It's one of the more dubious streaks in college football. For each of the last five years, Arizona State has opened the year with a different starting quarterback.
Since Rudy Carpenter started the last of his incredible 43 consecutive games in 2008, the torch has gone from Danny Sullivan to Steven Threet to Brock Osweiler to current starter Taylor Kelly (with a little Samson Szakacsy thrown in there too). To top that off, Kelly was considered by most to be a longshot to inherit Osweiler's job heading into fall camp this August.
When Osweiler made the decision to leave early after the change in coaching staffs, many thought it was a mistake, but more importantly, thought it was a damning development to the program.
"This is the worst news to come from the new hiring." "I wish him the best, but I don't think this is a good idea for him," fans commented on some of our posts as the time.
It was easy to see why. Osweiler had just completed arguably the most prolific season a Sun Devil quarterback had ever had. He looked like a serious challenger to enter 2012 as one of the nation's best, and in doing so, end that streak of new quarterbacks. Instead, his success kept the steak alive, as he went on to be a second round pick of the Denver Broncos.
Then a funny thing happened. Yes, even more surprising than a perceived "also ran" in a quarterback competition coming from nowhere to win it.
That new player succeeded. And again. And again after that.
By the time he helped hoist the Territorial Cup, Taylor Kelly had secured the program's first winning season in five years, put up some very impressive statistics, and is now in prime position to do what Osweiler or his predecessors didn't: come back be a long-term solution.
But does that mean that what Kelly accomplished in 2012 is more impressive than Osweiler's single prolific year, in which Big Brock set several marquee passing records and took ASU to a bowl?
Let's take a look at how each of the four recent-first year starters fared (keeping in mind that Kelly has one game remaining):
|Player||Starts||Record||Comp||Att||Comp%||Yds||YPA||TD||INT||Rating||Rush Yds||Rush TD|
* = ASU record
Of course, the style of offenses run factor in heavily, as three different offensive coordinators are covered in this timeframe—Rich Olson in 2009, Noel Mazzone's pass-first spread in 2010 and 2011 and Mike Norvell's run-heavy spread this year.
Olson's vanilla scheme tailed off significantly during his final two years, the last of which was Sullivan's first year. During those two years, ASU ranked 100th and then 90th in total offense, and 84th then 91st in scoring offense.
But that soon gave way to something far more productive. Threet and Osweiler enjoyed a pass-happy, quarterback friendly system under Mazzone, and helped ASU reach the top 30 in both scoring and total offense each year.
However, that success has been trumped by the Norvell and Kelly tandem this year. While the team's national passing rank fell from the top 15 to 48th as the team passed on just 46% of the time (as opposed to 58% for Osweiler), Norvell has brought more balance to the offense, with the Sun Devils improving nearly 50 spots in rushing.
More importantly, ASU moved up to 21st in scoring.
Most importantly, ASU won seven games with a solid chance to score an eighth 11 days from now.
Taking nothing away from Osweiler's sensational season, there are a few factors that highlight how Kelly's 2012 performance was superior.
Before taking the reins, Osweiler had the benefit of a full year to absorb and learn Mazzone's offense, not to mention getting to gain valuable experience playing the majority of the UCLA game before starting the finale against Arizona.
Conversely, Kelly is still learning Norvell's offense. Last season under Mazzone, Kelly saw sparse duty in a pair of games in relief of Osweiler in 2011, throwing just four passes in the blowout win over Colorado. Unlike Osweiler, who entered the 2011 offseason as the unquestioned starter, Kelly had to battle Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici for valuable practice reps, and, as mentioned earlier, wasn't named the starter until just 10 days prior to the season opener.
While Norvell and the coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for bringing Kelly along and playing to his strengths, the level of play seen on the field with just a few months within the offense is worthy of hearty praise and bodes very well for the future.
One of the first areas examined when comparing quarterbacks is the quality of their weapons, and Osweiler's downfield arsenal has a big advantage in this area.
Last season, led by the experienced senior trio of Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie, Sun Devil wide receivers amassed 283 receptions for 3,748 yards. To put in in percentage totals, that was 85% of the team's teams total catches and 91% of the total yards through the air.
This year, with the loss of those three, the unit has struggles tremendously. The wide receiver production has fallen to 113 catches for 1,396 yards (or one less yards than Robinson had by himself), each figure being about 45% of the team's receiving total. Thankfully for Kelly, the emergence of Chris Coyle at tight end and the receiving ability of D.J. Foster and Marion Grice (128 total catches, 1,587 yards) has become the core of the aerial attack.
Of course, Kelly's season was far from perfect.
Throughout the year, critics have pointed to ASU's perceived "weak" schedule, and indeed, the defenses faced by Kelly have not been, on average, terrific. The average defense faced by Osweiler in 2011 was ranked 55th in the nation, while Kelly's opposition has held an average rank of 70th.
As evidenced by his selection at 57th overall in the NFL Draft, Osweiler possessed pro-caliber skills and traits. Kelly often struggled under pressure, rushing his reads and making panic throws.
Yet those are often the hallmarks of a young quarterback learning both the system and maturing into himself as a player. The fact that Kelly was able to produce so well on the field in the face of those, and other, challenges makes Kelly not only the most promising, but most unlikely, potential answer to ASU's annual quarterback questions.
Time will tell if the next two season can build upon this early success, but it's safe to say that critics have learned a lesson against writing Kelly off.