Blame it on UCLA.
Quarterback Brock Osweiler was perfectly content shuttling between Arizona State’s football and basketball programs last season, possibly spreading his gangly 6-foot-8 frame a little too thin.
Then the Bruins came to town.
On a sunny afternoon in Tempe last November, Osweiler came off the bench and erased a 17-0 UCLA lead, throwing four touchdown passes in a 55-34 victory for the Sun Devils.
“Prior to that, I hadn’t performed like I had envisioned,” said Osweiler, a junior. “I got a great opportunity to do that and I made the most of it that afternoon. It made me sit back and take a look. I knew the football route was the way I wanted to go.”
A sarcastic, “Thanks, Bruins!” could be heard throughout the Pacific 12 Conference.
Osweiler might not get mentioned in the same breath with Stanford’s Andrew Luck, USC’s Matt Barkley and Arizona’s Nick Foles, but opposing coaches wait to exhale every time he takes a snap.
“If he had this kind of year last year, he would be mentioned with those guys,” said UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel, who will see Osweiler again when the Bruins play Arizona State on Saturday. “He’ll be that guy a year from now.”
A comforting thought — if you’re Arizona State Coach Dennis Erickson. Uneasiness has settled over the rest of the conference.
Osweiler has passed for 2,275 yards and 17 touchdowns, which are numbers in the Luck-Barkley-Foles area code. And that’s prime real estate, considering those three are projected as first-round picks in the NFL draft next spring.
“Unfortunately, that’s the nature of our conference,” Oregon State Coach Mike Riley said. “There are too many good quarterbacks.”
Osweiler certainly doesn’t seem to lack confidence. He has tattoos under each bicep, so that when he raises his arms in triumph it reads, “Leave Your Legacy” on one side and “Live Life To It’s Fullest” on the other (the second containing a typo by the inker.).
Yet, being part of the best-quarterbacks chatter is not something Osweiler focuses on. “I’m just concerned with winning, not individual accolades,” he said.
The only note mentioning Osweiler in Arizona State’s weekly news release is about him being the tallest quarterback among Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
Erickson said Osweiler is “trying to make his own niche” and “hasn’t been around long enough to be put that category” with Luck, Barkley and Foles.
Opposing football coaches wish he would reconsider his sport of choice.
“I think he would look good in that basketball uniform,” Riley joked. “I’ll leave it there.”
After Osweiler passed for 307 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-14 victory over Colorado on Saturday, Buffaloes Coach Jon Embree agreed. “He’s a guy that probably should be playing basketball,” he said. “I wish he was.”
Osweiler was a basketball-first guy at Kalispell (Mont.) Flathead High and committed to Gonzaga as a sophomore. He changed his mind when Arizona State offered a two-sport opportunity a year later.
Last November, he was still planning to join the Arizona State basketball team after football season.
Osweiler had lost the quarterback competition to Michigan transfer Steven Threet and played sporadically in the first 10 games. But when Threet suffered a concussion in the first half against UCLA, Osweiler emerged and had Arizona State ahead, 21-20, by halftime.
He threw for 380 yards and had a touchdown run to go with his four touchdown passes.
“He certainly had a game for the ages,” Neuheisel said. “He came in footloose and fancy free and played that way.”
Osweiler orchestrated a victory over rival Arizona the following week, and suddenly those basketball plans got shelved.
“When he decided to focus strictly on being a quarterback and playing football, it gave him automatic leadership,” Erickson said.
Osweiler has no regrets about his decision.
“I love this sport,” he said. “The weekly preparation. Being out there on Saturday in a sold-out stadium. When I set foot on this campus three years ago, my goal was to win the conference championship for Arizona State.”