Wild West: Ranking The Pac-10s Top Gunslingers
For years it was the Big 12 turning out more gunslingers than a Texas frontier town. This year however, those of us on the east coast have a reason to stay up late on Saturday nights to watch the next crop of left coast QB's take the nation by storm. Here are my rankings of the 10 QB's in the cannon-arm Pac-10.
10. Kevin Prince; UCLA
Prince was a very highly touted recruit under coach Rick Neuheisel's new take-over-L.A. regime. He certainly passes the eye-test at 6' 2" 230 lbs. and has a great arm. Prince is not the most mobile QB (to say the least) but he is a pocket passer, so he's not supposed to be. The problem Bruin fans have is that after finally winning the job, Prince's performance on the field has been lackluster, with a 115 QB rating (in the NFL, this would be fantastic, in the Pac-10...not so much).
Although he did throw for over 2,000 yds last season, he had an 8/8 touchdown to interception ration. His 56.2% completion percentage just isn't going to cut it if UCLA hopes to regain prominence in a loaded conference.
9. Jeff Tuel; Washington State
Jeff Tuel... who?? I'm gonna go ahead and assume most people in the nation have never heard of this guy because a) he plays at Washington State, b) he plays at Washington State, and finally c) because he plays at... you get the point. Say what you will about the Cougars performance on the field the last few seasons, but Tuel is an obvious bright star on a team composed of black-holes.
Most teams in the country would welcome a 6'3" 214 lb guy with a good arm, but in the Packed-10 he is only #9 on the list. Tuel has quietly put up pretty decent numbers with a career 135.49 passer-rating, but with a seriously empty-cupboard of offensive weaponry to distribute the ball to, he was only able to amass less than 800 yds in '09. Meanwhile, his O-line was busy giving the "O-lay" treatment everyone in front of them, getting Tuel sacked a whopping 28 times.
He is only a sophomore so there's lots of room for improvement, and thus far in 2010 he has already equaled his '09 TD pass total (of 5... yuck) and thrown only 1 pick. He's probably a four-year player so look for Wash St. to have a pretty decent year in 2012.
8. Ryan Katz; Oregon State
When looking at the numbers put up by Katz in limited action last season you could see glimmers that the Oregon State QB of the future would be a good one. Katz compiled 232 yds and a TD on only 27 attempts giving him an 8.59 YPA and a 136.26 QB rating.
While his physical stature doesn't jump of the page like some of the other QB's in the conference, Katz, at 6' 1" 209, makes up for in poise and agility what he lacks in prototypical QB size. Size definitely isn't everything - just ask 6'1" Drew Brees - and anybody who watches the Beavers can see that Katz has the omnipresent "it" that all successful QBs have. He commands the offense and directs it like a maestro... although it doesn't hurt that he has 'Quizz and James Rogers to hand the ball off and throw to respectively. Katz is also very mobile in the pocket.
Although Katz has yet to be spectacular in 2010 - his 36% completion percentage against a very talented TCU defense was pretty poor - he manages games well and takes care of the football. He has yet to throw an interception in the three games he has started. He may not have a higher up-side or better NFL prospects than the two QBs below him on this list, but as a college player it is my opinion that he will have a greater impact on his teams success.
7. Steven Threet, Arizona State
Steven Threet has had one of the craziest roads to the Pac-10 of anyone I can remember. He is from Michigan, but went to Georgia Tech in '07 to play ball for the Yellowjackets only to have Chan Gailey and co. leave the program to be replaced by Paul Johnson and his triple-option offense. After sitting out a year in order to transfer to Michigan to play under Lloyd Carr, Threet, yet again was ambushed by a coaching change...this time it was spread offense guru Rich Rodriguez. Although he was named the starting QB at Michigan where he played pretty well, being a drop-back pocket passer, he did not mesh well with the spread offense. He transferred again, this time to ASU and sat out the '09 season.
Regardless of Threet's unorthodox path to ASU, the guy can play. At 6'5" 240 lbs, he was one of the most highly coveted QB prospects in the '06 recruiting class. So far in the three games he has played for ASU, he has averaged a 144.8 passer-rating, while throwing for over 800 yds. He has a very good 66% completion percentage, however he will probably need to improve his 5/3 TD/Int. ratio if he wants to be considered an elite QB in the conference.
