Inexperienced Pac-10 quarterbacks

Behold the demarcation line. Over half of the Pac-10 is set in its quarterback situation. Six schools welcome back full-time starters from a year ago. Here, Mark DeVaughn looks at the other four schools, and how inexperience under center affects their 2010 prospects.

A handful of underclassmen, namely those in Los Angeles, Palo Alto and Tuscon, served notice in 2009 of present promise and future greatness. Talk is that a certain Pac-10 signal-caller will become the top pick in the next NFL draft.

Four other sides operate outside that realm of stability. One contender will try to continue a lesser-known lineage of quality quarterbacks. Another gives an injury-prone fifth-year senior his last time to shine. Two others teams, both expected to struggle in 2010, look to performers who started last year as true freshmen.

Here's a look at the four relatively inexperienced Pac-10 quarterbacks, with their career starts in parentheses.

Arizona State

Unrest in Tempe, where Sun Devil Stadium was around 20,000 short of capacity for last year's Arizona tilt, is gaining ground. The Sun Devils are coming off their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1946-47, back when the school decided "Bulldogs" was no longer a suitable mascot.

Brock Osweiler (1) has the edge as fall camp gets underway. The 6-foot-8 sophomore's nearest competition is Steven Threet (8), who led Michigan's doomed 2008 club in passing before transferring. Osweiler took over for an ineffective Danny Sullivan in last year's loss to USC and was awarded the start the following week at Oregon. His night lasted all of one quarter. A sack injured his shoulder and cut short the first start for an ASU true freshman quarterback since Jake Plummer

Samson Szakacsy (2) started the last two of the Devils' six straight losses, going the distance at UCLA before getting yanked against Arizona in favor of Sullivan. He's the most compelling personality of the group, with long hair inspired by a Slash (of Guns 'N Roses fame). The religious studies major is also the lead singer of a rock band. His mom is a cancer survivor, and he volunteers at an Arizona Indian reservation.

Oregon

Head coach Chip Kelly claims he's "not a platoon guy" when it comes to quarterbacks. Safe money says that fifth-year senior Nate Costa (1) will hold off third-year sophomore Darron Thomas for the undisputed starting nod.

Costa's rural California hometown of Hilmar (Merced County) is sleepy. Each June, it hosts the annual "Udder Run" five-mile race. In addition to his unassuming roots, the 22-year-old Costa was involved in one of his team's most underrated play of 2009. Simply put, he saved the Ducks' feathered nether regions. Oregon scored a touchdown with six seconds left at Arizona, but still needed the extra point to tie. The snap was low, almost errant enough to give both the game and an eventual trip to Pasadena to the Wildcats. Costa, the holder, fielded it cleanly on one hop. Morgan Flint converted the PAT to send the game to overtime, where the Ducks won.

Costa started one game a year ago, a victory at UCLA when Jeremiah Masoli sat out injured. He missed all of 2007 and 2008 with separate knee injuries after seeing some action four years ago.

As for Thomas, who originally committed to LSU and played against Andrew Luck in high school, he proved his QB chops two years ago. The Texan needed only one quarter against Boise State to total 210 passing yards and three touchdowns, nearly pulling the Ducks back from a 24-point hole in a 37-32 defeat.

Oregon State

Five former USC signal-callers populate NFL rosters. Three Oregon State alums operate in the pros, with Sean Canfield joining Derek Anderson and Matt Moore. No other Pac-10 team has more than two.

But no other Pac-10 team has so little experience returning at quarterback. The Beavers' season-opener will also mark the starting debut of whoever assumes the QB controls. Look for Ryan Katz, who threw for 519 yards in limited action behind Canfield a year ago.

Katz graduated from high school early so he could enroll in Corvallis in time for 2008 spring drills. The job became his to lose in March, when the NCAA denied Lyle Moevao's request for a sixth year of eligibility. Moevao, 11-4 in his career as a starter, missed all over 2009 with foot and shoulder ailments. Immediately behind Katz are redshirt freshmen Jack Lomax (Neil's son) and Cody Vaz. True freshman Sean Mannion attended Foothill High in Pleasanton and was a high school rival of Cardinal freshman Brett Nottingham.

Washington State

Washington State appears to have a winning quarterback, but the team's inability to keep him healthy makes this situation vulnerable. The Cougars' recent perils are reminiscent of Oregon State, as in early-'80s, totally pathetic Oregon State.

Sophomore Jeff Tuel (5) joins Drew Bledsoe as the only quarterback in school history to start as a true freshman. He threw for 354 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Cal and completed a 99-yard touchdown against Arizona State. Head coach Paul Wulff says Tuel is further along at this stage of his career than both Bledsoe and Ryan Leaf. Tuel's season ended, however, against Arizona, where he injured a knee in October and never returned.

The Cougars are coming off back-to-back 1-11 seasons. Marshall Lobbestael (6) has started three games in each of the past two years, with separate knee injuries occurring in that span. The young Mark McGwire clone was one of four quarterbacks used by Wulff's team a year ago. When both Lobbestael and Kevin Lopina were knocked out against Washington, back-up punter Dan Wagner was called upon for four emergency snaps.


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