High-powered offenses and top-notch quarterback play are usually two strengths of the Pac-12. Those two things certainly hold true in 2022, as the Pac-12 doesn't lack for talent under center. USC's Caleb Williams takes the top spot in the conference rankings, with Utah's Cameron Rising and UCLA's Dorian Thompson-Robinson headlining the next tier. A couple of quarterbacks could make a strong case for No. 4, and the league has good depth with Oregon State's Chance Nolan, Stanford's Tanner McKee and Arizona State's Emory Jones.
Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2022. 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, 2022 projection, and scheme changes (just to name a few) — were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the Pac-12 for 2022.
Ranking the Pac-12 Quarterbacks for 2022
12. Brendon Lewis, Colorado
New play-caller Mike Sanford arrives from Minnesota tasked with jump-starting an offense that averaged only 4.4 yards per play and 18.8 points a game last year. Improved play under center would significantly boost the overall production of this offense, and Lewis opens the fall as the favorite to start after throwing for 1,540 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushing for 190 yards and two scores last season. The Texas native passed for 224 yards and three touchdowns at Oregon and threw for 248 yards and two scores in a win against Arizona. However, Lewis did not eclipse more than 170 yards in any other matchup and averaged just 6.0 yards per attempt. Additionally, there’s room to improve in terms of accuracy (58 percent) and quarterback rating (11th among Pac-12 signal-callers). If Lewis doesn’t take a step forward, Tennessee transfer JT Shrout could push for the job.
11. Jack Plummer, California
Not only must coordinator Bill Musgrove replace Chase Garbers, but the Golden Bears lost their leading rusher (Christopher Brooks), the top four receivers from 2021, and return only two starters along the offensive line. Needless to say, there’s a lot of transition for Musgrove and coach Justin Wilcox to navigate going into the ’22 season. Plummer exited spring as the front-runner to replace Garbers, but Kai Millner could push for the job in the fall. Plummer played in 21 games over the last four years at Purdue and threw for 3,405 yards and 26 touchdowns to 10 picks. The Arizona native has flashed potential at times as an off-and-on starter with the Boilermakers, and the ’22 season should provide an opportunity to make a splash as the full-time starter.
10. Emory Jones, Arizona State
Jayden Daniels’ transfer to LSU created a major need under center for Arizona State. Coach Herm Edwards and new play-caller Glenn Thomas landed Alabama transfer Paul Tyson prior to spring practice, and Jones committed to the team in early May. The Georgia native flashed potential as the backup from 2018-20 and replaced Kyle Trask after his departure to the NFL prior to ’21. However, Jones had an up-and-down season in Gainesville. Although he completed 64.7 percent of his passes and threw for 2,734 yards, the Georgia native tossed 13 picks and ranked ninth in the SEC in quarterback rating (141.7). On the ground, Jones showcased his mobility by leading all SEC signal-callers with 758 yards and four scores. A good chunk of his production came against Samford (464 passing yards and 6 TDs) and Vanderbilt (273 passing yards and 4 TDs), but if Jones can play with more consistency and cut down on some of the mistakes, he should finish much higher on this list by December.
9. Michael Penix Jr., Washington
Injuries have wreaked havoc throughout Penix's career, but if he can stay healthy, there’s optimism for the Tampa native to post his best season in ’22. Penix is reunited with former Indiana offensive coordinator (and new Washington coach) Kalen DeBoer after the two worked together in Bloomington in ’19. In that season, Penix threw for 1,394 yards and 10 touchdowns (to only four picks) and ran for 119 yards and two scores. Through 20 games in four years with the Hoosiers, Penix threw for 4,197 yards and 29 touchdowns and connected on 59 percent of passes. Additionally, his yards per attempt in Bloomington was 7.3, the average depth of target was more than 10 yards from 2018-20, while he tacked on 165 rushing yards and six scores over 64 carries in his career. If Penix can stay healthy, reuniting with DeBoer should result in the best season of his career. And if he’s forced to miss time for any reason, the Huskies have two capable quarterbacks ready to go in Dylan Morris and Sam Huard.
8. Chance Nolan, Oregon State
JT Daniels considered Oregon State as a transfer destination this offseason but eventually opted for West Virginia. Despite missing on a transfer, the Beavers are still in good shape at quarterback. After starting the final three games of 2020, Nolan played in all 13 contests last year (12 starts) and threw for 2,677 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also added another 286 yards and three scores on the ground. Nolan’s yards per attempt (8.4) ranked second among Pac-12 signal-callers, while his completion percentage (64.2) was fourth. There’s room to improve in reducing turnovers (10 picks last year) and finding ways to generate more big plays (just four completions of 40-plus yards in Pac-12 games in ’21). Nolan’s steady play, accuracy and mobility are all huge assets for Oregon State’s offense going into the ’22 season.
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7. Bo Nix, Oregon
Although new coach Dan Lanning has to break in a new starter, the Ducks are potentially in better shape at the quarterback spot than they were last season. After three years at Auburn, Nix sought a fresh start in the Pacific Northwest, and if he is unable to secure the job, redshirt freshman (and former four-star recruit) Ty Thompson is next on the depth chart. Coordinator Kenny Dillingham worked at Auburn with Nix in 2019, so there’s a scheme familiarity to help ease the transition to Eugene and the Pac-12. Nix was poised for arguably his best season with the Tigers before suffering a season-ending injury in early November. Prior to the injury, Nix threw for 2,294 yards and 11 touchdowns to three picks and added 168 yards and four scores on the ground. The former five-star prospect might not post huge numbers and has room to improve on accuracy and generating more big plays downfield. However, considering what Oregon returns on defense and around the quarterback, solid play from Nix is likely enough to earn a trip to the Pac-12 title game.
