“I love that competition,” USC’s Barkley said of the top-to-bottom quarterback talent. “We’re not necessarily looking at each other to one-up each other, but you know that those guys are there pushing you to be better.”
The standard bearer is Luck. His father, Oliver, played quarterback for the Houston Oilers in the mid-1980s.
Last season, Luck completed 70 percent of his passes and threw for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns (with eight interceptions) under Jim Harbaugh, who is now coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
Luck has a comfort level with first-year Coach David Shaw, who had been the offensive coordinator under Harbaugh. Crediting Shaw with everything from teaching him the West Coast offense to instilling a strong practice routine during his redshirt season, Luck says the transition has been smooth.
Said Shaw: “Having a quarterback that we know and that we trust and that will work his butt off, we have got him in place. That helps me a lot. Now we just concentrate on what goes on around him.”
Seventh-ranked Stanford’s nemesis will be third-ranked Oregon, the only team to beat the Cardinal last season. Thomas threw for 2,881 yards and ran for 486 during a season in which he accounted for 30 total touchdowns and, Kelly believes, showed improvement each week.
“I don’t know if there is a ceiling for him,” Kelly said, “and I hope there is not because college football is a quarterback-driven game. This league is a quarterback-driven league and we are going to go as far as Darron can play.”
Because of NCAA sanctions, USC cannot play in a bowl game or the league’s first conference championship game. But Barkley, whose touchdown-to-interception ration improved dramatically last season, should compete for Heisman Trophy consideration. Kiffin said Barkley is “on schedule to be in that conversation,” later adding that Barkley can have “one of those seasons like we have seen before with Carson [Palmer], [Matt] Leinart, John David [Booty], Mark Sanchez, have one of those elite seasons.”
There are others worthy of attention. It was Arizona’s Foles (290.1 yards per game) — not Luck (256.8) — who led the league in passing yards per game last season. Foles’s completion percentage (67.1) was second best in the league.
The list goes beyond the Big Six.
Often overlooked is Oregon State’s Ryan Katz, who began last season by throwing 129 passes without an interception. He finished last season’s game against Oregon with a broken wrist on his throwing arm. And there is Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler, a 6-foot-8 junior who threw for 647 yards and five touchdowns in the final two games last season, wins over UCLA and Arizona.
“The one thing about this league that sticks out,” Kelly said, “is Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Nick Foles, Darron Thomas, Ryan Katz. The list goes on and on.”