• Cam Parker

Predicting the Starting QBs: Pac-12

The Pac 12 is home to arguably the least talked about quarterbacks in the country, but there are plenty of talented quarterbacks in the conference. Arizona State's Jayden Daniels, California's Chase Garbers, UCLA's Dorian Thompson-Robinson and USC's Kedon Slovis headline the quarterbacks in the Pac-12. However, a couple of transfers and a group of underrated incumbent starters make this conference as intriguing as the rest of the power-5 conferences.


Arizona


Image credits: Kelly Presnell, Arizona Daily Star


Gunner Cruz

2020: Grant Gunnell (Transfer), Will Plummer


At the University of Arizona, the idea of new beginnings come to mind for a program that did not win a single game in 2020. Out goes former head coach Kevin Sumlin, and in comes new head coach Jedd Fisch. Along with this, 2020 starter Grant Gunnell transferred to Memphis this offseason, leaving the Wildcats with a completely open competition for quarterback. To alleviate the situation, Fisch turned to the transfer portal, bringing in Gunner Cruz from Washington State and Jordan McCloud from South Florida. Along with this, 2020 backup and brief starter Will Plummer returns, making it a three-man competition for the spot. Overall, the answer is clear for Fisch and the Wildcats. Expect Cruz to get the first snaps on the first game against BYU. Cruz is the most talented in the quarterback room. Although lacking playing experience in college, it is hard to ignore what Cruz did in high school. In three seasons, he threw for a jaw-dropping 9,383 yards and 100 touchdowns. At Washington State, he redshirted in 2019 and only made one appearance in 2020, where he threw for 34 yards and a touchdown on five completions. Overall, he has been the most consistent in fall camp. Reports show that McCloud, who joined the team in the summer, has shown ball security issues while Plummer has shown inconsistency and decision making issues. That being said, Cruz still has a lot of work to do, but he will be the Wildcats' starter in 2021.



Arizona State


Image credits: Mike Mullholland, MLive.com


Jayden Daniels

Incumbent


From a combination of talent, experience and success, there is no one better in the Pac-12 right now than Arizona State's Jayden Daniels. The success in college was immediate for Daniels. As a true-freshman in 2019, he threw for 2,943 yards, 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions. In a shortened sophomore season, the success continued. In four games, Daniels threw 701 yards, five touchdowns and one interceptions. The talent does not stop there. Over the past two years, he has 578 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. The only downside with Daniels is a 10-7 record over the last two seasons, but that is hardly his fault. The Sun Devil offense have done their part. In 2019, they averaged only 24.8 points per game, but they improved that number to 40.2 in 2020, which was good for 12th in the nation. Overall, Daniels is the face of the Sun Devils and the conference at the quarterback position. Should head coach Herm Edwards and Arizona State see any improvement and success in 2021, it will be because of Daniels and his talent and leadership.



California


Image credits: Jose Fajarda/Bay Area News Group


Chase Garbers

Incumbent


Quietly one of the Pac-12's best quarterbacks, Cal's Chase Garbers enters his final season at the helm of the Golden Bears' offense. Career-wise, the numbers show consistency. In three years, Garbers has thrown for 4,049 yards, 34 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, but ten of these interceptions came in his freshman season. His best season came in 2019, where he threw for 1,772 yards and 14 touchdowns against only three interceptions. The numbers are not these incredible Heisman-caliber numbers that we have seen from quarterbacks like Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones or Kyle Trask, but that is not what a program like Cal needs. Chase Garbers provides the proper talent and experience needed for the Golden Bears. Do not expect them to compete for a Pac-12 title, but that doesn't mean that a respectable seven-to-nine-win campaign is off the table. One meaningful win could ruin another team's chances and solidify Cal as a top-25 team, and it is very possible with Garbers leading the way.



Colorado


Image credits: Nigel Amstock, CU Independent


Brendon Lewis

2020: Sam Noyer (Transfer)


The quarterback room at Colorado has been hit pretty hard this offseason in different ways. With 2020 starter Sam Noyer transferring to Oregon State, the Buffaloes had a two-man competition between 2020 backup Brendon Lewis and Tennessee transfer JT Shrout. Now, the injury bug has made the decision for who will be the starter. In what was a tight competition throughout camp, Shrout recently went down with a significant knee injury. Now, Lewis will be the man as there is current timetable for Shrout's return. A redshirt freshman in 2021, Lewis has only played in one game in his young career at Colorado. In last season's Alamo Bowl against Texas, he completed six passes on 10 attempts, threw for 60 yards and had zero touchdowns against zero turnovers. On the ground, Lewis added 73 yards and a touchdown in the loss. Lewis is the youngest starting quarterback in the conference, and he headlines a group that is even younger. Behind him are two true freshman in Drew Carter and Jordan Woolverton. It is hard to predict what will happen for the Buffaloes in 2021. Losing Shrout hurts, but again, he hadn't won the job yet. According to all reports, Lewis was neck-and-neck with Shrout for the starting spot, which has to mean something. Overall, Colorado is neither poised for success or failure, but Brendon Lewis establishing himself as a capable starting quarterback in the Pac-12 is certainly on the table.



