The scoop on QB race '13: Apodaca v Halliday

PULLMAN -- The path has not only opened, but cleared out in an almost eerie way. In the span of one week, David Gilbertson and Jeff Tuel bowed out, respectively electing to forego and stop fighting for fifth seasons. And Cody Clements, per multiple sources, is transferring. That suddenly puts Austin Apodaca front and center against Connor Halliday for the right to quarterback the Cougs in 2013.

Apodaca, a freshman scout teamer this past season, looks poised to give Halliday a challenge when spring ball commences in March.

He's athletic and strong armed, and turned in solid work on the practice field over the fall.

Apodaca points to the work this year of two second-year freshmen for inspiration in the possibilities that can come from a young gun at quarterback.

"I've got to have that moxie," Apodaca said. "You look at guys like (Texas A&M's) Johnny Manziel and (Oregon's) Marcus Mariota. Those guys set the standard. They've got that moxie."

Both Mariota and Manziel beat out prohibitive favorites at the quarterback position at their respective schools this year. Both put up gaudy numbers in 2012 as redshirt freshmen. Apodaca hopes to do the same.

"Coach Mike Leach always says it's great to have friendships and everything, but at some point you have to compete," Apodaca said. "I don't want to sit here and ‘wait my turn.' I'm going to go in with a chip on my shoulder and fight for that job."

As a senior at Silver Creek High in Longmont, Colo., Apodaca passed for almost 4,000 yards en route to a 12-2 record, leading the Raptors to their first ever state title game.

Leach believes he could start next season if he continues to grow.

"They're both going to battle for the job," Leach told CF.C, referring to Halliday and Apodaca. "Nobody is the favorite. They'll have to compete every day."

Leach added he likes Apodaca's winning ways and physical tools.

"He's a guy that has always won," Leach said. "He has a good arm and has the mobility for big play potential. I like that."

Apodaca also believes those keen attributes will help him compete at the highest level.

"Manziel and Mariota can both run and hit their playmakers," Apodaca said. "I believe that's one of my strongest traits. I'm mobile, and I can get the ball out pretty quick."

APODACA WILL undoubtedly have his work cut out for him, as Halliday will enter spring ball as the favorite in most pundits' eyes. The fiery 6-4, 181-pounder became a fan-favorite with his let-it-fly mentality, though his decision-making and consistency have come into question.

Halliday, for his part, believes Apodaca will provide the competition he needs to take the play at the quarterback position to the next level.

"He's a good player," Halliday said. "For a 17-18-year-old kid, he possesses an arm as good as anyone I've seen at that age. Hopefully he comes in and helps me out like Jeff and Gilby did for the last couple years. I want to help him grow into the position."

Coming out of high school, Apodaca was seen as a quarterback that could control the game with precise, dead-eye accuracy. While he agrees with some of that, Apodaca and fellow Coug quarterbacks believe he was underrated. Apodaca was rated as a three-star QB and the 58th ranked player at his position nationally.

"He's got all the tools, man," Halliday said. "The kid has a cannon. He can make all the throws."

Tuel agreed.

"Austin has a gun," Tuel said. "If that kid hits the film room hard and continues to develop into the position, he could be great."

BUT APODACA DOESN'T doesn't believe his physical tools will be what set him apart from the competition this spring and then later in fall camp. Rather, he points to a not-so-tangible attribute that will propel him to the top.

"I grasp the concept of this offense as good as anyone," Apodaca said. "Not to sound cocky, but I believe I can grasp offenses in general as good as anyone in the country. I understand that mental part of the game."

A SCOUT TEAM quarterback often throws off a card – he'll make pre-designed throws into double coverage for example because his main goal is to help the defense succeed. So he doesn't always have a chance to shine or go through his reads. But Apodaca stuck out this season running the scout team offense, winning scout team player of the week twice leading up to the BYU and Oregon games.

From this chair observing practice all season, he got visibly better in 2012. Apodaca earned himself a permanent spot on the travel squad before the Utah game, and was the full-fledged scout team starting quarterback by season's end.

In 2013, Halliday won't be Apodaca's only competition. It's rare for a true freshman to take the reins but the Cougs have a verbal commitment from Tyler Bruggman out of Phoenix. Bruggman is a highly touted pocket passer who, by default, may be thrust into competition this fall.

Aside from those three quarterbacks, only walk-on Jesse Brown is expected on the roster at the quarterback position in 2013. Another walk on, freshman QB Conner Johnson out of Spokane, was being looked at more at h-back in the latter half of the season.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Several sources including some inside the football program tell CF.C that redshirt freshman quarterback Cody Clements is transferring from Washington State. According to one source, Clements will enroll at a junior college in California for one year, and then will weigh his options. Clements has thus far been unavailable for comment.

  • Also reportedly transferring from the program is third-year cornerback Brandon Golden. The Covina, Calif. product was buried on the depth chart this season and didn't play a down in 2012.
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