When Pima College lost Max Shepherd to a knee injury in the spring, its quarterback situation became a poor man's version of Arizona's quest to replace Matt Scott.

Aztecs head coach Pat Nugent will decide between Tyler D'Amore and Jack Nykaza.

"I can't keep track of my quarterbacks I've had so many injured," Nugent said.

"Max Shepherd was going to be our number one guy.

"We have two freshman coming from out of state, but those two (D'Amore and Nykaza) are at the head of the list."

Coincidentally, both Nykaza and D'Amore were both formerly in the UA's stable of quarterbacks.

Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez encouraged Nykaza to attend Pima after he spent the spring with the UA - he went 8 of 12 with 89 yards and two touchdowns in April's spring game.

D'Amore, an Ironwood Ridge product, was a walk-on with Arizona in the spring of 2012 before transferring to Nebraska-Kearney in the fall. He only played in one game, though, after injuring his shoulder.

Now, both will battle it out for the chance to replace Shepherd and lead the Aztecs, who went 1-10 last season. Shepherd passed for 420 yards and one touchdown in 2012; he was intercepted nine times.

"This is one of the most talented offensive groups we've had," Nugent said, "We just gotta make sure one of the quarterbacks gets them the ball.

"They might be the key to our success this year."

Here are three other things to watch as Pima prepares for its Aug. 24 opener against Arizona Western College.

Lots of returning talent

Nugent says it's all about experience, which is something the Aztecs lacked last season.

With much of his offense returning, particularly on the offensive line, Nugent sounds optimistic that things can turn around.

"The thing I've learned here is if you can play with sophomores, you'll be in a whole lot better situation," he said. "With their experience, they won't be shocked at the level of play in our league."

The most experienced position group will be the offensive line, which has four returners.

Two major prospects

Wide receiver Denzel Jones and tight end Emanuel Simpson might be the most talented of Pima's returners.

"Those two are definite Division I guys that are going to make a difference for us," Nugent said. "Both of them are kids who had raw talent in high school and have developed at this level."

Jones, a 6-foot-5-inch receiver who prepped at Santa Rita High School, is rated a two-star recruit by the Rivals.com recruiting service. He caught 35 passes for 516 yards in 2012.

Simpson, a three-star recruit, has an offer from Arizona and has received interest from Syracuse, USC, Oklahoma State, Michigan State and Kansas State. The 6-3 tight end/H-back had 14 receptions for 103 yards last season.

One game-changing addition

Two years ago, Nugent struck out with Seth Ellis, an electric running back who chose Scottsdale Community College over Pima.

"He was a big-time recruit for us, the No. 1 kid we were after," Nugent said.

Fortunately for Pima, it didn't work out in Scottsdale. Ellis recently transferred to Tucson.

Ellis had 30 rushes for 99 yards and two touchdowns for Scottsdale last year, including a 45-yard, one-touchdown performance in a 44-21 win against Pima.

Now, he's an Aztec.

"Seth Ellis is a game changer," Nugent said. "He's an athletic kid with unbelievable speed. We gotta make sure he gets the ball multiple times every game."