Pac-12 Football: The Year of the Quarterback Part 2

By Matt Heinz
Pac-12 Arizona State Quarterback Taylor Kelly
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

“Keep pushing, keep working, you’re almost there, finish!” are phrases constantly heard by college football players during the end of each offseason strength and conditioning workout, but it also applies to three of the Pac-12’s quarterbacks this year. Taylor Kelly, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler are on the edge of greatness, but they aren’t quite there yet. They are on my preseason second-tier level list of QBs in the conference.

Taylor Kelly is in his third and final year running offensive coordinator Mike Norvell’s fast tempo, play-action based attack at Arizona State that ranked second in the conference at 39.7 points a game. After Todd Graham’s first spring practices were completed in 2012, Kelly was third on the depth chart behind higher rated recruits Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank. Graham has placed an almost absurd amount of emphasis on preventing turnovers since his arrival to Tempe. Anyone who watched the Pac-12 Network’s show “The Drive” constantly heard Graham and his assistants preaching “ball security” and “own the football”.  Kelly owned the football as well as the playbook which led to him beating out the more talented QBs to win the job.

Kelly is probably the hardest working quarterback in the conference as well as one of the smartest. With one of the best wide receivers on the west coast in Jaelen Strong, Kelly threw for 3,635 yards last season. Kelly and Strong work so well together on the back shoulder fade that they probably finish each other’s sentences. Kelly’s legs are more than adept as well as he ran for over 600 yards in 2013 and over 500 in 2012. In 2014, Kelly will need to have his best season yet in order to enter the elite level along with players like Marcus Mariota.

If you put Kevin Hogan in a Mike Leach coached offensive system, he might be the alpha male of Pac-12 quarterbacks. Instead, Hogan is the steady captain of the toughest ship out at sea. Hogan only needed 295 passing attempts last season to steer the Stanford Cardinal to the Rose Bowl. When given the chance the chuck it, Hogan puts his deep balls right on the money where only his player can catch it. Look for him to do just that with the ultra quick Ty Montgomery in 2014.

I am predicting Stanford to repeat as Pac-12 champs, and Hogan is a major reason why. The tough-nosed Cardinal have a big 6-foot-4, 228-pound quarterback who does not shy away from contact. Similar to his predecessor, Andrew Luck, Hogan would rather lower his shoulder and run over a defender than slide. While NFL scouts don’t like watching quarterbacks take hits, Hogan’s college teammates love it. There is nothing a lineman respects more than a quarterback who is willing to give up his body for an extra yard.

USC quarterback Cody Kessler also belongs in this second tier level of quarterbacks in the conference. The junior from Bakersfield, Calif. threw for just under 3,000 yards while running, then head coach, Lane Kiffin’s pro-style offense. In back-to-back weeks against the schools from Arizona, Kessler threw for 295 and 297 yards last fall with the latter coming amid a coaching change.

The local product was a huge recruit for Kiffin and the Trojans. Kessler was rated as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the nation for the class of 2011. This season he has arguably the conference’s best wide receiver returning in Nelson Agholor. He will definitely post bigger numbers based alone on the increased number of plays that USC will run this year in Steve Sarkisian‘s up-tempo, no-huddle offense. Look for Kessler to step his game up a notch in 2014 under the direction of Sarkisian.

Kelly, Hogan and Kessler in that order are the second-tier level quarterbacks in the conference that has been historically known for its love of pass happy offenses. These three have a lot of catching up to do in order to reach the level of top dog of the conference, Marcus Mariota. Kelly and Kessler will play in offenses that run more plays than a Broadway director, and Hogan will get his chance to prove he can carry a team to another conference championship. No matter who you are rooting for in 2014, the offenses of the Pac-12 will be fun to watch.

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