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ASU Football: Graham says Wilkins leads QB race, Barnett chases; here’s why

The race is on.

Photo taken by Nick Ramirez

TEMPE — “Right now, we have a starting quarterback, and Blake knows he has to beat him out.”

Who? Manny Wilkins. That’s who.

And the highfalutin former 5-star recruit, pro-style Alabama transfer QB Blake Barnett is aware he has to “beat him out.”

What was a celebrated and lighthearted media tour of the Arizona State’s new Student Athlete Facility on Thursday, brought some news Head Coach Todd Graham waited to reveal until days prior to Fall camp.

“We have a starting quarterback.”

While Barnett still has the chance to surpass him, Wilkins is the clear front-runner, according to Graham.

Last year’s officially named starting quarterback came on Aug. 30, 2016, just days before Arizona State’s home opener against Northern Arizona. And it will likely be the same this year.

"I think everyone knew before that. I didn't make an announcement,” Graham said. “I just didn't want our opponent to know who was going to play, but I thought our opponent knew. I think everybody knew.”

Wilkins returns to Arizona State with 10 starts, 12 touchdowns, nine interceptions and 2,379 passing yards — good for fifth in the Pac-12.

Also, he’s won four games as a starter winning the first four games of last season. Those wins came before terrible tales of injury that left him handicap and his team in a downward spiral for six straight losses to end the season.

While the running, jumping and hurdling Wilkins is injury prone and not incredibly consistent, he has one major asset over Barnett: experience.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Novato, California native has touched the turf of Frank Kush Field about four times more than the 6-foot-5, 200-pound Barnett, and Graham can’t help but embrace it.

Statistics, experience and now four years in maroon and gold puts Wilkins, the fourth-year redshirt junior Sun Devil, above the top-notch first-year redshirt sophomore transfer.

Barnett wore crimson at Alabama — which is somewhat close to maroon — but playing bits and pieces of games against USC and then lowly ranked Western Kentucky and Kent State won’t automatically set him apart from a fully seasoned Wilkins.

Through spring practice and at Alabama, Barnett showed dashes of his five-star No. 1 ranked in the nation high school QB self.

His arm is definitely five-star caliber.

Against USC, it took a few quarters to get loose, but he definitely staged his arm strength, ability to survey the field and even scramble tackles.

In Arizona State’s Spring game he did all of that as well. In fact, he even looked great, but Wilkins was near perfect.

Wilkins almost never threw an incomplete pass, totaled three long bomb passing touchdowns to John Humphrey and ran for a few gains of yardage. Barnett had two passing touchdowns; one short passing TD, one long one and then was able to scamper through the defense for a rushing TD.

In my opinion, it will take an injury or a coaching change for the rookie, Barnett, to jump the fourth-year Wilkins for the starting job and both can happen very soon. Even as soon as this season.

One quarterback, Brady White is already sidelined from the race and Graham projected he may not be back this season.

“Brady suffered a really tough injury and he's working really hard to make it back,” Graham said. “I don't project that will be this year but he is working his tail off to do that.”

The next to fall might be Wilkins. Last season, it took until week five against USC. If he does, the Sun Devils will have one hell of a backup.