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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Pac-12 boasts strong crop of signal-callers

 LOS ANGELES — For 32 years, the Pacific 10 Conference was known as the Conference of Quarterbacks. Legends like Troy Aikman (UCLA), Warren Moon (Washington), John Elway (Stanford) and Dan Fouts (Oregon) paved the way for a trend that’s continued for years after they took their last snap.

Although the conference is now the Pacific 12 with the additions of Utah and Colorado, that trend appears to be intact heading into 2011.

“”Year after year we seem to produce the best quarterbacks and the most sophisticated offenses in the country, and 2011 promises to be no exception,”” said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott at the conference’s media day in Los Angeles. “”All five of the quarterbacks that are here with us today uphold the standard of play that legends before them set.””

Nine of the conference’s 12 teams are returning their starting quarterbacks, and six of those nine threw for more than 2,400 yards last season — a feat accomplished by only 61 quarterbacks in the country.

Arizona’s Nick Foles is one of those six.

The senior finished second in the Pac-12 (20th in the NCAA) in total passing yards (3,191) behind only Andrew Luck, despite missing several games due to injury. Foles also finished sixth in the NCAA in completion percentage (67.1 percent) and led his team on a pair of game-winning drives against Iowa and California.

He’s the unquestioned leader of this Arizona team, but after a sub-par Alamo Bowl performance (three interceptions, one touchdown), Foles said that he knows he’ll have to improve his decision-making to continue to stand out among his elite counterparts.

“”I think the biggest thing I’m really focusing on is don’t force throws,”” Foles said. “”If I don’t have it, check it down to the back. If I see a deep throw and I try and squeeze it in, it’s not going to happen.””

If Foles does begin the season healthy and improved in a few areas, there’s no question he’ll again finish near the top of the Pac-12 in passing yards. But with Luck, a more seasoned Matt Barkley, the electric Darron Thomas and newcomers Tyler Hansen at Colorado and Jordan Wynn at Utah, Foles won’t be hard-pressed for competition.

USC head coach Lane Kiffin said if USC can win enough games, Barkley is “”on schedule to be in (the Heisman) conversation. Oregon head coach Chip Kelly called Thomas “”probably the toughest quarterback I’ve ever been around,”” while saying there’s no ceiling to Thomas’ potential.

Then there’s Wynn and Hansen. Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said Wynn, who threw for 2,334 yards in only 10 games last year, is the perfect quarterback to run the Utes’ newly employed pro-style offense under offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

First-year Colorado coach Jon Embree was also adamant that Hansen will become part of the conversation regarding the conference’s top quarterbacks during his senior season.

“”I think Tyler fits and belongs with the groups of guys that you have here, and the quarterbacks that you have in this conference,”” Embree said.

Oregon State signal-caller Ryan Katz also had a breakout year last season, throwing for 2,401 yards and shredding Arizona for 393 yards and three total scores in a win at Arizona Stadium. Lastly, Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel is coming into his own, after a sophomore season highlighted by 2,780 passing yards and 18 touchdowns.

“”I think the one thing about this league that sticks out is Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Nick Foles, Darron Thomas, Ryan Katz, the list goes on and on,”” Kelly said.

So while Foles is poised for a big senior season, he’ll have to be special to stand out among the Pac-12’s crop of quarterbacks. But with Juron Criner, Dan Buckner, David Douglas and several other options around him, Foles should repeat his 2010 season, if not surpass his production from a season ago.

But the big question isn’t if Foles be able to rival the Pac-12’s bevy of top quarterbacks, it’s how Arizona’s secondary will handle this host of elite arms.

With Arizona starting its Pac-12 schedule with Luck, Thomas, Barkley and Katz in its first four conference games, fans of the Wildcats will know the answer sooner rather than later.

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