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ASU Football: A Complete Summer Primer of the 2016 Quarterback Battle

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The heat drives people crazy. Relive the heat from 2012 and let's compare it to 2016.

It's almost summer time. Arizona weather will reveal it's already arrived sooner than it does in most other places in the country, as it normally does.

The weather may feel familiar to you folk who have lived in the desert for years, but there's a certain restlessness Arizona State University Sun Devils football fans are enduring entering June that feels a little strange.

Actually, this isn't too strange or even unfamiliar territory for ASU faithful.

The Sun Devils still don't know (or at least, have not yet divulged) who will be their starting quarterback for their September 3 opener against Northern Arizona. And no matter how convinced you are that you believe to know who will be the starter, you don't.

Allow us to aid in diffusing the fanbase's collective restlessness (or possibly further it). Let's take a step back to assess where we are in the process, using the three-man race of 2012 as a precursor.

Comparing 2012 to 2016

Head coach Todd Graham's original regime faced a similar situation four seasons ago.

That's when Taylor Kelly—then listed the No. 3 quarterback on the ASU depth chart following spring practices—ascended to the starting role ahead of the fall, upstaging counterparts Mike Bercovici (originally listed No. 1) and Michael Eubank.

Fast-forward four years later, and the same dilemma poses itself. Yet while the end goal is ultimately the same, there are new and different variables at play.

The staff Graham assembled when he first arrived in Tempe has changed. In this offseason alone, he's added six new coaches, including an offensive coordinator—the very member whose input will likely matter the most aside from Graham's.

There's no incumbent starter consensually or even largely expected to assume the job. This is partially because none of the Sun Devils' rostered quarterbacks has thrown a pass in a Division I contest; ASU is the only program in the country this is true of entering the 2016 season.

Three players currently headline the battle, but a fourth man will enter the fold come fall, and he is expected to compete, too.

Indeed, it's a little different from 2012, but there are some slight similarities, besides the obvious.

Each group features a top-10 rated recruit (Rivals) out of their respective class.

2012
Name Rating Type Nat'l Type Rank Height Weight
Mike Bercovici 3-star Pro-Style 14 6'2" 205
Michael Eubank 4-star Dual-Threat 8 6'5" 232
Taylor Kelly 2-star Dual-Threat unranked 6'3" 185

2016
Name Rating Type Nat'l Type Rank Height Weight
Bryce Perkins 3-star Dual-Threat 20 6'3" 205
Dillon Sterling-Cole 3-star Dual-Threat 17 6'3" 200
Brady White 4-star Pro-Style 2 6'2" 186
Manny Wilkins 3-star Pro-Style 20 6'3" 185

Similarly to 2012, the 2016 battle includes a physically-imposing dual-threat who offers athletic upside (Perkins), a capable pocket passer (White), and a heady player who best flashes traits of the two (Wilkins).

Ironically, it was Kelly—who, like Wilkins, was the most balanced of the two—who won the battle in 2012.

Former ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell described Kelly as such, saying he displayed the ability to make necessary reads while also posing as a running threat in a FOX Sports report.

What is the offensive coordinator looking for?

In choosing a man, Norvell said he promised an open evaluation process.

"I told these guys when I came in that it's a clean slate," Norvell said. "Obviously, I've watched a little film, but there's not much game experience, and I really didn't want to get into what happened last year or with the previous staff. Nobody has an edge."

- Mike Norvell

Norvell, who implemented a zone-read spread offense, was asked by AZ Central's Doug Haller whether he preferred a mobile quarterback during this February 2012 interview.

"Our quarterback doesn't have to run for 80, 90 yards a game, but we want the defense to have to respect the quarterback in the run game. And if they don't account for him, and we have a guy who can run for 30 or 40 yards a game, that brings a lot of production for us. We don't need a dual-threat quarterback, but we would definitely like to utilize their legs as well as their arm."

- Mike Norvell

Current offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey will employ a similar offensive scheme to Norvell, but has noted the key traits he's looking for in his signal caller: the ability to engineer scoring drives, take care of the football, and lead the team.

"It doesn't have to be any type of guy. Just whoever leads our team the best is where we'll go."

