The Pac-12 is usually home to standout quarterback play and some of college football’s top offenses. Expect that to hold true once again in 2021, as the conference features a couple of the nation’s top quarterbacks in USC’s Kedon Slovis and Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels and plenty of high-powered attacks around the Pac-12. Additionally, the development of signal-callers like Washington’s Dylan Morris, Oregon’s Anthony Brown and Washington State’s Jayden de Laura should add to the overall depth of talent under center in this league.
Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2021. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks based only on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors — pure talent, supporting cast, having a clear hold on the No. 1 position, previous production, 2021 projection, and scheme changes (just to name a few) — were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the Pac-12 for 2021.
Ranking the Pac-12 Quarterbacks for 2021
12. Gunner Cruz, Arizona
New coach Jedd Fisch’s background on offense should provide some optimism that once the quarterback battle is settled, Arizona should be able to show progress on this side of the ball throughout the 2021 season. A three-man battle between Cruz, USF transfer Jordan McCloud and Will Plummer is underway this fall, and it’s a wide-open competition with any of the quarterbacks possessing a chance to start. Cruz transferred to Arizona after spending two years at Washington State. He took a redshirt season in 2019 and played in just one contest last fall, connecting on five attempts for 34 yards and a touchdown against USC. McCloud played in 20 games at USF and accounted for 3,127 total yards but didn’t arrive in Tucson in time to compete in the spring. Plummer played in three games for the Wildcats last season and connected on 53.8 percent of his throws for 388 yards and three interceptions.
11. Brendon Lewis, Colorado
With Sam Noyer transferring to Oregon State, Lewis and Tennessee transfer J.T. Shrout will compete for the starting nod. Lewis was one of the Buffaloes’ top recruits in the 2020 signing class, ranking as the No. 427 overall prospect and No. 17 dual-threat quarterback. Lewis worked behind Noyer for all of 2020 and didn’t play a snap until the Alamo Bowl against Texas. However, he showed promise in the limited stint against the Longhorns, connecting on six of 10 attempts for 95 yards and recording 73 yards and a score on the ground. Lewis is still very raw but has intriguing upside for coach Karl Dorrell.
10. Tanner McKee, Stanford
Stanford coach David Shaw enters fall practice hoping for a quick resolution to the team’s quarterback battle between McKee and Jack West. The edge in experience goes to West with five career appearances and two starts, but McKee ranked higher coming out of high school (No. 46) to West (No. 235). McKee originally signed with Stanford in the 2018 class but didn’t arrive until ’20 due to an LDS mission. He played in one contest last fall, connecting on three passes for 62 yards against Oregon. West’s experience and familiarity with the system might give him an early edge in the battle. However, McKee’s talent eventually wins out to become the No. 1 QB on The Farm.
9. Tristan Gebbia, Oregon State
Gebbia is the front-runner to start in Corvallis, but coach Jonathan Smith added insurance this offseason in former Colorado signal-caller Sam Noyer. Gebbia suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in the fourth game of 2020, with backup Chance Nolan started the remaining three contests. The two quarterbacks combined for nine touchdowns and five interceptions, while Gebbia held a significant edge in completion percentage (62 percent to 50.5). Oregon State’s offense managed only two completions of 40-plus yards last season, so regardless of whether Gebbia, Noyer or Nolan starts, the passing game needs to generate a few more big plays.
8. Jayden de Laura, Washington State
A complete and normal offseason to break in the run-and-shoot attack should help Washington State’s offense show marked improvement in coach Nick Rolovich’s second year at the helm. However, Rolovich needs to find a triggerman for this attack, as the quarterback battle between de Laura, Tennessee transfer Jarrett Guarantano and Cammon Cooper will continue into the fall. De Laura missed spring practice due to an off-field issue but was reinstated to the team in late May. While a quarterback battle is technically ongoing, it would be a major surprise if de Laura didn’t start the 2021 opener. The Hawaii native showed flashes of potential in the abbreviated four-game slate last fall. As a true freshman, de Laura threw for 227 yards and added three overall scores in a win at Oregon State and connected on 25 of 39 passes for 321 yards in a loss to Oregon the following week. Overall, de Laura ended last season with 886 passing yards and five touchdowns and ran for 34 yards and two scores on 28 carries. Considering de Laura’s talent and potential within this offense, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him easily outperform this ranking.
7. Dylan Morris, Washington
The 2020 season only provided a four-game sample size for Washington’s offense under new play-caller John Donovan. As to be expected with that limited stint, the offense showed flashes and a mix of good and bad. Morris – in his first opportunity for snaps with the Huskies as a redshirt freshman – threw for 897 yards and four touchdowns to three picks and connected on 60.9 percent of his throws. Although the Washington native tied for second in the conference with four connections of 40-plus yards, he completed just four of 15 throws that went 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Morris heads into fall practice atop the depth chart for Washington, but the development of true freshman Sam Huard is an x-factor to watch.
