I continue to marvel at Taylor Kelly's journey and I feel the best is yet to come. The Pac-12 quarterback play may be down from the Matt Lienart days, but it still puts up a formidable fight against the SEC and company.
Kelly will only get better during his second season in Mike Norvell's up-tempo offense. The Eagle, Idaho native posted 3,039 yards, 29 touchdowns and a mere nine interceptions. This season, expectations should rise.
Today's hunch won't seem as bold as the Jaelen Strong series premier, however it does speak volumes about my confidence in Kelly.
The Hunch: Taylor Kelly will be the Pac-12's third best quarterback
Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley are clearly the cream of the crop in the Pac-12 quarterback hierarchy. Kelly boasts the bronze medal, and that shouldn't be scoffed at, unless you abide by Ricky Bobby's mentality of "if you ain't first, your last." The entire House of Sparky staff shared the same thoughts about one month ago.
Therefore, Kelly at number three shouldn't surprise many. On the contrary, I believe our readers deserve further explanation. After spending hundreds of hours studying film, Kelly knows it's showtime. Shout out to Ron Jaworski for the extra motivation.
Kelly possessed the eighth best quarterback rating in the country at 159.9, meaning number 10 was extremely efficient last season. Some people labeled Kelly as the dreaded game manager, but he shut down those thoughts quickly.
Kelly frustrates defenses with accurate passing and deceives them with underrated speed. The combination of these traits makes game-planning for Kelly tricky. In addition, Kelly plans on taking more shots deep because of improved arm strength and new weapons.
Working with Rashad Ross as a top receiving option must have been very frustrating, so coach Todd Graham placed emphasis on making Kelly's job easier, and he succeeded. Junior college recruits like wide receivers Joe Morris and Jaelen Strong are the new toys Kelly begged for over Christmas. Also, Kelly's disciplined off-season training and full year of experience provides even more optimism.
Experience simply can't get overvalued. Kelly said he watched every snap of the previous season with coach Norvell during spring practice. The two agreed Kelly needed to improve his footwork and develop a willingness to throw the ball away. Since then, Kelly has put the plan into fruition, which could possibly translating into better game day tendencies.
How good can Kelly's statistics be? I predict he ends up with about 3,350 yards, 34 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The most apparent detriment against Kelly could be the schedule.
Against the Associated Press's ranked teams, Kelly only completed 57 percent of his passes, averaged an anemic 4.73 yards per attempt, and tossed three touchdowns compared to six interceptions. Those numbers are well below average. This season, Kelly will have to be better, as the schedule is front loaded with ranked foes.
From week two through five, ASU sees ranked opponents via Wisconsin (23), at Stanford (4), USC (24) and Notre Dame (11) in Dallas. On the other hand, Kelly saved his best play for the most important time -- conference showdowns. While facing fellow Pac-12 schools, Kelly accumulated 226.4 passing yards per game, completed 64 percent of attempts, tallied 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Speaking of the competition, what quarterback in the Pac-12 may surpass Kelly? In my book, the sole feasible answer is Washington's Keith Price. During Price's down year, he still managed to put together 2,728 yards, 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Don't forget about 2011 though, as Price earned Pac-12 Honorable Mention honors by slinging 3,063 yards, 33 touchdowns and 11 inceptions. With all that being said, if Price channels the 2011 form or close to it, he will challenge Kelly for third.
The next and last logical rebuttal would be from Oregon State, because of their 307.1 yards per game, which ranked 19th best in the nation. One man battling for the job, Sean Mannion, is too turnover prone to climb ahead of Kelly. Mannion threw 15 picks last season and 18 in 2011.
Now, it's back to Kelly. The 21-year-old understands the big picture. He knows it takes hard work to be great. He knows the importance of representing the Pitchfork. He knows how to remain cool, calm and collected. The knowledge doesn't get wasted, as Kelly talks the talk and walks the walk. And the scary part, whatever Kelly doesn't know, he'd sure like to be enlightened.
The coachable soft-spoken Kelly doesn't display ideal stature scouts dream of, but he makes up for it with a big heart and great intangibles. Assuming the plan goes smoothly, Kelly will be the Pac-12's third best quarterback and give me at least one correct hunch.