The Arizona defense nearly hit the trifecta in the offseason. The Wildcats' opening-game opponent, Utah, lost junior quarterback Alex Smith to the NFL; he was selected No. 1 overall. Pacific-10 Conference foe California lost junior quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a first-round pick. Had USC's Matt Leinart jumped early, three star-level quarterbacks would have been erased from the Wildcats' schedule. As it is, UA's defense still has reason to be optimistic. Several opponents are breaking in new QBs or have unresolved competition. Leinart, Oregon's Kellen Clemens and NAU's Jason Murrietta are the only returning starters from last year who are assured of being No. 1 this season.
Here's a game-by-game look at the quarterbacks of UA's opponents: Utah, Sept. 2: Brian Johnson, an 18-year-old sophomore, takes over for Smith. Johnson appeared in 10 games last season, completing 14 of 21 passes for 142 yards in mop-up duty.
NAU, Sept. 10: Jason Murrietta, a junior, enters his third season as the starter. He earned first-team All-Big Sky Conference honors as a freshman, second-team honors last season.
Purdue, Sept. 17: Brandon Kirsch, a junior, takes over for solid Kyle Orton. Kirsch has six career starts, and his mobility has led Purdue to add a touch of option to the attack.
Cal, Oct. 1: The battle between redshirt freshman Nate Longshore and junior college transfer Joseph Ayoob could extend to this Pac-10 opener for the Wildcats.
USC, Oct. 8: Even if something were to happen to Leinart, former high school All-Americans John David Booty and Mark Sanchez give USC the deepest group of QBs in the league.
Stanford, Oct. 15: New coach Walt Harris has two guys with starting experience but doesn't want to rotate QBs. Trent Edwards has an early edge on T.C. Ostrander.
Oregon, Oct. 22: Senior Kellen Clemens is the second-most accomplished QB on UA's schedule; he has passed for 5,149 career yards, with 42 TDs and 20 interceptions.
Oregon State, Oct. 29: UCLA transfer Matt Moore has the edge to replace Derek Anderson. Moore started fives games in two seasons with the Bruins.
UCLA, Nov. 5: The team had a too-close-to-call camp competition, with senior Drew Olson trying to use his experience to hold off athletically superior freshman Ben Olson.
Washington, Nov. 12: Junior Isaiah Stanback is the slight leader to emerge from what has been a muddled position. If not Stanback, then look for Oregon transfer Johnny DuRocher.
Arizona State, Nov. 25: Junior Sam Keller has the smarts and physical skills to pick up where Andrew Walter left off, and by this point in the season, he will be plenty experienced.