- Chip Lindsey

At Southern Mississippi, Lindsey turned former two-star recruit Nick Mullens into a record-breaking quarterback who tossed over 30 touchdowns and for nearly 4,000 yards in 2015. He still maintained a balanced offensive profile, however, as he also produced two 1,000-yard rushers last season.

Lindsey directed a spread-oriented offense with a pocket passer under center at Southern Miss. Seeing as he's had recent success with a non-mobile quarterback, it remains to be seen what direction he'll go in at ASU.

One thing that is certain, is that this is an open competition, just as it was in 2012.

By going back through my personal spring notes, reviewing our spring write-ups and compiling thoughts from other outlets, I attempted to identify which player can be best associated with the three key traits Lindsey said he desires in a quarterback.

Points, Security & Leadership

In manufacturing points, it seems as though White produced the most scoring drives ending in a passing touchdown when I was around for practice (abbreviated 30-minute sessions open to media). Perkins and Wilkins generated their fair share of points too, but most of the ones I watched them lead resulted in rushing scores (which isn't bad).

As far as ball security is concerned, Wilkins took the most care of the ball. White was susceptible to sacks early on and wasn't always on the same page as his targets, while Perkins—in an effort to extend the play and create—was prone to throwing up YOLO balls.

Leadership will come in a different manner this season.

None of the three competitors at spring really voiced the passion we watched Bercovici display last season. They bet excited, but it's more reserved. If we were giving one an edge on galvanizing the offense, it'd have to be Wilkins, simply based off his familiarity and experience.

Summer practices may determine who's the best at rallying the troops, but it's conceivable it won't occur until the season starts.

Participant Overview

Each of the four competitors offers different traits, in lieu of their similarity.

Bryce Perkins

The Sun Devils are going to be a run-first football team. In a spread scheme implementing power and zone-read concepts, a larger, athletic option at quarterback makes plenty of sense. The question is whether Perkins can prove to be a wise decision-maker and accurate from the pocket.

Perkins has a big arm which allowed him to stretch the field vertically, although it comes with the caveat that he's not afraid to force passes. When plays are off-schedule, his mobility has enabled him to extend things, but he'll have to limit the fearlessness with which he heaves passes; of course, unless the benefit overwhelmingly outweighs the detriment.

Still, his fearlessness, athleticism and size offers him plenty of upside in the offense.

Dillon Sterling-Cole

Highlights are, well, highlights. Until DSC is with the team, I can't really speak as far as his fit.

As a player, think of a slightly smaller, slightly quicker Ben Roethlisberger; he's listed as a dual-threat, but he seems to fit the mold of a pocket-thrower with the capability of creating.

He demonstrates the ability to hang in a collapsing pocket, looking over the chaos that's right in front of him. When extending plays, he likes to target his check down or the perimeter. He's got a big arm; although accuracy will be something he'll have to work on, along with making quicker reads.

There's a lot of intriguing ability that could make him a candidate early on.

Brady White

White made a strong case for himself towards the end of the spring session.

Lindsey said he was impressed with the strides he had made as a passer, and that was apparent just from comparing my notes from the early practices with the later ones I had seen. The more familiarity he received within the offense, the fewer sacks he took, and the more timely his passes were.

He presents the most upside of any of the quarterbacks, particularly as a passer (similarly to Bercovici, he'll tuck-and-run more than I think most realize). I expect he'll have a great case for playing time.

Manny Wilkins

Wilkins reminds me of Taylor Kelly, quite a bit. He's savvy, not just in what he does, but how he does it.

The question that may arise should he be anointed the starter will be whether or not he serves as the pick who can maximize the offense's potential. It was a question initially raised of Kelly, too.

Predicting a Winner

I will be the first to admit it: I honestly have no clue what to expect come fall. In the two-month span since spring practices concluded, there's been a period of time where I sold myself on believing each Perkins, White and Wilkins would be the starter.

What am I thinking right now?

  1. Wilkins
  2. White
  3. Perkins
  4. Sterling-Cole
As the veteran of the bunch, Wilkins is the most balanced and stable of the others. I see ASU relying heavily on the run this season, and Wilkins shouldn't be asked to do too much.

Still, I am interested in seeing how the Sun Devils handle White. Many consider him one of the highest-regarded players ASU has landed, and in order to keep him, I would assume the coaching staff finds a way to get him on the field soon.