There is a reason that the Pac-12 is known as the “conference of quarterbacks,” and the talent present in the conference this year are a testament to that title. The conference lost only two starting quarterbacks in Keith Price and B.J Denker to the NFL and most teams return their starters. This will only add to the intense competition expected in the Pac-12 and lead to a very entertaining 2014 football season.
The Pac-12’s returning QBs —
Connor Halliday — Washington State — Senior
The Cougars’ 2013 season started off in a disappointing fashion after a loss to Auburn, but the Cougars bounced back to win three straight games, thanks in part to QB Connor Halliday. The 6-4, 190-lb. junior completed 62.9% of his passes (449 of 714) with 34 touchdowns, averaging 6.44 yards per pass attempt. His adjusted QBR was 133.9. Washington State ended the season at 6-7, which was an improvement from the 3-9 season of the previous year, yet disappointing in its own right.
Halliday is a good quarterback — but with accuracy issues, which is highlighted by the 22 interceptions that he threw. WSU lost four of their most experienced offensive linemen in Elliott Bosch, Josh Fullington, Matt Goetz and Rico Forbes to graduation and now have a collection of freshmen and sophomores with little or no experience left to fill the gaps. The Cougars will need their young OL to step up and give Halliday more time to make his throws.
In a fun fact, Connor Halliday set an FBS record for most pass attempts in a game, with 89 — when the Cougars played Oregon. This video shows every completion he had during that game.
Kevin Hogan — Stanford — Junior
The Stanford Cardinal have been a thorn in the Oregon Ducks’ side for the past two years and QB Kevin Hogan has been one of the men leading the charge. The 6-4, 220-lb. senior led the team to an 11-3 season, completing 180-of-295 for 2630 yards and 20 touchdowns. He threw 10 interceptions and had a adjusted QBR rating of 151.5, putting him in the top 20 in the nation.
Stanford is a likely pre-season top 25 team and will most likely battle Oregon for the right to go to the Pac-12 championship game from the North Division. Hogan loses RB Tyler Gaffney to the NFL, but there is plenty of talent that is able to step up and help Hogan achieve great things this coming season.
Brett Hundley — UCLA — Junior
When Brett Hundley decided to return to UCLA for his redshirt junior year, he surprised some analysts and made the entire Bruins fan base very happy. Hundley, who completed 248-of-369 for 3071 yards and 24 touchdowns last season, led the Bruins to a 10-3 season, with a win in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech. He had a 67.2% completion rate, throwing only 9 interceptions and ended the season with a adjusted QBR of 153.7, which landed him in the seventh position in Division I football.
The Bruins are projected by many to be in the pre-season top 10 and are considered to be national title contenders. Though they lose some talent to the NFL on both sides of the ball, they have a great set of receivers that is expected to step up and provide Hundley with the targets and blocks that he needs to succeed.
Hundley’s biggest improvement will need to come in his decision making skills. In the three games that the Bruins lost — against Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State — there were plays that could have turned the tide but were lost because Hundley couldn’t make a decision quick enough. If he can learn to make a decision quickly and act on it immediately and with confidence, he has potential to be even better than he already is.
Sean Mannion — Oregon State — Senior
For the first half of the season, Sean Mannion was giving that other quarterback from the state of Oregon tough competition in impressive stats and Heisman buzz. The 6-5, 220-pounder, who fought a tough battle for the starting position in 2013, completed 400-of-603 pass attempts and had 4665 passing yards, completing 66.3% of his passes.
He threw for 37 touchdowns and had 15 interceptions, though most of his interceptions came near the end of the season. Mannion had a adjusted QBR of 146.5, which ranked him in the top 30 in Division I football.
There are places that Mannion needs to improve but even if there weren’t, you can always get better. Mannion has great instincts which helped him have only three interceptions in the first half the season and needs his offensive line to step up and help him make plays better. The Beavers started off the season with a embarrassing loss to FCS Eastern Washington but came back to win six straight games before losing the final five of the regular season. They beat Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl to end the season on a positive note.
Mannion is widely considered one of the best quarterbacks in the country heading into the 2014 season. The Beavers need to replace one of the best receivers in the country, in Brandin Cooks, and also need to replace top defensive end, Scott Crichton. If the Beavers can fill the holes left by these two and Mannion is as good as he was last year, they will be a threat in the Pac-12 North.
Marcus Mariota — Oregon — Junior
This last quarterback on the list needs no introduction. Marcus Mariota is arguably the best quarterback in the country, and the expectations for what he will do in likely his last year at Oregon, are extremely high. He was one of the Heisman front runners for most of last season before a knee injury late, impacted his performance and as well as his Heisman chances.
The 6-4, 211-lb Mariota, who is known around the country for his calm and collected demeanor — seemingly at all times — completed 245-of-386 for 3664 yards and 31 touchdowns. He threw 4 interceptions the entire year and those occurred in the last two games of the regular season.
Mariota carries a QBR of 167.7 and likely to retain that honor in 2014. Mariota was also Oregon’s second leading rusher and had 96 carries for 715 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Oregon will be in the top 5 of the pre-season top 25 and is considered to be a national title contender. The Ducks lose talent on both sides of the ball but have a slew of receivers — inexperienced, yet talented, players returning. If Mariota can stay healthy and the Ducks can fill the voids, nothing can stop Oregon from getting to the inaugural College Football Playoff.
All the talented quarterbacks in this conference make it impossible to choose just a few. I’m sure there are some backups on teams right now that will step up when they need to and make a name for themselves.
Top photo by Andrew Shurtleff