Pac 10 Reload
The 2009 Pac 10 landscape showed most strength in the backfield. Feature backs were the name of the game, with headliners such as LeGarrette Blount, Jahvid Best, Toby Gerhart, Joe McKnight, and Jacquizz Rodgers. The team to win the conference would be one that ran the ball best, and no one did it better than the Ducks of Oregon.
A conference boasting running backs was one that was out of character. The Pac 10 has long existed as fertile ground for big arms that stretch fields. Troy Aikman, Jim Plunkett, and John Elway have multiple Super Bowl victories. And when you include Washington State’s Mark Rypien, the league’s quarterbacks combine for more Super Bowl rings (8) than any other major conference.
Outside of the glitz and glamour of Super Bowl stardom, there are names like Warren Moon (CFL Champion), Dan Fouts, and Norm Van Brocklin (NFL champion). These names, when included with other hurlers from the Pac, give the conferences quarterbacks an edge, leading all others in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
With history aside, the NFL prepares for its upcoming season. And of the 32 franchises, eight may open September with a Pac 10 quarterback in the leading role.
NY Jets– Mark Sanchez, USC *
Buffalo– Trent Edwards, Stanford
Pittsburgh– Dennis Dixon, Oregon*
Cincinnati– Carson Palmer, USC
Kansas City– Matt Cassel, USC
Carolina– Matt Moore, Oregon State
Green Bay– Aaron Rodgers, Cal
Arizona- Matt Leinart, USC*
*In the event that Sanchez isn’t fully recovered from offseason surgery, Kellen Clemens (Oregon) would be next in line for the Jets. Dennis Dixon may become the opening day starter for the Steelers, with Ben Roethlisberger suspended for the first four games. Matt Leinart will battle Derek Anderson (Oregon State) for the start in Arizona.
Holding true to its tradition, the Pac 10 has reloaded for 2010. Two of the top NFL prospects for the 2011 draft reside in conference. Washington’s Jake Locker was projected to battle Sam Bradford for the top spot this year, had he opted to leave school early. Instead, he returns for another year of Steve Sarkisian teaching, and becomes the early favorite to be the first arm off the board next April.
Not far behind Locker is a quarterback that emerged suddenly a year ago. Stanford’s Andrew Luck transformed from little known redshirt freshman to one of America’s top prospects. The opportunity to prove 2009 was no fluke has arrived, as he can no longer rely upon the defensive focus on former workhouse Toby Gerhart.
USC has a quarterback factory of its own, and Matt Barkley prepares to enter his second year as the Trojans starter. The face of USC’s offense experienced growing pains in his inaugural season, and will play for a second coordinator in as many years. He will also have to adjust to life without the luxury of Damian Williams and Anthony McCoy, but still maintains the potential to be among the nation’s elite in 2010.
Barkley isn’t alone in having to adjust to new leadership. Mike Stoops remains intact in the desert, but Nick Foles will take snaps for the first time without the guidance of Sonny Dykes. If last year was an indicator of things to come, expect this Arizona quarterback to put up some gaudy numbers in the spread offense.
Despite the absence of Jahvid Best, another plug-in is anticipated in Berkeley to ease the pressure on second year starter Kevin Riley. Riley is a career 15-7 in games started, including a 2-2 split down the stretch with Best missing from the active roster. Cal has been the Pac 10’s perennial underachiever, and it can be credited to the lack of quality performances by its quarterbacks.
Dennis Erickson presents a dark horse in the quarterback race. Though a competition still looms at Arizona State, sophomore Brock Osweiler is physically built for stardom. Standing 6’8, this youngster possesses the ability to make plays in and out of the pocket. His experience is still lacking, as well as solidification of the position over Steven Threet, but his upside poses a nightmare for conference foes, while gripping the focus of NFL scouts.
Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow have opted to switch to a pistol, revolver, or whatever you want to call it offense, which is not only contradictory to Chow’s claim to fame, but poses a downgrade of the quarterback position. After struggling for two seasons to make anything go, Kevin Prince will now adapt to a new role. Quarterback play will not be a strength for UCLA.
Oregon began the offseason with promise. Jeremiah Masoli was returning as one of the top quarterbacks in the conference (though not from an NFL perspective). His suspension shakes up the position, but the hit isn’t as severe as most would believe. Masoli gained the start after Nate Costa tore knee ligaments in 2008. The one time favorite now has the opportunity to regain that position. Where Masoli posed a greater threat with his legs, Costa may have the better arm.
The Pac will still feature the likes of Jacquizz Rodgers, Allen Bradford, and LaMichael James, but the emphasis will be shifted back to the men that air it out, and success will be derived from it. The best the conference had to offer the NFL this year was Sean Canfield from Oregon State, a quarterback selected in the seventh round. Looking ahead to next year, it’s a conference reloaded, with as many as three capable of flying from the board in the first three rounds, even with some in the league not yet reaching the level of draft eligibility.
But of course, don’t quote me on those projections. After all, a year ago at this time, Jevan Snead was a first-round quarterback. He went on to have a miserable season and went undrafted.