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October 11, 2012
Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
If the Rivals.com recruiting rankings hold form, the high school quarterback crop for the Class of 2013 might have the biggest yield since the rankings began.
With 31 players rated as four-star prospects or higher, it is perceived to be the most talented combination of pro-style and dual-threat QBs since the Class of 2002, when 29 players received a four-star evaluation or higher. That is well above the average class evaluation of 20 players ranked at that level.
The class is headlined by five-stars Max Browne of Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline and Warren (Mich.) De La Salle signal-caller Shane Morris, as well as fast-rising Christian Hackenberg from Fork Union (Va.) Military. And all three could see regular playing time as soon as next season.
But the player who might make the quickest impact is below that stratosphere, if not below the radar: Four-star quarterback Anu Solomon, who will head to Arizona upon graduation from Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman. He'll be thrust into a competition to take over for senior quarterback Matt Scott.
"The coaches have told me that they want me to come in and compete for the starting job," Solomon said. "It is something that I want to do, and they want me to do it."
The 6-foot-1, 200-plus-pound Solomon is ranked as the No. 10 dual-threat quarterback and just outside of the Rivals250. The four-year starter at Bishop Gorman has led the team to three consecutive state titles and is favored to do it again.
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said that Solomon has the tools to transition quickly to the next level.
"There are two major things to consider for guys playing as true freshmen," Farrell said. "You have to be athletically mature enough to do it, and you have to be a good enough decision-maker and to do what is asked of you.
"The quickest way to lose a quarterback battle is to be turnover-prone, and Solomon doesn't turn the ball over."
But what makes Solomon the best bet for immediate playing time is the situation at Arizona when compared to those Browne, Hackenberg and Morris will face.
Browne, the top-ranked quarterback in the entire class, has drawn comparisons to Peyton Manning and may be the most college ready player of the group. But he is headed to USC from a spread offense in high school and will have to learn a pro-style offense. In a battle to replace Matt Barkley, he will be behind two quarterbacks who were four-star prospects and all-Americans during their time in high school, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek.
USCFootball.com recruiting analyst Gerard Martinez said Browne could challenge for time, but believes the odds are low.
"It's a possibility," he said. "I would say it is not likely, but with Browne coming in for spring football, it is not out of the question."
Most indications are that Hackenberg and his family would prefer to redshirt and learn the system. Penn State is heavily recruiting JUCO quarterback Jake Waters from Iowa Western, who could be an excellent stopgap.
Farrell thinks Penn State could take that path to improve its situation.
"If Penn State had come out this year and been terrible, I don't know what they would have had to do next year," Farrell said. "As it stands now, they could buy some time to right the ship and not force a young player into a firestorm."
Morris does not have the same obstacles to overcome at Michigan. The QB position will be quickly clearing with Denard Robinson set to graduate along with seniors Jack Kennedy and Steve Wilson. That leaves sophomores-to-be Russell Bellomy and Alex Swieca and senior-to-be Devin Gardner ahead of him.
What Morris will be battling is his own health as well as his own limitations. He was diagnosed with mononucleosis early into his senior season and will likely miss the remainder of it.
The No. 17 overall player in the Rivals100 has also completed barely 50 percent of his passes, leading Farrell to question his potential for immediate impact.
"Morris has to improve on his accuracy and decision-making without question," Farrell said. "But honestly, this kid is like Tim Tebow to the Michigan fanbase, and I am not sure I have ever seen a more popular prospect. The pressure to get him on the field may force the hand of Brady Hoke, and really, is Michigan going to put Gardner back in there?"
Solomon, on the other hand, has the history of current Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez playing young quarterbacks on his side.
During his time at West Virginia, Rodriguez used Pat White as a four-year starter, easing him into the role after a battle with Adam Bednarik. White was named the starter at midseason. White would go on to lead the Mountaineers to four bowl wins, including a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia during his freshman season, and eventually was picked in the second round of the NFL Draft.
More recently, in his brief time at Michigan, Rodriguez played Robinson as a true freshman, easing him in before the QB blossomed as a sophomore.
GoAzCats.com senior editor Tracy McDannald said that Rodriguez has the support of the Arizona athletic department and will be given time to make the program better. That includes the decision to start a freshman if he deems that the best way to proceed.
"Unlike his stint at Michigan, Rodriguez will have the time and confidence from athletic director Greg Byrne," McDannald said. "He sees Rodriguez more as a long-term hire than a quick fix, and he has been pleased with what Arizona has done thus far. A freshman quarterback will not change that commitment to Rodriguez."
The quarterback situation at Arizona is more similar to Michigan than any other as Matt Scott is leaving and it appears there is not a good solution behind him. The roster next year will feature junior college transfer B.J. Denker and Louisiana Tech transfer Nick Isham as well as sophomores-to-be Javelle Allen, Josh Kern and Jack Nykaza. There will also quarterback-turned-receiver options Richard Morrison and Alex Cappellini.
Bishop Gorman head coach Tony Sanchez said that Solomon will be ready to step into the role as a starting quarterback if it is asked of him. He also said that Solomon does not have the wear and tear of other high school QBs, since he had a talented cast around him.
"Size, arm strength, intelligence will not be an issue for him," Sanchez said. "He also has always had a Division I running back by his side with us, and he has never been asked to carry the ball 20 times a game and win games with his legs. He can do it if he needs to, but we have been very good about keeping him fresh."
Sanchez has also been smartly scheduling national caliber opponents to ready his players for the action at the college level.
Solomon has started games against Anaheim (Calif.) Servite, Olney (Md.) Good Counsel, Seffner (Fla.) Armwood, Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic, Concord (Calif.) De La Salle, Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral, Phoenix (Ariz.) Brophy, Loomis (Calif.) Del Oro, and Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton.
Farrell believes that exposure is invaluable to the development of a quarterback.
"If this were a quarterback who had just seen Nevada competition for four years, he would be vastly underprepared," Farrell said. "The defenses at Armwood and Good Counsel are loaded with Division I kids, so seeing the speed of the players who will be at the next level gives him a major advantage."
McDannald thinks getting on campus and competing might be enough to make this an easy decision.
"Anybody else would be a complete shock," he said. "But it ultimately comes down to how quickly Solomon impresses the staff and whether they want to throw him into the fire immediately. It should not be difficult for him to quickly move up the depth chart."
Solomon definitely doesn't lack for confidence.
"I haven't been a backup since Pop Warner," he said. "If I can get in and compete, I believe I can be successful early."