the most sophisticated offenses in the country, and 2011 promises to be no exception," commissioner Larry Scott said at media day.

While the Wildcats have that tough stretch, at least they won't have to face the No. 4 QB on last year's efficiency list - that's because Nick Foles plays for Arizona.

There is little doubt Luck is the face of the position in the conference, as well as nationally, entering the season. He threw for a conference best 3,338 yards and 32 TDs with only eight interceptions.

And for those who think a new coach might not produce the same results, well think again.

David Shaw, who takes over for Jim Harbaugh after he jumped ship to the NFL, won't change a lot.

"It's definitely nice not to have to learn a new scheme, a new offense," Luck said. "Coach Shaw recruited me. He's been instrumental in my growth as a football player and ever since I've been on campus."

Shaw is pretty darn excited he has Luck for his first season.

"The focal point of every team is the quarterback, and having a quarterback that we know and that we trust and that will work his butt off," Shaw said. "We got him in place. That helps me a lot. Now we just concentrate on what goes on around him."

While Luck gets all the notoriety, he most likely will be pushed by Thomas and/or Barkley for conference supremacy.

Thomas was third last season in passing yards in the Pac-10 with 2,881, and had an impressive 30 TDs to only nine interceptions.

While the Ducks have led the conference in rushing the past five seasons, Oregon coach Chip Kelly knows what it will take to keep the Ducks at the top of the standings and in the hunt for a return trip to the BCS title game.

"College football is a quarterback-driven game,' Kelly said. "This league is a quarterback-driven league, and we're going to go as far as Darron can play."

As Kelly said, quarterback play is a key - no matter what level. But it seems in the Pac-12, it is what can make or break you in a season.

"That position, as we all know, you can have talent, you can do a lot of things, but the intangibles as far as leadership is the key to that position," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said.

"The best ones I've had in my coaching career have not always been the most physically gifted, but they've been the best leaders, and that's what we have with Brock (Osweiller)."

If you don't have an experienced QB, it casts a shadow of concern over an entire season. That is the case at ASU, Cal, Washington.

"Offensively, we need to improve," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "We were not close to the consistency that we need to compete at a high level. That generally starts at the quarterback position, and we weren't consistent enough there last year.

"When Kevin Riley went down last year, we were averaging 37 points a game. And after that we averaged 13, and you're not going to win many games in the Pac-10 or Pac-12 now with that type of offensive production."

The Huskies are without Jake Locker, who was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft in April.

"Replacing Jake Locker is a big challenge for us," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. "We've got a great young quarterback in Keith Price who plays a brand of football that is fun, it's exciting. He's a kid that comes to work with a smile on his face every day, loves what he does. His players love and respect him.

"But the reality of it is we're not going to be able to rely on that quarterback position like we were able to with Jake for two years."

UCLA will have a returner, but Kevin Prince is recovering from injury and played in just five games last year.

"It makes no difference the name on the back of the jersey to me," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "What makes the difference to me is that the guy has all the intangibles that are necessary to play it well.

"One, intelligence, knows the situation, knows what is required of this particular situation. Two, has the ability to throw it to guys in the same colored jersey accurately, and, three, the team loves him and follows him.

"Those are the kind of things that you need at that position, and our conference is full of them."

The importance of the position isn't lost on newcomers Utah and Colorado.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham hired Utah alum Norm Chow away from UCLA to help the Utes form a new offensive philosophy.

"That is one of the reasons, primary reasons we brought Norm in - to instill more of a pro-style attack," Whittingham said.

Jordan Wynn had been in the shotgun the last couple years, but Whittingham said Wynn's skillset suits being under center. He did miss a lot of the spring so the Utes may be behind a bit to start.

"Obviously, the down side is Jordan was not able to participate in spring ball, so the offense had a tough time getting under way," Whittingham said. "We had two freshmen, inexperienced quarterbacks, running the offense. But we feel when we get Jordan back, which we will do in the beginning of fall camp, that things should start to pick up."

Colorado, which also joins the conference this year, has a QB that coach Jon Embree says should be considered in the group.

"He had a spring practice where he went 18 out of 19 for about 250 and three touchdowns," Embree said of Tyler Hansen. "The thing that was really most impressive about that is out of his 19 attempts, only twice did he get downgraded for having a poor decision.

"So that tells me he knows where to go with the ball. He understands progression, he understands how coverage dictates some things to him, and he had a good feel for it.

"I'm very happy to have Tyler sitting up here next to me (at media day)."

He then went on to say with a laugh, "I wish he was a junior."

Embree probably won't be laughing next year when he has to break in a new quarterback.

Copyright 2015 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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