Air Apparents: Pac-10 Loaded with Talented Young Quarterbacks
More so than perhaps any other conference in the country, the Pac-10 has been known for producing some golden arms this decade.
Currently, six starting NFL quarterbacks spent their time in college at a Pac-10 school, and many others are carrying clipboards waiting for their shot.
The USC Trojans have been most responsible for continuing the quarterback prestige in the conference, producing two Heisman Trophy winners (Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart) and three top ten picks (Palmer, Leinart, and Mark Sanchez) this decade.
The cherry on top is that Matt Cassel, who could never quite crack the starting lineup during his time in Southern California, led the New England Patriots to an 11-5 record last year and is now the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs.
When you look at some of the other big-time quarterbacks to play in the conference this decade, it can be quite astonishing. Names like Joey Harrington, Aaron Rodgers, Akili Smith, Kyle Boller, Trent Edwards, Dennis Dixon, John David Booty, and Derek Anderson, along with the aforementioned Trojan stars, prove even further just how talented the position has been.
Could it be possible, though, that the quarterbacks to play in the conference in the next decade will be even better?
Take a look around the Pac-10 right now. How many seniors do you see starting at quarterback?
The answer is three. Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli, Oregon State's Sean Canfield, and Arizona State's Danny Sullivan are the only starters in the division that will not have the option of returning to their schools next fall.
Now consider the rest.
Currently, four Pac-10 teams are starting freshmen at quarterback, one is starting a sophomore, and two are starting juniors. That is an incredible amount of talent that is only going to get better with experience.
Let's take a look at these players and how they project in the future of Pac-10 play.
Jake Locker, Washington - Junior
Locker is considered the best quarterback in the division right now and one of the top players in all of college football.
Already projected to be a high first-round pick if he chooses to leave, many are already speculating that he could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 Draft if he stays in school.
Locker has blossomed in new head coach Steve Sarkisian's pro style offense in their first year together. Coming off an injury-plagued sophomore campaign, Locker has showed remarkable improvement as a passer to go along with his ideal physical tools.
If Locker does come back for his senior season, you can guarantee that every coach in the Pac-10 (not named Steve Sarkisian) is going to let out a huge groan.
Locker will be one of the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy, should he return and may end up battling for it with another Pac-10 quarterback. More on that later.
Kevin Riley, California - Junior
While not quite the five-star caliber talent that we are used to seeing Jeff Tedford produce, Riley is more than a serviceable signal caller who has had his share of big games while at Cal.
While his numbers haven't been totally jaw-dropping this season, especially as his team slumped early in Pac-10 play, it should be mentioned that Riley has only thrown one interception this season.
With one more year of eligibility it is hard not to think that Riley will be playing at an even higher level in his senior season. And you can never rule out a Jeff Tedford quarterback.
Tedford is one of the best quarterback coaches in college football today and it is clear that Riley has all the talent to at least lead the Bears to a respectable bowl game. Only time will tell.
Nick Foles, Arizona - Sophomore
Okay, who is this guy and where did he come from? I live in Scottsdale and I often drive down to Tucson to visit some of my high school friends that went to U of A. Before this season started, all the talk was about quarterback Matt Scott.
Needless to say, I was very surprised to see that Scott was benched just three games into the season given the preseason hype I had heard about him.
Even more surprising, though, has been the play of Foles so far. The kid has been lights-out in his three starts and has increased his numbers in each one.
His 151.89 quarterback rating leads the conference, and his placement in the starting lineup has jump-started the Wildcats' offense. In the three games, since he's taken over, Arizona is averaging 38.67 points versus just 26.67 in the three before.
Given the amount of young talent in Arizona and with the prospect of injured tight end Rob Gronkowski returning next season, Foles could soon become a household name.
Matt Barkley, USC - Freshman
Barkley is just the latest phenom to play quarterback for the Trojans, something the fans in Southern Cal must be getting accustomed to.
Given the poise, maturity and talent he has displayed so far, it is no stretch to think that he will join the likes of Palmer and Leinart and hoist a Heisman Trophy before his college career is done.
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., said at last year's draft (before Barkley had played a down at USC, mind you) that he expects Barkley to be the No. 1 overall pick when he leaves school. Gotta hand it to Mel on that one, because so far he looks dead-on.
Almost as impressive as Barkley's numbers are the ways in which he seems to thrive on pressure. Asking a 19-year-old kid to go on the road and win at Ohio State and Notre Dame is quite a challenge.
Asking him to win close, down-to-the-wire, nationally televised contests on the road against these teams...now that takes confidence.
Pete Carrol has never wavered in his faith in Barkley, and I think it is safe to say that had he been able to play against Washington, the Trojans would probably be undefeated at this point.
Barkley is going to become scary good really fast. And it's going to be very fun to watch.
Andrew Luck, Stanford - Freshman
While Matt Barkley has been making all the headlines as the Pac-10's phenomenal freshman, Andrew Luck has quietly been having a pretty good season himself.
His 151.29 quarterback rating places him in second place in the conference (just behind Nick Foles) and through five Pac-10 conference games, he has thrown just one interception.
Luck is lucky (sorry, the pun had to be made) to have a running back like Toby Gerhart behind him to keep defenses honest, but his production has been far more than the result of defenses keying on the run.
Playing for a former quarterback in Jim Harbaugh, it is no stretch to think that Luck will end his career as a special player and a memorable quarterback in the conference. Unfortunately for his opponents, the player he is right now is pretty good too.
Kevin Prince, UCLA - Freshman
Prince, by any account, has had a fairly rough season to date. After a shaky statistical performance in his first game, he followed that with a mediocre showing against Tennessee.
Although the Bruins pulled off the upset, Prince had his jaw fractured late in the game when he was sacked for a safety.
After missing the next two games, Prince has returned for the Bruins last two, both losses, and put up mediocre numbers again.
For the moment, Prince is holding off fellow UCLA freshman Richard Brehaut for the starting job.
Personally, I still think that Prince has enough talent to become a good quarterback in the conference. Aside from his physical tools, he is blessed with two fantastic offensive minds tutoring him.
In head coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow, there may not be a better combination in college football when it comes to getting the most out of a quarterback.
As long as Neuheisel believes in Prince, I will too. The coach was quoted this week saying, "Kevin's a good player...he's just got to be more consistent."
As stated, with the coaching talent behind him, I think Prince will begin to develop into a talented quarterback sooner rather than later.
Jeff Tuel, Washington State - Freshman
Washington State hasn't had too much go right for them this season Outside of their overtime victory over SMU (in a game that SMU literally gave away) the Cougars have lost every game by a double-digit margin.
Through all the hardships, the play of true freshman Jeff Tuel should give Cougar fans something to cheer for and be hopeful for.
Tuel saw the first action of his career off the bench against the USC Trojans in Week Four. He completed an admirable 14-of-22 passes for 130 yards and an interception.
The next week, he earned the start but was knocked out of the game after throwing just two passes.
In the Cougars' last game, fans finally got a good look at what Tuel can do. He played pretty well in a losing effort against Arizona State, completing 11-of-22 passes for 175 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The sample size on Tuel is fairly small so far, but given the statements by coaches and fans, it is clear that Washington State expects a lot from their first freshman to start a game since Drew Bledsoe.
After looking at the future of the quarterback position in the Pac-10, it is clear that it is not wanting for talent.
And with some of the best quarterback cultivators in the college game tutoring these young players, it is a safe bet to say that we can all look forward to some dynamic performances in the years to come.
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