The Pac-12 has always fancied itself as a pass-happy quarterback driven conference and 2013 will not buck the trend. The league that has seen at least one of its signal callers name called in each NFL draft since 1995 will be missing key members of its fraternity this season as Matt Barkley of USC and Matt Scott of the University of Arizona look to make their presence felt on a professional level this upcoming NFL season.
The narrative that these two players, two of the top three in passing yards in the conference, are moving on really does the returning quarterbacks in this conference a disservice. This year’s top returning starters are some of the best in college football, and look to move on in a couple of years to top the draft selection results of 2013 where Barkley was the only one who heard his named called back in April’s NFL draft.
The following list represents a ranking of the best ten quarterbacks in the Pac-12 based off of their previous body of work in years past, potential, and the quality of the other ten players surrounding them on their respective team’s offense (stats based off the 2012 season).
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon, So.
2,677 Passing Yards, 32 TDs, 6 INTs, 68.5 Comp. %, 163.2 QB Rating
What a difference a year makes. At this time last year we were wondering if Mariota could just do enough at the position and get out of the way of a great stable of playmakers on the Ducks offense. Along the way we witness Mariota become the player on offense earning Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. Mariota has everything you look for in the build of today’s college quarterback. He’s big, fast, and accurate with his passes. He accounted for 38 total touchdowns, with 32 through the air putting him on top of the list of returning players at the position. He was the highest rated passer, the second most accurate, and did the second best job of any quarterback in the league throwing an interception at a rate of every 56 passes.
While some have suggested he may struggle this year without having Chip Kelly on the sidelines he doesn’t face a formidable conference opponent until heading to Washington in the middle of October. Look for 2013 Fiesta Bowl MVP to pad those Heisman friendly stats early on until the game against the Huskies.
2. Brett Hundley, UCLA, So.
3,745 Passing Yards, 29 TDs, 11 INTs, 66.6 Comp. %, 147.7 QB Rating
Noel Mazzone’s 5-star recruit out of the Devils back yard had a breakout season in 2012 accounting for 38 total touchdowns, and it started on his first play of scrimmage as the Bruins starting quarterback scoring on a 72-yard touchdown run to open the 2012 campaign and finished it just a play short of winning the conference title while setting the single-season school record for passing yards.
The Chandler High product has gained thirty pounds since he left the state of Arizona to play for the Bruins, and has only gotten faster. But the third-year sophomore will have to do without one of the most productive backs in Bruins history in Johnathan Franklin, who was a do-it-all player for Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone.
He is a bit of a riverboat gambler throwing an interception every 43 passes and has to work on getting rid of the football sooner as he was sacked 52 times, the most of any one player in the Pac-12.
3. Tayler Kelly, ASU, Jr.
3,039 Passing Yards, 29 TDs, 9 INTs, 67.1 Comp. %, 159.9 QB Rating
From rags to riches as the quarterback seen as third best as the team broke Spring Camp to being named the starter when the team left Camp T. Through the course of the season Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell managed to guide Kelly to put up the best yards per passing attempt in the conference, and the third best passer rating of any player in the nation while playing at Sun Devil Stadium.
He is quietly efficient in his direction of the offense, with lethal precision on short passes, and never afraid to tuck the ball to avoid a bad throw down field. He accounted for 30 total touchdowns and returns in 2013 with the third best passing efficiency among returning Pac-12 quarterbacks. He also managed to help his team out on numerous occasions on quick kicks, pinning opposing offenses deep in their own territory. How many players on this list share this trait?
If there is a shortcoming to his game it is his arm strength and deep ball accuracy, but the chemistry shown on key passing downs with his tight end Chris Coyle helps to keep the offense in manageable situations. Whether Kelly extends that chemistry to a new fleet of wide receivers looks to be the key to Sun Devil success or failure this year.
4. Kevin Hogan, Stanford, So.
1096 Passing Yards, 9 TDs, 3 INTs, 71.7 Comp. %, 147.9 QB Rating
The Cardinal were a defense first team in 2013 AL (After Luck). The direction of the team was made very clear by Head Coach David Shaw, play good defense, run the football, and exploit defenses with their athletic tight ends. But when Josh Nunes began to falter the whispers that Hogan would take over became screams for salvation. Once Shaw handed Hogan the keys to the tractor trailer the Cardinal seemed to gain momentum behind the signal callers ability to make the right play at the right time with either arm or leg. Stanford went on to 6-0 with Hogan under the helm along the way beating three straight ranked opponents.
In the end Hogan became the toast of the town leading the Cardinal to its first Rose Bowl since the millineum with a win over Wisconsin. But for the success to continue, Stanford must find a replacement for Stepfan Taylor as Hogan returns the team’s leading rusher.
5. Sean Mannion, Oregon State, Jr.
2,446 Passing Yards, 15 TDs, 13 INTs, 64.7 Comp. %, 138.8 QB Rating
Mannion finds himself on this list because he is the only pure drop-back passer of the bunch, possessing one of the best deep arms with accuracy in the conference, and he isn’t afraid to show it. Sometimes however he is a bit too modest as 2012 afforded him with deep threats that potentially stunted his growth at times as a college quarterback as we witnessed him throw deep and into coverage in times when it was less than warranted. The risk taking, combined with a knee injury found himself in head coach Mike Riley’s dog house and gave backup Cody Vaz an opportunity for success.
The fact that Mannion was the first ever Beavers sophomore to be voted a team captain says something about both his leadership ability and respect garnered by his teammates for the freshman season he put in during the 2011 campaign where he played behind a subpar offensive line with less than ample talent around him.
Heading into 2013 he finds himself in a competition to prove himself all over again against Vaz as Riley has yet to decide who the starter will be come September. But he has the luxury of playing under one of the most tenured coordinators in the Pac-12, Offensive Coordinator Danny Langsdorf who has run the Beavers offense since 2005.