The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the quarterbacks in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel.
Here's how Athlon ranks the 12 quarterbacks in the Pac-12 for 2012:
1. Matt Barkley, USC (SR)
Passing Stats: 3,528 yards, 39 TDs, 7 INTs, 69.1%
Rushing Stats: 28 att., 14 yards, 2 TDs
It was a bit of a surprise when Barkley announced his intentions to return to USC for his senior year, but coach Lane Kiffin certainly isn’t complaining. With Barkley back on campus for one more season, the Trojans will be one of the top contenders for the 2012 national title and will be a heavy favorite to win the Pac-12. Barkley posted the best statistical season of his career last year, throwing for 3,528 yards and 39 scores, while tossing only seven picks. He will also have the benefit of throwing to the nation’s top receiving corps and playing behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Barkley should be a unanimous preseason first-team All-American quarterback for 2012 and will likely be one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy.
2. Keith Price, Washington (JR)
Passing Stats: 3,063 yards, 33 TD, 11 INT, 66.9%
Rushing Stats: 56 att., 10 yards, 3 TD
Through his first six starts of his first season under center, all Price did was throw at least three touchdowns in every game. Washington was 5-1 and poised to challenge the North Division powers for a Pac-12 title. Once the schedule got tougher, the sophomore went through some growing pains against 10-win teams Stanford, Oregon and USC. However, Price vastly out-produced the legend he replaced when Jake Locker graduated. Locker never had a winning season in Seattle, never topped 3,000 yards passing and never came close to completing 66% of his passes. And Price’s 33 touchdowns were 12 more than Locker’s single-season high of 21. Chris Polk and Jermaine Kearse depart the offense, but there is loads of talent left on the roster in both the backfield (Jesse Callier) and on the outside (Austin Seferian-Jenkin, Kasen Williams). With Stanford stepping back and Oregon filling massive voids on offense, this is the year Price could elevate the Huskies to its highest level since 2000.
3. Jeff Tuel, Washington State (SR)
Passing Stats: 276 yards, TD, 0 INT, 64.4%
Rushing Stats: 17 att., -9 yards, TD
No player in the nation may be more excited about his coaching change than Tuel. With Mike Leach’s system coming to Pullman, Tuel is in for his best statistical season — and it shouldn’t even be close. Back in 2010, Tuel threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns before missing most of 2011 with multiple injuries. Tuel managed to play only three games last fall and will face competition from sophomore Connor Halliday. But with star wideout and Biletnikoff candidate Marquess Wilson on the receiving end of most of his passes, Tuel should flourish in Leach’s pass-happy spread system. It could result in the Cougars first bowl appearance since 2003.
4. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (SO)
Passing Stats: 3,328 yards, 16 TD, 18 INT, 64.5%
Rushing Stats: 32 att., -190 yards, 1 TD
As only a freshman, Mannion finished fifth in the QB-heavy Pac-12 in total offense at 261.5 yards per game. There is still much to learn for Mannion, as his 18 interceptions and -190 yards rushing indicate, but he showed flashes of all-conference potential. In the Beavers’ three conference wins, Mannion was proved he belonged with the league’s best. He threw for 267 yards and two scores against Nick Foles and Arizona. He threw for a career high 376 yards and four touchdowns against Jeff Tuel and the Cougars. And he completed 26-of-37 passes for 339 yards and a pair of scores in the upset win over Washington. If he can learn to protect the football and not take sacks (Oregon State was 81st nationally in sacks allowed), Mannion could find himself pushing for All-Pac-12 honors by season’s end.
5. Bryan Bennett, Oregon (SO)
Passing Stats: 369 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT, 54.3%
Rushing Stats: 23 att., 200 yards, 0 TD
Darron Thomas’ early defection to the NFL might have surprised people across the country, but likely didn’t shock many diehard Ducks fans. Bryan Bennett was pushing for playing time as a freshman last year, and, in limited duty, showed why Ducks’ writers are so bullish on Bennett’s 2012 potential. Certainly, Marcus Mariota is pushing for playing time, but all signs point to Bennett getting the keys to one of the nation’s most prolific offensive attacks. He averaged nearly 10 yards per carry and posted a tidy 6:0 TD:INT ratio in garbage time and one start last year. But starting for a team that’s hoisted three straight Pac-12 championship trophies — and featured a departed QB who scored 71 total touchdowns the last two seasons — is much tougher than mop-up duty. If Bennett can handle the bright lights and pressure of being the starter, Chip Kelly should see little drop off at the quarterback position in 2012.
6. Zach Maynard, Cal (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,990 yards, 17 TD, 12 INT, 57.0%
Rushing Stats: 84 att., 108 yards, 4 TD
Much of the Golden Bears’ success will hinge on how Maynard plays this fall. Will Jeff Tedford get the inefficient risk-taker from the first eight games of last year or the careful signal caller who played within the offense in the final five? Through the first eight games last fall, Maynard threw 10 interceptions against only 12 touchdowns. He took better care of the football over the final five games, throwing only two interceptions to go with five touchdowns. And Cal went 3-1 to finish the regular season because of it. The rapport Maynard has with superstar wideout, and half-brother, Keenan Allen is obvious and the connection should be one of the nation's best combos. But Jeff Tedford needs his quarterback to play poised, calm football if he expects to compete for a bowl game — and keep his job.
