"I tell people, 'You don't have a quarterback, you're not winning.' Period."
- Todd Graham
In bold defiance of mathematical principles, the Arizona State Sun Devils believe that three is not greater than one.
Since the hiring of Todd Graham in December, the biggest storyline surrounding the Sun Devils has been the three-man battle to take over for Brock Osweiler as the team's starting quarterback. Throughout a rigorous competition during spring practice, no clear cut candidate emerged from the group of sophomore Mike Bercovici, redshirt sophomore Taylor Kelly and redshirt freshman Michael Eubank. It doesn't take the emphatic statement that Coach Graham made at ASU Media Day to know that a team with several contenders has a major issue at the game's most critical spot.
"I don't like it. I'd like to name one today; I'd like to name one last spring. I don't think it's a positive for your team. But I do think that it's really legitimate. It's a legitimate quarterback competition and I don't know right now in my mind who that's going to be."
2012 ASU Season Preview
The unsettled situation at quarterback is something that Graham recognizes needs to be settled early in fall camp. At Media Day, he identified the team's return from Camp Tontozona after the August 18th scrimmage as the latest he'd like to name a starter.
In looking for a starter, Graham has made it clear that it will not simply be awarded to the player with the best skills, but rather, the one who avoids costly turnovers.
"The quarterback that will play will be the one that takes care of the football," said Graham. "We have one mission: own the football."
To do so, he and his staff are pushing all three contenders very hard in camp.
"We're going to script adversity and see how they perform," said Graham.
Another key aspect they will be looking for is a player who, as Graham said, "can extend plays." At first glance, that would seem to favor a running quarterback, but Graham pointed out that such a skill also includes pocket mobility, knowing when to run or roll out of the pocket, and throwing the ball away when in danger of taking a sack. In general, it's playing smarter.
A lack of talent is not one reason that the team has not selected a starter. All three contenders have impressive and varied skillsets, both mentally and physically.
To help us breakdown the quarterback position, we spoke to Bercovici, who provided his firsthand analysis on each player.
Bercovici's analysis: "He's a guy who's very consistent. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. What people don't know is that he has extremely good feet. He has some deceiving speed to him. He's someone with a good release and can throw very well on the run."
At this juncture in the competition, Kelly seems to be running third in a lot of people's minds. As Bercovici pointed out, Kelly has a quiet consistency about his play. He's not the kind of quarterback who is going to take over a game, but he is good at avoiding costly mistakes, which currently stands as his greatest strength. Asked after the spring game to summarize Kelly in one word, Graham said, "Poise."
Watching him play, Kelly may appear to be the least physically imposing of the three, but he is able to make plays with his feet and is able to make something happen when a play breaks down. Kelly's arm isn't going to wow anyone, and his accuracy leaves much to be desired.
However, he does do a good job of managing a game. He may not be able to win you many games, but he's not going to make a lot of mistakes to lose you many either.
Bercovici's analysis: "He looks like Cam Newton. He's huge. He's a physically daunting quarterback to be around. He's a really competitive person to be around. He's got a lot of fire to him. He can make any throw on the field, and also use his feet."
The real wild card of the group, Eubank has rare physical talent. Standing at 6'5", 242 pounds, Eubank is a beast who also has excellent running ability. He also possesses a very strong arm, and can spin the ball 60-yards downfield with relative ease.
While the most physically gifted player of the group—and the team as a whole—Eubank is still developing as a passer and decision-maker, both traits to be expected from a redshirt freshman. He will often thread the needle on one play, and then sail the ball over an open receiver on the next, and throw into a crowd on the third.
Even with such unrefined areas to his game, his raw skill and potential have made a major impact on Graham. During Pac-12 Media Day, Graham said that he can't envision a scenario in which Eubank doesn't see playing time of some kind., leading that even if he doesn't win the job, he'll still see the field in special packages, a la Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida.
Bercovici's self-analysis: "I feel like I'm a very heady quarterback. I take pride in watching film, understanding fronts and the little things, and I feel like that's my advantage over my competition. I feel that I can make every throw on the field with great accuracy. My leadership skills have been there my entire life."
As impressive as Eubank is physically, Bercovici shines with the intangible aspects of quarterbacking.
He is an intelligent player whose mastery and understanding of the offense—along with his edge in experience—is the primary reason that he exited spring practice "a little bit ahead" of the others, according to Graham. He's a tireless student of the game, and his blossoming leadership ability has caught the eye of both teammates and media.
Bercovici is also the best and most refined pure passer of the group. His passing has been consistently accurate, and his reads have been mostly sharp. One area in which he is behind the Kelly and Eubank is in mobility. He's not a statue in the pocket, as he does have good ability to be on the move on rollouts and such, but his clearly not the running threat to a defense like the other two.
Coach Graham could not have been more clear about priority number one for his starting quarterback: ball security. All three candidates have fully internalized this, and with a team with so many question marks on offense, the critical need to limit mistakes is abundantly clear.
However, in the game of football, a team will ultimately need their quarterback to make plays with his arm in order to win consistently. While the Sun Devil backfield is loaded with talent, an ineffective passing threat will quickly lead to a stacked box with eight or even nine defenders to neutralize the run.
As it currently stands, it seems like Bercovici is the best fit for the team at the moment. His passing ability is much better than either of his competitors, and that consistency will be critical in helping to develop an equally inexperienced receiving corps.
But as has been discussed by Graham since the spring, a limited two-quarterback system may very well be the end-result, with Bercovici being the starter and Eubank entering the game in specific short yardage packages to take advantage of his size and running ability.
Until a starter is officially announced, this will remain the most hotly discussed and watched battle of spring. If the team's fifth new starting quarterback over the last five years can take the reigns successfully, this team can challenge for a bowl berth. If not...well, things will get ugly.