6. Anthony Brown, Oregon
Tyler Shough’s decision to transfer to Texas Tech leaves the starting job with Brown, but a trio of talented freshmen – Jay Butterfield, Robby Ashford and Ty Thompson – will keep the pressure on. Brown transferred to Oregon after spending 2017-19 at Boston College. The New Jersey native had two seasons derailed early due to injury but still threw for 4,738 yards and 40 touchdowns over 28 games. Brown also chipped in 423 rushing yards and four scores with the Eagles. Last season, Brown saw his first opportunity for snaps against USC in the Pac-12 title game and played extensively against Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl, connecting on 12 of 19 throws for 147 yards. With a strong arm, good accuracy and enough mobility to execute the reads in coordinator Joe Moorhead’s scheme, Brown should be a solid starter for the Ducks – assuming he can hold off the talented freshmen in ’21.
5. Chase Garbers California
California and its offense – especially Garbers – are likely to significantly benefit from a normal offseason. With a limited slate of practices to develop under first-year play-caller Bill Musgrave, the Golden Bears ranked last in the Pac-12 in yards per play (4.5) and 11th in scoring (20.3). And as a result of the unusual offseason and lack of development time, Garbers was unable to build off a promising 2019 season (1,772 yards and 14 TDs). The California native averaged only 5.7 yards per pass attempt and threw for 771 yards and six scores over the team’s four games in ’20. According to Pro Football Focus, Garbers had an adjusted completion percentage of 69.5 last year, which lagged behind the other starters in the conference. When healthy, Garbers has been effective and a key cog in the Golden Bears’ hopes of contending in the Pac-12 North. Also, better play up front and more weapons emerging on the outside would help Garbers take a step forward in ’21.
4. Charlie Brewer, Utah
Brewer should be one of the top impact quarterback transfers for the 2021 college football season. The former Baylor signal-caller impressed in the spring for the Utes and should provide a needed boost under center after the offense tossed only six touchdowns in six games last fall. Brewer was essentially a four-year starter for the Bears and played in 44 overall contests from 2017-20. During that span, Brewer threw for 9,700 yards and 65 touchdowns. He tossed 28 picks over 1,304 attempts but connected on 63.5 percent of his passes in Waco. Brewer’s mobility (1,039 yards and 22 rushing scores) opens up another avenue for coordinator Andy Ludwig’s offense. Cameron Rising is expected to push Brewer in fall practice, but Brewer should win the job and be an impact addition for the Utes.
3. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA
A seven-game sample size doesn’t provide a complete picture, but there were plenty of positives for UCLA in last year’s abbreviated 2020 season. Thompson-Robinson’s play was one of those positives, as the offense averaged 35.4 points a game and ranked third in the conference in yards per play (6.14). The Nevada native’s completion percentage climbed to 65.2 after a 57.7 mark as a freshman and a 59.7 total in ’19. Additionally, Thompson-Robinson’s yards per attempt last fall marked the best of his career (8.6), while he accounted for 1,426 total yards and 15 scores in five appearances. He averaged only 7.5 yards per average depth of target last season and still needs to show more consistency. Is this the year everything falls into place for Thompson-Robinson?
2. Jayden Daniels, Arizona State
Daniels never had a chance to build off his promising freshman season in 2019, as Arizona State played just four games in ’20. Despite the limited season, there were plenty of positives for Daniels to build on, and a full offseason to work with play-caller Zak Hill should pay dividends for the offense this fall. Daniels was impressive as a true freshman, starting 12 games and throwing for 2,943 yards and 17 touchdowns to just two picks. Last season, Daniels showed flashes of his development by connecting on 58.3 percent of his passes for 701 yards and five scores. If Arizona State wants to win the Pac-12 this fall, it will need Daniels to take his performance up a notch. The California native has connected on 19 passes of 40-plus yards over the last two years and has limited the mistakes. However, his accuracy has been hit-or-miss at times and must improve in ’21 to rank as the top quarterback in the Pac-12.
1. Kedon Slovis, USC
After a standout freshman season in 2019, Slovis took a small step back in ’20. The Arizona native suffered an elbow injury in the Holiday Bowl against Iowa and may not have played at full strength as a result. Slovis’ accuracy dipped from 71.9 percent as a freshman to 67 percent last fall. Also, his yards per attempt declined to 7.3 from 8.9. Despite the small sophomore slump, Slovis still threw for 1,921 yards and 17 touchdowns to seven picks. Those totals came a year after he torched teams for 3,502 yards and 30 touchdowns in ’19. USC’s offensive line remains a question mark, and considering Slovis’ arm injuries at the end of each of the last two years, the Trojans have to provide better protection for their junior quarterback for the offense to thrive in ’21.
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