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The best QBs in the Pac-10
Rich Linde, Updated 18 April 2010

Although the Pac-10 featured some potent running backs last season, a number of gifted quarterbacks are looking to reaffirm their national credentials in 2010, among them being Jake Locker of Washington and Andrew Luck of Stanford. Here's how we rate the signal callers, from top to bottom.

1. Jake Locker, 6-3, 230, 5th year senior, Washington

Locker has the proverbial cannon of an arm, along with an ability to impersonate at times -- if the coaches will let him -- a bullish, swift running back, who has a juke or two in his arsenal to befuddle a defender. Over his career at Washington, he has made steady improvement in his throwing mechanics and looks to connect on 60% or more of his passes this year.

If Locker's cannon were a heat-seeking missile, it'd be a sure bet to bring down a Scud. His character and persona serve as a role model for young and old alike, which attest to his upbringing. 

I won't toss in other superlatives, lest you call me a homer; instead, I'll let Mel Kiper, ESPN draft expert, do the talking. He recently said, "If you had to ask me right now who is going to be the number one pick in the 2011 draft, I would say it's etched in stone it's going to be Jake Locker.'' You can mark that down. Jake Locker, if he's not the number one pick, it's an upset."

Last season, Locker led the conference in total offense, averaging 265.7 yards per game. He finished fourth in pass efficiency, posting a rating of 130.1, and second in passing average per game with a 233.3 YPG average; he rushed for 388 total yards.

Washington's only experienced backups, quarterback Ronnie Fouch out of Riverside County, has transferred from school, as has walk-on QB Taylor Bean, who played two games in the 2008 season. That leaves redshirt freshman Keith Price and true freshman Nick Montana to fill in for Locker should he suffer injury.

Over Jake's career, he's missed playing in 10 out of a possible 37 games if you count half of two games he played in as one: Oregon State in 2007 and Stanford in 2008. That is, he's missed playing in 27% of the games over his career at Washington due to injuries. As he did last year -- in a remarkable 5-7 season -- Locker needs to stay healthy in 2010; otherwise, the Huskies' chances for post-season play will be as slim as a software engineer's in successfully debugging a non-reproducible error occurring in an automobile's electronics throttle control system. 


According to Bob Condotta's unofficial stats, taken from the first spring scrimmage held on April 10, the three quarterbacks performed as follows: Passing: Locker 3-6, 70, 1 TD; Keith Price 5-7-27; Nick Montana 4-8-36 (there were no interceptions). These numbers translate to the following passing efficiencies: Locker (203.0), Price (103.83), and Montana (87.8).

2. Andrew Luck, 6-4, 234, redshirt sophomore, Stanford

In 2009 Luck led the conference in passing efficiency, posting an impressive 143.5 rating. He was second in the Pac-10 in total offense, with an average of 244.1 ypg.

Luck underwent surgery to a finger on his right, throwing hand for an injury he sustained during a 45-38 victory over Notre Dame, Stanford's last regular-season game in 2009.

In the same interview, the one about Locker, Kiper said that Luck had the potential to join Locker at the top of the draft should he declare. He'll be a third-year sophomore next season and eligible to declare. "If he plays to the level of what we expect to see based on how he performed this year for Jim Harbaugh, Andrew Luck comes out early and he's the second, third or fourth pick overall,'' Kiper said.

Luck is backed up by Robbie Picazo (6-3, 224, redshirt freshman) and Josh Nunes (6-4, 216, Sophomore). So far in spring practices, Picazo has had the edge on Nunes; however, neither backup has "arrived" as yet, according to Harbaugh.

As if it were dripping hot tallow, neither of them can hold a candle to Luck, who is throwing effortlessly this spring, with mechanics that produce hard, accurate passes.

Update (4/17): In the spring game, Luck, who played for the Cardinal team, completed 23 of 34 passes for 173 yards. Backup quarterbacks Josh Nunes and Robbie Picazo split time with the White team. Nunes was 7 of 12 for 61 yards while Picazo was 7 of 9 for 78. Nary a TD pass was thrown.

"Overall, I thought it was a good performance even though the scoreboard didn't show it," Luck said.

3. Matt Barkley, 6-2, 230, Sophomore, USC

In the Pac-10, Barkley finished third in pass efficiency last season, with a rating of 131.3.  With an average of 227.9 yards, he finished third in passing yards per game; he finished fifth in total offense, losing 38 yards rushing.

