Oct 26, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Travis Wilson (7) tries to run past USC Trojans linebacker Kyle Yatabe (59) and USC Trojans defensive tackle Antwaun Woods (99) during second quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Trojans won 19-3. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Arm Race: PAC 12 Quarterbacks Ready to Dominate

Amongst the high rate of attrition of established FBS signal-callers heading into this season, one conference stands head and shoulders above them all – the PAC 12. With only Washington’s Keith Price and Arizona’s one-hit wonder BJ Denker gone, the 10 remaining starters (counting Travis Wilson and Sefo Liufau as the starters) return 34105 passing yards and 240 TDs, almost 3000 yards and 20 TDs per starter. While Wilson is still a potential health-scratch, and there some camp battles to be taken care of, the conference is looking very healthy at its most important position. Here’s a quick rundown of each starter, plus the potential replacements for the departures.

 

* Projected Starters

 

Connor Brewer*, Arizona

Going on a bit of a limb here, but the Texas-transfer was a top recruit back in 2012, but got lost in the confusion that is the Texas quarterback situation. He chose to return home to (the state of) Arizona, and is ready to play after his obligatory redshirt. He doesn’t have the running skills associated with a Rich Rodriguez offense, although he’s far from immobile, but his passing skills could really open up the offense if the coaching staff are willing to move in a slightly different direction.

 

Taylor Kelly, Arizona State

Dec 30, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly (10) hands the ball off to running back Deantre Lewis (25) in the second half at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 30, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly (10) hands the ball off to running back Deantre Lewis (25) in the second half at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

A seemingly under-appreciated, or at least under-the-radar, run-pass option, Kelly does what it takes to help his team win, and led one of the nation’s top offenses in 2013. After winning 8 games in 2012, the Sun Devils tore up the PAC 12, losing only to Stanford (twice) and making the conference title game as the South representatives. That was as good as it got, as the Sun Devils lost their last 2 games (Stanford and Texas Tech) to take some of the shine off their season. Expect Kelly to have ASU in the mix again this year.

 

2013 Stats: Passing 484-302-3635-28-12, Rushing 173-608-9.

 

Jared Goff, California

What do you do if you’re coming off one of the worst seasons for you program in over a decade, one that cost your head coach his job? If you’re new head coach Sonny Dykes, you throw a true freshman quarterback to the wolves. It paid off, in a Pyrrhic victory kind of fashion, as Jared Goff overcame his inexperience and a turnstile offensive line to have a strong first season, even if Cal only won 1 game. Goff passed for over 300 yards 5 times, and 2 of those games were over 450 and in another he racked up 504 yards. Think he was fazed by playing with the big boys? This kid will only got better.

 

2013 Stats: Passing 531-320-3508-18-10.

 

Sefo Liufau, Colorado

Nov 30, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Sefo Liufau (13) drops back to pass during the second half against the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Who? Former Texas-transfer Connor Wood started the season originally, but was pulled midseason against Arizona State in favor of Liufau, CU’s top recruit last year. The freshman didn’t do anything crazy like leading the Buffaloes on a bowl run, and in fact won only 1 of the 8 games he played in, but he performed well on a struggling team against the toughest part of their schedule. How well? How about 58.4% complete with nearly 1800 yards and 12 TDs. The needle is definitely pointed in the right direction for this guy.

 

2013 Stats: Passing 251-149-1779-12-8.

 

Marcus Mariota, Oregon

No introductions needed here – Mariota hit the ground running as a redshirt freshman in 2012, and just gets better. Last season, he kept the Ducks in the title chase, and himself in Heisman consideration, for much of the season, before a couple of tough losses to Stanford and Arizona put paid to that. Mariota also played part of the season with a knee injury that hindered his mobility, as was particularly evident against Stanford. Oregon are loaded again this year, and will be in the thick of the title chase again, and you can pencil Mariota in for a preseason top 5 Heisman ranking too.

 

2013 Stats: Passing 386-245-3665-31-4, Rushing 96-715-9.

 

Sean Mannion, Oregon State

Mannion was mostly outplayed by Cody Vaz in 2012, so it was some surprise that Mannion came out of fall camp as the starter. That wasn’t the biggest surprise – Mannion played like the quarterback Mike Riley expected him to be, passing for 30 TDs and just 3 interceptions over the first 8 games. Then when the going got tough, the old Mannion got going, throwing just 7 TDs against 12 interceptions over the final 5 games. No doubt his stellar effort in the first part of the season will earn him the starting gig again, but as a senior, Mannion will finally need to cut down on the mistakes that have plagued his career so far.

