Mariota, Hundley lead youthful QBs
Notebook: Young quarterbacks define Pac-12 season
The slogan slapped on a football season almost each and every year is the “Year of the Quarterback.” It gets old, but it’s hard to find a season in which the quarterback doesn’t play a huge role.
The quarterback is the leader of the offense and the offense fuels the team. As John Madden might say, the team with the most points wins the game. How often is there a running-back controversy or a nose-tackle controversy?
The blame for a team’s failures frequently rests on a quarterback’s shoulders, but he doesn’t always get the credit for its successes.
The Pac-12 saw the rise and fall of several quarterbacks this season, further driving home the theme of the “Year of the Quarterback.”
Utah’s Jordan Wynn ended his career with his fourth shoulder injury in three years, leaving the door open for Jon Hays and Travis Wilson to fight for the position. Wilson emerged as the starter and perhaps the quarterback of the future for the Utes.
“Travis has taken a step forward in each of his four successive starts,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said after the team’s victory against Washington State in Week 10.
Stanford also injected a freshman quarterback into its system in Week 10 when head coach David Shaw started Kevin Hogan in place of Josh Nunes. Hogan has since sparked Stanford’s offense, which has averaged nearly 32 points per game under Hogan’s leadership. The Cardinal had previously averaged just 27.
Oregon and UCLA started the season with freshmen at the helm. Both Marcus Mariota (Oregon) and Brett Hundley (UCLA) have fared well this season and will certainly compete for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors.
Then, of course, there is Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley. Barkley, at the start of the season, was practically the consensus Heisman Trophy winner and NFL No. 1 overall pick. However, he ended his regular season on the sideline with a sprained throwing shoulder.
The lasting image of Barkley as the Notre Dame game wound down was far from what many people expected. Preseason predictions had him hoisted to the sky by fans and teammates after triumph over the Fighting Irish to end the season undefeated and heading to the BCS National Championship Game. In reality, Barkley stood in a black hooded sweatshirt watching freshman Max Wittek throw the Trojans’ season in the trash with a pass too low for fullback Soma Vainuku, turning the ball over on downs and essentially handing USC its fifth loss.
“It is just wrong,” USC head coach Lane Kiffin said of Barkley’s end to the season. “It should not have happened to that kid [Barkley]. He had kind of lost it earlier in the day. I can take it. This is my job, but he didn’t deserve this. I just felt for him. My heart just felt for him.”
Wittek, despite playing well in his first career start, exemplifies the importance of the quarterback in the Pac-12, as do Washington State’s Connor Halliday and Jeff Tuel; Colorado’s Jordan Webb, Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood; Oregon State’s Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz.
The quarterback position was one of incredible importance in the Pac-12 this season. For some teams, the quarterback’s leadership made the season a success (see: Oregon, UCLA). And for others, the lack thereof exhausted teams’ efforts at victory (see: Washington State, Colorado).
The Pac-12 Championship Game features a freshman faceoff when Hundley and Hogan go at it for a spot in the Rose Bowl. The result marks the culmination of the Pac-12’s Year of the Quarterback.
Arizona (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12)
• Arizona didn’t help itself by losing Friday in the Territorial Cup against Arizona State. With the loss, the Wildcats remain on the fringe, their bowl prospects up in the air.
• It’s a wonder why Ka’Deem Carey is so far down on many Heisman Trophy watch lists. Carey finished the regular season with 1,757 yards to lead the nation as a sophomore. He was sidelined for a portion of Friday’s game with a minor injury – he later returned – but still finished with 176 yards and a touchdown, his 20th on the year. Depending on the Wildcats’ bowl opponent, Carey could have an outside chance at eclipsing the 2,000-yard mark for the season.
“We put our all into everything,” running back Daniel Jenkins said on the season. “This was an emotional game and our team has heart. Coach [Rich] Rodriguez did a great job of coming in here and coaching our team.” Jenkins replaced the ailing Carey Friday and finished with 78 yards.
