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COLLEGE FOOTBALL ’94 / SEASON PREVIEWS : The Arms Race : A Pocketful of Quarterbacks Could Throw Pac-10 Records Out the Window This Season

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last year, this Pacific 10-headed quarterback averaged 6 feet 2.7 inches, 202.8 pounds and passed for 20,688 yards and 153 touchdowns.

The collective conference beast might have sent even more defensive coordinators screaming into the night had it not been for those wishbones at Oregon State, which passed only in states of emergency.

Pac-10 Quarterback Man gobbled up efficiency marks and yardage records as it stalked the hallowed footprints left by the likes of John Elway and Dan Fouts.

The conference was no place for the honors-sensitive.

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The University of Oregon quarterback who passed for 300 yards or more in a game six times, threw for 3,224 yards and 22 touchdowns?

Folks, this was your all-conference honorable mention .

The USC quarterback who is bidding to become the first non-running back to win a Heisman Trophy at Tailback U?

Well, the Stanford kid once chased him to wide receiver when they were high school teammates.

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The California quarterback, a face in this crowd, may some day be playing in a Super Bowl near you.

The UCLA quarterback threw four interceptions. All year.

The Arizona quarterback, despite his numbers, has to take a number for the purposes of this examination.

The quarterback at Arizona State, a sophomore, may eventually be better than all his elders.

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The bad news for defenses is that eight of the 10 conference starters have returned to wreak further havoc.

“It’s a nightmare, no doubt,” Cal defensive coordinator Artie Gigantino said. “The problem is a quarterback, with his arm, can beat you. You can stop a great running back. But when a quarterback gets hot, he can kill you.”

Sports information directors up and down the coast are tripping over their brochures.

USC’s Rob Johnson, most experts agree, leads the Pac-10 pack. The Trojans wasted no time in touting Johnson on the media cover as “Heisman Candidate.” Of course, Heisman hype and pro potential are different animals when it comes to quarterbacks (see Gino Torretta, Charlie Ward, Ty Detmer, et al.).

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So, while Johnson may be all the rave with the NFL, Stanford’s Steve Stenstrom has the numbers and certainly the right publicity director, Coach Bill Walsh, passing out leaflets in the Heisman marketing campaign.

“Already ahead of 70% of the NFL quarterbacks in terms of throwing to alternative receivers,” the respected Walsh bellowed about Stenstrom for the preseason publications.

Across the Bay, Cal’s Dave Barr cranks up for his senior season having set the conference record last year for passing efficiency with a mark of 164.5--10th-best in NCAA history.

Yet, he can hardly get a Heisman word in edgewise in a conference that already includes Johnson, Stenstrom and UCLA receiver J.J. Stokes.

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Barr said he doesn’t mind the competition.

“I couldn’t really care less who’s out there,” he said. “It’s not going to be a battle of numbers. We all have our own goals. Anyway, the numbers don’t tell everything.”

The logjam figures to cause more headaches for conferences SIDs, some of whom are trying to get out the vote.

“We’re all going to be beating up on each other,” Stanford SID Gary Migdol conceded.

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“They’re all going to have great years. Someone will rise to the top. It will likely depend on how the team is doing.”

Johnson, Stenstrom and Barr make up the prime-time short list, but the Pac-10 quarterback well may run six or seven deep. Taking aim behind the big guns are Danny O’Neil of Oregon, Wayne Cook of UCLA, Dan White of Arizona, Jake Plummer of Arizona State and perhaps Damon Huard of Washington.

“When you have two quarterbacks that are Heisman candidates (Stenstrom and Johnson), everybody else is going to be overshadowed,” acknowledged O’Neil of Oregon. “Look at what Cook did. He was the quarterback who took his team to the Rose Bowl, he’s returning, and he’s barely mentioned. That’s tough.”

The draftniks already are touting the pro potential of Plummer, the ASU sophomore.

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“He’s one of the top three quarterbacks in the country right now,” Mel Kiper Jr. contends. “He has a chance to be as good as any quarterback in the Pac-10 since Elway.”

So, this is the best returning group of Pac-10 quarterbacks ever?

Not so fast. The Class of 1988 still holds the distinction with its group of Troy Aikman, UCLA; Rodney Peete, USC; Bill Musgrave, Oregon; Timm Rosenbach, Washington State; Troy Taylor, Cal; Erik Wilhelm, Oregon State, and Cary Conklin, Washington.

All seven were NFL draft picks.

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The 1994 cast, at least for now, does not measure up.

“If I had to put them in order now, where I thought they’d fall (in the draft), I’d go Johnson, Stenstrom, Barr and O’Neil,” said John Becker, the Rams’ director of player personnel.

Some, however, aren’t sold on Stenstrom’s arm strength.

“Bill Walsh can say all he wants about how great a quarterback Steve Stenstrom is,” Kiper said. “But Steve Stenstrom is not going to carry a great grade heading into the NFL draft. Now, if (Walsh) had Rob Johnson and was saying those things about him, it would carry more weight, because Rob Johnson can play for anybody.”

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In order of preseason clout, here’s a look at the quarterbacks of the Pac-10:

ROB JOHNSON

Senior, USC

* Size: 6 feet 4, 220 pounds.

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* 1993 statistics: Completed 68.6% of his passes for 3,630 yards, with 29 touchdowns and six interceptions.

* Comments: He’s the real deal, a probable first-round NFL pick. The loss of Johnnie Morton, the All-American receiver, might cut into his numbers a bit.

* Kiper: “The best of the group--arm, size, everything. Has added about 10 pounds and is bigger physically.

STEVE STENSTROM

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Senior, Stanford

* Size: 6-3, 205.