 

2013 Stats: Passing 602-400-4662-37-15.

 

Cody Kessler, Southern California

Dec 21, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler (6) throws a pass against Fresno State Bulldogs in the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. USC defeated Fresno State 45-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The long wait is finally over for Kessler. After redshirting his first year, and sitting on the bench for Matt Barkley’s final season, Kessler got his chance when he beat out Max Wittek in training camp. His season didn’t start exactly as planned though, as he struggled in the early going, even losing his spot to Wittek temporarily. Then head coach Lane Kiffin was fired, and interim coach Ed Orgeron let Kessler spread his wings a little. The results were impressive as Kessler showed great accuracy down the stretch, and was a key factor in the shock win over Stanford. He finished his season with an impressive 344 yards and 4 TDs in the bowl win over Fresno State. With a new head coach again this season, let’s see how far Kessler can go with a quarterback guru like Steve Sarkisian guiding him.

 

2013 Stats: Passing 361-236-2967-20-7.

 

Kevin Hogan, Stanford

Many believed head coach David Shaw had blown a gasket late in 2012 when he pulled starter Josh Nunes in favor of true freshman Hogan with the PAC 12 title still on the line. Hogan proved it to be a stroke of genius, as he did enough to lead the Cardinal to 5 straight wins over ranked teams, including then-number 1 Oregon, including winning the league title and the Rose Bowl. Hogan provided more of the same this season, although he didn’t appear to progress as expected. As a result, Stanford didn’t dominate as many felt they would, losing to Utah and USC, both of whom they should have beaten, and then lost the Rose Bowl to Michigan State. Most teams would give their collective left arm to finish 11-3, but Stanford have national title aspirations, and Hogan needs to take a step forward as a passer to help achieve that aim.

 

2013 Stats: Passing 295-180-2630-20-10, Rushing 84-355-2.

 

Brett Hundley, UCLA

The Bruins had 21 wins in the 4 seasons prior to Jim Mora’s arrival as head coach – they’ve had 19 over the last 2. A lot of that credit has to go to Mora, but a lot has to go to Hundley too, as he has been impressive since taking over a redshirt freshman, throwing for 6811 yards and 53 TDs in just 2 years. He’s not just a threat through the air either; Hundley can make plays with his feet too (1103 yards, 20 TDs), often making a defense pay when they focus too much on the pass. Even with some key defensive losses, expect Hundley to have UCLA in the thick of the division race again next season.

 

2013 Stats: Passing 371-248-3071-24-9, Rushing 160-748-11.

 

Travis Wilson*, Utah

The Utes were rolling last year behind Wilson, sitting at 4-2 with a surprising win over Stanford. Then Wilson took a shot to the head against Arizona, and the season was all downhill from there. Wilson sat out the rest of the game (a loss), but came back for the next 2, although it quickly became evident he wasn’t the same quarterback. He was then diagnosed with a potential career-threatening condition, and sat out the rest of the season. He has since been cleared, and we hope he can play safely again, but he will have to contend with Oklahoma-transfer Kendal Thompson, who will be ready to contend for the job should he complete his degree this summer.

 

2013 Stats: Passing 237-133-1827-16-16, Rushing 81-386-5.

 

Kyle Carta-Samuels*, Washington

One thing is for certain – there will be a quarterback battle in training camp this season for the first time in 3 years. Price has been good here, and last year’s 9-4 season has raised expectations among the fanbase. Whoever takes over will have to bear these. Cyler Miles likely would have been the starter, but he was suspended indefinitely in early February, so the smart money could be on Carta-Samuels, new coach Chris Pedersen’s own recruit. KCS certainly has the talent to run the Washington offense, if not the experience, but the offense will be new to all the other contenders too. If Miles comes back, he’ll probably start; if not, it’s open season.

 

Connor Halliday, Washington State

With Jeff Tuel gone for good, Halliday’s day in the sun as a full-time starter had finally arrived, and he played pretty well, leading the Cougars to a bowl game for the first time in a decade. Despite the team being built from the ground up, Halliday carried the offense on his back, throwing an arm-numbing 714 passes. The minimum number of passes he threw in a game was 38, the most was a ridiculous 89. He threw for 53 or more passes in 10 games! With the team improving its talent, and an offseason to ice his arm, Halliday should be even better in 2014. The PAC 12 may want to watch their collective back.

 

2013 Stats: Passing 714-449-4597-34-22.

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Tags: Arizona State Sun Devils Arizona Wildcats Brett Hundley California Golden Bears Cody Kessler Colorado Buffaloes Connor Brewer Connor Halliday Jared Goff Kevin Hogan Kyle Carta-Samuels Marcus Mariota Oregon Ducks Oregon State Beavers Sean Mannion Sefo Liufau Southern California Trojans Stanford Cardinal Taylor Kelly Travis Wilson UCLA Bruins Utah Utes Washington Huskies Washington State Cougars