Arizona State (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12)
• The Sun Devils earned their first winning season since 2007 with the victory against Arizona on Friday. The season started promising for Arizona State as it went 5-1, but took a dramatic turn for the worse as the Sun Devils finished 2-4.
• Friday’s Territorial Cup victory was the first win against the AP Top 25 for the Sun Devils this season, which exemplifies their tumultuous year. The running game’s success against Arizona makes one wonder why head coach Todd Graham didn’t utilize it more often during the season. Marion Grice, D.J. Foster and Cameron Marshall combined for more than 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns this season.
“I want to do it right this time,” Graham said, who’s coached four teams in seven seasons. “This is my last stop. Those kids had a choice, to buy in or not. And they did.”
California (3-9, 2-7 Pac-12)
• The Golden Bears, despite not having a 13th game, made a splash this week by firing head coach Jeff Tedford. Tedford coached Cal for 11 seasons, won five bowl games and shared the 2006 Pac-10 championship. The move comes after Cal’s worst record under Tedford’s command and a drop in Graduation Success Rate to 48 percent.
“The current state of our program is not what our student-athletes, fans and community deserve,” Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said. “My decision was based on what I consider to be right and best for our student-athletes. They deserve to be surrounded by the very best conditions for success.”
Colorado (1-11, 1-8 Pac-12)
• Despite earning its 11th loss of the season, Colorado has much to be proud of with the way it exited the 2012 campaign. The Buffaloes put Utah on the ropes, matching the Utes blow-for-blow until the final whistle.
• This offseason, Colorado must pair development of its current young squad with quality recruiting. Quarterback Nick Hirschman will be a junior, wide receiver Nelson Spruce will be a sophomore and running back Donta Abron will be a sophomore. Most of the Buffs’ defense will return with a year’s experience under its belt. The Buffs need progress in the summer more than anything.
“The one advantage of having all this youth,” head coach Jon Embree said, “is that it all comes back and it comes back mature.”
No. 6 Oregon (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12)
• The loss to Stanford will continue to haunt Oregon for some time, despite the what-has-passed-is-the-past attitude. The Ducks had sights set on a national title this season with so much tumult in the Pac-12, but fell victim to the upset bug themselves. The good news is Marcus Mariota, the team’s undoubted leader, is only a freshman with unreal upside. Mariota finished with 2,511 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and only six interceptions – not to mention 690 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
• Major questions surround Oregon as to where it will end up for the bowl season. Stanford or UCLA will take the Rose Bowl spot. The Ducks remain on the outside looking in at the BCS National Title Game with Notre Dame sealing its spot with a win against Southern Cal.
“This has huge meaning for us,” head coach Chip Kelly said on winning the Civil War against Oregon State. “For some reason the fans don’t seem like they like us much when we’re up here [in Corvallis], but that’s okay. I think our guys do a great job of blocking that out and playing against a real good team.”
No. 16 Oregon State (8-3, 6-3 Pac-12)
• The Beavers, much like Arizona State, failed to live up to the hype to end the season. After a 6-0 start, Oregon State fell to two of, arguably, its toughest opponents in Oregon and Stanford to finish 2-3.
• Despite not playing in the Pac-12 title game, the Beavers have one game left between now and their bowl game, unlike many other teams left out of conference title games. The Beavers will make up their Week 1 matchup with Nicholls State after it was postponed due to Hurricane Isaac.
“We are down for the last couple chapters,” head coach Mike Riley said about his team’s lackluster finish, “and we need to talk to the team about putting an exclamation point on how they want to be remembered as. One of the first ways a team is remembered is their record, so we want to make that record as good as we can.”
Next Game: vs. Nicholls State Dec. 1
Southern Cal (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12)
• With the buzz surrounding a 10-2 USC team last season and Matt Barkley’s triumphant return to finish what he started, Trojans fans did not expect their team to be in the conversation with Washington and Arizona rather than Notre Dame and Alabama. However, here sits Southern Cal wondering its fate at the hands of bowl selectors.
