Editor's Note: This column is paired with a premium Sun Devil Source Report podcast embedded in the video player atop the page. In the podcast, which was recorded prior to ASU's Saturday scrimmage, Publisher Chris Karpman and Editor Kerry Crowley cover a variety of subjects including ASU's quarterback competition, the 'Super Seven' best players on the roster, and additional perspective on the proximal recruiting mandate set forth by Todd Graham and other coaches before him. Simply press the 'play' button to listen to this podcast.
Imagine the following scenario: Arizona State coaches settle on either sophomore Manny Wilkins or redshirt freshman quarterback Brady White as the team's starting quarterback, and that player holds the job for the next three seasons.
Imagine that during those three seasons, the Sun Devils have a record of 15-18 overall and finish no better than 6-5, and never finish above .500 in league play.
Imagine that three-year starting quarterback with a completion percentage of about 55 percent, a passer rating of 130 and 41 touchdown passes and 25 interceptions.
As an ASU fan, you'd be pretty unhappy with that performance, right? You'd probably want the coach fired, right? You'd consider that quarterback play not only underwhelming, but unacceptable, right? You may even have wondered many times during those three years, why are they sticking with this guy at quarterback?
If that was the three-year resume of Wilkins or White, you'd consider their careers unfulfilled. Maybe (probably?) you'd even say they'd failed.
Now consider this: Those are the precise three-year accomplishments of celebrated ASU quarterback Jake Plummer.
On the Mount Rushmore of ASU quarterbacks, Plummer is finely carved in stone right next to legendary Danny White.
ASU fans love Jake Plummer, just not for his play in 1993-95, when the Sun Devils were a garden variety program in the Pac-10.
You see, even though Plummer was a four-year starter at quarterback at ASU, he is only celebrated because of one magical 1996 season, in which the team went 11-0 in the regular season and nearly won a national championship. Everything prior to that in his college career was utterly forgettable.
Plummer finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting following his senior season, which saw his passer rating improve to 144.8 and his touchdown-to-interception ratio yield the best results of his career.
But if not for Plummer being a four-year starter, how would he have been perceived by ASU fans? A fun to watch player who yielded average results? Pretty much.
A strong case could be made that it's only because Plummer was allowed to learn and develop on the job during those three earlier lean years that ASU's 1996 season holds up as the most memorable and successful in 30 years, since the 1987 Rose Bowl win.
Would Jake Plummer be Jake Plummer to ASU fans if not for the three seasons he started that nobody really talks about, and the experience he benefited from that enabled the magical 1996 season? Probably not.
Anything can happy with ASU's 2016 quarterback competition. Maybe Wilkins or White gets the nod, plays well in the opener against NAU and never looks back. Perhaps it remains an open question as to whom is better suited to lead the Sun Devils even after that game, or even after a full season.
No ASU quarterback has thrown a pass in college and to expect the Sun Devils to go out and have great play at the position this year is unrealistic. There is no indication that either of the candidates is ready to lead ASU to greatness in 2016.
How many young quarterbacks at the school have done great anyway? Ryan Kealy was a freshman All-American in 1997 when ASU went 8-3, but that was one of the most talented Sun Devil teams in the Pac-10/12 era which now spans nearly 40 years. In the next three years ASU never won more than six games and Kealy was limited by serious knee issues. Rudy Carpenter was very good for a redshirt freshman and sophomore in 2005 and 2006 but ASU went a combined 14-11 (8-9) in those years under Dirk Koetter and he was subsequently fired.
No ASU quarterback this year will lead the team to rare heights because this isn't the type of situation in which ASU is just a quarterback away from being a national contender. Not when its offensive line is so inexperienced and it is replacing several key skill players on offense. Not when it is coming off a season in which it was last nationally in passing defense and will rely on newcomers or position moves in several key secondary spots.
Here's the thing though: Most of ASU's best talent has remaining eligibility. And even when it comes to ASU's best seniors like linebacker Salamo Fiso, safety Laiu Moeakiola, senior wide receiver Tim White and tight end Kody Kohl, the Sun Devils have just as talented players waiting in the wings.
Look ahead to 2017, when Christian Sam, D.J. Calhoun, Tashon Smallwood, Joseph Wicker, Renell Wren, George Lea, Kareem Orr, Armand Perry, Koron Crump, Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage, Cam Smith, Jalen Harvey, Ellis Jefferson, N'Keal Harry, Sam Jones, Zach Robertson, Quinn Bailey, Steve Miller, Cohl Cabral, Raymond Epps, Jay Jay Wilson and many others could all be back.
ASU is going to be more talented in 2017, of that you can be assured. With a lot of the most talented players being 2015 recruits from the highest rated class in school history, it should only continue to be the case in 2018.
The best quarterbacks at ASU have been guys who got to play early in their careers and were able to get comfortable in the role and develop. From Joe Spagnola (1968-70 starter) to Danny White (1971-73 starter) to Jeff Van Raaphorst (1984-86 starter) to Plummer (1993-96 starter) to Andrew Walter (2002-04 starter) to Rudy Carpenter (2005-08 starter) to Taylor Kelly (2012-2015 starter), ASU's best quarterbacks have almost always been players who ascended to the starting job very early in their careers.
In this transitional season, there may be no Plummer-like quarterback who emerges in 2016 and looks ready to lead a roster that is trending up in the talent department. But that doesn't mean the next Jake Plummer isn't already on the roster. Or maybe, a Van Raaphorst, a Walter, a Carpenter, a Kelly. Any of those would do just fine for the Sun Devils. It may just take a couple years to reveal itself.