Ranking the Pac-12's signal-callers for 2019
High-scoring offenses and standout quarterback play are usually an annual staple for the Pac-12. That’s again the case in 2019, as the conference returns an All-America candidate in Oregon’s Justin Herbert, followed by Stanford’s K.J. Costello and two dual-threat quarterbacks in Utah’s Tyler Huntley and Arizona’s Khalil Tate. The development of USC’s JT Daniels, UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Washington’s Jacob Eason will only add to the depth of this conference.
Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2019. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, having a clear hold on the No. 1 position, previous production, 2019 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the Pac-12 for 2019.
Ranking the Pac-12's Quarterbacks for 2019
12. Jake Luton, Oregon State
Oregon State’s offense showed slight improvement in coach Jonathan Smith’s first year at the helm in Corvallis. The Beavers increased their scoring average from 20.7 in 2017 to 26.1 last fall. Injuries forced Smith to start three quarterbacks in 2018, with Luton pacing the offense with 1,660 yards and 10 touchdowns to four picks. As evidenced by back-to-back 300-yard efforts versus Colorado and USC last season, Luton has the talent to help Oregon State’s offense improve in 2019. He will be pushed in the fall by Nebraska transfer Tristan Gebbia.
11. Chase Garbers, California
California has made considerable progress over the last two years under coach Justin Wilcox. However, in order for the Golden Bears to make a move in the Pac-12 North, improving an offense that averaged only 20.3 points in conference play is a must. Former UCLA quarterback Devon Modster arrived this offseason to push for time, but Garbers finished spring atop the depth chart. The California native took a redshirt in his year on campus (2017) and started 10 games last season. Over 12 appearances last fall, Garbers threw for 1,506 yards and 14 touchdowns to 10 picks and added 420 yards and two scores on the ground.
10. Dillon Sterling-Cole, Arizona State
The steady play and leadership of Manny Wilkins won’t be easy for coach Herm Edwards to replace in 2019. However, Edwards and his staff reeled in three touted quarterback recruits to add competition this offseason. Sterling-Cole left spring with an edge over freshman Jayden Daniels for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. The Texas native has played in 13 games in his career with the Sun Devils, connecting on 28 of 57 attempts for 388 yards and a touchdown to four picks. Sterling-Cole ranked as a four-star recruit out of high school and already has one start under his belt (2016 versus Oregon).
9. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA
UCLA’s offense showed signs of life at the end of the 2018 season, scoring at least 30 points in four out of the final seven contests. With coach Chip Kelly having another offseason to develop this group, look for the Bruins to take another step forward in 2019. Thompson-Robinson is another reason for optimism for Kelly. The Nevada native ranked as a four-star prospect in the 2018 signing class and played in 10 games last fall. As expected with any true freshman, Thompson-Robinson had his share of ups and downs. He completed 57.7 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and four interceptions and rushed for 68 yards on 50 carries. However, he delivered arguably his best performance of the year against Washington’s standout defense, accounting for 286 total yards and two scores. A breakout season could be in order for the sophomore.
8. Gage Gubrud, Washington State
Gardner Minshew will be missed, but it’s safe to assume coach Mike Leach will find another standout signal-caller to pilot his high-powered offense. The battle to replace Minshew will continue into the fall with three candidates vying for the starting job. Anthony Gordon and Trey Tinsley received limited playing time as backups to Minshew last season, but Gubrud – a transfer from Eastern Washington – could be the favorite. The Oregon native started 28 games with the Eagles, including 13 in a record-setting 2016 campaign. Over 14 appearances that year, Gubrud threw for 5,160 yards and 48 touchdowns to 14 picks and added 606 yards and five scores on the ground. Gubrud only played in five games due to injury in 2018 and missed time due to an ankle ailment in the spring. However, he’s on track to be at full strength by the fall.
7. Steven Montez, Colorado
Montez returning for his senior year was a big boost for new coach Mel Tucker. After an impressive stint as a part-time starter and backup to Sefo Liufau in 2016, Montez threw for 2,975 yards and 18 touchdowns in ’17 during his first full year as the No. 1 quarterback. The Texas native continued his development with a solid junior campaign last fall. Montez started all 12 games for the Buffaloes, throwing for 2,849 yards and 19 touchdowns to nine picks. He’s also added 576 yards and seven scores on the ground over the last two years. Montez should finish his career in Boulder on a high note, especially with All-America receiver Laviska Shenault back in 2019.
