The Pac-12 is popularly known as the conference of quarterbacks, mostly because it has better quarterbacks than everyone else, at least in terms of NFL potential.
That is again the case in 2011. The conference boasts Stanford’s Andrew Luck, USC’s Matt Barkley and Arizona’s Nick Foles, who each could become first-round NFL draft picks next spring. Then there’s Oregon’s Darron Thomas, who beat out Barkley and Foles for second-team All-Conference honors in 2010, and talented youngsters such as Washington State’s Jeff Tuel, Oregon State’s Ryan Katz and Utah’s Jordan Wynn.
Oh, but across the country in Conference USA, there’s a crew of quarterbacks that offers something that bests the Pac-12 signal-callers: huge numbers. Four Conference USA passers threw for more than 3,000 yards; just two did in the old Pac-10. Also, three threw 31 or more touchdown passes versus just one in the Pac-10 -- Luck with 32.
And that doesn’t even include the return of Houston’s Case Keenum, who passed for over 5,000 yards in both 2008 and 2009 and 44 touchdowns each season. Keenum was lost for the 2010 season in Game 3 after suffering a knee injury at UCLA.
So while the Pac-12 may think of itself as the conference of quarterbacks, Conference USA might be able to counter as the conference of passers.
Sounds like a blog debate! Bring on Andrea Adelson!
Ted Miller: Andrea, you have me and many of my Pac-12 blog readers at a loss. You know all about the Pac-12 quarterbacks because they are on TV all the time.
While most are familiar with Keenum’s eye-popping numbers for the Cougars, some of these other names draw blanks. Educate our poorly informed West Coast brains, please!
Andrea Adelson: Yes, Ted, there is a reason C-USA has a Wild, Wild West Division. It is there you will find some of the most prolific passers in the nation -- Keenum, G.J. Kinne of Tulsa, and Kyle Padron of SMU.
Keenum was just picked as the C-USA preseason offensive player of the year for obvious reasons. Your Pac-12 brethren only got a small glimpse of what he could do last season against UCLA -- the game in which he tore his ACL and was lost for the season. Keenum got a sixth season and has a slew of NCAA records he is chasing down -- total offense, passing yards, touchdowns, pass attempts and completions. He is in an offensive system that suits his strengths, and he really came onto the scene in 2008 under a certain coach named Dana Holgorsen.
With Keenum out last season, Kinne picked up the torch and was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Year. Kinne actually began his career at Texas before transferring to the Golden Hurricane. Last season he truly blossomed, but he is a different style quarterback than Keenum and Padron. Kinne can run -- he led the team in passing (3,650 yards) and rushing (561). It should come as no surprise that Padron is a gunslinger -- he plays for June Jones after all. And Jones is a master of the run 'n' shoot. But there are quarterbacks in the East who aren't slouches, either. Dominique Davis transferred from Boston College to East Carolina and flourished last season, leading the nation in passing. Austin Davis, one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation can run and pass, too. We all know the Big 12 is known for its passers, but C-USA equaled that conference with three players ranked in the top 11 in the nation in yards passing with Davis, Padron and Kinne. The Pac-12 might have the most "quarterback ready" players, but C-USA has guys who know how to put the ball in the air, that is for sure. And who doesn't love offensive fireworks?
Ted Miller: Andrea, those are impressive -- and sometimes HUGE -- numbers. Keenum got knocked out against UCLA, so the Bruins didn’t really get a full taste of him, which they figure to on Sept. 3 in Houston. But that’s the only time Pac-12 fans will get to see any of these guys. In the Pac-12, I’d rate Luck No. 1, Barkley No. 2, Foles No. 3 and Thomas No. 4 in terms of NFL prospects. Luck and Thomas are both outstanding athletes who are capable running the ball. Most folks don’t realize that Luck rushed for 453 yards last year. Barkley and Foles are prototypical drop-back passers.
So how do you see your guys' NFL prospects stacking up?
Andrea Adelson: None of these guys are first-round prospects, but that does not make them any less impressive as college quarterbacks. All of them are going to carry the "system quarterback" label with them when their careers end. Keenum already gets that when his name comes up in Heisman chatter. Interestingly, he is after the NCAA career passing mark of Timmy Chang -- coached at Hawaii by June Jones. And Jones has a guy in Padron who can sling it, too. Davis is in a system that Ruffin McNeill picked up from his "Air Raid" days at Texas Tech -- a school that has produced prolific passers such as Graham Harrell and Kliff Kingsbury but nobody who tore it up in the NFL. If you want to rank them as college quarterbacks, then Keenum deserves to be in the conversation as one of the best playing today. He is, after all, one of only two players in Division I history to have thrown for over 5,000 yards more than once.
Ted Miller: That’s the rub, I think, Andrea. While the Pac-12 prides itself on producing NFL quarterbacks, I think we can all appreciate guys who produce thrilling performances in the college game, the game by the way we love most, apologies to the NFL.
So as excited as I am to see Luck this year -- and others -- I also am eager to see what a healthy Keenum does in Round 2 with UCLA. And perhaps we on the West Coast need to branch out a bit in our quarterback appreciation and catch a few Conference USA games this season.
We do, you know, like our passing out West.