Pac-10 is answering QB questions

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Reports of the dearth of Pac-10 quarterbacks have been greatly exaggerated.

Three conference quarterbacks now rank among the nation's top 25 in passing efficiency: Arizona's Nick Foles at No. 17, Stanford's Andrew Luck (19th) and USC's Matt Barkley (22nd).

Foles, a sophomore, is the oldest among them. Luck is a redshirt freshman. You may have heard the whispers about Barkley being a true freshman.

Of course, last week, none ranked in the top 25. Which means, obviously, all three had big weekends.

Foles completed 40 of 51 passes for 415 yards with three TDs and no interceptions in the Wildcats' shootout victory over Stanford. Luck was on the losing end despite completing 21-of-35 for 423 yards with three TDs and an interception. Barkley passed for 380 yards, completing 19 of 29 passes with two touchdowns and an interception in the Trojans' win over Notre Dame.

Those are huge numbers, though they wouldn't have caused much of a ruckus in, say, 2002.

There is nothing to suggest that Foles, Luck or Barkley are one-hit wonders. Each had played with uncanny maturity prior to last Saturday's breakout performance, and it's hard not to project all three getting progressively better.

Not to get ahead of things, but here's a guess that all three have already earned a raised eyebrow from an NFL GM or two.

You know, sort of like Washington's Jake Locker, a junior.

The good news for Washington fans is that Locker's hot-and-cold play of late suggests that he could benefit from another year of work with coach Steve Sarkisian in a pro-style offense. All of the Huskies' top skill guys will be back, and Locker could become a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Of course, if he's a projected top-15 pick this spring, all bets are off.

The main point here is that the Pac-10 began the year with quarterback questions. It hits midseason mostly with quarterback answers, though California and mercurial junior Kevin Riley get an "incomplete" grade.

And there's reason for hope for the future.

Only Arizona State and Oregon State start senior quarterbacks, and both are high on young backups. In fact, Sun Devils true freshman Brock Osweiler remains a threat to unseat senior Danny Sullivan.

Locker and Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli, a junior, began the year as the conference's premier quarterbacks, but neither is a sure-thing for all-conference honors.

The youth movement isn't only at the top, though.

UCLA's Kevin Prince bounced back from a poor performance against Oregon by passing for 311 yards against California, though his afternoon was uneven and he tossed an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

Still, Prince is playing like a redshirt freshman is supposed to play. If he weathers the weltering emotions of being a young quarterback for a team that is struggling, it's hard to believe that he won't improve while working with Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow.

Washington State's Jeff Tuel can empathize. He was quarterbacking Clovis West High School in Fresno, Calif., last fall. A few weeks ago, he came off the bench against USC at the Coliseum.

That's a sophomore and four freshmen starting at quarterback, with three of them playing as well as any of the veterans in the conference.

While careers can often take radical turns -- injuries, losses of confidence, etc. -- and young players sometimes don't live up to their early promise, we may be at the start of a Pac-10 quarterbacking renaissance.

Which would be great fun.