• Quarterback Max Wittek deserves credit for hanging with the nation’s top-ranked team in his first career start. Wittek’s arm strength is unparalleled. With his talent, Southern Cal should be in prime position to make another run at Pac-12 glory next season.
“It is very difficult for everyone in our locker room,” head coach Lane Kiffin said, “for everything that hasn’t happened the way we wanted this season. We hoped things could have been different [Saturday].”
No. 8 Stanford (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12)
• The Cardinal did everything they needed to earn a spot in the Pac-12 title game by defeating UCLA. Now, all Stanford must do to get to the Rose Bowl is to do it again.
• Losses to Washington and Notre Dame plagued the Cardinal’s season as far as national title recognition is concerned, but has allowed them to sneak under the radar for a good chance at the Rose Bowl. Now UCLA comes to Palo Alto, Cal. for a rematch. Despite Stanford’s stellar defense, it will be difficult to fend off the Bruins’ powerful offense for two consecutive games.
“I expect UCLA to give us everything,” head coach David Shaw said. “I expect this to be a tough physical game. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be 10 times harder than this game was. We’re going to get their best shot.”
Next Game: vs. UCLA Nov. 30
UCLA (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12)
• Head coach Jim Mora can only hope the next game will be 10 times harder for Stanford. It’s his duty to make adjustments to the offense to combat his team’s poor scoring this past week. The Bruins’ 17-point effort ties their worst offensive production this season. The team last scored 17 against Cal in Week 6.
• In reality, the game could be 10 times as hard for UCLA being in a raucous environment at Stanford. However, had the game gone the other way, UCLA would have faced Oregon, whom it hasn’t seen this season. It could be a blessing in disguise that the Bruins lost because now they have a chance to adjust their game before the rematch. It’s easier to plan for a team they’ve seen before rather than going against an unfamiliar opponent.
“[Stanford is] very physical,” Mora said. “They’re big. They have the same offense and the same defense and they have been doing this for a long time.”
Next Game: vs. Stanford Nov. 30
Utah (5-7, 3-6 Pac-12)
• The Utes suffered a season filled with a good bit of ups and downs. The quarterback situation was one to note. Junior Jordan Wynn hung up his cleats after his fourth shoulder injury in three seasons. Jon Hays entered and played up to par, but eventually gave way to freshman Travis Wilson, perhaps a move for Utah’s future.
• John White III caught fire far too late in the season for his teammates’ liking. White averaged 68.8 yards per game in his first six games of the season, but rattled off five consecutive 100-yard performances to end the season. Had White been more effective in the Utes’ early- and mid-season games, he could have helped alleviate the pain of a quarterback transition
Washington (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12)
• As mentioned in an earlier notebook, the Huskies now sit on the brink of a bowl after falling in an overtime thriller to Washington State. Losing the Apple Cup doesn’t spell death for Washington, but it certainly doesn’t help its bowl prospects.
• Four of Washington’s star offensive players – quarterback Keith Price, running back Bishop Sankey, tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and wide receiver Kasen Williams – have years of eligibility left. This is a positive sign for head coach Steve Sarkisian to know that, no matter this year’s end result, the same guys return next season for a shot at getting off the fringe.
Washington State (3-9, 1-8 Pac-12)
• Given the season it’s had, Washington State could not have scripted a better ending than a win against in-state rival Washington in dramatic fashion. Ending the season in such a way gives the Cougars something to take away from a year filled with troubles.
• This offseason is a great opportunity for sophomore quarterback Connor Halliday to take the reigns of the Cougars’ offense. With Jeff Tuel graduating, the position battle clears up. Halliday played fairly well while splitting time this season, finishing with 1,878 yards and 15 touchdowns in nine games
“[Winning] is easier than we’ve been making it,” head coach Mike Leach said of the season. “It’s really just hanging together and everybody doing their part, not trying to make too much happen.”