Barkley, as a true freshman, started 12 games last season but missed the game with Washington due to injury.  He had wrist surgery in January and is participating in spring practice. In a release, USC described the procedure on his wrist as "minor" and said it was done to "relieve stiffness and clean up inflammation."

Last Saturday, in a spring scrimmage, Barkley completed nine of 17 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, all of which translate to a PE of 196.66.

Update (4/18): In USC's second scrimmage, Barkley was 21of 30 for 291 yards and five touchdowns. His record this spring: 30 of 47 for 464 and 8 touchdowns, which computes to a PE of 202.93.

Mitch Mustain (6-3, 200, Senior) looks to bail Barkely out should he suffer injury or some other misfortune. Over his career at USC, Mustain has thrown 148 passes and completed 80, for a 54% completion average.  

4. Kevin Riley, 6-2, 221, Senior, California

Riley started all 13 games for Cal in 2009, leading the Bears to an 8-5 season.

Riley was fourth in the conference in passing yards per game, sixth in passing efficiency, and sixth in total offense. He gained 51 yards on the ground, showing a touch of mobility.

According to an article over at CalSportsDigest.com, this spring, "The quarterback position is the one that is most in need of improvement, and Kevin Riley will have to fight to retain his No. 1 spot in competition with No. 2 quarterback Beau Sweeney and No. 3 Brock Mansion. Even if Riley wins that battle as expected, he needs to improve his mechanics and his ability to perform in the face of a pass rush."

Commenting on the quarterback competition after Saturday's scrimmage, head coach Jeff Tedford was quoted as saying, “That’s probably what separates (Riley) from the other two, his experience. Those two guys took sacks when they shouldn’t. Instead of him running around and then falling on the ball, (Riley) just gets rid of it. Experience is paying off for him right now.”

Update (11/18): Scrimmage: Riley 11 of 16 for 125 yards; Sweeney 5 of 14 for 85 yards and a touchdown, a 60 yarder. Mansion sprained foot, did not play.

5. Nick Foles, 6-5, 235, Junior, Arizona

Last season, in a game against Washington, Foles was intercepted in spectacular fashion by linebacker Mason Foster, which led to a Huskies' victory and the pun in our headline the next day, "Foster's 'Pick-Nick' by the lake."

And not so "Punny," Foles torched UW for 384 yards passing, completing 73.6% of his passes, this in his best outing of the year.

In the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl against Nebraska, however,
Foles was disappointing, going 9 for 29 and 48 yards in a 33-0 loss. The Cornhuskers visit Seattle on September 18, in a what should be a defensive/offensive collision.

Last season in the conference, Foles finished sixth in passing average per game, seventh in passing efficiency, and eighth in total offense. He lost 73 yards rushing, which speaks, somewhat, for his mobility.

Foles is backed up by Matt Scott, who played in 9 games last season, completing 41 of 73 passes for 441 yards. His passing efficiency rating wasn't anything to write home about: 103.21. However, Scott gives the Wildcats the option of extending their offense, having rushed for 309 yards in 2K9.

Update (4/18): Spring game: Scott 16-21-238, 2 TD, INT; Foles 7-14-74, 2 INT; Bryson Beirne 8-12-89, TD.

6. Kevin Prince, 6-2, 219, Sophomore, UCLA

As a redshirt freshman, Prince played in 11 games last season, on a 7-6 Bruins' record.

In the second game of the season against Tennessee, which the Bruins won, Prince rolled to his right on a surprise naked bootleg with time running out and was clobbered in the end zone by defensive back Dennis Rogan for a safety, suffering a broken jaw that required surgery. He missed the next two games.

Later in the season, he suffered a right shoulder sprain that knocked him from the Bruins' 28-7 loss to USC on the series before he had a second pass intercepted.

This spring Prince is healthy, both running and throwing the ball well out of the Pistol formation.

On the Pistol, Coach Rick Neuheisel says, "We had that formation a year ago; we're just diving into some things other teams across the country have tried. We're doing everything we can to improve the running game. It gives the defense some more things to do and it allows the quarterback to be in a run formation that's also a ready-made throw formation, so that he can survey the field and decide what's best for us."

In the Pac-10 last season, Prince was eighth in passing yards per game, eighth in passing efficiency, and seventh in total offense. He ran for 179 yards.

In a 75-play scrimmage on Sunday, operating primarily out of the Pistol, Prince completed 8 of 9 passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 13 yards on five carries. Out of the Pistol, the quarterback is situated four yards behind center instead of the typical seven yards in the shotgun. The running back lines up three yards directly behind the quarterback or seven yards behind the center. Reportedly, the "UCLA offense struggled at first but found a tempo later."