Oregon


Image credits: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports


Anthony Brown

2020: Tyler Shough (Transfer)


Arguably the most important quarterback competition in the Pac-12, the Oregon Ducks have a tough choice to make with two quarterbacks. After 2020 starter Tyler Shough announced his was transferring to Texas Tech for the 2021 season, head coach Mario Cristobal completely opened up the competition with four guys: Anthony Brown, Ty Thompson, Jay Butterfield and Robby Ashford. Since then, the competition has slimmed down to just Brown and Thompson. First up is Brown, a fifth-year senior and Boston College's starter from 2017-2019. In his three seasons with the Eagles, he was a consistent key player in the offense throwing for 4,738 yards, 40 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. The down side to Brown is the lack of a standout season in terms of wins. The Eagles won 20 total games in his three years with them, but they did make a bowl game each year. Brown brings much needed experience to a quarterback room that includes two true-freshmen and one redshirt freshman. The other main competitor is Thompson, a five-star true freshman and the headliner of the Ducks' 2021 class. Thompson is arguably the most talented quarterback of the four as he was ranked the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the country by Rivals. In high school, Thompson threw for 9,891 yards, 100 touchdowns and 32 interceptions. He also added 1,145 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. As for who the starter will be, all signs point to it being a tight competition, but Cristobal said after a scrimmage on Aug. 21 that he is "close" to naming the starting quarterback. For now, experience wins at Oregon, and Brown has the best chance to start on opening weekend. That being said, Thompson is right behind him and could very well take the job from Brown early in the season. If there is any big-name program in the country that could have a quarterback change in the middle of the season, it is Oregon. Again, this is the most important competition in the conference, and the Ducks and Cristobal need to find their starter as they look to win the Pac-12 for the third-straight year.



Oregon State


Image credits: Leon Neuschwander, The Oregonian/OregonLive


Sam Noyer

2020: Tristan Gebbia, Chance Nolan


A familiar face in the Pac-12 joins the Beaver quarterback room after transferring from Colorado. Sam Noyer announced he would be transferring to Oregon State on June 11 after spending the last five seasons with the Buffaloes. Over the past four seasons, he has thrown for 1,280 yards, six touchdowns and 9 interceptions. However, 1,110 yards and all six touchdowns came in the shortened 2020 season. Along with this, he had five rushing touchdowns last season. The big eye opener from 2020 was Noyer's ability to win games. He led Colorado to a 4-0 record to begin the season and a second-place finish in their division. A sixth-year senior, he returns to his home state as he was the starting quarterback for Beaverton High School, a school only about 80 miles away from Oregon State. The hometown kid with plenty of experience, all signs point to him being the starter, but the job is not completely won just yet. At the moment, Noyer is competing with 2020 starter Tristan Gebbia for the position. In 2020, Gebbia threw for 824 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in four games. However, Gebbia fell victim to a gruesome hamstring injury in the win against rival Oregon which ended his season. A fifth-year junior, he also brings experience to the room, but also brings familiarity to the Beaver offense. The official announcement for who the starter will be has not been announced, but Noyer seems to be the best guess right now. Again, the home-town hero returns with plenty of experience is a storyline made for a movie. However, storylines do not decide position battles, play on the field does. Noyer seems to be winning that over Gebbia, too. In fall camp, Noyer received reps with the starters, while Gebbia worked with the second-string. Overall, Noyer will be the one to start for the Beavers in 2021 in one more season in a long career.



Stanford


Image credits: Scott Swegan, Stanford Athletics


Tanner McKee

2020: Davis Mills (NFL), West


With 2019 and 2020 starter Davis Mills now in the NFL, the Stanford Cardinal are one of the many schools across the country looking to find a new leader of the offense. Out of the six quarterbacks on the roster, two stand out above the rest: Jack West and Tanner McKee. West, a former four-star recruit from the class of 2018, has the most experience out of all the quarterbacks and is the only one to start a game for the Cardinal at some point in their career. In his lone career start in 2020, West threw for 154 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions in a loss to Oregon. In his career, he has thrown for only 301 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions. Adding to his experience, although brief, is West's size. He stands at a tall six feet four inches and weighs 215 pounds, which is a coach's ideal size at the position. Competing with West is McKee, a sophomore from the class of 2018. Although from the same class as West, McKee's freshman season was in 2020 after he spent 2018 and 2019 on an LDS mission in Brazil. In his true freshman season last year, McKee completed only three passes on seven attempts for 62 yards in relief of West in the loss to Oregon. Although lacking in experience in comparison to West, McKee beats West in the size department by standing at six feet six inches and weighing 228 pounds. Overall, the competition is tight at the moment, but looking back to spring shows who most likely has the edge. In Stanford's spring game, McKee led all quarterbacks with six completions on eight attempts for 65 yards and a touchdown. He also led another scoring drive later in the game. For now, the starter has not been officially announced, but early signs point to McKee taking control of the Cardinal offense on Sept. 4 against Kansas State.



