BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Jon Embree enters his second season at the University of Colorado with just eight seniors and countless questions, one of which was answered Wednesday when he named Kansas transfer Jordan Webb as his starting quarterback.
Webb, a grad student with two years of eligibility remaining, beat out strong-armed sophomores Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman.
Hirschman broke a foot for the second time earlier this year, so Wood, a transfer from Texas, got all the snaps in the spring before Webb transferred to Boulder this summer and made it a three-way race to replace graduated senior Tyler Hansen.
Webb, who threw for 3,079 yards with 20 touchdowns and 20 interceptions while going 4-15 with the Jayhawks, joined the Colorado program late last month after completing all his degree requirements at Kansas. He took advantage of an NCAA rule which allows a player to continue his career, provided he has time remaining on his five-year eligibility clock, and the school he transfers to has a program that is not offered at his previous university.
At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Webb is the smallest of the three quarterbacks, but he separated himself after just eight days of training camp. Quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer said Webb, “really progressed quicker than I thought he would.”
“He makes plays,” Embree said. “There were a lot of things he had to overcome, being in town for all of three weeks, learning an entire new system, while competing for a starting job.”
Wood and Hirschman, who will continue battling for the No. 2 job, have more powerful arms, but Webb has the deeper resume.
“His biggest attribute is that he’s played in 19 games,” Embree said. “None of these other guys have played in a game. Nick played a little bit against Arizona State. None of these guys have played meaningful minutes. You can see that he’s played in some games. He does a good job of working the pocket. He reminds me of Koy Detmer a little bit in that he has unique ways of getting the ball to the right guy. He doesn’t have the biggest arm. But he generally gets it there on time and it’s a fairly catchable ball.”
Webb is majoring in educational equity and cultural diversity at Colorado after graduating from Kansas last month with a degree in psychology and a minor in public policy.
The Buffaloes, who open against archrival Colorado State on Sept. 1, had a rough initiation into the expanded Pac-12, going 3-10, and could be in for some more difficult times this season with one of the youngest teams in the nation after losing 28 seniors.
Other questions being answered during fall camp include who will back up starting running back Tony Jones, a 5-foot-7 sophomore sparkplug who’ll take over primary ball-handling duties from Rodney Stewart.
Embree is proudly declaring a bowl berth as the Buffaloes’ goal for 2012 regardless of who’s directing an offense that will be without star receiver Paul Richardson, who underwent knee surgery in April.
“You know me, I’m not afraid” to say it. “I think it is important that we put it out there, what it is we are trying to accomplish,” Embree said. “It’s like last year when I challenged our players to end that road streak.”
It took until their season finale last year, but the Buffaloes finally snapped their school record 23-game road losing streak with a 17-14 win at Utah, their fellow Pac-12 newcomer.
After losing their annual Nebraska showdown when both schools left the Big 12 last year, some wonder if the Utes will become Colorado’s new “Big Red” rivalry.
“They’re a great team and will always be a great opponent,” senior safety Ray Polk said. But, he wants to shoot higher.
Why not USC or Oregon, two schools they’ll visit in October?
“You look to the best team and you want to play that team, you want to make that team your rival,” Polk said.
“Like Ray said, we’re shooting for the top,” junior tackle David Bakhtiari said. “Everyone wants to aim for the top dog and that’s who we want to pinpoint as being our rival. Utah, it is a media-forced thing, but it’s not 100 percent. They’re a great team. We love playing them, but at the end of the day, I see every team as a rival and we want to be the best. You’ve got to beat the best if you want to be the best. We’re going to try to beat all of them.”
After facing Colorado State in the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown at Sports Authority Field, the Buffaloes host Sacramento State and then visit Fresno State before beginning league play at Washington State on Sept. 22.
The Buffaloes return just nine starters, six on defense, led by Polk in a revamped secondary.
The Buffs’ strength is their linebacking corps with senior stalwarts Doug Rippy and Jon Major along with junior Derrick Webb and sophomore Brady Daigh. They’ll team with defensive tackles Will Pericak, a senior, and Nate Bonsu, a junior, to try to curtail the Pac-12’s speedy offenses.
Colorado’s offense will be almost entirely new, and it will be without its star receiver, at least for a while. Richardson tore an ACL in the spring but Embree is hoping his junior star receiver will return at some point this season.
“Paul Richardson is running in the side and doing some stuff. He’s trying to help the younger receivers. I don’t know what the next phase, the next step is for him, whether it’s routes or cutting. He is still progressing,” Embree said.
Richardson said he thinks he can still play this season, and Embree is “a lot more optimistic about it” than he was in the spring.
“He’s already ahead of probably what he should be doing. I know those injuries typically are nine months. Whether he’s a six-month guy or seven-month guy, I don’t know what the timetable will be,” Embree said.