QB exodus brings transition year for Pac-12

BY foxsports • July 24, 2012

LOS ANGELES – Matt Barkley is comfortable carrying the torch for the Pac-12 Conference. That’s good because the gulf between Barkley and the conference’s second hottest QB is as vast as the gap between Barkley’s USC Trojans and their next closest competitor in the Pac-12 South Division.

“There is still a lot of talent at the quarterback position,” Barkley countered modestly from Pac-12 Media Day on Tuesday at Universal Studios. “I don't think it will be just me at all. There will be quarterbacks making a statement all around the country, all across the Pac-12 and I think it's cool to see. It adds more competition.”

Time may prove Barkley correct, but the league that commissioner Larry Scott last season dubbed “the conference of quarterbacks” is so inexperienced and unknown this year at the position that it’s time for a new moniker.

How about the conference of question marks?

This offseason, the Pac-12 lost four big names in Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler, Arizona’s Nick Foles and Oregon’s Darron Thomas. Luck, Osweiler and Foles went in the first, second and third rounds of the NFL Draft, respectively.

In their absence, the No. 1 contender status likely shifts to Washington junior Keith Price, who has some impressive credentials. Price threw for 3,063 yards and a school-record 33 touchdowns last season with 11 interceptions. But his real coming out party came in the Alamo Bowl in a showdown with Heisman Trophy winner and Baylor QB Robert Griffin III.

In that game, Price threw for 438 yards and accounted for seven touchdowns -- four passing, three rushing -- in a 67-56 Baylor win.

“I knew it was a big stage,” Price said Tuesday. “Either you show up or you go home.

“The next step for me is recognizing defenses and being able to change protections and getting ourselves into the manageable plays without coach (Steve Sarkisian) having to tell me.”

If Price can take that step, the Huskies could challenge youth-laden Oregon for the Pac-12 North title. As for who will emerge from the rest of the conference’s signal callers, it’s anybody’s guess.

Utah’s Jordan Wynn suffered a season-ending shoulder injury after just four games last season. Washington State’s Jeff Tuel played just three games due to a variety of maladies but gets to work this season with passing-game wizard Mike Leach. Cal’s Zach Maynard struggled with consistency and doesn’t have a wealth of receivers to help him out. Oregon State’s Sean Mannion threw more interceptions (18) than TDs (16).

Arizona State, Oregon, Arizona, Stanford and Colorado will all be starting new quarterbacks, though Arizona's is a fifth-year senior, Matt Scott, with starting experience. UCLA will conduct a competition between incumbent Kevin Prince, Richard Brehaut and redshirt freshman Brett Hundley, who played at Chandler High School.

“We would have liked to have made a decision on who our starter was going to be coming out of spring practice,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “That didn’t happen.
“Regardless of who we decide to go with, I think it will be the right person and they will do a tremendous job for us this year. But obviously, the quarterback is a very, very important position on the field.”

As any coach will tell you: If you don't have an experienced QB, it casts a shadow of uncertainty over the season – and, in this case, the conference. But at least the Pac-12 has Barkley, a solid Heisman trophy candidate who elected to return for his senior season after throwing for 3,528 yards and 39 TDs last season while completing more than 69 percent of his passes.

“Matt was completely ready for the NFL. I assume he would have been a top-5 pick,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “I think it was about him wanting to do something special. He may be able to go down as the most historic Trojan ever if we do big things this year.”

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