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Mountain West's Breakthrough QB: Sherry vs. Graham

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Sophomore Nick Sherry is back for his second season as UNLV's starting QB. Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images.
Hawaii redshirt junior Taylor Graham, shown here during spring practice, is a transfer from Ohio State. Photo by David Dermer/Getty Images.

As far as the Mountain West Conference quarterback tiers go, you can draw a line straight through the center of the 12-team league.

On top you have the Big Six: experienced, award-winning, proven starters in Fresno State’s Derek Carr, San Jose State’s David Fales, Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton, Wyoming’s Brett Smith and Boise State’s Joe Southwick.

And then there’s, well, everyone else.

San Diego State (Ryan Dingwell), Hawaii (Taylor Graham), UNLV (Nick Sherry) and New Mexico (Cole Gautsche) appear to be set with starting QBs, while Air Force (Kale Pearson/Jaleel Awini) and Colorado State (Garrett Grayson/Conner Smith) have starting competitions brewing in their fall camps.

So that begs the question: Which of those lower-tier QBs is poised to break through and make the Big Six a Big Seven?

Let us debate.

The Case For Nick Sherry

The 6-foot-5, 235-pound sophomore is a returning starter for the Rebels, and he has plenty of company with UNLV bringing back a league-most 19 starters overall.

Given UNLV’s 2-11 record in 2012, it could be inferred that Sherry’s freshman season was a disaster.

It wasn’t.

In fact, the strong-armed Sherry was threatening the MWC freshman passing yardage record until he suffered a concussion in the Rebels’ third-to-last game at Colorado State and never really got his bearings, sitting out the following contest and looking decidedly sluggish in the finale.

He did finish with 2,544 yards — the fourth-highest freshman total in MWC history — while throwing for 16 TDs, 17 interceptions and completing 53.1 percent of his passes.

This year, however, Sherry has 12 starts to his credit, his injury (hopefully) in the rear-view mirror, a new offensive coordinator in former Washington State standout/NFL QB Timm Rosenbach. All nine of his top pass-catchers return, including starting wideouts Devante Davis and Marcus Sullivan, who combined for 116 catches, 1,513 yards and eight TDs a season ago.

In short, optimism — for the first time in several years — appears to be more than a mirage in the desert, and Sherry is a key figure in the Rebels’ hopes.

The Case For Taylor Graham

This may seem like heady territory for a QB who’s never thrown a pass in an actual college game, let alone for Hawaii. But the hype and anticipation surrounding the 6-foot-5, 225-pound redshirt junior just may have some merit.

Graham, a transfer from Ohio State, where he backed up Braxton Miller in 2011, son of 10-year NFL vet Kent Graham, was a practice standout last season for the Warriors, earning (yes, there is such an award, at least at Hawaii) Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year.

He followed with a strong spring while back surgery sidelined 2012 starter Sean Schroeder. Now coach Norm Chow and his Rainbow Warriors are pinning their hopes on Graham’s cannon of an arm.

Hawaii does have three of its top four pass-catchers returning, but there are legitimate concerns about the offensive line. It does being back four starters, but surrendered a MWC-most 40 sacks a season ago. Then there’s the odd timing of offensive coordinator Aaron Price’s Aug. 2 departure from the program, but he was a new offseason hire and the well-traveled Chow was serving as the team’s play-caller all along.

The Warriors are aiming to improve on their 2012 average of 188.8 passing yards per game — the program’s lowest since 1998 — and, ultimately, their 3-9 finish of a year ago, and Graham just may be the player to get them over the top.  

The Winner

Graham.

Sherry and the Rebels should make tangible strides, but Hawaii may have struck gold with Graham.

With Graham’s pedigree — he was a Rivals.com national Top-15 QB recruit out of Wheaton, Ill. — and his pairing with Chow’s deep offensive background, he has the makings of the next standout Hawaii QB, joining the ranks of Colt Brennan, Nick Rolovich and Timmy Chang.