Although Threet is a junior, his double transfer leaves him with 2 years of NCAA eligibility left, which he will need if he wants to be considered a legitimate NFL prospect. Look for him in 2011 and 2012 to be at the top of this list.
6. Kevin Riley; California
Okay, so it was tough to rank Kevin Riley above Steven Threet, and a good part of me believes that a senior Threet will be better than Riley now (who is currently a senior). However, Riley gets the nod because he has the experience. It doesn't hurt that Riley will get a lot of good looks downfield this season because opposing defenses will have to key on stand-out running back Shane Vareen.
Riley has decent size at 6'2" 224 and a fair to good arm. He has trouble from time to time making the deep out throw, which calls into question his ability to play at the next level (see Matt Leinart), but the fact of the matter is that the Jeff Tedford system consistently churns out very good college QBs. Riley has always had an above average TD/Int ratio which shows he has the wherewithal to make the smart throw and throw it out of bounds when a play implodes.
So far this season Riley has compiled a fantastic 165.29 passer rating and if Riley can stay healthy, Cal could be a dark-horse in the Pac-10 this season (although that week 3 Nevada loss would lead you to think otherwise).
5. Darron Thomas; Oregon
Before I get bombarded with comments saying how awesome Thomas is, here's the thing: he is ranked 5 because a) he doesn't need to be that good with all the weapons around him, and b) he cannot be ranked above any QB in the top 4. All that being said, Thomas is awesome and is definitely the #1 dual-threat QB in the Pac-10.
The problem with ranking Thomas higher than #5 in this list is the fact that he is too much of a system player. Just look at Oregon last year... they were great with Jeremiah Masoli at the helm, and there were many doom-and-gloom media types saying that without Masoli the Ducks were, for lack of a better word, screwed. The fact that Thomas could step right in and have the Ducks flying high as usual means one of two things...either Masoli was very good and so is Thomas, or that it was Oregon the program making them both look really good. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Thomas is a good to very good QB on a very good team, but if you take him out of Oregon and drop him into USC's roster, he would not be as good as Matt Barkley... although he would definitely be more exciting.
Thomas puts up good numbers, but is completely overshadowed by LaMichael James and the Oregon rushing attack. Still, a 148 passer rating ain't nothing to scoff at. With his skill set, size at 6'3" 212 (something Masoli did not have) and youth (sophomore), I could see Thomas becoming a huge presence in the Pac-10 in the years to come, and possibly emerge from the shadow of the program.
4. Jake Locker; Washington
Look, I realize that there is a whole group of fans out there right now saying "Are you kidding me?! The #4 QB?! The guy woulda been the #1 pick in the NFL draft had he left last year!... Kiper and McShay loved him!" Yes, i get that, I listened to everyone talk about him too. The whole time I was listening I kept thinking, "What do they see that I don't?" I had almost convinced myself that I must be wrong... until we got a glimpse last week of why he can't be ranked above the top 3 QBs in this conference.
4-20 for 71 yds and 2 picks... that's a 20% completion percentage and a 46 passer rating! I do realize he was playing against a very talented team in Nebraska and that the rest of his teammates are not on his level, but STILL?! You can't be top-3 on this list and have games like that.
All that being said, he is still one of the better QBs in the country. He has good size at 6'3" 230 and is very mobile as a big guy. He did throw for 2800 yds last season with 21 TDs although the 56% completions percentage leaves something to be desired... but I suppose you have to chalk a lot of that up to the poor team he had around him (the guy did play on a 1-11 team in 2007).
I'm anxious to see just how much praise he will recieve from NFL scouts after this season. Winning games has got to count for something.
3. Matt Barkley; Southern California
Barkley was one of the most highly touted Quarterback recruits to come out of high school EVER, hailing from the QB factory, Mater Dei high school . When he arrived in sunny So-Cal there was a lot of excitement, but also tempered scepticism that it would be very difficult for him to live up the the incredible hype that followed him there. Critics be damned... he has looked every bit as good as we thought he would be.
