A look at Arizona Wildcats QB competition in Pac-10/12 years



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The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 49 days away. From now until then, this Web site will count down the days with facts about the Wildcats, their players, coaching staff and opponents. This is not a ranking, only a list of 100 facts and observances related to the 2013 Arizona football team and coach Rich Rodriguez.

Tom Tunnicliffe emerged as a starter as a freshman in 1980 after No. 1 quarterback Mark Fulcher suffered a knee injury and backup Kevin Ward was benched

Tom Tunnicliffe emerged as a starter as a freshman in 1980 after No. 1 quarterback Mark Fulcher suffered a knee injury

With Arizona’s uncertainty at starting quarterback heading into the 2013 season, we look back at how the UA’s starters earned that role since the Wildcats joined the Pac-10 in 1978.

Jim Krohn (1978-79): After playing mostly behind Marc Lunsford at quarterback in his first two years, the Amphi graduate was the definite starter heading into Arizona’s first season in the Pac-10 in 1978. Bob Carter was Krohn’s backup but attempted only 38 passes (completing 15 in mop-up duty) during Krohn’s junior and senior seasons of 1978 and 1979.

Tom Tunnicliffe (1980-83): Tunnicliffe became Arizona’s leading quarterback as a true freshman in 1980 after sophomore starter Mark Fulcher suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the season and coach Larry Smith benched No. 2 quarterback Kevin Ward in the fifth game. Fulcher won the quarterback competition in fall camp over Ward, a highly-touted option quarterback recruited by previous coach Tony Mason. Ward struggled in Smith’s pro-style offense. Ward eventually ended his UA career as a split end. Carter, Krohn’s backup, also finished his career as a receiver in 1980 and 1981.

Alfred Jenkins (1984-86): John Conner won the quarterback competition in 1984 over Jenkins after Tunnicliffe exhausted his eligibility. Smith told reporters after making the decision to go with Conner: “I’m not one to play musical chairs at quarterback.” He was forced to do just that as Conner, a senior, went down with a knee injury in Arizona’s first game against Fresno State. Jenkins, a sophomore, took over and started the rest of the season. By the end of the season, Jenkins led the Pac-10 in passing yardage (2,002) and was second in total offense. After rehabilitating his knee, Conner was impressive enough in workouts for NFL scouts that Seattle drafted him in the 10th round in 1985.

Ron Veal (1987-89): SMU transfer Bobby Watters, who gained immediate eligibility after the Mustangs were served the death penalty by the NCAA for repeated recruiting violations, was Arizona’s definitive starter to begin the 1987 season. But in Week Three at UCLA, Watters broke his thumb in his passing hand and Veal, a freshman, was forced into the starting role for the rest of the season. Craig Bergman, a pro-style quarterback recruited by Smith, did not fit Dick Tomey’s run-and-shoot offense, so he transferred. That left Veal and fellow freshman Jeff Hammerschmidt as the only possibilities at quarterback in 1987. Watters was granted a medical hardship waiver in 1988 and shared time with Veal throughout the season.

George Malauulu (1990-92): Veal also shared the quarterback role as a senior with Malauulu in 1990. Malauulu, who started twice as a freshman in 1989, provided Tomey the opportunity to mix more of the pass with the run at quarterback. Veal was efficient at running the option with an occasional pass to catch the defense off guard. Five games into the 1990 season, when asked who would start against Washington State, Tomey, a baseball enthusiast, responded: “I’m not sure if we’re gonna go with the left-hander (Malauulu) or the right-hander (Veal). We’re gonna have to see what kind of lineup they’ve got.” Malauulu attempted 101 passes and Veal 61 in 1990.

Ortege Jenkins split time with Keith Smith at quarterback most of his career

Ortege Jenkins split time with Keith Smith at quarterback most of his career

Dan White (1993-95): The Penn State transfer emerged as Malauulu’s successor after battling with Ryan Hesson, Henry Cofer and Brady Batten for the starting assignment. Not one of those quarterbacks completed a pass in college entering the 1993 season season. Arizona finished 10-2 that year behind its Desert Swarm defense. White was also steady, completing 103 of 207 attempts for 1,410 yards, 11 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.

Keith Smith (1996, 1998-99): As a redshirt freshman in 1996, Smith battled Batten for the starting assignment after White exhausted his eligibility. Once again, Batten came up short, this time to the gritty Smith. After both shared time against UTEP in the 1996 season opener, Smith replaced Batten for good in the second half of the next game at Iowa. Smith led the UA in passing (1,430 yards) and rushing (546 yards) that season.

