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Price’s detractors look beyond big numbers

Huskies QB Keith Price will end his college career Friday. (Associated Press)
Huskies QB Keith Price will end his college career Friday. (Associated Press)

SAN FRANCISCO – There seems to be little consensus on Keith Price’s rightful place on the all-time list of Washington’s greatest quarterbacks.

It seems few players at that position, at this school, have produced with such volume and received as much criticism as Price, who will play his final collegiate game on Friday against Brigham Young in the Fight Hunger Bowl.

The statistics alone should ensure he is remembered fondly. His completion percentage in three seasons as UW’s starter ranks as the best in school history. He’s thrown more touchdown passes than anyone in school history. He’s thrown for more yards than anyone not named Cody Pickett. And he’s UW’s first starting quarterback to compile a winning record (21-16) since Pickett, who started from 2001-03.

Of Price’s 20 touchdown passes and only five interceptions this season, senior receiver Kevin Smith marveled: “He has kind of similar stats to (Alabama quarterback) A.J. McCarron right now, and he was in the Heisman run.”

And yet there are detractors, those who fall victim to their own misguided hubris while banging out half-coherent Twitter correspondence during games, those who dismiss the Huskies’ lacking pass protection and the consistent beating Price absorbed since the beginning of the 2011 season.

More informed criticisms are valid, and go something like this: Price, like Jake Locker and Isaiah Stanback before him, never beat Oregon. He didn’t beat USC. UW’s two wins over top-10 teams with Price at the helm – Oregon State and Stanford in 2012 – both came during his less-than-stellar junior season, and were both punctuated more by strong defensive efforts than by Price’s heroics.

The best game Price played in his life – 438 yards passing, four touchdowns passing, three touchdowns rushing against Baylor in the 2011 Alamo Bowl – the Huskies lost, 67-56. Price deserved precisely zero blame for that defeat, but to some, it is viewed as a microcosm of his career, that of a good college quarterback whose resume lacks a true, signature victory to further endear himself to a sometimes fickle fanbase.

Statistically, Price has been more productive than nearly anybody in school history. But other quarterbacks have produced memories that register higher on the nostalgia meter.

Locker’s numbers aren’t as impressive, but he’ll forever be remembered as the quarterback who helped engineer the program’s turnaround from its 0-12 record in 2008. Marques Tuiasosopo, Warren Moon, Billy Joe Hobert and Mark Brunell each won a Rose Bowl. It’s difficult to pinpoint where Price belongs in the pantheon of UW signal-callers.

“He’s right up there,” Tuiasosopo said. “I don’t know how you can rank them. I’ll let you guys do that. But definitely I think he’s garnered the respect of all the quarterbacks that have played before him. He’s done a great job, he’s got one more game left and I know he’s fired up to finish it on the right note.”

Price is 0-2 in bowl games, but if he leads the Huskies to a victory on Friday – coaching change and all – he’ll be the first quarterback to start on a nine-win team at UW since Tuiasosopo led the 2000 squad to a Rose Bowl championship.

And that’s how he’d like to be remembered.

“Just as a competitor,” Price said last week. “One of the best to have ever come through here. And in order to do that, you’ve got to win. We have to win this next week.”

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