Barkley, like Locker, is big enough at 6'2" 220. Although he is not a mobile QB like Locker, and is not a Redwood tree trunk like Foles, what he lacks in foot speed and height he most certainly makes up for in arm strength, accuracy, poise and maturity beyond his years.
Starting as a true freshman is very rare at a program like USC, which consistently has a stable of QBs so talented and deep that most coaches would be willing to audition for American Idol in order to get their hands on the 3rd stringer. Barkley was able to out-play all of the QBs and take the starting job. He was even able to take the Trojans to the Horseshoe and engineer a game winning drive in the 4th qtr to beat a very good Ohio State team.
During his freshman year he threw for nearly 3,000 yds with a passer rating of 131.32. Not unbelievable by any stretch, especially if you include is 15/14 TD/Int ratio, but as a true freshman it is quite impressive. So far in his sophomore season - and with a team most believe is a shadow of the championship teams of the last decade - Barkley has already drastically improved his TD/Int ratio to 9/2 and has upped his passer-rating by more than 30 pts to 161.17. He will be the face of the Pac-10 for at least one more year... too bad we won't be seeing him in a bowl game...
2. Nick Foles; Arizona
Nick Foles is one of those guys you look at and say "Wow, I bet this dude can sling the rock"... and you'd be right. At 6'5" 245 he has prototypical size and good arm strength that will make NFL scouts salivate. If you were able to stay up late and catch any of the Iowa Arizona game last Saturday you saw first hand how well he can manage a close game and keep from folding under pressure.
He threw for over 2,400 yds last season with 19 TDs and only 9 picks. In the first three games this season, he has thrown for nearly 900 yds - including going 28 for 39 with 303 yds and 2 TDs against an Iowa team ranked in the 10 and who many experts predicted had a legitimate shot to win the Big 10 and get a BCS bowl invite. The guy reminded me of that blond, long-haired back-up QB in Remember The Titans...just better.
What really stands out with Foles is his accuracy. So far this season he has averaged a staggering 78.6 completion percentage! NFL scouts will tell you that its better to have an average arm with superb accuracy than to have a howitzer connected to your body and just average accuracy. Funny thing is, Foles has both. Also, lets not forget to mention that his is currently on pace to throw for over 3,500 yds this season, with 20 TDs!
With so many great QBs in the Pac-10 it's been easy to overlook Nick Foles, but if he keep performing at the same high level, it will be impossible to ignore him... or his blond locks-of-love.
1. Andrew Luck; Stanford
What can I say?... the guy's just a beast. Not only has he taken a program that basically had fallen off the map and revitalized it into a legitimate Pac-10 contender, but he has all the tools to make him a fantastic QB at the next level (no, he is not the second coming of Trent Edwards).
If you want to look at his stats go right ahead...192.31 passer rating with nearly 700 yds, 10 TDs and ZERO picks. If you want to look at his size - 6'4" 235 - it is prototypical. However, the most important thing Luck has going for him is his brain. The guy is smart off the field and smart on the field. He reads defenses like they were Dr. Seuss and takes care of the ball. When there is nothing there, he throws the ball out of bounds and cuts his losses or scrambles - with surprisingly agility for his size - and picks up a few extra yards to put his team is a better position on the next down. He only took 6 sacks all of last year and has only 1 through 3 games this season! I would not be one bit surprised if this guy gets the highest score on the Wonderlic test at the NFL combine.
Luck has the brains, but he also has an NFL caliber arm and can make every throw in the book. He fires the 15 yard out-pattern like he's playing pick-up with a Nerf ball in his back yard. Due to having average receivers and dropped balls, his 64% completion percentage is a bit misleading. I think it's a pretty safe assumption that if he were throwing to receivers of the caliber of a James Rogers or a Ronald Johnson his percentage would be up in the 70s.
If Luck can stay healthy throughout the season, Stanford has a legitimate opportunity to play for the Pac-10 title. It definitely won't be easy because the rest of the team is less talented than a team like Oregon, but Luck could be the offsetting factor if he keeps up his incredible play.
Somewhere, John Elway is smiling.