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Arizona State may face another QB competition in offseason

TEMPE, Ariz. — Todd Graham doesn’t want to look past this week, let alone this season. Arizona State’s coach has 10 starters out, he’s battling to get the Sun Devils bowl-eligible after a 5-1 start, and he’s playing a fourth-string quarterback for the first time he can remember in his coaching career.

“Never been in this situation before,” Graham said with a grim smile after his media session had ended Tuesday at the Carson Student-Athlete Center.

One familiar situation Graham could find himself in soon is another quarterback competition, just like the one that preceded this season. In a perfect world, Manny Wilkins or Brady White would have seized the starter’s job and removed doubts about that position for the next three years, but ASU’s world has been far from perfect.

Bryce Perkins, the original third wheel in the QB conversation, went down with a neck injury before the season started, removing one variable from the analysis. Uneven play from Wilkins, a season-ending foot injury for White in his first college start, and ankle and shoulder injuries for Wilkins have thrust true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole into the lineup when ASU had hoped to redshirt him.

Sterling-Cole was 21-of-38 for 302 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in a loss at Oregon last week. Overall, he has completed 28-of-55 passes for 388 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions.

“Obviously, he’s young,” Graham said. “He’s got to take care of the football and just continue to learn what we’re doing, but he shows great promise.

“He’s got big-time arm talent. It’s just that learning a system in two weeks is very difficult to do. I think he’s done a solid job under the circumstance when two or three weeks ago he was running scout team.”

It is too soon to say whether Wilkins will be ready to play when the Sun Devils (5-4) come out of their bye week and host Utah on Nov. 10.

“We’re healing up,” Graham said.

If Wilkins does not return, however, Sterling-Cole will get another chance to throw his name into the hat of potential starters next season with a strong performance against Utah — a list will include Wilkins, White, perhaps Perkins and maybe even four-star recruit Ryan Kelley from Chandler Basha High School.

Sterling-Cole faces the challenges any true freshman would as this season winds down.

“Learning the system are the things he has to improve upon: mastering what he’s doing, learning the checks, learning all those things like that that go along with system,” Graham said. “I’ve been very impressed with how he’s come in and the effort he’s put in there.”

Graham refused to call this an evaluation period for Sterling-Cole, but there is nothing like game experience to highlight a player’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had to play him this year,” Graham said. “He’s had to grow up fast, but we know what his potential is and where his growth needs to be and all that good stuff.”

If Sterling-Cole stays on track, next summer’s QB battle could be just as unpredictable as this year’s.

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