Football fans within the Pac-12 Conference borders know the names Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Darron Thomas and even Nick Foles of Arizona. Those are the stars at quarterback.
There appears to be a “giant” rising star in the desert with whom many are taking a wait-and-see approach. He is the 6'8" Brock Osweiler, poised for a showcase season. After all, Osweiler has accepted the role as the face of hope in Tempe.
Osweiler was better than good in relief of Steven Threet last season.
His performances against UCLA were borderline heroic. But he is not a star yet.
Every west coast hurler wants to be mentioned with the greats, even the newcomers. But as we know, football is a team sport.
Stanford has a Heisman Trophy favorite calling the signals, but without Stepfan Taylor leading the way for the Cardinals rushing attack, Luck would be missing his sidekick.
Osweiler could brag about one advantage he has over Luck, excluding the difference in stature—a full stable of offensive linemen returning.
In fact, no other conference foe can boast as much.
Even in the pass-happy Pac-12, the game of football is still built with dominant offensive line play.
Dominance has not been on display consistently, but one cannot doubt the chemistry of Arizona State’s front wall.
One man at Stanford can’t win alone, and neither can Osweiler.
The Sun Devils have the most under-the-radar backfield in the conference. No one rushed for over 1,000 yards, and the quarterback has two starts in his career.
Even Washington State has a more widely-known passer than Osweiler. And Washington has a budding star in tailback Chris Polk.
Ball carriers in Tempe are speedy, agile, and yet still carry the physical punch. Speed can balance a game or blow it wide open. Oregon has made a living off of that philosophy, with far more results in the blow-out column.
Arizona State’s backfield can be a two- or even three-headed monster. Perhaps the “can” in that statement is “under-the-radar” at its finest.
But Cameron Marshall, Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks are the ideal combination of every coach’s dream backfield.
Marshall has the physicality and breakaway speed of the ideal every-down running back. Deantre Lewis, if healthy and physically recovered from a bullet wound, is prolific every time he touches the ball.
In 2010, Lewis showed he could not only pound the ball against the stiffest of defenses (122 yards vs. Wisconsin), but also show off his speed against Oregon with a 53-yard scamper.
Osweiler has plenty of options in the backfield, but none are more difficult to tackle than Kyle Middlebrooks. As a return specialist, he can blow a game wide open with one touch of the ball. As a tailback and a receiver, Middlebrooks brings that same style to the offense.
There is no doubt Osweiler has the proper tools at his fingertips to succeed this season. A 6-6 team turned preseason favorites is not rare, but Osweiler is shouldering the load of expectations.
Come September 9 against Missouri, the truth will be revealed regarding how far ASU can ride the train of momentum.
As with the other great quarterbacks in the conference, Osweiler is the conductor.
He showed as much versus UCLA, throwing for 380 yards and four touchdowns in a comeback victory that soon turned into a blowout.
And a national audience witnessed a leader grow before their eyes, as Osweiler gathered the Sun Devils in Tucson, AZ, last December proclaiming “Victory.”
Motivational speeches help build confidence, but real confidence and respect is earned on the field.
So far, the preseason publications have shown ASU respect with Top 25 rankings, but the leader is still relatively untested.
Osweiler, who became the first Sun Devil freshman to start at quarterback since Jake Plummer, has only two starts under his belt.
Needless to say, UC Davis will be the first measuring stick for Dennis Erickson’s squad, but not a true test.
When the bright lights of Friday night turn on at Sun Devil Stadium and the Missouri Tigers come to town, then “under the radar” will no longer be a phrase associated with Brock Osweiler’s Sun Devils.