Arguably, backup quarterbacks were one of the most important position groups in the Pac-12 a season ago. Without them, UCLA never beats Texas on the road, Arizona State doesn’t upset USC and Washington State feels like the season is completely lost when Connor Halliday goes down. Instead, Jerry Neuheisel fulfills a lifelong dream, Mike Bercovici invents "Berco-ing" and Luke Falk steps into Halliday's shoes and a changing of the guards occurs in Pullman.
With so much focus on a few quarterback battles brewing around the conference we haven’t had a chance to take a look at this (as last season proved) crucial position in the Pac-12. So today, Chantel Jennings and Kyle Bonagura sit down to discuss which conference backup they have the most faith in this season.
Jennings: This is kind of hard because he isn’t truly a backup ... yet. But, if Vernon Adams comes to Oregon and doesn’t win the starting job by the start of conference play then you can all give me an "I told you so!" tweet here. But, for argument’s sake, I’m going with the player I believe will be the Ducks' backup this season, Jeff Lockie.
The Oregon offense isn’t going to be as quarterback-centric this season as it was last. Without Marcus Mariota and with a new starter, there will be a heavier reliance on players around the quarterback to make the plays to keep the chains moving. I expect Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner, Byron Marshall and Charles Nelson to come up big for Oregon a lot this fall. Adams will add an element of athleticism to the position, and that will be beneficial, but with that many playmakers around him it’s not completely necessary (as in life-or-death-necessary). The quarterback for Oregon this season just needs to be good enough. So, if Adams has to go out for some reason, I have a lot of faith in Lockie to be good enough. I don’t think he’ll necessarily throw a Neuheisel-ish 33-yard game-winning TD, but I expect Lockie to make the plays he should make. And that will be enough to keep the Ducks on track.
The key for backups is to not give the ball away, and I have faith in Lockie to not do this. He knows the playbook probably better than anyone on the offense, so coordinator Scott Frost won’t have to hold his hand through anything. If Lockie goes in, Frost would still have full use of the playbook, which probably makes both Frost and Lockie very confident. All of this makes me very confident in my pick of Lockie as the conference’s best backup.
Bonagura: Outside of whomever ends up as the No. 2 at Oregon (I'm still not 100 percent convinced Adams will win the job), there are two other schools worth considering. One is Stanford, which has redshirt sophomore Ryan Burns and redshirt freshman Keller Chryst who were ranked among the top four quarterbacks in their respective recruiting classes. It seems like a safe bet that at least one will have developed to a point where David Shaw would be comfortable should fourth-year starter Kevin Hogan need to be replaced. The feeling I've always gotten around Stanford is that Chryst is the more likely successor to Hogan, but it's too early to make that call with much certainty considering Burns' one pass attempt against UC Davis makes up the extent of the duo's combined collegiate pass attempts. The Cardinal's group could be even deeper, too, but last season's No. 2, Evan Crower, graduated and left the program (it's still unclear if he will exhaust his eligibility somewhere else).
The other is USC. Max Browne, whom many thought was the top quarterback in the Class of 2013, has spent three spring practices with the Trojans after enrolling early. Considering some of the success we've seen almost immediately from lesser-hyped players like Cal's Jared Goff and Arizona's Anu Solomon, there is good reason to believe Browne would be ready to play -- and play well -- should Cody Kessler go down.
Outside of those two (and Oregon), I'm not sure there is another school in the conference where the fan base would be all too confident with the backup quarterback. Kendal Thompson at Utah and Neuheisel, assuming he doesn't win the starting job at UCLA, are the other obvious options -- and maybe they deserve more credit for having game experience -- but did either really do enough to inspire much confidence? Both had their moments, but I'm more intrigued by the relative unknowns at Stanford and USC.