Number five is No. 10.
The intense three-man quarterback battle that has been the headline story throughout Arizona State's offseason has ended, with head coach Todd Graham naming redshirt sophomore Taylor Kelly the team's starter for the season opener in August 30th against NAU. Kelly will become the fifth different starting quarterback for the Sun Devils over the last five season openers. Graham added that while Kelly will get the start, redshirt freshman Michael Eubank will also see time in specific packages, a possibility that has been discussed throughout the offseason.
Kelly beat out Eubank and the player many expected to win the job, sophomore Mike Bercovici, in a close competition that lasted through spring football and into the third week of fall camp. After the spring game in April, Graham said that Bercovici's more polished passing game and experience gave him a slight edge in the race, but struggles with turnovers early in fall camp quickly leveled the playing field.
That opened the door for Kelly. With Graham preaching a strict doctrine of ball security, Kelly coupled the momentum of a strong spring game showing with great consistency in avoiding turnovers in fall camp.
While he's not a strong-armed and polished passer like Bercovici nor a running threat the caliber of Eubank, Kelly has improved his passing game—especially on deep throws—while being a speedy running threat outside of the pocket. While his physical skills and stature (6-foot-1, 203 pounds) won't turn a lot of heads, his game management skills stood out among the group and landed him the starting job.
Last season, Kelly saw action against UC Davis and Colorado, completing all four of his passes for 31 yards, while rushing once for 24 yards.
While Kelly is now the team's starter, the quarterbacking duties are not entirely his.
Kelly will. share the load with the ultra-talented Eubank, the 6-foot-5, 242 pounder whose skillset and massive potential has made him a fan favorite. Despite his size, he is a quick and powerful runner, and has perhaps the strongest arm on the team. His passing ability has been much improved throughout the course of the offseason, and he'll likely see much of his initial action in goal line and short yardage situations. Eubank was heavily recruited by Graham while the coach was at Pitt, and Eubank could very well see increased action in the early part of the season until the staff feels he is ready to take over as the full-time starter.
Prior to fall camp, I asked Eubank about the possibility of a two quarterback system.
"It's very important to have a clear-cut quarterback," he said. "I ran a two-quarterback system in high school. It's definitely a rhythm you have to get in and get used to. Having two quarterbacks, you're not really able to get into a rhythm all that well. It can definitely cause some miscommunication and some bad reads, so I think having one clear-cut quarterback would definitely benefit the entire offense a lot more."
But ever the team player, Eubank said on Monday he is is just concerned about winning.
"I have a role and I am willing to do anything for us to win."
So now that the major question surrounding the team has been answered, it also results is a host of new ones. How will the two-quarterback system work? Can the split allow each player to find a comfort zone? Can Kelly overcome his perceived role as a game-manager and become a playmaker? Is he merely keeping the seat warm for Eubank?
Stay tuned. The 2012 kickoff is just 10 days away.