Pac-12 teams vary in settling on starting QB
It came as no surprise that when Washington State released its first official depth chart of the season on Tuesday, Connor Halliday was listed all by himself as the team’s starting quarterback.
No “or” tagged alongside, as there was so often last year, when Halliday and Jeff Tuel entered many weeks without knowing if either one of them would play the entire game.
To that end, Halliday falls somewhere in between the definitions of “returning starter” and “new quarterback.” He’s also never been a full-time, go-to starter. But he’s certainly no rookie.
There are a few of those in the Pac-12 this season, and a few teams that, with mere days remaining until the first weekend of the season, still haven’t settled on a starter.
Those who return a familiar, relatively seasoned face behind center include Washington (fifth-year senior Keith Price), Oregon (third-year sophomore Marcus Mariota), Stanford (third-year sophomore Kevin Hogan), UCLA (third-year sophomore Brett Hundley), Utah (sophomore Travis Wilson) and Arizona State (fourth-year junior Taylor Kelly).
Those who have settled, or are still trying to settle, on their new quarterback:
California: Sonny Dykes is a Leach disciple, so it’s no surprise that Cal’s first-year coach uses the same quarterback evaluation criteria as the WSU coach. And he’s not afraid to put an inexperienced player under center, as he proved when he named true freshman Jared Goff the team’s starting quarterback nearly two weeks ago.
“I don’t think either one of us put a huge value on arm strength,” Dykes said of him and Leach. “I do think we look for a lot of the same characteristics. It all beings with how does this guy handle the team? Do they believe in him? Jared has inspired confidence in our players and football team. He does a lot of the little things well. They’re just intangibles guys know how to do or don’t know how to do. He’s really surprised us all by being a bit further along in that development than most true freshmen are.”
Colorado: Another first-year coach with a first-year starting quarterback. Mike McIntyre named fourth-year junior Connor Wood his starter during the weekend, an announcement most saw coming. Wood’s primary competition was true freshman Sefo Liufau, a Tacoma native, who will start the season as backup.
Wood does have starting experience, albeit limited: His only career start came last season against Washington, and he’s completed 21 of his 42 career pass attempts for 265 yards.
McIntyre said Wood and Liufau each had strong camps, and he likes Wood because “he’s big, he’s athletic, he can run, has a strong arm. He can flick it 60 yards just flicking it. Second of all, he’s really starting to capture the essence of our offense and the running game. Just felt like he just kept improving, and (was) voted team captain by his peers.”
Oregon State: OK, so neither one of these guys is new. But coach Mike Riley still had a decision to make between fourth-year junior Sean Mannion and fifth-year senior Cody Vaz, both of whom played significantly last season.
Riley went with Mannion, who threw for 2,446 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago. He doesn’t plan to alternate quarterbacks.
“We intended to name a starter and then I kind of left it up in the air,” Riley said of the wait. “Sean’s the starter, and we’ll go into the game like that.”
USC: So torn is Lane Kiffin, apparently, that the Trojans enter their season opener at Hawaii on Thursday with the likelihood that both Max Wittek and Cody Kessler – heirs apparent to Matt Barkley – will take snaps at quarterback.
That’s not a problem, Kiffin said, because “they both performed so well, we feel great about both of them running our offense. I see it as a positive.”
Arizona: Indications from Tucson are that it would be somewhat of an upset if senior B.J. Denker isn’t the Wildcats’ quarterback when they face Northern Arizona on Friday. Denker saw some action as Matt Scott’s backup last season, and completed 67.6 percent of his passes. But coach Rich Rodriguez hasn’t explicitly stated Denker will start, nor is he separated from Arizona’s other two quarterback options on the team’s depth chart.
“He’s learned (the offense) pretty well and has a good grasp of what we’re doing now and how we want to attack it,” Rodriguez said, “so it’s been good to see B.J. in that way.”