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Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - Page updated at 09:30 p.m.

Bud Withers
Plenty of surprises as Pac-12 teams settle on starting quarterbacks

By Bud Withers
Seattle Times colleges reporter

Assessing one of his promising young players Tuesday, Arizona State football coach Todd Graham said, "He's so talented. He's going to be a great quarterback."

Just imagine when he's the starter. Graham was talking about Michael Eubank, who lost out in fall-camp competition to Taylor Kelly.

And so it went in the Pac-12, in perhaps the quirkiest August I can recall at the most important position. The whole process has lent another layer of intrigue to this week's opening of the season.

Nothing seemed to add up. A transfer from Kansas, Jordan Webb, showed up in Boulder in July, and Saturday, he'll be the starter for Colorado against Colorado State.

At ASU, Kelly was a virtual afterthought entering fall camp — third in the thinking of the Sun Devils coaches, Graham admits.

"He got faster and improved his arm strength over the summer," Graham explained. "He's a guy that, with his work ethic and leadership, if we took a vote on who (his teammates) wanted to be the quarterback, he'd be hard to beat."

Stanford coaches probably wanted Brett Nottingham to emerge as successor to Andrew Luck. He's better physically and a year younger than Josh Nunes, a junior. Naturally, it's Nunes who won the job. David Shaw described him on Tuesday's first Pac-12 coaches conference call as a guy with pocket presence, accurate, with a quick release, an understanding of the offense and an ability to escape trouble.

In other words, another Luck (kidding).

Even in the two precincts that are handing the reins over to redshirt freshmen, there were some quizzical looks. In Kevin Prince, UCLA had a guy with an imposing 26 career starts, albeit in and out of injuries and ineffectiveness. So Jim Mora flipped the keys to 6-foot-4, 225-pound Brett Hundley — no stunning upset, but surely not entirely expected.

"He's a big guy who can run," said Mora. "I like his ability to overcome a negative play and back it up with a positive play."

In Eugene, some Ducks fans will tell you they knew all along Marcus Mariota was going to win the job. All he had to do was beat out a guy who last year rushed for 8.7 yards a carry and threw for six touchdowns and no interceptions, Bryan Bennett.

But maybe Will Ferrell could run the Oregon offense and produce 550 yards a game.

There was even funny stuff at schools that already have quarterbacks. Midway through camp, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said it was getting very interesting, but insists now, "That kind of got misconstrued. Jordan Wynn was never unseated." Still, freshman Travis Wilson is going to play this year, like Eubank at ASU.

For reasons I can't deconstruct, Washington State put out a depth chart Monday that listed at quarterback Jeff Tuel "or" Connor Halliday. That led to some speculation that Mike Leach plans to spring both guys on BYU in the opener Thursday night. If so, Leach is doing his best to mask that intention.

"I don't think it's a very good idea," he said. "You (as a quarterback) go out in a game and play, you adjust to circumstances, you kind of evolve. You kind of get in a rhythm. I can't think of very many people that have done a very good job of that."

Oh, about those five new quarterbacks, at Colorado, ASU, UCLA, Stanford and Oregon: They've thrown a total of six passes at those schools, for 31 yards.

Summing up Nunes' capabilities, Shaw said, "It's hard for me to explain it until you've seen him play."

Until then, we'll scratch our heads, again.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or

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