Don't be surprised if... quarterbacks

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Tenth in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles.

Don't be surprised if ... Pac-10 quarterback play is significantly better in 2009.

How could that possibly be?

The two highest rated passers from 2008, USC's Mark Sanchez (No. 6 in the nation) and Arizona's Willie Tuitama (No. 22) are gone.

The highest rated returning passer? Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli at No. 45.

Remember the glory days?

In 2002, seven Pac-10 quarterbacks were rated between No. 5 and No. 43. Six averaged more than 254 yards passing per game, with two, Washington's Cody Pickett and USC's Carson Palmer, averaging over 300 yards per game.

In 2008? Zippo. Sanchez led the way with 247 yards per game.

Moreover, eight teams will be starting a different quarterback than the guy who opened last season as the starter. And those two teams starting the same guy, California and Washington, didn't start the same guy all season, though for very different reasons.

Finally, five teams will turn to a quarterback with zero starting experience.

So, again: How could anyone forecast improvement?

Well, it's legitimate to expect seven teams to improve their quarterback play in 2009, and the three teams trending downward have valid reasons for optimism.

And, yes, a significant part of the rationale in many cases is: "It couldn't get any worse, right?"

Let's walk through it.

Arizona: Down.
And yet... Matt Scott and Nick Foles look fairly good this spring, but the real reason not to bet against the Wildcats is offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes.

Arizona State: Down.
And yet... Rudy Carpenter had a mostly miserable 2008 in large part due to poor offensive line play. If the Sun Devils improve up front, Danny Sullivan should provide little drop-off from Carpenter's pedestrian numbers.

California: Up.
The assumption is Kevin Riley will be better with experience. And let's not forget the same goes for a corps of receivers, talented but completely green in 2008, that returns intact.

Oregon: Up.
Masoli was the best quarterback in the Pac-10 over the final quarter of the season. If he improves, he could end up first-team All-Pac-10... and maybe more.

Oregon State: Up.
The Beavers have two proven, experienced starting quarterbacks in Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao. If Canfield prevails this fall, as expected, he's the more skilled passer.

Stanford: Up.
Sure, Andrew Luck is a redshirt freshman, but he has as much natural ability as a passer as anyone in the conference. Beyond that, the Cardinal passing game couldn't get much worse than 2008. And having experienced senior Tavita Pritchard as a backup can only be a good thing.

This situation is much like Stanford. Kevin Craft battled last year, but setting a school record with 20 interceptions almost guarantees this year will be better with redshirt freshman Kevin Prince.

USC: Down.
And yet... A new quarterback and a new coordinator, so there are questions, but with nine starters back on offense, including a potentially dominating offensive line, it's hard to imagine the Trojans will get bad quarterback play for the first time since 2001.

Washington: Up.
If Jake Locker stays healthy, the Huskies won't be anyone's patsy this fall. He looked good transitioning from a spread to a pro-style scheme this spring, and he's got a solid, experienced crew of receivers back. He might make a move for All-Conference honors.

Washington State: Up.
Washington State produced some of the nation's worst quarterback play last year. Little to no experience. New system. Injuries. Not a lot of talent. There will be less newness this go-around, and Marshall Lobbestael won't be the wide-eyed freshman he was in 2008. And, honestly, things can't possibly be worse, right?

The Pac-10 still won't revert to its previous and long-held status as the farm system for future NFL quarterbacks this fall.

The expectation here, however, is that 2008, one of the worst seasons in conference history at the position, was an embarrassing blip and not a new trend.