Does Falk have a battle looming with Bender?

LUKE FALK was steady (USC), brilliant (Oregon State), and a bit hair pulling (ASU, Washington) in his time on center stage following Connor Halliday's injury. Along the way, he was widely anointed the next great quarterback at QB U. But what about Peyton Bender, who spent 2014 redshirting? Does he have a puncher’s chance of unseating Falk by the time the Cougs open 2015 against Portland State?

In talking to close observers of Cougar practices this past fall, along with seeing a handful of workouts up close myself, it might be more than a puncher's chance.

Here's the take on how the QB battle shapes up for 2015 headed into the New Year:

A dead heat.

That is no joke. As good as Falk (pictured above left) looked at times in the stretch run of 2014, I firmly believe a battle royale is on the horizon.

Falk is a film hound, gets every ounce out of his ability, and showed uncommon poise during his four-game audition despite it being his first Pac-12 rodeo.

What most makes Bender (pictured above right) an intriguing contender for the top spot is that when it comes to throwing the football, he has more natural talent and better fundamentals than Falk (and a stronger arm.)

That said, natural talent and a strong arm doesn’t mean much in a vacuum -- especially when it comes to Mike Leach’s Air Raid.

Falk has the better pocket presence right now. Bender has a very quick release.

Bender has better mechanics: his throwing motion and arm slot is the same time after time. Falk, as evidenced by the Oregon State game, is more intuitive. He's better at "just making plays," especially when quick improvisation is required.

Both did about the same on the short- and medium-range throws, with a slight edge to Falk. Bender throws the better deep ball. Neither threw a lot of interceptions in Thursday Night Football: failure was marked by incompletions, not picks.

Bender has better footwork. Falk does a better job of looking off defenders.

One big thing to keep in mind: 2014 was Falk's second year in the program and Bender's first. That gives Falk a head start, of course, but there's an old adage in football that the biggest jump in a player's development is often found between his first and second years.

And when Bender got on a roll this past season in TNF, he could really string them together.

Will Bender, coming off his redshirt season, visit that zone more often and for longer stretches in Year Two? Will he make that defining leap forward in his second year? And if so, will it be enough to unseat Falk?

Falk (obviously) holds the edge heading into this spring given the experience he gained -- and stretches of excellence he showed -- in 2014.

In the end, it will be about proper reads, solid execution and making the correct pre- and post-snap decisions that will determine who wins the starting job at Washington State in 2015. And spring ball in March can't come soon enough.

The primary gauge here when it comes to Bender this past season is Thursday Night Football. During the practice week (apart from TNF) scout team quarterbacks like Bender throw off a card – they’re trying to duplicate the look of the opponent more than they’re trying to make plays. As such, a scout team quarterback makes a lot of “bad” throws running the scout team, ones he would never let fly in first-team or team reps, or in a game.

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