Oregon Football: 5 Best QBs Ducks Will Face in 2014
The 2014 season is unofficially dubbed "Year of the Quarterback" in the Pac-12, thanks to 10 talented returning starters.
Leading the pack is Oregon redshirt junior Marcus Mariota. His teammates on the defensive side of the ball will have their hands full against the deepest crop of playmakers in the nation.
A variety of contrasting quarterbacking styles await the Ducks defense in 2014. Oregon will see dual-threat quarterbacks capable of exploiting openings on the ground, air-raid QBs ready to air it out all game long and under-center signal-callers.
In Pac-12 play, Oregon sees Arizona and Washington, the conference's only two teams without returning starters. Otherwise, the conference slate features one proven challenge after another.
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com.
5. Travis Wilson, Utah
Dual-threat quarterback Travis Wilson received clearance from a potentially career-ending injury this offseason. His return should provide the Utah offense with a much-needed shot in the arm after it sputtered down the stretch without him a season ago.
Wilson missed much of the homestretch of 2013—a stretch in which the Utes went 1-5. In the time away, Wilson hit the weight room to such an extent that teammate and wide receiver Dres Anderson compared him to Hercules.
"The guy is in tremendous shape," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said at Pac-12 media days last month. "He's always been a hard worker, but he is really taking it to another level."
Whittingham attributed Wilson's effort in part to the arrival of Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson. Thompson gives Wilson some competition for the job and the Utes a dependable option.
A motivated Wilson could put up big numbers in new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen's system. Chase Daniel was a Heisman Trophy finalist playing for Christensen at Missouri, and as head coach at Wyoming, Christensen's offense helped quarterback Brett Smith accumulate 3,375 yards passing and 571 yards on the ground in 2013.
4. Connor Halliday, Washington State
Washington State head coach Mike Leach's air-raid offense calls on the quarterback passing frequently, and senior Connor Halliday is happy to oblige.
"Clearly, he's one of the best quarterbacks in the entire nation," Washington State head coach Mike Leach said at Pac-12 media days. "I don't care what you think, he's better than your guy is."
The last time Oregon faced Halliday in October 2013, the Washington State quarterback attempted a Pac-12 record 89 passes. That effort set the pace for his nation-leading 714 attempts, 449 of which Halliday completed for 4,597 yards.
Halliday threw for four or more touchdowns in a game four times last season, including a personal best six in the Cougars' New Mexico Bowl loss to Colorado State.
Washington State returns nine players who caught 26 or more passes in 2013, so don't be surprised if Halliday improves on his already eye-popping numbers.
3. Kevin Hogan, Stanford
Kevin Hogan isn't the type to heave the ball around the field 50 times a game—or even 30. His high mark in 2013 was 27 pass attempts, which he reached in the season opener against San Jose State and in Stanford's 27-21 loss at Utah in October.
In the Cardinal's upset of Oregon, Hogan threw all of 13 passes.
Hogan is a facilitator of Stanford's methodical ground attack, at times effectively contributing to it. Hogan rushed for 347 yards in 2013 for a healthy average just below 25 yards per game.
At Pac-12 media days, Hogan said the Cardinal remain dedicated to an offensive philosophy of "run first, pass second."
Still, with a talented receiving corps and new faces at running back, Hogan may shoulder more of the offensive load for the Cardinal in 2014.
That's not a bad thing, as he showed in Stanford's 35-14 romp over Arizona State in last December's Pac-12 Championship Game. Hogan threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns that night, an effort that head coach David Shaw said was indicative of the quarterback's maturation in his first full season as starter.
"He's got a lot of football ahead of him," Shaw said following the win over the Sun Devils. "He's not perfect. Nobody's perfect. But he's got a big arm. He can make the big throws and he's got a clear conscience."
2. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
In a conference filled with pass-happy, air-raid offenses, Sean Mannion set the single-season record for passing yards playing in a pro-set system.
Mannion threw for 314 of his 4,662 yards in the Beavers' back-and-forth affair with the Ducks in the final game of the regular season.
He'll be without Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks, but Oregon State head coach Mike Riley seems confident Mannion will make strides in his final year quarterbacking the Beavers offense.
"He's worked hard on is his actual release of the football," Riley said during Pac-12 media days. "He has always been, from the minute he [came to Oregon State], a gym rat. He was in the film room."
Mannion is studying a system with emphasis on restoring the Beavers run game. Oregon State finished a surprising No. 11 in the Pac-12 last season at 94.4 rushing yards per game.
New offensive coordinator John Garrett's attempt to rejuvenate the run will take some of the pressure off Mannion in his senior campaign.
1. Brett Hundley, UCLA
If Mariota is leading the Pac-12's Year of the Quarterback, UCLA's Brett Hundley is not far behind. The two are similarly skilled, as both are able to pull down the ball and break off long gains with the run.
In fact, they produced similar numbers via the rush in 2013: Mariota finished the season with 715 yards, Hundley with 748.
But as dangerous as Hundley can be on the ground, the Bruins' third-year starter is equally as effective with the pass—if not more so.
"Brett's a thrower. Brett's a passer first," head coach Jim Mora said at Pac-12 media days.
Hundley's passing numbers dipped somewhat in 2013, down to 3,071 yards from 3,740 in his redshirt freshman campaign. Some of that was the result of the Bruins' inconsistent run game, which Oregon effectively exploited in the Ducks' 42-14 win over UCLA last October.
With running back Jordon James healthy and Paul Perkins' progress at season's end, UCLA should see an improvement in its ground game. That, in turn, will allow Hundley to make better use of the Bruins' deep and talented receiving corps.
Hundley's will apply his experiences of the past two seasons to maximize his potential in coordinator Noel Mazzone's offense.
"He's mature. He's played two years," Mora said. "He's been in the national spotlight a little more. I think he's prepared in this offseason a little better."