TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State quarterback
He had your blitz schemes, Washington State. Forget those safety blitzes, UCLA. He ripped those, too. Arizona's zone blitzes didn't fool him.
|Sam Keller has pro potential, but so does his backup. (Getty Images)|
"I can remember things really well. By the (end of the) first quarter I had their blitz signals," the Sun Devils' senior said. "I'd catch them every time."
It's a minor detail that Keller wasn't actually playing when all this occurred, but it does help make a point.
Arizona State leads the nation in quarterbacks.
Forget about your Brian Brohms, your Brady Quinns, your Chris Leaks. Right here, right now, no one has a better quarterback situation than ASU.
How many schools' No. 2 (sophomore Rudy Carpenter) led the nation in pass efficiency last year? Carpenter went 4-1 as a starter after Keller was lost for the season in October.
How many quarterbacks played parts of two games with a shredded thumb ligament on this throwing hand? Before finally being knocked out in the season's seventh game, it was Keller, who then developed his signal-stealing skills from the sidelines.
How many coaches can count on a 4,000-yard, 40-touchdown performance out of the box? Coach Dirk Koetter can, because his two-headed monster essentially accomplished it last year (4,438 yards, 37 touchdowns combined).
|Best QB units in 2005|
|1. Texas Tech||4,666|
|5. Notre Dame||3,963|
|3t. Texas Tech||34|
|5t. Notre Dame||32|
|*-as a team Arizona State led the NCAA with 38 TD passes.|
But how many coaches have his decision? By the end of August, Koetter is going to have to pick between them. Keller, now healthy, retained his starting spot on the depth chart but still has to battle hard-charging Carpenter in the preseason to keep it.
"One guy is definitely not going to be happy," Koetter said. "I don't look forward to that day."
It's going to be awkward and possibly ugly. Both quarterbacks have pro potential but -- barring injury -- one will have to sit for an entire season.
Sideline observers of spring practice say Carpenter looked better, although Keller took 60 percent of the snaps. With the starting decision not coming until late, Carpenter probably can't transfer if things don't go his way.
Take your pick: Keller is 4-4 as a starter. Sun Devils everywhere fell in love when he came off the bench to replace injured Andrew Walter and become the 2004 Sun Bowl MVP in his first career start.
At 6-feet-4, 240 pounds, he is the more imposing figure. That surgically repaired right thumb is obvious -- and more dangerous. A knob has formed over the ligament where sutures and threads have actually made the appendage stronger.
"During the spring, I was throwing farther than I ever have," he said. "One day I threw it 75 yards."
Carpenter, though, is perceived as a better game manager. He's certainly more accurate (68 to 58 percent last season) and, as mentioned, efficient (17 touchdowns, two interceptions).
He clinched the pass efficiency title with a 467-yard, four touchdown game against Rutgers in the Insight Bowl. Left behind were Brohm -- who finished second after being injured himself -- and Vince Young, No. 3 after the game of his life in the Rose Bowl.
"There's only one guy that can do that every year," Carpenter said of his title. "That's pretty cool."
Yeah, and come August, it might be: Thanks a lot, go find some bench.
They're teammates but not close friends off the field. Carpenter is a homebody living with his longtime girlfriend. He also might be more cerebral.
"I don't like school," Keller said. "I hate school."
Don't talk to Carpenter about killer instinct. He just completed Serial Killers 300, a class about ... you guessed it.
"Where Charlie Manson's hideout was is pretty much Simi Valley," said Carpenter, from Westlake, Calif. "That's right down the street from me."
The battle actually overshadows the guy who will decide it. Koetter doesn't get the pub of other quarterback gurus (Jeff Tedford, Charlie Weis, Urban Meyer etc.). Maybe it's because his defenses haven't been good enough to seal the deal.
In five seasons here, Koetter is only five games over .500 (33-28). But there is definite momentum building. The Sun Devils have won consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1987. In the Pac-10, only USC and Cal have a better record in the past 25 games than Arizona State (17-8).
One or both current quarterbacks could add to Koetter's quarterback resume. The 47-year-old has had a hand in developing seven quarterbacks who have at least signed NFL contracts -- everyone from first-round draft pick Joey Harrington at Oregon to free agents Bart Hendricks and Ryan Dinwiddie at Boise State.
"He's so good at game-planning, setting you up for success," Keller said. "Anybody can come in here. A monkey can come in here (at play quarterback)."
"A monkey?" Carpenter asked. "In some ways it's true. In Coach Koetter's offense, it doesn't matter who is playing."
We'll get back to you in August on that one, Rudy.