2012 Quarterback Rankings: Pac-12

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The Pac-12 should have the best signal callers in the nation in 2012.

<p> The Pac-12 should have the best signal callers in the nation in 2012.</p>

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

There is no doubt this is the Era of the Quarterback.

Houston’s Case Keenum (152) and Boise State’s Kellen Moore (142) both broke Graham Harrell’s all-time NCAA record of 134 touchdown passes this season. Keenum also became the NCAA’s all-time record holder for total offense (19,572) and passing yards (18,685). Moore, meanwhile, is the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with a 50-3 record as a starter. And because Keenum still has one game left to go, he could conceivably reach 20,000 yards of total offense (think about that).

Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson both need efficient showings in bowl games to break Colt Brennan’s NCAA single-season passer efficiency record of 186.0. And Wilson broke Harrell’s record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 37.

In the unbalanced college game, there are many different ways to evaluate quarterback play. Gifted runners, crazy schemes, talent differentials, level of competition and raw NFL talent all become a part of the equation. The bottom line is the quarterback is the single most important position on the field, and having a great one under center can take a mediocre football team and elevate it to title contender (just ask Wisconsin).

So who will boast the best signal callers in college football next fall? Athlon Sports takes a very early stab at ranking quarterback play in 2012 by conference:

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

1. Pac-12

There is a serious debate, even within the Athlon Sports walls, about which conference will boast better quarterbacks in 2012, the ACC or the Pac-12. The votes were split one of two directions. While the ACC might have the best depth of any league — and potentially the most NFL talent returning — no league in the nation can match the top three of the Pac-12.

Assuming that Robert Griffin III is going to the NFL, USC’s Matt Barkley is likely the top returning quarterback in the nation. He set a USC single-season record with 39 scoring strikes in 2011. Like fellow Pac-12 passer Andrew Luck before him, Barkley will likely have to deal with a year-round Heisman Trophy campaign as he returns as the favorite to win the famed stiff-arm award.

Packaged with Barkley atop the conference is Oregon’s Darron Thomas, who enters his third season as the starter, and Washington’s Keith Price, who made his first season under center a very successful one. In the threesome, the Pac-12 boasts a trio of passers who combined for 98 touchdown passes and only 24 interceptions. The ACC’s top three is second in the nation with 82 TDs.

Arizona State returns a 4,000-yard passer in senior-to-be Brock Osweiler and has new passing game guru Todd Graham running the ship. Oregon State brings back sophomore Sean Mannion after a quality freshman campaign. Cal will have another year of Zach Maynard at the helm — for better or worse. And UCLA's Kevin Prince looked the part at the end of 2011, but with a new regime in Westwood, anything is possible.

Utah's Jon Hays needs to show serious improvement, while Colorado and Stanford are replacing experienced starters with highly touted youngsters.

The real wildcard for quarterback play in the Pac-12, and ultimately the deciding factor in ranking the West Coast league No. 1, is the addition of Rich Rodriguez (Arizona) and Mike Leach (Washington State) to the coaching ranks. Whether it's Connor Halliday or Jeff Tuel in Pullman, Wazzu will post big numbers through the air. And in the desert, whoever is under center will roll up big-time dual-threat statistics. Matt Scott looks to be the front-runner at this very early stage. Best of luck, Pac-12 defensive coordinators.

The Known Commodities:

1. Matt Barkley, USC (SR)
Passing Stats: 3,528 yards, 39 TD, 7 INT, 69.1%
Rushing Stats: 28 att., 14 yards, 2 TD

2. Darron Thomas, Oregon (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,493 yards, 30 TD, 6 INT, 61.2%
Rushing Stats: 50 att., 205 yards, 3 TD

3. Keith Price, Washington (JR)
Passing Stats: 2,625 yards, 29 TD, 11 INT, 67.4%
Rushing Stats: 51 att., minus-29 yards, 0 TD

4. Brock Osweiler, Arizona State (SR)
Passing Stats: 4,036 yards, 26 TD, 13 INT, 63.2%
Rushing Stats: 83 att., 90 yards, 3 TD

5. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (SO)
Passing Stats: 3,328 yards, 16 TD, 18 INT, 64.5%
Rushing Stats: 32 att., minus-190 yards, TD

6. Zach Maynard, Cal (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,802 yards, 17 TD, 11 INT, 57.0%
Rushing Stats: 76 att., 147 yards, 4 TD

7. Kevin Prince, UCLA (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,627 yards, 10 TD, 7 INT, 57.4% (10)
Rushing Stats: 110 att., 455 yards, TD

8. Jordan Wynn, Utah (SR)
Passing Stats: 727 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT, 56.9% 
Rushing Stats: 9 att., minus-54 yards, 0 TD

The Unknowns:

Jeff Tuel/Connor Halliday, Washington State
Matt Scott, Arizona
Brett Nottingham, Stanford
Nick Hirschman, Colorado

2012 Quarterback Rankings:

1. Pac-12: Barkley, Thomas and Price Lead the Way
2. ACC: The Deepest QB Conference in Football
3. Big 12: Big Decisions Looming For RG3, Jones
4. SEC: Best League Adds Mizzou's Franklin, Texas A&M
5. Big Ten: The Nation's Most Athletic Quarterbacks
6. Big East: Uncertainty Reigns Supreme Again

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