ASU's Taylor Kelly embraces underdog role among Pac-12 QBs

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LOS ANGELES -- When you talk about all of the returning Pac-12 quarterbacks this season -- and there are 10 of them -- chances are you'll go through a few names before rattling off Arizona State's Taylor Kelly.

UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon's Marcus Mariota undoubtedly attract most of the attention and NFL scouting focus, but Kelly leads the defending South Division champions. He understands that he won't be considered in the same elite company as others, but he's OK with that and ready to prove he's just as good.

"I've always been an underdog my whole high school and college career," Kelly said Thursday at Pac-12 Media Days. "I just have to put up those numbers, get those wins in the column. Coach (Todd) Graham always tells me, 'If you win the national championship, you'll get all those individual goals and attention.' That's the ultimate goal for me, put my team in a good position and get my name out there that way."

Kelly passed for 3,635 yards last season as a junior and threw for 28 touchdowns as the Sun Devils were the surprising team that made a run for the Pac-12 title out of the South. He's aiming even higher than that this season and has plenty of NFL-caliber talent around him to help in the effort.

"This is the most talented offensive team I've been around," Graham said. "Our system is designed around our players and is very quarterback-centric. It requires a guy who is very disciplined in distributing the ball and who doesn't turn the football over."

Kelly, a redshirt senior, figures to be potential NFL draft pick after the season, but will have to overcome perceptions about his height (6-foot-2) and the fact that he's thrown interceptions at a higher rate than others.

Still, if he doesn't end up making it to the next level one day, he has a heck of a backup plan considering he's a drag racer in his spare time.

"I got a phone call (from coach Graham) and he told me to retire," Kelly said. "I can always pick that up when I'm done playing football. I just love the adrenaline rush and the competition and working on cars. It's an expensive sport but it's fun to be around."

Kelly isn't putting all his eggs in the racing basket, either -- he already holds one degree and is starting on his master's this fall with an eye toward sports business. Still, with a top speed of 129.4 miles per hour in the quarter-mile in his trusty Toyota Supra, at least he has an option to fill his need for speed if the NFL doesn't work out down the road.

Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter @BryanDFischer.

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