7. Brett Nottingham, Stanford (JR)
Passing Stats: 78 yards, TD, 0 INT, 67.5%
Rushing Stats: 1 att., 10 yards, 0 TD
Over the last two years, Andrew Luck has attempted 783 passes en route to 23 wins. The rest of the Stanford roster attempted a total of 20 passes over that span. Nottingham got eight of those last season. Needless to say, very little is known about the Stanford quarterback situation now that Luck has moved on to the Colts, er, the NFL. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Alama, Calif., native was an elite recruit coming out of Monte Visa High School where he threw for 7,467 yards and 91 touchdowns. David Shaw has been alternating reps with the starters between the Sheriff and senior Josh Nunes — who saw action in two games without attempting a pass last fall, so Nottingham will have to win the job this summer.
8. Kevin Prince, UCLA (SR)
Passing Stats: 1,828 yards, 12 TDs, 8 INTs, 56.2%
Rushing Stats: 120 att., 424 yards, 1 TD
Injuries have prevented Prince from playing a full season during his career at UCLA and he will have to hold off Richard Brehaut and redshirt freshman Brett Hundley to start the 2012 season opener. Prince has shown flashes of promise, but if he can’t stay healthy, it’s going to be hard for the Bruins to make any improvement from last season’s win total. In three seasons with UCLA, he has thrown for 4,262 yards and 23 touchdowns, while rushing for 713 yards and five scores. Prince has led UCLA to some key wins, including a 34-12 upset over Texas in 2010 and a 19-15 victory over Tennessee as a freshman. As long as Prince can stay healthy, UCLA’s offense has a chance to improve off last season’s numbers.
9. Jordan Wynn, Utah (JR)
Passing Stats: 727 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs, 56.9%
Rushing Stats: 9 att., -54 yards
Wynn is one of the most difficult quarterbacks to rank going into the 2012 season. As a freshman in 2009, he threw for 1,329 yards and eight touchdowns, while leading the Utes to a bowl victory over California. Wynn followed that up with a solid sophomore campaign in 2010, throwing for 2,334 yards and 17 scores, but suffered a shoulder injury at the end of the season. He returned in time for the 2011 season opener, but suffered another shoulder injury against Washington and was forced to miss the rest of the year. All signs point to Wynn returning at full strength in 2012, but there will certainly be some rust after missing nine games last year. New coordinator Brian Johnson may allow Wynn to throw more in 2012, which isn’t a bad idea considering the Utes return a solid group of receivers. If the junior stays healthy, don’t be surprised if Wynn ranks higher on this list at the end of the year.
10. Matt Scott, Arizona (SR)
Passing Stats: Redshirted in 2011
Rushing Stats: Redshirted in 2011
With Nick Foles firmly entrenched as Arizona’s starter last season, Scott decided to redshirt and preserve a year of eligibility for 2012. With Rich Rodriguez taking over at Arizona, Scott should flourish in his senior year in the spread offense. Scott has five career starts and has thrown for 1,301 yards and six touchdowns. He has also added 632 yards and two scores on the ground during his three years in Tucson. As long as Scott quickly picks up Rodriguez’s offense, Arizona will have no trouble scoring points in 2012. Scott is arguably the biggest wildcard in the Pac-12 quarterback rankings, with the potential to climb into the top five by the end of the season. However, since this is his first season as the full-time starter, it’s hard to rank him any higher on this list.
11. Mike Bercovici, Arizona State (SO)
Passing Stats: 15 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 66.7%
Rushing Stats: No rushing stats
It’s a wide-open battle in Tempe to replace Brock Osweiler this spring. Bercovici is competing with redshirt freshman Michael Eubank and sophomore Taylor Kelly for the starting job. Eubank is a physically impressive quarterback, checking in at 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds. Kelly has the most experience of the three quarterbacks, throwing for 31 yards on four attempts last year. Bercovici completed two passes for 15 yards last season and did not tally a rushing attempt. It’s a tossup who coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell will pick as the No. 1 quarterback, but most believe it will come down to Bercovici or Eubank. No matter who starts under center, Arizona State will have a hard time equaling Osweiler’s production from last year.
12. Connor Wood, Colorado (SO)
Passing Stats: Sat out as a transfer
Rushing Stats: Sat out as a transfer
With Nick Hirschman sitting out spring practice with a foot injury, all signs point to Wood opening the year as Colorado’s No. 1 quarterback. Although the Buffaloes won only three games last year, quarterback Tyler Hansen quietly had a productive season, throwing for 2,883 yards and 20 scores. Replacing Hansen won’t be easy, but Wood committed to Texas as a four-star prospect and ranked as one of the top 150 high school seniors according to one recruiting service. If the sophomore lives up to the hype, the concerns about losing Hansen and running back Rodney Stewart will be eased. However, Wood’s job didn’t get any easier after receiver Paul Richardson was lost for the year with a torn ACL. Without Richardson, the Buffaloes have one of the worst receiving corps in the Pac-12, which will be difficult for Wood to overcome, especially as he takes the first snaps of his collegiate career in 2012.
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