UCLA


Image credits: Steve Cheng, BRO


Dorian Thompson-Robinson

2020: Thompson-Robinson, Chase Griffen


The Chip Kelly era at UCLA can be best summed up in one word - disastrous. In three years, Kelly has only managed a 10-21 record. He has never gotten past four wins in a season. Needless to say, the UCLA program is in a very dark place. However, there is a bright spot for the Bruins. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been a consistent staple in a team that needs it now more than ever. Entering his final season, Thompson-Robinson has thrown for 5,132 yards, 40 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. A dual-threat quarterback, he also has accounted for 572 yards and seven touchdowns rushing over the last three seasons. There was a brief scare entering 2021 fall camp as Thompson-Robinson was absent for 10 days, but he recently returned to the practice field, which put away all concerns for Bruin nation. Overall, Thompson-Robinson is critical for UCLA to have any success in 2021. He enters his final season as one of the conference's most experienced quarterbacks and as an underrated draft prospect for 2022. Kelly, on the other hand, is on a very hot seat going into the season. With no signs of improvement over the last few seasons, should there be any sign of the same, UCLA will be quickly looking for a new head coach while replacing their starting quarterback in 2022. For now, Thompson-Robinson is the key to whether the Bruins see any success in 2021.



USC


Image credits: John McGillen, USC Athletics


Kedon Slovis

Incumbent


Coming off of a 5-1 season in 2020, USC and Kedon Slovis look to avenge their loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game in 2021. Slovis comes in as one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the nation and a possible top prospect in next year's NFL draft. Slovis' career had an interesting start. A three-star recruit in the class of 2019, Slovis started as the backup to JT Daniels, but was quickly thrusted into the starting position after Daniels tore his ACL in the first game of the 2019 season. The result? Slovis became an instant star for the Trojans and for college football as a whole. He threw for 3,509 yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions while leading USC to an 8-5 record. In a shortened 2020 season, Slovis showed no signs of slowing down. In six games, he threw for 1,921 yards and 17 touchdowns against seven interceptions and lead the Trojans to a Pac-12 championship game appearance, where they lost to Oregon 31-24. Overall, the Trojans do lose big production on offense with offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker getting drafted with the fourteenth pick by the Jets, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown gettind drafted by the Lions in the fourth round and wide receiver Tyler Vaughns signing with the Colts as an undrafted free agent. Along with this, wide receiver Bru McCoy was recently suspended from the team due to a domestic violence arrest. On the bright side, the Trojans return Drake London, who led the team with 502 receiving yards. A lot has changed on the offensive side of the ball, but with Slovis set to return for his junior season, the Trojans could make a lot of noise in the Pac-12.



Utah


Image credits: Chuck Cook


Charlie Brewer

2020: Cameron Rising, Jake Bentley (Transfer)


Entering 2021, the Utah Utes are home to an underrated quarterback competition in head coach Kyle Whittingham's 17th season. With 2020 starter Jake Bentley transferring to South Alabama, the open quarterback position is down to two men in a tight battle. Headlining the two is Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer, who announced he was heading to Utah in December. He left Baylor as one of the most successful quarterbacks in school history. In four years as a starter, he threw for 9,700 yards, 65 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. He added over 1,000 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground. The highlight of his career was the 2019 season, where he lead the Bears to a Big 12 championship game appearance and a Sugar Bowl appearance. So far, he is impressing Whittingham and Ute nation, especially after a spring game where he went 15 for 15 with 151 yards and two touchdowns. However, the competition is still very close. Competing with Brewer is Cameron Rising, who was supposed to be the starter last season. Early in the season opener against USC, Rising hurt his throwing shoulder which knocked him out for the rest of the season. Entering his sophomore season, Rising does not have a lot of in-game experience, but his talent is keeping him in the competition with Brewer. However, Brewer will be the starter entering the season. It is extremely hard to argue against his experience, success and talent at a high-level program like Baylor. Rising is the future and the talent is there on paper, but with Brewer in the conversation, it is hard to argue for him to be the starter. Keep an eye on the Utah quarterback room in 2021, who have two talented quarterbacks that can bring them to a successful 2021 season.



Washington


Image credits: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren


Dylan Morris

Incumbent


Entering his second season, Dylan Morris faced some competition for the starter position this offseason after fairly-successful true-freshman season in 2020. A four-star recruit, Morris threw for 897 yards and four touchdowns against three interceptions while leading the Huskies to a 3-1 record in 2020. Now entering 2021, there is a new face in the quarterback room. Five-star true freshman Sam Huard joins Washington after throwing for 12,704 yards, 145 touchdowns and only 21 interceptions. Originally, it seemed like Huard could be the starter, but following Washington's first practice in fall camp, head coach Jimmy Lake declared, "Dylan Morris is our starter." Standing at 6 feet and weighing 200 pounds, Morris does not have the greatest size in the world. However, what he lacks in size, he makes up for leadership and growth. Washington coaches have praised him this offseason for his effort in improving his overall game while being a great example to teammates. Specifically, his effort outside of the field in the weight room and film room give the coaching staff reason to trust him with the offense. Expect Morris to grow in 2021, but the question many are asking is "How much?"