The Wildcats have never had a freshman or redshirt freshman start the first game of a season. Many have become starters later in their first season, often due to injuries, most recently Willie Tuitama in 2005. Others include Richard Kovalcheck (2004), Kris Heavner (2003), Ortege Jenkins (1997), Keith Smith (1996) and Ronald Veal (1987).
The last redshirt freshman to start a season was Ryan Kealy, who led the Sun Devils to a 9-3 record in 1997. The last time ASU gave substantial starting time to a redshirt freshman, however, was 2005, when Rudy Carpenter started the final five due to injuries to Sam Keller and led the nation in passing efficiency. The last true freshman to start for ASU was Jake Plummer, who became the team’s full-time starter midway through the 1993 season and had middling success for three years until leading ASU to the Rose Bowl as a senior.
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Cal’s most recent attempt to start a redshirt freshman didn’t last long; Nate Longshore broke his ankle in the second quarter of the first game in 2005. The last time Cal started a true freshman was 1999 — Kyle Boller slogged through three losing seasons under Tom Holmoe before becoming a first-round draft pick under the tutelage of Jeff Tedford.
The Ducks haven’t started a redshirt freshman QB since 1991 (Danny O’Neil and Kyle Crowston each started at least once that season). O’Neil ended up becoming the team’s full-time QB and led the Ducks to the 1994 Pac-10 title. The last time Oregon started a true freshman was Chris Miller in 1983.
The last redshirt freshman to start at the beginning of a season was Erik Wilhelm in 1986. He started every game and went on to throw for 9,393 yards in his career, which ranks ninth in Pac-10 history. The last redshirt freshman to start was Jonathan Smith in 1999.
Stanford has gone with redshirt freshman QBs several times the past few years. Chris Lewis started three games in 2000 when Tyrone Willingham was coach, filling in for injured Randy Fasani. Kyle Matter, another Willingham recruit, started the season opener in 2002 when Lewis was suspended, and the last five games when Lewis was injured. The last redshirt frosh to win the job was Steve Stenstrom, who started the final eight games in 1991 and continued as the starter the next three years. Before that, some guy named John Elway became the starter as a true freshman midway through the 1979 season. Elway serves as something of a cautionary tale for thinking a star QB can do it all by himself, however — the Cardinal was 20-23 in his starts.
The Bruins have turned to a freshman or redshirt freshman a number of times in the past 20 years — nine freshmen or redshirt freshmen have started at least one game at QB since 1989, including Ryan Fien, Cory Paus, Matt Moore, Drew Olson, Cade McNown, Tommy Maddox and Bret Johnson. The only one to start the first game of the season, however, was Johnson in 1989. He played just one season at UCLA before transferring to Michigan State. The Bruins finished with losing records in three of the six seasons they went primarily with a freshman.
No true freshman has ever started an opener at quarterback for USC. Carson Palmer and Rob Johnson are the only true freshmen to ever start a game at QB (at least since World War II). The only time a redshirt freshman has started the first game of a season at QB was Todd Marinovich in 1989. He started the entire season and all of 1990 before declaring for the NFL draft.
Jason Gesser, Ryan Leaf, Timm Rosenbach and Matt Kegel all started as redshirt freshmen, and Drew Bledsoe started five games as a true frosh in 1990. But the Cougars have never begun the season with a freshman quarterback.