USC Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley is a Sports Illustrated cover boy and one of the most recognizable figures in college football, but the rest of the Pac-12 quarterbacks are relatively unknown. Six teams have brand new starters, and several returning quarterbacks didn’t start regularly last season.
As Utah offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson said, the conference “is all about quarterback play, and the top offenses in the league have the best quarterbacks.”
We’ll know a little more about this year’s top offenses in less than a week, but here’s how the Pac-12 quarterbacks stack up prior to kickoff:
1. Matt Barkley, USC
Barkley’s a preseason Heisman favorite in his fourth year as a starter. His numbers in 2011 were comparable to Andrew Luck‘s, with 3,528 yards, 39 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He has a lot to play for this season, and a very talented supporting cast eager to make him look even better.
2. Keith Price, Washington
Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that two of the top quarterbacks in the conference play for coaches who were offensive coordinators on USC’s juggernaut teams of the mid-2000s. In 2011, his first year as a starter, Price led the Huskies to a seven-win season and threw for more than 3,000 yards, with 33 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His success will be dependent on the offensive line standing strong – he was sacked 26 times last season and sprained both knees but only missed one game.
3. Zach Maynard, California
Maynard was overshadowed by Barkley and Luck, but despite Cal’s poor overall record, the quarterback quietly put together a solid season. In his first year as starter after transferring from Buffalo, Maynard thew for 2,990 yards, 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His best target was his brother, Keenan Allen, a first-team All Pac-12 receiver last year. Both players are back for an even better run in 2012.
4. Jeff Tuel or Connor Halliday, Washington State
Mike Leach is the only Pac-12 coach who hasn’t named his starter, though all signs suggest Tuel will be the guy. Tuel set a school record with a 99-yard touchdown pass in his freshman season, and he followed it up with a successful sophomore campaign before missing most of 2011 due to multiple injuries. A healthy Tuel should fit well in Leach’s pass-happy offense. And if there’s an upset in Pullman and Halliday wins the job, the Cougars are still set at quarterback. Halliday wowed in a record-setting performance against Arizona State last season, but he lacerated his liver the following week and was out the rest of the season. If what we’ve seen from Halliday is the norm, WSU will be set at quarterback for the next few seasons.
5. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
One year ago, Mannion was the Beavers’ third-string quarterback. This year, he’s the first sophomore captain in team history. Mannion took over for Ryan Katz partway through the second game of last season, and the job’s been his ever since. (Katz transferred to San Diego State.) Mannion threw for more than 3,000 yards – but he also threw more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (16). He had no support from the run, and he was sacked 27 times. With almost a full season of experience, expect Mannion to make another big leap in 2012.
6. Matt Scott, Arizona
Often, when a player loses his starting role, he languishes as a backup or transfers elsewhere in search of playing time. Scott is a rare player who gets a second chance. The fifth-year senior has a 4-1 record as a starter at Arizona; he started the first three games of 2009 but lost his job to Nick Foles. He subbed for an injured Foles in 2010 and showed he hadn’t lost his touch, and because Scott didn’t play in 2011, he was able to redshirt. This year, the job’s all his, and he’s ready to prove it was worth the wait.
7. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Chip Kelly surprised many when he announced that Mariota would start over Bryan Bennett, last year’s backup. Mariota has been impressive since spring, and fans are speculating that the kid must be really, really good to overtake Bennett. With Oregon’s obsession with an uptempo offense, Mariota might just have been faster. He can take off on a run and he’s also a quick decision maker, key traits in Kelly’s offense.
8. John Nunes, Stanford
Nunes backed up Andrew Luck back in 2010 but sat out last season with turf toe and lost his understudy role to Brett Nottingham. Now that he’s healthy and Luck’s in the NFL, Nunes is back on the field. He won the job based on his consistency in preseason and his extensive knowledge of the system. He won’t pick up anywhere near where Luck left off, but he doesn’t need to; he just has to manage the offense well.
9. Brett Hundley, UCLA
New Bruins’ coach Jim Mora made a big statement about the team’s direction when he tapped the redshirt freshman as his quarterback over Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, who both struggled as starters last season. Hundley is the most talented and athletic of the three; he can make plays with his legs and has deadly accuracy. He redshirted after tearing a meniscus last summer; if he’d been healthy in 2011, Rick Neuheisel might still be coaching in L.A.
10. Jordan Wynn, Utah
Wynn’s talent has been overshadowed by shoulder problems that kept him off the field most of last season. Both his shoulders have been surgically repaired: the right in December 2010 and the left last October. He had a great year in 2010, before the injury, and the Utes hope he’ll be back to his old form this season.Wynn did sit out several practices to rest his arm after experiencing soreness in his recently repaired shoulder, but he insists he’s as good as ever.
11. Jordan Webb, Colorado
Webb was a 19-game starter while he was at Kansas – but experience isn’t everything. Just four of those games were wins. He didn’t transfer into a great situation at Colorado, either; the team is coming off a two-win season and the top receiver, Paul Richardson, will miss at least two games with a knee injury. On a positive note, Webb should be able to rely on the running game to sustain scoring drives.
12. Taylor Kelly, ASU
I don’t think Kelly’s the least talented quarterback on this list. But when a coach announces his starter by saying, “It will be a process. We’ll see where we end up,” it doesn’t exactly elicit much confidence. Kelly, a sophomore, protected the ball well in preseason, which was an area of emphasis for the ASU coaches. He’s also better with his feet than Mike Bercovici, who might still steal the job even though he’s not a threat to run.