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Pac-12's young QBs make an impact

Associated Press Modified: September 28, 2012 at 6:17 pm •  Published: September 28, 2012

At the start of the season it appeared as though USC senior Matt Barkley would be the face of the Pac-12's quarterbacks this year. But an emerging crop of youngsters is stealing some of the attention in a league famous for its QBs.

The group is led by redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota, who has taken over No. 2 Oregon this season and leads an explosive offense that is averaging 53 points and 571 yards a game.

There's also Sean Mannion, a sophomore who was thrown into the fire last season but emerged to lead No. 18 Oregon State to consecutive victories over ranked opponents this year.

UCLA redshirt freshman Brett Hundley became the Bruins' quarterback after outperforming two former starters, Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, in training camp before going on to score on his first-ever collegiate snap.

Arizona State sophomore Taylor Kelly has won over skeptics by guiding the Sun Devils to a 3-1 start. And finally there's Washington State sophomore Connor Halliday, who has been starting in place of injured senior Jeff Tuel and has averaged 285 yards passing in three games.

Kelly, Mariota, Hundley and Mannion rank atop the Pac-12, in that order, in pass efficiency. Barkley is fifth.

The Pac-12's kid QBs have even spurred debate over the race for the league's first-team quarterback, although the season is still young. Barkley, once mentioned as a Heisman candidate, has fallen off some watch lists after the Trojans (3-1, 1-1) lost their conference opener to Stanford.

"It really is interesting, isn't it?" Beavers coach Mike Riley said about the league's young guns. "It bodes well for a lot of good football down the years here with these guys playing."

Said Utah's Kyle Whittingham: "It's been impressive what they've done. I haven't seen all the quarterbacks in the league yet. But, I mentioned it last year, this league is full of great quarterbacks and it appears that all the guys coming up through the ranks and through the system are going to be every bit as good as the guys that graduated last year."

That class included Andrew Luck, Brock Osweiler and Nick Foles.

Two of the Pac-12's newcomers face off on Saturday night.

Halliday will most likely get the start when the Cougars (2-2, 0-1) host Oregon at Seattle's CenturyLink Field. The quarterback position is obviously key in new coach Mike Leach's Air Raid offense, which is averaging 313.75 yards passing this season (18th nationally) and just 59 yards on the ground (second-to-last nationally).

Halliday has thrown for eight TDS, but has also thrown for five interceptions — so he's still growing into the job.

"I think he's emerging as a leader," Leach said. "At times (he's) great, at other times pressed trying to make too much happen."

Mariota became starter for the Ducks (4-0, 1-0) after a battle with sophomore Bryan Bennett in fall camp. Bennett was the backup last season to Darron Thomas, who decided to leave Oregon with a year of eligibility remaining.

Mariota has been a steadying force through the team's first four games, throwing for 10 touchdowns — second only to Barkley's 12 — and two interceptions.

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