Teams open season with inexperienced QBs

Updated: August 29, 2003, 4:03 AM ET

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Texas-El Paso appears to have one advantage over Arizona going into their season opener -- UTEP coach Gary Nord has settled on a quarterback.

"Orlando (Cruz) gives us the best opportunity at this point to spread it out and throw it," said Nord, who acknowledges that the Miners won't be as big up front as some opponents and must throw more often.

The sophomore won the starting job on Aug. 14, and two days later threw for 320 yards and five touchdowns in the primary scrimmage of training camp. It was a remarkable performance considering Cruz's experience in his only 2002 start.

He took over the offense against Rice on Oct. 19, but Cruz's moment of triumph turned ugly when he tore a knee ligament on the first series and went down for the season.

He completed 28 of 56 passes for 466 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions before the injury.

Cruz beat out freshman Jordan Palmer, the brother of 2002 Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, and Jon Schaper, who may see some use at tight end.

Wildcats coach John Mackovic declined to name a starter for the game Saturday night in Arizona Stadium, saying that it didn't matter who got the nod between Nic Costa and Ryan O'Hara.

"I'm going to flip-flop them anyway, especially early in the year, so whoever trots out first is not necessarily stamped, "OK, I'm the starting quarterback," Mackovic said. "We have to find out what each of them can do."

Costa, a sophomore, got into four games last year and went 7-of-19 for 150 yards. Ninety-two yards came on one scoring pass to Andrae Thurman -- the third-longest pass play in school history.

O'Hara was redshirted and has no history, but is highly regarded as a dropback passer.

On the receiving end, the Wildcats are equally green.

Bobby Wade went on to an NFL career with the Chicago Bears, and Thurman became academically ineligible during summer school.

In typical fashion, Mackovic sees a glass half-full.

"When someone leaves, that means someone else has to step up," he said. "That's exactly what's happening for us at wide receiver."

Lance Relford is the top returning receiver with 20 grabs for 289 yards and one TD. Biren Ealy and Ricky Williams also have had strong preseasons and rank among the top four wideouts along with freshman Mike Jefferson, an El Paso prep start who averaged 33 yards a catch his senior year at Parkland High School.

The Wildcats went 4-8 last year, finishing ninth in the Pac-10 in offense and last among the nation's 117 Division I teams in rushing offense.

But the Miners (2-10), who play a 13-game schedule this season for only the second time in school history, have their own recovery in mind. Nord said he doesn't expect an anemic running game from Arizona this year, with Clarence Farmer leading the way.

But tailback is another mystery spot for the Wildcats. Farmer, who has run for 2,204 yards in three years and led the Pac-10 in rushing in 2001, had a knee injury last year, then got in Mackovic's doghouse, was suspended before spring practice and wouldn't speak to the coach during training camp.

Mike Bell, who led the team with 341 yards, went through camp as the starter at that spot.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index