6. Jayden de Laura, Arizona
Arizona coach Jedd Fisch was forced to start three quarterbacks due to injuries last fall. Combine the carousel under center with a first-year coaching transition and roster short on talent, it’s easy to see why the Wildcats finished 1-11 in ’21. However, there’s optimism in Tucson going into the fall. De Laura’s arrival from Washington State gives Arizona a potential all-conference candidate at quarterback. The Hawaii native guided the Cougars to an average of 27.8 points a game after throwing for 2,789 yards and 23 touchdowns. De Laura tossed only nine interceptions over 359 attempts, connected on 63.2 percent of his passes and ran for an additional 67 yards and three scores. In Pac-12 only games last fall, de Laura led all signal-callers in connections of 40-plus (eight), yards per attempt (8.0), and quarterback rating (149.89). De Laura will have to adapt to Arizona’s scheme from the run-and-shoot, but his arrival represents a huge upgrade for the quarterback room in Tucson.
5. Tanner McKee, Stanford
McKee seems primed for a breakout year in 2022. The former four-star prospect in the ’18 signing class spent two years on an LDS mission and played in one contest in his return to Stanford in ’20. McKee shook off the rust as the year progressed, throwing for 2,327 yards and 15 touchdowns over 206 completions. The California native passed for 230 yards and three scores in a 31-24 upset over Oregon and later threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns against Washington State. McKee paced the Pac-12 (conference-only matchups) in passing yards per game (259.9) and connected on 65.4 percent of his throws. With one of the Pac-12’s top receiving corps at his disposal, along with all five starters returning along the line, McKee should make a significant leap in production and overall play in ’22.
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4. Cameron Ward, Washington State
Few quarterbacks in college football are more intriguing than Ward going into the ’22 season. The FCS Incarnate Word transfer was a huge catch for new Washington State coach Jake Dickert and has the talent to rank among the top signal-callers in the conference if he can make a quick transition to the FBS level. Helping to ease that transition is offensive coordinator Eric Morris, who previously worked as Ward’s head coach at UIW. The Texas native won the Jerry Rice Award – awarded to the top freshman at the FCS level – after throwing for 2,260 yards and 24 touchdowns in the abbreviated ’20 spring FCS season. A year later, he torched opposing FCS defenses for 4,648 yards and 47 scores to guide Incarnate Word to a 10-3 record and a trip to the playoffs. Ward also completed better than 60 percent of his passes in both of his seasons at Incarnate Word. Moving to a higher level of competition and a new program creates plenty of unknowns here. However, if Ward quickly settles in, he has the talent and a quarterback-friendly scheme to rank among the top-five quarterbacks in the Pac-12.
3. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA
DTR’s decision to opt for another year in Westwood was great news for the Bruins after the Las Vegas native posted his best all-around season at UCLA. In 11 starts, Thompson-Robinson threw for 2,409 yards and 21 touchdowns and added 609 yards and nine scores on the ground. Additionally, he led the Pac-12 in total yards a game (274.4), yards per attempt (8.5), and quarterback rating (153.9). Thompson-Robinson has to navigate some new pieces around him along the offensive line and in the receiving corps, but coming off his best season at UCLA, there’s no reason to believe he will regress in ’22.
2. Cameron Rising, Utah
Rising’s insertion into the starting lineup helped Utah recover from a 1-2 start to eventually emerge as the Pac-12 champion last fall. The Texas transfer suffered a shoulder injury in the ’20 opener and opened the following season No. 2 on the depth chart behind Charlie Brewer. After nearly rallying the Utes to a comeback win over San Diego State on Sept. 18, Rising started the rest of the way for coach Kyle Whittingham’s team. The California native tossed 20 touchdowns to only five picks and connected on 63.8 percent of his passes for 2,493 yards. Although Rising had only five completions of 40-plus yards, his five interceptions were the fewest among full-time starters in the Pac-12, while his quarterback rating (146.7) was third in the conference. Rising also added 499 yards and six scores on the ground, including 92 in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State. The junior doesn’t make many mistakes, can extend plays as needed, and is a perfect fit for Utah’s offense. With a full offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback, look for Rising to take a step forward in his second year as the starter.
1. Caleb Williams, USC
Lincoln Riley’s rebuilding effort in Los Angeles got a lot easier thanks to Williams’ decision to follow his former coach at Oklahoma to the West Coast. The Washington, D.C. native wasn’t slated to start in ’21, but a few sluggish performances by the Sooners’ offense (and quarterback Spencer Rattler) pushed the five-star prospect into action midway through the year. Williams rallied Oklahoma by throwing for 212 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 88 yards and a score in a 55-48 win over Texas in the Red River Rivalry. He followed that performance with another standout effort, this time throwing for 295 yards and four scores against TCU, later followed by a six-touchdown effort against Texas Tech on Oct. 30. Williams closed the book on his freshman season with a strong performance against Oregon and ended the year with 1,912 yards and 21 touchdowns through the air, along with 435 yards and six scores on the ground. The underlying metrics on Williams were outstanding as well. He tied for the best yards per attempt mark among Big 12 quarterbacks (9.1), led the conference in quarterback rating (169.6), and connected on seven passes of 50-plus yards. Although his surroundings are new, Williams already knows Riley's scheme and has one of the best receiving corps in college football at his disposal.