Drew Bledsoe’s selection as the first player taken in the NFL draft last spring confirmed that 1992 was the year of the quarterback in the Pacific 10 Conference.
Bledsoe, a junior, led Washington State to one of its finest seasons, and in the process received Pac-10 and All-American honors.
Then he gave up his final year of eligibility to test the NFL.
With Bledsoe gone, 1993 could be the year of the quarterbacks. Most of the teams have one good enough to make or break its season.
Before the season began it appeared that Steve Stenstrom, the 6-foot-2 Stanford senior from El Toro, might be the class of the conference passers. Stenstrom led Stanford to four convincing victories to close out last season.
Stenstrom still might be No. 1, but Coach Bill Walsh and his offensive line coach, Monte Clark, first will have to figure out how to protect their passer. Stenstrom was sacked 58 times last season, and powerful Washington dumped him six times in the season opener.
Even if the Cardinal line improves, Stenstrom has many challengers. Among the quarterbacks who performed well last week were Damon Huard, the Huskies’ new leader. It was Huard’s touchdown passes to Mark Bruener and Ernie Conwell on successive possessions early in the second half that turned a close game into a rout over Stanford.
Given a big boost by a running attack led by Napoleon Kaufman that gained 315 yards, Huard passed for 174 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 14 of 23 passes.
Other fine performers were Rob Johnson of USC, Dave Barr of California, Grady Benton of Arizona State and Danny O’Neil of Oregon.
Johnson threw four first-half touchdown passes in the Trojans’ romp over Houston. Three were to wide receiver Johnnie Morton. Barr had three first-half touchdowns against UCLA before the Bears went into a second-half shell.
Benton played a major role in the Sun Devils’ impressive victory over Utah. Benton, who set an NCAA freshman record for completions (66.2%) last season, completed eight of his first 10 passes as Arizona State gained a 14-0 lead and won handily, 38-0.
“Benton proved he was an accurate passer last year,” Coach Bruce Snyder said. “Now he has matured as a quarterback.”
O’Neil completed 21 of 33 passes for 307 yards and a touchdown to lead the Ducks past Colorado State.
“Last season, Danny had some good games and some bad ones,” Oregon Coach Rich Brooks said. “I think he’s entered a new level this season. He ranks with the best.”
Whether the three first-time starters rank anywhere near the league’s top passers remains to be seen. DeWayne Pattinson of Washington State, Wayne Cook of UCLA and Dan White of Arizona do not have the credentials of the others, but are talented.
Although completing 19 of 33 for 138 yards and a touchdown, Pattinson never really had a chance against No. 3 Michigan. He might not face a tougher defense the rest of his college career.
“I really thought that being a fifth-year man, I wouldn’t be bothered by the pressure,” Pattinson said. “But I let it get to me.”
Cook was inconsistent against Cal. He completed 11 in a row, but also had nine consecutive incompletions. He also was intercepted on a play that ended the Bruins’ last hope.
Arizona’s White was playing his first game since 1989 when he was at Pt. Loma High in San Diego. His first five passes were incomplete in a 24-6 victory over Texas El Paso. Coach Dick Tomey expected him to throw like someone who had not played a while. White completed 13 of 24 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. But he was intercepted twice and lost a fumble.
Do not expect Oregon State to have the conference’s best passer. The Beavers’ new quarterback, Ian Shields, was a better runner than passer when Oregon State rallied to beat Wyoming, 27-16. Shields completed two of 10 passes for a mere 13 yards. He carried the ball 20 times for 42 of Oregon State’s 316 rushing yards.
Jim Lambright’s task this week is to make sure his Washington Huskies avoid a letdown at Ohio State. Although Stanford’s Walsh insists it had little to do with the outcome, the Huskies turned in an emotional performance in the opener.
“We’re still going to get up for the game, even if their coach hasn’t said something bad about us,” said Kaufman, who led the rout by rushing for 195 yards.
Until losing to Michigan in the Rose Bowl, the Huskies had beaten 13 consecutive Big Ten opponents.
Kaufman drew lavish praise from Walsh, who likened him to Wendell Tyler, former Ram and 49er running back.
“He is special, one of the two or three best in the country,” Walsh said. “He is at his very best on AstroTurf.”
There were two conference openers last week, but none this Saturday. . . . The conference figures to improve on its 5-2 nonconference record. . . . A 46-36 victory over Fresno State was Oregon State’s only victory last year.
Snohomish County, just north of Seattle, is becoming a cradle for college coaches, especially in the Pac-10. Jim Lambright of the Huskies joins Mike Price of Washington State and Keith Gilbertson of California as coaches from Snohomish. The county also is home to Miami Coach Dennis Erickson. All but Gilbertson attended Everett High. Gilbertson went to Snohomish. . . . It was an expensive opening week for California running back Lindsey Chapman, who gained 160 yards against UCLA. He treats his offensive line to dinner every time he gains more than 100 yards.