Prince's backup, Richard Brehaut, is athletic enough to play out of the Pistol. He appeared in six games last season, completing 11 of 17 passes for 124 yards, with a rating of 114.21. In the same scrimmage, Brehaut went 3 of 11 for 21 yards.

Update (4/18): Second scrimmage: Prince was 7 of 11 for 87 yards and 1 touchdown. Brehaut 11 of 17 for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns. Combined scrimmages: Prince 15 out of 20 for 171 yards and 3 touchdowns; Brehaut 14 of 28 for 127 yards and 3 touchdowns.

7. Nate Costa, 6-1, 215, Senior, Oregon

Costa played in four games last season, throwing 33 times and completing 20 passes for 197 yards, with an efficiency rating of 114.69. 

Against Washington last season, he ran for a two-point conversion as well as picking up 7 yards on a fake field goal for a first down.

Costa was named the starting quarterback in the 2008 fall camp before suffering torn knee ligaments less than two weeks before the season opener. He was sidelined the entire year while rehabilitating from his second major surgery in as many years.

This spring, he's battling Darron Thomas for the starter's job. Thomas (6-3, 200, Junior) played in the 2008 season, completing 16 of 33 passes for 268 yards, with an efficiency rating of 140.64.

Recently, ESPN blogger Ted Miller had this to say about the competition, "Costa clearly knows the offense and seems confident running it. He also appears to be regaining confidence in his knees, despite three surgeries. He showed some nice quickness both scrambling and running the spread option. Thomas has a lot of skill and upside as a runner and passer. He does, however, tend to lock on his intended receiver, which led to a couple of picks Friday (April 9)."

After that scrimmage, Mark Helfrich, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said that both quarterbacks are practicing well, and that “Darron’s improving a lot, and Nate has continued to do good things.’’

Whoever is named as starter should have a productive season, considering Oregon's high-octane offense.

8. Ryan Katz, 6-1, 205, Sophomore, OSU

Battling Peter Lalich (6-4, 226, Senior) for the starters' job this spring, Katz is the odds on favorite. Katz appeared in three games last year, completing 14 of 37 passes for 232 yards and a rating of 136.26.

Lalich didn't play last year but made appearances in the two preceding seasons, accumulating the following record: 74 of 135 for 680 yards, with 2 touchdowns and 4 picks and a PE of 96.09.

Commenting on Ted Miller's rant vis-à-vis Jake Locker's performance this spring, Paul Buker of the Oregonian wrote, "I get that somebody was trying to make a point - Locker is really, really good - but I chuckled because there is a quarterback 4 1/2 hours down I-5 (OK, and turn right at Highway 34) who can make that same play, and do it quite effortlessly. That would be projected OSU starter (Nolan) Ryan Katz, who Miller will eyeball today."

9. Brock Osweiler, 6-8, 237, Sophomore, Arizona State

Osweiler appeared in six games in 2009, completing 24 of 55 passes for 249 yards and a PE of 86.39. ASU went 4-8 last season.

Osweiler is contending with Steven Threet for the number-one signal caller's job. In 2008, Threet, who didn't play last season, posted a record of 102 out of 200 passes for 1105 yards and a PE of 105.26.

In last Saturday's scrimmage, Osweiler posted a PE of 139.15, based on completing 14 of 26 passes for 170 yards, three touchdowns and a pick. Two weeks into spring practice, he appears to have the edge in the competition with Threet.

10. Jeff Tuel, 6-3, 207, Sophomore, WSU

Tuel appeared in six games last season, including five starts, for a team that went 1-11 on the year. He completed 71 out of 121 passes for 789 yards and posted a PE of 121.55, which is not too shabby, considering his team's record. In the game against Arizona, Tuel suffered a dislocated knee cap that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

This spring, Tuel is competing with Marshall Lobbestael for the number one slot. Hampered by an off-season knee injury, Lobbestael competed in eight games last season, starting three. He completed 67 of 144 passes for 655 yards, and 3 touchdowns against 8 picks. His PE of 80.5 is about what you'd expect from a QB playing for a 1-11 team. He posted a PE of 103.8 in the 2008 season.

Here are some unofficial passing stats from Saturday's scrimmage: Jeff Tuel - 7/12/84/1/0; Marshall Lobbestael - 8/11/71/1/1; David Gilbertson - 1/4/5/0/0.


Richard Linde can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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