When Rich Rodriguez was running the University of Arizona football program a few years back he liked to have a cupboard full of quarterbacks each season, and wouldn’t announce his starter for the season opener until the very last opportunity before game time.
And because he carried so many signal callers – seven during the 2012 season and 10 the next year – it made it much more of a guessing game for the media.
But Herm Edwards, the current Arizona State boss, takes a different approach. He and offensive coordinator Rob Likens made their selection of Jayden Daniels to start in the Aug. 29 opener against Kent State several weeks ahead of time, making the decision public at the start of the week.
The coaches figure that will give Daniels time to deal with the pressures and media attention that always come immediately following the announcement, and be able to focus on the game when the time comes.
Edwards, just getting ready to start his second season leading the Sun Devil program, had already whittled the potential starters to four before spring practice began and both national media and local sports writers had pretty well narrowed it down to Daniels by the time the spring drills were over.
All four candidates – Daniels, last year’s back-up Dillon Sterling-Cole, and true freshmen Joey Yellen, and Ethan Long – had good showings in the spring, but Daniels was already beginning to show the talents that would earn him the starting job.
Daniels, a dual-threat QB from California’s Cajon High School, arrived with impressive stats from his prep career. The lanky (6’3″, 180 lbs.) youngster compiled his prep resume over 53 games as a starter, completing 66.3 percent of his pass attempts for 14,007 yards and 170 touchdowns.
And when he wasn’t throwing bullets, he was scrambling for more yardage. He ran for an additional 3,645 yards and 41 more TDs.
He holds several career state records, for passing and number of touchdowns, and also set a single-season mark as a junior when he piled up 6,431 yards of total offense.
But Edwards has what any head coach would envy. Not only does he have a starter with huge upside, he has a QB stable that is a solid three deep. However, Long would be the one used only in a rare emergency. The Oregon import was taken out of the QB speculation before fall camp was done when Edwards announced his intention to use the multi-talented athlete at other positions on the field, but would play him at quarterback if needed.
That leaves junior Sterling-Cole and freshman Yellen. Sterling-Cole brings maturity and experience as the back-up to Daniels. He was the back-up to graduated Manny Wilkins last season and has appeared in 13 games during his time in Tempe. Yellen brings to the party a pocket passer who gives the opposing defenses a different set of problems. He threw for 6,131 yards and 57 touchdowns during his two years as a starter in high school, leading his Mission Viejo teams to a 22-3 record over those two seasons.
But Daniels doesn’t appear to need any help with his new job. He’s been comfortable with the role during camp and seems to be adjusting to the college game with relative ease.
“If I was to start,” he told the media prior to the fall camp, “I feel like the biggest challenge is the first couple of games, just getting more comfortable because I’m going to be a freshman, never played college football before.”
And that’s exactly how much time he will have to “get comfortable.” After starting the schedule with Kent State and Sacramento State, Daniels will have to go on the road for his first real test, against Big Ten power Michigan State.
But Herm’s not worried. If need be, he’ll just reach into the cupboard and call up another starter-in-waiting.