Ortege Jenkins (1997, 2000): Similar to how he mixed Veal and Malauulu, Tomey switched between Smith and Jenkins from 1997-99. Batten once again came up short as a senior in 1997, injuring his collarbone. Jenkins emerged as the leading quarterback in 1997 after Smith suffered a sprained right shoulder. Jenkins was highly efficient as a freshman, throwing 19 touchdown passes compared to only five interceptions. Smith and Jenkins each passed for more than 1,000 yards in 1998 and 1999 with Smith getting most of the reps. Jenkins struggled as a senior in 2000, looking as if he missed Smith. He completed only 123 passes in 261 attempts for 1,647 yards with nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Tomey was forced to resign after that season.

Jason Johnson (2001-02): The transition to the unsuccessful John Mackovic regime was not smooth and that included the battle at quarterback. Johnson, a junior, earned the starting nod over redshirt freshmen John Rattay, a transfer from Tennessee, and Cliff Watkins. Rattay voiced his displeasure after the season and announced he would transfer. He returned to the Arizona program in 2003 after attending junior college but suffered a knee injury. Johnson passed for 3,327 yards as a senior in 2002, completing 239 of 410 pass attempts. Going with Johnson as the starter was probably the only sound decision Mackovic made during his brief tenure from 2001-2003.

Kris Heavner (2003): The loss of Johnson, who exhausted his eligibility, exposed Mackovic for not developing an adequate replacement, one factor that contributed to his dismissal that season. Mackovic rotated redshirt freshman Ryan O’Hara, sophomore Nic Costa and Heavner, a true freshman who became the regular starter by default. Heavner tried the best he could but threw 15 interceptions that season compared to only seven touchdowns. He showed a decent passing touch, however, completing 121 of 237 pass attempts for 1,501 yards.

Willie Tuitama became a starter late in the 2005 season as a freshman

Willie Tuitama became a starter late in the 2005 season as a freshman

Richard Kovalcheck (2004-05): Heavner retained his starting role in 2004 over Kovalcheck, a freshman who was a standout from San Diego. First-year coach Mike Stoops, frustrated over the UA being last in the Pac-10 in total offense, permanently replaced Heavner with Kovalcheck six games into that season. Kovalcheck struggled in his two years as a starter, throwing 18 interceptions compared to only 16 touchdown passes. He was replaced by Willie Tuitama as the starter late in the 2005 season. Kovalcheck transferred to Vanderbilt, where he attempted only 65 passes as a third-stringer in 2006 and 2007.

Willie Tuitama (2006-08): He emerged as the definite starter his last three seasons at Arizona but backup Adam Austin was forced into duty in 2006 after Tuitama suffered a concussion at LSU. Austin became injured, suffering ligament damage in a knee. Heavner also played, completing 21 of 30 passes as an emergency replacement. Tuitama shook off the cobwebs as a junior and senior and became Arizona’s career passing leader with 9,211 yards.

Nick Foles (2009-11): Tuitama’s replacement came down to Foles, a Michigan State transfer, and Scott, a sophomore. Scott became the No. 1 quarterback out of fall camp but struggled early. He was permanently replaced against Iowa, three games into the season. Foles finished the season completing 260 of 409 pass attempts for 2,486 yards with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He remained the starter the rest of his career, breaking Tuitama’s mark with 10,011 yards.

Matt Scott (2012): Rich Rodriguez was blessed to have Scott as his starter in his first season after the Scott decided to redshirt during Foles’ senior season. Scott completed 301 of 499 passes for 3,620 yards with 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Anu Solomon, Jesse Scroggins or B.J. Denker (2013): Time will tell.

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Last year, I ran a Top 50 Games in the history of Arizona football series at this site and TucsonCitizen.com. I will relive that list here with less than 50 days to kickoff and add one game to it: Arizona’s improbable 49-48 win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl last December. I will keep the ranking of that game secret in the new top 50 list until the day I publish it.

Game No. 49: Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State

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The best No. 49 to wear the Arizona jersey, according to TucsonCitizen.com’s Anthony Gimino is linebacker Sean Harris (1991-94). Harris, a Tucson High School product, made 32.5 tackles for loss for the Desert Swarm-era defenses. He played in the NFL with Chicago.

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The Bronko Nagurski Award and Outland Trophy watch lists were announced Thursday. The watch-list announcements will continue through July 19. This site will update after the announcements.

The current Pac-12 breakdown (by school) of players on the watch lists:

1. Stanford 13
2. USC 12
3. ASU 10
4. Oregon 9
5. Oregon State 7
7. Washington 4
8. Colorado 3
9. Arizona 2
10. Utah 1
Washington State 1
California 1

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WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.


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