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Andrew Luck And Kevin Riley Battle To Be Best Bay Area College Quarterback

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Andrew Luck might be the better all-around quarterback, but could Kevin Riley have the better 2010 season?

He's got it all. A tall and athletic frame that towers over the field, able to survey defenses and pick them apart. An arm that can power any throw it wants in any direction on the field. He has two of the best receivers in the conference to throw to and a stalwart offensive line to protect him.

Life is good for Andrew Luck, and even without Toby Gerhart the Stanford Cardinal seem poised to make a splash. The offense returns almost entirely intact, and the defense should get better (emphasis on "should"). No matter what he says about returning to college to complete his degree, a solid season could lift him to the top of draft boards, even propelling him past Jake Locker.

Which has to make you wonder: How is Kevin Riley taking this? Not so well.

California quarterback Kevin Riley knew the question about rival Stanford was coming. He'd surely already read stories about a changing of the guard in the Bay Area. He probably was aware that more than a few columnists and fans had questioned whether his coach, Jeff Tedford, was capable of prodding the Bears into taking the next step from merely good to elite.

Changing of the guard? My tookus, said Riley.

"It's disrespect," said Riley with just a hint of edge in his voice. "We beat them last year, and our offense whupped up their defense pretty good. We beat them last year when they were at their highest point of their game."

Remember, Riley was placed in a similar position to Luck only a few years ago. It was Riley who was being heralded as the next big thing after promising flashes during his freshman campaign. It was Riley who lost that luster after two years of inconsistency, erratic mechanics, and mediocre offensive play by the line and receivers. And it's Riley who now nears the end of his senior season with zero buzz and only average confidence from his fanbase backing him.

Interestingly, while the Cardinal return much of their also offensive bulwark, Cal's offense around Riley should be in good shape to support him. They too return much of their starters in the offensive line and should have some stability in the receiving corps.

Now no one's going to argue Riley is a better quarterback physically than Luck. Riley is pretty short, and consequently has had to compensate a lot to try and get his throws on target. Luck has no such physicial issues and usually can deliver a crisp, clean deep ball down the middle, in the flats, and on the run. He sometimes has to rein himself in to avoid falling off the page with his wideouts.

However, the possibility of Riley having a better 2010 season than Luck? It's not as far-fetched as you may think.

Senior quarterbacks have a knack for pulling it together. Mentally, everything starts falling into place as the reps build up and the throws pile on. The experience should start paying off for Riley, who along with Locker will be the only returning senior Pac-10 quarterbacks. Riley admits himself he is at peace entering his final season.

Riley seems to be feeling less stress than in the past. Maybe it's because he's used it all up. Riley has visited both ends of the emotional spectrum during his career. Now he appears to have found a perfect balance.

"You look back at it, I've probably had more highs and lows than any other quarterback in college football," Riley said. "It helps you grow as a person and outside of football. All these years of playing, I've grown up so much. I think I understand now what it takes."

Luck, on the other hand, must meet up with reality soon enough. All the expectations have been laid at him (one of the best quarterbacks in the country, projected All-American, Heisman candidate).Luck is still not yet 21, but he is being asked to shoulder a weight in sports few are able to at his age. The last time he had this hype surrounding him , it was after the monstrous Oregon and USC upsets...and he proceeded to go 10 for 30 in the 2009 Big Game, throwing a game-clinching interception to lose the Axe and Stanford's shot at the Rose Bowl.

Luck seems to have the same mindset as Riley though.

Perhaps part of the reason is that Luck has the temperament to pull it off. He doesn't let much bother him, especially in the huddle.

"I think it's important not to get emotionally hijacked," he said. "You just try to make the best of situations, try to be a steady and calming influence in the huddle. Make sure guys know you know what you're doing."

So before anointing Andrew Luck as the Bay Area's best college quarterback, remember the lessons of believing Kevin Riley would make the sophomore leap. Potential and ability do not always lead to actualization. Although both quarterbacks appear to be plenty calm going into the season, remember one of them has been through the ropes a lot more than the other. May the best quarterback win.