Washington State's Luke Falk shaping up as the Pac-12's Grand Old Man behind center

LUKE FALK will enter the 2016 season having thrown more career touchdown passes than any other returning Pac-12 quarterback. And while Colorado's Sefo Liufau of Tacoma is the dean of conference QBs, having started the last three seasons, his autumn outlook is clouded due to foot surgery so Falk also may enter the season also having attempted and completed more career passes than any other returning Pac-12 quarterback.

Falk is a fourth-year-junior-to-be with 15 career starts under his belt and a mountain of glossy statistics to his name -- not to mention first-team All-Pac-12 honors and a penchant for fantastic finishes.

There's no getting around that kind of battle-tested experience at the most important position on the field. That's one big reason why the Cougars are appearing on various preseason top 25 lists after so many years in the abyss -- they have a proven winner behind center.

In addition to WSU and possibly Colorado, just three other Pac-12 teams return their quarterbacks: UCLA (rising sophomore Seth Rosen), UW (rising sophomore Jake Browning) and Arizona (junior veteran Anu Solomon, though he appears to have a strong challenge from Brandon Dawkins). Oregon State would be listed here but Seth Collins is moving to receiver for 2016.

The math isn't difficult: Seven teams in the Pac-12 will have a new starter at QB this season (Stanford, Oregon, USC, Cal, Oregon State, ASU and Utah).

Little wonder a number of pundits have suggested the Pac-12 North title may be determined in the Apple Cup on Nov. 25 in Pullman.

The case for the Cougars, at least on the offensive side of the ball, is strong.

The cast of running backs and receivers surrounding Falk is formidable so the only pressing question headed into September will be the left side of the Cougar offensive line, where long-time starters Joe Dahl and Gunnar Eklund must be replaced. The forecast coming out of spring ball was good, as Andre Dillard at left tackle and Cody O’Connell at left guard turned in some fine work. If they step up when the real action begins, the Cougar OL will be as stout as any in the league. Each of the other three starters -- Riley Sorenson, Cole Madison and Eduardo Middleton -- are multi-year starters who earned some form of all-conference recognition last season from either coaches or the Associated Press.

If Falk & Co. achieve one of their main goals this season -- putting teams away sooner after last year’s 9-4 thrill ride of fourth quarters -- his numbers might not be quite so gaudy. But his profile will rise with each victory. He’s been referred to this offseason more than once as "the best QB you haven’t heard of." Defenses in the Pac-12 already know better. And so do the pundits who see the Cougars slotted in the preseason top 25. Indeed, there's just no getting around battle-tested experience at quarterback.

NOTABLE FALK NOTES:

  • He has completed 603 of 883 career passes (68 percent) for 6,420 yards and 51 TDs.
  • Despite missing time in 2015, he threw for 4,561 yards on 447 of 644 passing last season -- the fourth-most passing yards in a single season in conference history
  • Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News is out with his preseason all-Pac-12 team, to which he picks Falk, Madison and Gabe Marks to the  first team choices and Shalom Lunai second team. In response to a Josh Rosen fan who tweeted, "There's more to being a QB than just putting up a bunch of useless stats," Wilner replied, "yes, like winning games. falk did okay in that regard last year."



RELATED STORY: 5 reasons Falk will compete for Heisman Trophy


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