Since Todd Graham's arrival, there have been whispers that record-setting quarterback Brock Osweiler could be on his way out. When former offensive coordinator and Osweiler mentor Noel Mazzone left Arizona State to go to UCLA, those whispers increased a few decibels.
On Tuesday, it became outright talk, as ESPN's Greg Biggins tweeted that Osweiler could take advantage of the NCAA rule allowing graduated players to transfer without sitting out for one season and reunite with Mazzone in Westwood. There was also renewed talk that Osweiler could forgo his final season and enter April's NFL Draft, a notion that seems to be gaining steam.
Clearly, whether there is any fire to this preliminary smoke remains to be seen. However, the increasing presence warrants notice and the possibility of ASU's fifth new starting quarterback in five seasons is one that must now be considered.
In 2011, Osweiler set several single season school records, including completions (326), attempts (516), completion percentage (63.2%) and yards (4,036). Yet he faltered down the stretch after a fast start, tossing five interceptions over his last three games and his decision-making and accuracy both noticeably tailed off.
Nevertheless, he's an experienced player with the physical tools and maturing intangibles, so the question must be asked: Would losing Osweiler to transfer or the draft be a disaster for ASU?
No. Here's why.
The most relevant reason is also the most painful for ASU fans to face: the Sun Devils figure to struggle mightily in 2012 even with Osweiler.
ASU's window to make the leap from annual disappointment to Pac-12 contender was wide open in 2011, and they found a way to slam it shut over the last five games. The fallout saw Dennis Erickson and the coaching staff's departure, with Graham and his staff taking over a team that not only will be losing several key pieces, but will be battling a culture of underachievement and indifference.
Any program that undergoes a coaching change and the implementation of new schemes faces rocky times, and with USC coming off probation as a probable top three team in the nation, the South crown seems highly improbable next season.
The approach for rebuilding ASU must be strategic and forward-thinking, and likely along the "break it down to build it up" line of thinking. A bowl game in 2012 would be a nice result, and Osweiler being there would be a big step in attaining that, but in crafting the fundamental and lasting changes needed in Tempe, it's far from a necessity. A complete restart from scratch under Graham will benefit this program far more than making a lower-level bowl.
Secondly would be the on-field implications. Should Osweiler go, the starting quarterback job would be up for grabs between Mike Becovici, Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank, and don't be surprised if Eubank gets the job.
At 6'5" and 235-pounds, Eubank redshirted as a true freshman in 2011 after coming in as a four-star recruit and the eighth-ranked quarterback in the nation according to Rivals.com. He is a supremely talented dual-threat quarterback, and was heavily recruited by Graham while the coach was at Pitt, so there is already a connection there. Coaches always want to be surrounded by "their" guys, be it assistant coaches or players. Eubank was clearly one of Graham's desired guys. With four seasons of eligibility left, Eubank figures to have a bright future in Tempe.
The question then becomes, when does it start? Is burning a valuable year of experience and learning for Eubank and taking the lumps of a three or four win season worth chasing a lower-tier bowl under Osweiler?
The Sun Devil program is not in a position to seamlessly transition from one quarterback to the next and maintain a level of success. There are simply too many things that require fixing from the new staff. Eventually, the rebuilding effort will need to be made, and there is a chance that the most lasting implementation will not involve Osweiler.
That's not an indictment of Osweiler at all. Arizona State will be a better team in 2012 with Osweiler, and the things he potentially could do may help with the future. He has NFL-caliber talent and has proven to be a tremendous leader.
But if the focus is indeed and correctly on building the foundation for a sustainable winning program, then a departure by Osweiler may just be the simultaneous punch to the gut and door opening that ASU needs.
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