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Pac-12 QBs: Unknowns Who Have Overachieved

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Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a three-star prospect out of high school whose only other offer came from Memphis, has already proven the naysayers wrong during his time in Eugene. Mariota completed 68.5 percent of his passes and threw for 32 touchdowns last season, compiling a conference-best 163.2 passer rating in the process. Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a three-star prospect out of high school whose only other offer came from Memphis, has already proven the naysayers wrong during his time in Eugene. Mariota completed 68.5 percent of his passes and threw for 32 touchdowns last season, compiling a conference-best 163.2 passer rating in the process. Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images.

Colorado coaches went after and got another quarterback a couple of weeks ago.

And as one might expect, he’s anything but highly regarded among recruiting experts and other coaches across the land.

Jordan Gehrke comes to CU from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College, where he played as a freshman last season after receiving no Division I offers out of high school. 

After tossing for 2,388 yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for the Fighting Artichokes last fall, he picked up two college offers — one from CU and the other from Weber State, a D-II member out of the Big Sky Conference.

Unrated by Rivals.com — which uses a star system, from one to five, to rate players based on their believed talent level and potential — Gehrke signed his letter of intent May 18 and will begin competing in the fall for the Buffs’ starting job under center. He has four years of eligibility to play three.

“I’ve always had, ever since I didn’t get a (D-I scholarship), a little chip on my shoulder,” Gehrke recently told the Denver Post. “I’m excited to finally be a Pac-12 player and prove what I can do.”

Wanting to “prove what I can do” is an overused expression by young football players these days. Many of those who are lightly recruited are quick to say it, but most don't have the talent level to back it up.

Coaches can only coach so much.

But in the Pac-12, a lot of the coaches passed up many of the conference’s best during the recruiting process, yet have exceeded expectations in a big way.

In fact, of the Pac-12’s five best performers at the quarterback position in 2012, three of them were lightly recruited and believed by recruiting experts to be average athletes at best.

Let’s take a closer look at those three quarterbacks and what they did last season.

Marcus Mariota, Oregon: The dual-threat quarterback gashed opponents with his arm and with his feet. He tossed for 2,677 yards and ran for another 752, helping lead the deceptive Ducks to a 12-1 record and an easy win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. His 163.2 passer rating and 68.5 completion percentage ranked best in the Pac-12 and sixth and seventh in the nation, respectively. A three-star prospect according to Rivals, the Honolulu native’s only other offer came from Memphis.

Taylor Kelly, Arizona State: Not many coaches saw much in Kelly out of high school — only Nevada’s Chris Ault and Dennis Erickson, the previous coach of the Sun Devils before Todd Graham. Those were the only two schools that made him an offer. Luckily for Arizona State fans, he decided to make Tempe his home. Last fall, he completed 67.1 percent (241-for-359) of his passes for 3,039 yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions and had the Pac-12’s second-best passer rating (159.9). He did all of this as a two-star prospect out of Eagle (Idaho) High.

Sean Mannion, Oregon State: The Pleasonton, Calif., native’s 138.8 passer rating ranked fifth in the conference. While helping guide the Beavers to their best postseason ranking (No. 20) since 2000, Mannion tossed for 2,446 yards, 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions on 200-for-309 (64.7 percent) throwing. Rivals saw his potential and attached four stars to his name, but his lone offer came from Oregon State.

The Pac-12’s third- and fourth-best quarterbacks according to passer rating — USC’s Matt Barkley and UCLA’s Brett Hundley, respectively — were both high-star prospects and garnered 28 offers between them.

The takeaway: While heavily recruited players often live up to their billings, their lightly recruited counterparts sometimes perform as well or better.

Will Gehrke be the next Mariota or Kelly or Mannion and, in his words, “prove what I can do”?

He’s got a long way to go — earning the starting job would be a good place to start — but as history has shown us, crazier things have happened.