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Quarterback health could be deciding factor in ASU-Colorado showdown

TEMPE, Ariz. — There are plenty of instances where a football coach talks at length but does so without giving up any pivotal information about his roster.

That wasn’t the case at Arizona State on Monday.

Speaking to the media at his weekly press conference, Todd Graham first gave a definitive update on his quarterback who started Saturday’s thrilling win over UCLA. Brady White is done for the year with a foot injury.

That’s news many Sun Devil fans likely suspected after the team opted to burn the redshirt of freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole on Saturday night.

At first glance, it could have seemed a little reckless given that the game was already well into the fourth quarter when White went down. Considering Sterling-Cole’s upside, it wouldn’t have made a whole lot of sense to eat up a year of eligibility for the sake of a few offensive snaps.

Given what we know now — and what Graham likely knew at the time — they didn’t have much choice. Bryce Perkins, who appeared on the outside looking into the starting quarterback competition this offseason, has been out since camp with a neck injury, and starter Manny Wilkins is dealing with a leg issue. So there’s at least a chance Sterling-Cole gets pressed into action this weekend against Colorado.

If nothing else, he’ll need to suit up as the backup. So much for that redshirt.

Which brings us to the second bit of news Graham threw out there.

“We think we’ve got a good chance to have Manny back,” the coach said. “And he’s working towards that. And we’re getting Dillon ready. And we’re working with (freshman receiver) Jack Smith and (safety) Coltin Gerhart, just for depth purposes.”

Smith played quarterback at Mountain Pointe High School but joined ASU as an athlete. Gerhart was a backup quarterback to being his ASU career but switched to safety full-time before last season.

That alone highlights the injury issues that have plagued ASU at the most important position on the field this year.

And it becomes that much more remarkable that the Sun Devils are somehow still sitting at 5-1. With White’s season over and Perkins not expected back anytime soon, the program’s apparent overabundance of QBs just two months ago has now been whittled down to Wilkins, Sterling-Cole and a pair of distant reserves.

There are many who believed Sterling-Cole might actually be the best option at the position all along, but he didn’t win the job out of camp because he was behind the others in terms of experience and learning the offense. Well, that and the fact that Wilkins impressed the coaching staff, both before the season actually began and then in his first five starts.

So while Sterling-Cole certainly has potential, it’s not hard to see why the Sun Devils are eagerly anticipating the return of Wilkins. And Graham later doubled down on his optimism:

“I fully intend on Manny being back,” Graham reiterated. “I’m just being honest about that. Our plan is for him to practice by Thursday, and then obviously we’re going to get Dillon ready. Regardless, you got to have him ready.”

Nothing is set in stone, of course. But Wilkins could provide a nice jolt against a much-improved Colorado team this Saturday in Boulder, Colo.

The Buffaloes are likewise dealing with injury issues under center.

After some pretty lean years, the Buffaloes sit tied atop the Pac-12 South at 2-1 (4-2 overall). To put that in perspective, they went 2-25 in conference play over the previous three seasons. And their offense has keyed the turnaround, putting up 38.8 points per game.

Much like ASU, however, Colorado doesn’t know who will be playing quarterback this weekend. Starter Sefo Liufau is dealing with an ankle injury that knocked him out of a matchup with Michigan back on Sept. 17, then sidelined him for the games against Oregon and Oregon State.

Backup Steven Montez performed well in his absence, triggering wins over both the Ducks and Beavers. But he struggled mightily against USC this past week, left the contest temporarily with an injury of his own and then came back to ultimately take the loss.

Liufau, meanwhile, was able to fill in for a few snaps of relief against the Trojans. But he didn’t have the mobility to make the sort of plays he typically makes, so his return was short-lived.

In other words, good luck guessing who’s starting for the Buffaloes.

So here we are — just past the midway point of the season, with two programs who don’t know who their respective QB is, vying for the top spot in the Pac-12 South.

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