Star QBs dot Pac-10 landscape
PHOENIX – The Pac-10 has always been known for its high-caliber quarterbacks, churning out big names like Elway, Aikman, Bledsoe, Palmer, Harrington. Before them, guys like Plunkett, Fouts, Bartkowski and Moon were whipping passes around the West Coast.
Heck, even Ryan Leaf was a star at Washington State before becoming an NFL bust turned golf coach.
The past few years? Other than the occasional star – usually at USC – it’s been kind of blah under center in the conference.
Well, this season the Pac is back, baby.
Led by four potential first-round NFL draft picks and as deep top to bottom as it’s ever been, the Pac-10 has reclaimed its title as the quarterback conference.
Locker, Luck, Foles, Barkley, Riley – this new list of names in the Pac-10 has a chance to be the best yet.
“They’re franchise players and not many conferences can put out four or five of them in a year or two, that’s for sure,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. “We’ve done it in the past and it looks like we’re going to have a crew that can do it again in the next two years.”
Over the past few seasons, the Big 12 was the place to go for quarterbacks, players like Vince Young, Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, Brad Smith and Graham Harrell winging balls around the conference’s spread offenses.
The Pac-10 had a handful of star signal callers during the Big 12’s heyday, including Mark Sanchez and Matt Leinart at USC, Cal’s Aaron Rodgers, Oregon State’s Matt Moore, Dennis Dixon at Oregon.
Still, it wasn’t quite what we’ve come to expect from a conference that’s had eight quarterbacks taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and five Heisman Trophy winners.
This season, the Pac-10 lost a star in Jeremiah Masoli – he was dismissed by Oregon and ended up at Mississippi – and still has the best collection of quarterbacks in the country.
Leading the way is Washington senior Jake Locker, a top contender for the Heisman Trophy and projected No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft.
Big, athletic and with a throw-it-through-a-wall arm, Locker fits the prototype of an NFL quarterback. He had thrown for over 5,300 career yards heading into this season and holds the school record with 1,554 yards rushing.
But, as a testament to the talent in the Pac-10, Locker wasn’t even the best quarterback the first weekend of the season. Wasn’t even close, really.
Though he threw for 266 yards and a touchdown, Locker connected on just 20 of 37 passes and had some key mistakes on a late drive, running the wrong way on a third-down play and having a pass swatted at the line on fourth down with the Huskies going for the go-ahead score.
Washington ended up losing 23-17, its 13th straight loss on the road.
“It was kind of indicative of our overall offense: there were some big plays, but the consistency wasn’t where we needed it,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said.
The consistency came from other places around the conference.
Andrew Luck threw a career-high four touchdown passes in the 25th-ranked Cardinal’s 52-17 win over Sacramento State, a solid start in Stanford’s first game without Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart.
Matt Barkley, in the first step toward showing he’s ready to develop into the next great USC quarterback, tied a school record with five touchdown passes in a lopsided win over Hawaii.
Arizona’s Nick Foles was another quarterback on the continue-his-development path and came through with an impressive performance, hitting 32 of 37 passes for 360 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another in an opening wallop of Toledo.
The list goes on.
Arizona State’s Steven Threet, a former starter at Michigan, won a long three-man battle to become the starter and responded with a stellar first game, making difficult throws look easy while setting a school debut record with 239 yards and a pair of scores in a win over Portland State.
Darron Thomas showed he’s no slouch in replacing Masoli, throwing for 220 yards and two scores, even making a tackle before giving way to fifth-year senior Nate Costa in No. 7 Oregon’s 72-0 crushing of New Mexico.
Cal’s Kevin Riley needed a little over a half to throw for 258 yards and three TDs against UC Davis, while Washington State’s Jeff Tuel was decent even as the Cougars were being hammered by Oklahoma State, throwing for 212 yards and a TD.
That was just the first week. Keep this up and the Pac-10 could have its best under-center season ever and regain its elite quarterback-producing status.
“You look at the ones that are returning and it’s an unbelievable group,” Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. “You look at Locker and Luck and Foles, I could go on and on and on. We’ve got four or five involved in the Heisman Trophy and then some awfully good other players. It’s getting back to where it used to be, no question about it.