Pac-10’s young QBs build on tradition


Back at the start of the season, some wondered where the Pac-10’s quarterbacks had gone. Aside from Washington’s Jake Locker, the league seemed void of what had once been its trademark.

In fact, it appeared the conference overall was going to be in that proverbial rebuilding mode when it came to QBs.

USC started true freshman Matt Barkley, Stanford had redshirt freshman Andrew Luck and UCLA was going with redshirt freshman Kevin Prince. A few games in, Arizona decided to promote sophomore Nick Foles, while Washington State turned to true freshman Jeff Tuel.

That’s half the league’s starters who had little or no game experience coming into the season. As it turns out, the Pac-10’s kids are all right. And even thriving in some cases.

“This just reminds us of what the Pac-10 has always been about, tremendous athletes, particularly at the quarterback spot,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “It’s just interesting that they’ve all emerged, a lot of these guys have emerged just in playing this year.”

Carroll surprised many this season by starting Barkley ahead of sophomore Aaron Corp. The 19-year-old has fared well overall, despite No. 12 USC’s losses to Washington and Oregon. He’s averaging 246.7 passing yards a game to rank second in the Pac-10, and has shown poise under pressure in wins against Ohio State and Notre Dame.

Luck has also been surprisingly composed, completing 114 of 196 passes for 1,825 yards to rank atop the Pac-10 in pass efficiency (148.5). He is second in the league in total offense behind Locker and has been intercepted just three times in eight games.

“In our case, Andrew Luck has been leading out team. He’s doing the things a veteran quarterback would do,” said coach Jim Harbaugh.

A surprise this season has been Arizona’s Foles, who has completed 72.3 percent of his passes to lead the Pac-10.

“I think you’re always a little bit unsure until a player goes out and proves himself,” coach Mike Stoops said. “I don’t think there’s any question what he possesses now.”

Foles, who wrested the starting job away from Matt Scott a few games into the season, has thrown 11 touchdown passes for the No. 21 Wildcats.

“When you talk about those three youngsters specifically, it’s been a very quick learning curve,” Harbaugh said. “The playmaking by those three quarterbacks (Barkley, Luck and Foles) has really been a lot more than you’d expect from guys playing in their first season.”

And then there’s Tuel, who hit on 28-of-42 passes for 354 yards and two touchdowns two weeks ago against Cal, then threw for two more scores in a loss against Notre Dame last Saturday.

The youngster — Washington State’s first true freshman QB since Drew Bledsoe in 1990 — only started a year in high school. The Cougars called on Tuel to replace Marshall Lobbestael.

Cougars coach Paul Wulff said there is a danger in throwing a young kid into a situation he can’t handle.

“I think it could be a detriment if the kid is completely over his head and he’s not capable of understanding what he’s doing, and he gets rattled enough where it can scar him a little bit,” Wulff said.

“In our case, I don’t believe that’s the case,” he added. “I think we’ve got a very mature freshman quarterback who has done some great things. He’s got a great demeanor about him on a 24-hour basis.”

While the Cougars are struggling mightily this season, Tuel is one of the reasons Wulff says fans can be encouraged.

At UCLA, freshman Kevin Prince has had a rocky start to his career, missing two games because of a broken jaw.

But he made strides in his last outing, passing for 323 yards at Oregon State. He helped guide the Bruins back from a 19-3 fourth-quarter deficit by passing for 198 yards, two TDs and two 2-point conversions to tie it. But the Beavers scored with 44 seconds left for the 26-19 victory.

Cal coach Jeff Tedford has been dazzled with the Pac-10’s crop of kids. By all indications, the conference — known for the likes of John Elway, Jim Plunkett and Bledsoe — looks to be continuing its tradition.

“For them to do what they’ve done so far is very impressive,” Tedford said. “But all those quarterbacks that are playing are highly competitive guys and have a lot of skill and are up to the challenge.”