* 1993 statistics: Completed 65% of passes for 3,627 yards, with 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

* Comments: No doubt, a great college quarterback who benefits from playing in Walsh’s system. Stenstrom is in position to break all six school passing records, including Elway’s marks for yardage and touchdown passes.

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* Note: Johnson and Stenstrom were teammates at El Toro High in south Orange County. As a junior, Johnson was moved to wide receiver to allow the senior, Stenstrom, to play quarterback.

DAVE BARR

Senior, California

* Size: 6-4, 205.

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* 1993 statistics: Completed 68% of his passes for 2,885 yards, with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

* Comments: A shoulder injury in October slowed him considerably, but in his final three games Barr threw for 910 yards and eight touchdowns.

* Kiper: “He’s a kid who’s got so much better than he was in his first year. I didn’t think he was much of a prospect then. But in terms of everything it takes to be an NFL quarterback, he seems to fit the physical mold.”

DANNY O’NEIL

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Senior, Oregon

* Size: 6-2, 178.

* 1993 statistics: Completed 61.9% of his passes for 3,224 yards, with 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

* Comments: Plays for a losing team and is flat-out skinny, but he continues to pile up the numbers.

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“This year, I’m just hoping to put up the wins,” O’Neil said. “I’ve put up the numbers and it doesn’t really matter. I found out the hard way last year. I put up the numbers but didn’t put up the victories.”

* Kiper: “Good college quarterback, gritty kid, hangs in there, but in terms of physical ability, doesn’t have what I’m looking for as far as the NFL.”

JAKE PLUMMER

Sophomore, Arizona State

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* Size: 6-2, 189.

* 1993 statistics: Completed 51.3% of his passes for 1,650 yards, with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions.

* Comments: Probably the best true freshman quarterback in the country last year. Should rank as best sophomore in 1994. Has a chance to be tremendous.

* Kiper: “He played last year with a team that was not super strong, took some hits, learned the hard way and got better each week.”

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WAYNE COOK

Senior, UCLA

* Size: 6-4, 215.

* 1993 statistics: Completed 55.6% of his passes for 2,067 yards, with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions.

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* Comments: Bruins won eight of the 11 games Cook started. Of course, Cook had a pretty good target in the wide receiver Stokes.

* Kiper: “A competent college quarterback with very limited pro potential.”

DAN WHITE

Junior, Arizona

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* Size: 6-5, 215.

* 1993 statistics: Completed 49.6% of his passes for 1,548 yards, with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

* Comments: Completed an erratic season with a three-touchdown, 209-yard passing game against Arizona State and added two touchdown passes in Arizona’s rout of Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.

* Kiper: “He’s a big kid, who’s improved a little bit at the college level, but I don’t see him as a pro prospect.”

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DAMON HUARD

Junior, Washington

* Size: 6-4, 215.

* 1993 statistics: Completed 58.9% of his passes for 1,282 yards, with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

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* Comments: An up-and-down player with some potential, Huard won the starting job outright this season from Eric Bjornson, who has moved back to wide receiver. Huard may be hurt by undistinguished receiving corps, but should benefit from arrival of Bill Diedrick, the new offensive coordinator.

CHAD DAVIS

Sophomore, Washington State

* Size: 6-2, 199.

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* 1993 statistics: Red-shirted after transferring from Oklahoma.

* Comments: Last year’s starter, Chad DeGrenier, returns as a backup, having been ousted by Davis in the spring. Davis is green as they come, having not yet thrown a regular-season pass at the collegiate level. The Cougars are miles from the days of Drew Bledsoe and Timm Rosenbach.

DON SHANKLIN

Sophomore, Oregon State

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* Size: 5-11, 194.

* 1993 statistics: Completed 76.5% of his passes--13 of 17--for 90 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions.

* Comments: It’s almost unfair to include OSU quarterbacks in this mix, since the team runs a wishbone offense and rarely passes. Shanklin regained the starting job from Rahim Muhammad, who started the last six games after Shanklin was injured.

Strength in Numbers

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The Pacific 10 Conference is no place for aspiring quarterbacks, as each of member of this season’s class has experience as a starter. A look at how they rate:

1993 STATISTICS

Player, School (National Rank) Att Comp Yds TD Int Rating* Dave Barr, California (2) 303 208 2,885 24 12 164.8 Rob Johnson, USC (10) 449 308 3,630 29 6 155.49 Danny O’Neil, Oregon (18) 360 223 3,224 22 15 149.00 Steve Stenstrom, Stanford (21) 455 300 3,627 27 14 146.32 Wayne Cook, UCLA 297 165 2,067 18 4 132.49 Jake Plummer, Arizona State 199 102 1,650 9 7 128.79 Damon Huard, Washington 197 116 1,282 9 10 118.47 Dan White, Arizona 230 114 1,548 13 9 117.75 Shawn Deeds, Washington State 100 41 599 2 5 87.92 Don Shanklin, Oregon State 17 13 90 0 0 112.87

*--Rating does not include postseason play.

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CAREER STATISTICS

Player, School Att Comp Yds TD Int Dave Barr, California 647 407 5,228 43 27 Rob Johnson, USC 770 490 5,973 43 22 Danny O’Neil, Oregon (18) 785 454 6,089 40 28 Steve Stenstrom, Stanford 987 616 7,709 56 30 Wayne Cook, UCLA 310 165 2,222 19 4 Jake Plummer, Arizona State 199 102 1,650 9 7 Damon Huard, Washington 202 121 1,390 10 10 Dan White, Arizona 230 114 1,548 13 9 Shawn Deeds, Washington State 100 41 599 2 5 Don Shanklin, Oregon State 19 13 90 0 0


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