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COLLEGE FOOTBALL '94 / SEASON PREVIEWS : The Arms Race : A Pocketful of Quarterbacks Could Throw Pac-10 Records Out the Window This Season

August 26, 1994|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last year, this Pacific 10-headed quarterback averaged 6 feet 2.7 inches, 202.8 pounds and passed for 20,688 yards and 153 touchdowns.

The collective conference beast might have sent even more defensive coordinators screaming into the night had it not been for those wishbones at Oregon State, which passed only in states of emergency.

Pac-10 Quarterback Man gobbled up efficiency marks and yardage records as it stalked the hallowed footprints left by the likes of John Elway and Dan Fouts.

The conference was no place for the honors-sensitive.

The University of Oregon quarterback who passed for 300 yards or more in a game six times, threw for 3,224 yards and 22 touchdowns?

Folks, this was your all-conference honorable mention .

The USC quarterback who is bidding to become the first non-running back to win a Heisman Trophy at Tailback U?

Well, the Stanford kid once chased him to wide receiver when they were high school teammates.

The California quarterback, a face in this crowd, may some day be playing in a Super Bowl near you.

The UCLA quarterback threw four interceptions. All year.

The Arizona quarterback, despite his numbers, has to take a number for the purposes of this examination.

The quarterback at Arizona State, a sophomore, may eventually be better than all his elders.

The bad news for defenses is that eight of the 10 conference starters have returned to wreak further havoc.

"It's a nightmare, no doubt," Cal defensive coordinator Artie Gigantino said. "The problem is a quarterback, with his arm, can beat you. You can stop a great running back. But when a quarterback gets hot, he can kill you."

Sports information directors up and down the coast are tripping over their brochures.

USC's Rob Johnson, most experts agree, leads the Pac-10 pack. The Trojans wasted no time in touting Johnson on the media cover as "Heisman Candidate." Of course, Heisman hype and pro potential are different animals when it comes to quarterbacks (see Gino Torretta, Charlie Ward, Ty Detmer, et al.).

So, while Johnson may be all the rave with the NFL, Stanford's Steve Stenstrom has the numbers and certainly the right publicity director, Coach Bill Walsh, passing out leaflets in the Heisman marketing campaign.

"Already ahead of 70% of the NFL quarterbacks in terms of throwing to alternative receivers," the respected Walsh bellowed about Stenstrom for the preseason publications.

Across the Bay, Cal's Dave Barr cranks up for his senior season having set the conference record last year for passing efficiency with a mark of 164.5--10th-best in NCAA history.

Yet, he can hardly get a Heisman word in edgewise in a conference that already includes Johnson, Stenstrom and UCLA receiver J.J. Stokes.

Barr said he doesn't mind the competition.

"I couldn't really care less who's out there," he said. "It's not going to be a battle of numbers. We all have our own goals. Anyway, the numbers don't tell everything."

The logjam figures to cause more headaches for conferences SIDs, some of whom are trying to get out the vote.

"We're all going to be beating up on each other," Stanford SID Gary Migdol conceded.

"They're all going to have great years. Someone will rise to the top. It will likely depend on how the team is doing."

Johnson, Stenstrom and Barr make up the prime-time short list, but the Pac-10 quarterback well may run six or seven deep. Taking aim behind the big guns are Danny O'Neil of Oregon, Wayne Cook of UCLA, Dan White of Arizona, Jake Plummer of Arizona State and perhaps Damon Huard of Washington.

"When you have two quarterbacks that are Heisman candidates (Stenstrom and Johnson), everybody else is going to be overshadowed," acknowledged O'Neil of Oregon. "Look at what Cook did. He was the quarterback who took his team to the Rose Bowl, he's returning, and he's barely mentioned. That's tough."

The draftniks already are touting the pro potential of Plummer, the ASU sophomore.

"He's one of the top three quarterbacks in the country right now," Mel Kiper Jr. contends. "He has a chance to be as good as any quarterback in the Pac-10 since Elway."

So, this is the best returning group of Pac-10 quarterbacks ever?

Not so fast. The Class of 1988 still holds the distinction with its group of Troy Aikman, UCLA; Rodney Peete, USC; Bill Musgrave, Oregon; Timm Rosenbach, Washington State; Troy Taylor, Cal; Erik Wilhelm, Oregon State, and Cary Conklin, Washington.

All seven were NFL draft picks.

The 1994 cast, at least for now, does not measure up.

"If I had to put them in order now, where I thought they'd fall (in the draft), I'd go Johnson, Stenstrom, Barr and O'Neil," said John Becker, the Rams' director of player personnel.

Some, however, aren't sold on Stenstrom's arm strength.

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