6. JT Daniels, USC
In order for USC to rebound from a disappointing 5-7 season, more is needed out of an offense that averaged only 26.1 points a game in 2018. Coach Clay Helton took some steps to address this unit by hiring Graham Harrell as the team’s new play-caller after Kliff Kingsbury left for the NFL. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for Harrell. USC has one of the nation’s top receiving corps in place, and Daniels ranked as a five-star recruit coming out of high school. The California native started 11 games as a true freshman last fall, completing 59.5 percent of his throws for 2,672 yards and 14 touchdowns to 10 picks. Daniels also closed out the year on a high note, throwing for a career high 349 yards versus Notre Dame. How far can Harrell help Daniels progress in 2019?
5. Jacob Eason, Washington
The battle between Eason and Jake Haener to replace Jake Browning as Washington’s No. 1 quarterback is expected to continue into fall practice. While the starter spot isn’t technically settled, it would be a surprise if Eason opened 2019 as the backup. The Washington native signed with Georgia after ranking as a five-star prospect in the 2017 signing class. He received playing time in all 13 games that season, throwing for 2,430 yards and 16 touchdowns to eight picks. Eason seemed poised to build on those totals as a sophomore in 2018. However, a knee injury in the first game of the year opened the door for Jake Fromm to unseat Eason as the team’s starting quarterback. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for Eason, and his arm strength could allow Washington to have more success throwing downfield.
4. Khalil Tate, Arizona
After a breakout season in 2017 (3,002 total yards), Tate seemed poised to push for a spot among college football’s top quarterbacks last fall. After all, new coach Kevin Sumlin had no trouble producing high-powered offenses at Texas A&M, so the transition from Rich Rodriguez to the new scheme wasn’t projected to be much of an issue. However, Tate got off to a slow start with just 211 total yards versus BYU in the opener and suffered an ankle injury in Week 2 that seemed to hinder his rushing ability for the remainder of the year. Despite the ailment, Tate still ended the season with 2,754 total yards and 28 overall scores. With the ankle injury fully healed, look for Tate to rebound with his best all-around season in Tucson.
3. Tyler Huntley, Utah
In addition to leading Utah to its first Pac-12 South title, Huntley was on pace for a breakout year and a place among the conference’s top quarterbacks in 2018. However, a collarbone injury against Arizona State prevented Huntley from playing in the final five games of the season. Prior to the injury, Huntley threw for 1,788 yards and 12 touchdowns to six picks and rushed for 304 yards and four scores. New coordinator Andy Ludwig was one of the offseason’s top assistant hires, and the veteran play-caller should help Huntley take a step forward in his final year in Salt Lake City.
2. K.J. Costello, Stanford
Stanford’s offenses under coach David Shaw have traditionally leaned on the offensive line and ground game. That setup is likely to change in 2019, as the Cardinal lost running back Bryce Love to the NFL, the offensive line enters the year in transition, and the strength of this group is under center. Costello thrived in his first full season as the starter, throwing for 3,540 yards and 29 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. The California native ranked second among Pac-12 quarterbacks by completing 65.1 percent of his passes and tied for third with 21 completions of 30 or more yards.
1. Justin Herbert, Oregon
Winning the offseason doesn’t always translate into on-field success, but not many teams had a better one than Oregon. The Ducks landed the Pac-12’s top recruiting class, and a couple of key veterans – Troy Dye, Herbert and three starters up front – decided to return to Eugene instead of pursing the NFL. After taking over the starting job midway through 2016 and missing time due to injury in ’17, Herbert played in all 13 games for the first time in his career last fall. The Oregon native posted a prolific junior season, passing for 3,151 yards and 29 touchdowns to eight picks, while adding 166 yards and two scores on the ground. Finding a No. 1 receiver to replace Dillon Mitchell is a priority this offseason, but all signs point to Herbert closing out his career with a huge 2019 season and a run at the Pac-12 title.