Pac-12 is caught in a QB carousel

A proud QB conference is falling on – or getting sacked by – hard times

Jordan Webb was sacked by CU midseason in favor of Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood. Colorado’s quarterback carousel is just one of several around the Pac-12, a usually proud conference when it comes to its QB play. Enlarge photo

David Zalubowski/Associated Press file photo

Jordan Webb was sacked by CU midseason in favor of Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood. Colorado’s quarterback carousel is just one of several around the Pac-12, a usually proud conference when it comes to its QB play.

Oregon State’s quarterback shuffle is emblematic of what has been happening around the Pac-12 all season. Injuries and inconsistency have dogged many teams in a league that always has been known for its strong quarterbacks.

The No. 15 Beavers started out the season with Sean Mannion under center. Because of injury they went to Cody Vaz. Then it was back briefly to Mannion. This week it’s undetermined.

Other Pac-12 teams that have switched quarterbacks include No. 14 Stanford, which started with Josh Nunes but swapped him for dual threat Kevin Hogan, and beleaguered Colorado, which started the season with Kansas transfer Jordan Webb but now is looking toward Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood.

Washington State has gone back and forth between Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday.

Injuries also are an issue. Cal senior Zach Maynard is nursing a sprained left knee. Arizona quarterback Matt Scott missed a game with a concussion and was questionable for Utah on Saturday night. The Utes were expected to start true freshman Travis Wilson, who unseated Jon Hays.

This week, as Oregon State (7-2, 5-2) prepared to host California (3-8, 2-6) late Saturday night, the starting quarterback remained up in the air – on both sides.

The Beavers’ situation certainly is unique.

Mannion took over the Beavers as a redshirt freshman last season when the team finished just 3-9 overall. He got off to a strong start this year, leading Oregon State to four consecutive wins while throwing for an average of 339 yards a game.

But Mannion’s fortunes took a turn when he injured his left knee on a handoff during a game against Washington State. Two days later, the Beavers announced he needed surgery, and the timeline for his return was uncertain. So Oregon State turned to Cody Vaz, who had not started since high school but coolly led the Beavers in victories over BYU and Utah, helping the team to its best start since 1907.

Mannion made an unexpectedly quick recovery and returned to start the next week at Washington. He struggled, however, throwing four interceptions in the Beavers’ first loss of the season. So Oregon State turned back to Vaz, who helped the team to a victory against Arizona State.

Vaz started last week in a 27-23 loss to Stanford, but he injured his left ankle during the waning moments. Mannion was taking snaps in practice earlier this week, while the Beavers waited to see if Vaz would be cleared.

Oregon State is lucky. Since Vaz had a few quality starts, the Beavers know what they’re getting with either quarterback.

“With either guy, we just decide what’s going to be best to do against the upcoming team. They’re both passers first, the both manage the offense, and I think they’re both good players,” coach Mike Riley said. “They don’t really bring something different than the other guy, nor do we have to tone some things down in regard to either guy. That’s the beauty of the thing, they both – in spring practice and fall camp – basically shared the turns for two years. We just run our offense.”

On the other side, Maynard also was iffy for Cal. If he couldn’t go, Allan Bridgford gets the start for the Golden Bears.

Hirschman didn’t play, so Colorado (1-10, 1-7) started Wood against Washington (7-4, 5-3) in Saturday’s 38-3 loss, then turned back to Webb.

Washington State (2-9, 0-8) coach Mike Leach, who has plenty of other issues to worry about this week, lost 46-7 behind both Halliday and Tuel on Saturday at Arizona State (6-5, 4-4).

Scott, spelled by B.J. Denker during his injury, ended up starting for the Wildcats (6-4, 3-4) late Saturday night at Utah (4-6, 2-5).

There still are a handful of lucky teams in the league, quarterback-wise. Two of them are in Los Angeles and faced off this weekend in a battle for the Pac-12 South.

Senior Matt Barkley hasn’t lived up to some expectations this season but still ranked 14th in the nation with an average of just more than 297 yards passing per game for the No. 21 Trojans (7-4, 5-4). He entered Saturday’s 38-28 loss leading the conference with 33 touchdowns, but he’s also thrown a league-high 13 interceptions.

UCLA freshman Brett Hundley is not far behind Barkley with an average – before Saturday’s win – of 274 yards passing per game for the Bruins (9-2, 6-2).

The other stalwarts among the league’s quarterbacks this season are steady Washington junior Keith Price, who threw for five touchdowns against CU; Arizona State sophomore Taylor Kelly; and Oregon’s undefeated redshirt freshman, Marcus Mariota, who is hearing Heisman whispers.

Nick Hirschman has handled the quarterback position at times for Colorado this season, splitting time with fellow backup Connor Wood. Together, they’ve replaced Jordan Webb, the opening-day starter benched for inefficiency. Enlarge photo

John Miller/Associated Press file photo

Nick Hirschman has handled the quarterback position at times for Colorado this season, splitting time with fellow backup Connor Wood. Together, they’ve replaced Jordan Webb, the opening-day starter benched for inefficiency.

Connor Wood took the handoff first from Jordan Webb, then Nick Hirschman, as the Buffaloes’ quarterback this season. The baton has been passed several times at Colorado, typical of the Pac-12 this season. Enlarge photo

Wily Low/Associated Press file photo

Connor Wood took the handoff first from Jordan Webb, then Nick Hirschman, as the Buffaloes’ quarterback this season. The baton has been passed several times at Colorado, typical of the Pac-12 this season.

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story