Even though coach Chip Kelly left for the NFL, Oregon’s offense is in good hands with quarterback Marcus Mariota. After earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors last year, Mariota should be the Pac-12’s No. 1 quarterback in 2013 and could be in the mix for All-American honors.
The Pac-12 has plenty of talent returning in addition to Mariota, as UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly and Washington’s Keith Price rank as the top four options.
There’s also plenty of intrigue with the rest of the conference, as Utah’s Travis Wilson and California’s Zach Kline could be in for a breakout season.
College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top quarterbacks in each conference. One important note: This is just a ranking of starters and backups weren’t included for this article. Also, some projection for how we think quarterbacks are going to play for 2013 factored into this ranking.
Ranking the Pac-12 Starting Quarterbacks for 2013
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (SO)
The redshirt sophomore-to-be with a calm demeanor has quickly become a fan and coach favorite in Eugene. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound signal caller is poised in the pocket and rarely gets flustered while operating one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. In his first season under center as a freshman, the Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis product accounted for 37 total touchdowns and 3,429 yards of offense (2,677 passing, 752 rushing) and nearly led the Ducks to a perfect record. Mariota paced the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and led the nation in road passer rating, proving his ability to stay cool under pressure. He is efficient, productive, leads by example and is only a sophomore. Watch out West Coast.
2. Brett Hundley, UCLA (SO)
Hundley had a record-setting debut for UCLA last season and was a key piece to the Bruins’ Pac-12 South title. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, he started all 14 games and set UCLA single-season records for passing yards (3,740), total offense (4,095 yards), and completions (318). Hundley tossed only 11 picks, with four coming in UCLA’s 43-17 loss to California. One of his best performances came against Nebraska, recording 358 yards and four passing scores in a 36-30 win for the Bruins. Despite the departure of running back Johnathan Franklin and tight end Joseph Fauria, UCLA’s offense shouldn't miss much of a beat in 2013. Hundley should be a lock for All-Pac-12 honors and will keep UCLA in the mix for the Pac-12 South title once again.
3. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (JR)
Kelly was one of the Pac-12’s biggest surprises last season, as he went from third on the depth chart after spring practice to starter by the first game. The Idaho native quickly showed why he was the team’s No. 1 quarterback, throwing for 249 yards and one touchdown in the Sept. 8 matchup against Illinois, and he opened Pac-12 play with back-to-back three-touchdown games. Kelly finished the season with 3,039 passing yards and 29 touchdowns, along with 516 yards and one score on the ground. He also ranked ninth nationally in passing efficiency. Kelly tossed only nine picks and went without an interception in each of the final three games. With an offseason to work as the No. 1 starter, look for Kelly to improve and challenge for All-Pac-12 honors.
4. Keith Price, Washington (SR)
Price’s 2012 season has to be considered a disappointment, considering how he played in '11. The Compton (Calif.) St. John Bosco quarterback set all types of school records two years ago, including single-season records for touchdown passes (33), completion percentage (66.9) and passing efficiency (161.09). It was arguably the best single-season by a Huskies passer in school history. So his major regression in every statistical category last fall has the 6-foot-1, 200-pound gunslinger entering a pivotal senior season. Certainly, widespread offensive line injuries were a major cause of Price’s struggles a year ago, but Steve Sarkisian needs his offensive leader to be more effective in 2013 if U of W expects to compete in the North. All signs point to Price returning to 2011 form in his final season at Washington.
5. Kevin Hogan, Stanford (SO)
It took eight games but David Shaw found his replacement for Andrew Luck when he inserted the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder into the lineup a few plays into the Colorado game. Hogan proceeded to lead the Cardinal to a 6-0 record to end the season — including the school’s first Rose Bowl win since 1972 — with efficient and dynamic play under center. He passed for 1,096 yards on 71.7-percent passing with nine touchdowns and just three interceptions while providing a spark on the ground with 263 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns. The McLean (Va.) Gonzaga product is a sneaky good athlete and quickly proved to be a savvy leader on The Farm. Should some pass-catchers develop around him, Hogan could be in for a huge season in 2013.
6. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (JR)
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound quarterback posted one of the best freshman seasons in Pac-12 history two seasons ago (3,328 yards). Mannion was off to a hot start in 2012 before suffering a knee injury four games into his sophomore season. The Pleasanton (Calif.) Foothill recruit was rushed back into action just three weeks later — coach Mike Riley has admitted as much — and it led to four interceptions and the team’s first loss of the year against Washington. Mannion was benched to heal properly and eventually returned to the field in the regular season’s final three games. The Beavers passer averaged over 300 yards passing per game (305.8 ypg) in his eight showings last year and could be in for a big junior season in Corvallis if he can stay healthy.
7. Cody Kessler, USC (SO)
There’s a clear drop-off in Pac-12 quarterbacks after the first six options are ranked. While Kessler has only thrown two passes in his career, it’s hard to ignore the potential of the starting quarterback at USC. The sophomore is still locked into a tight battle for the No. 1 spot with Max Wittek, but Kessler seemed to edge ahead this spring. The California native isn’t the biggest quarterback at 6-foot-1, but he brings more mobility to the table and elevated his performance this spring. Even though Kessler is unproven, if he picks up where he left off in the spring game, combined with the weapons at receiver and running back, the sophomore could have a huge season as USC looks to replace Matt Barkley.
8. Connor Halliday, Washington State (JR)
The Spokane (Wash.) Ferris prospect broke onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2011 when he threw for 494 yards and four touchdowns in a rare Pac-12 win over Arizona State. And that was before Mike Leach was calling plays for the Cougars. Last season, in just five starts, the 6-foot-4, 185-pound gunslinger threw for 1,878 yards and 15 touchdowns. With Jeff Tuel out of the picture after what seemed like a decade-long career in Pullman, Halliday is poised for a huge statistical season in Leach’s second season on the job. It remains to be seen, however, if those numbers will translate in the win column.
9. Zach Kline, California (FR)
Kline was an elite prospect coming out of Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley last season. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder was one of the most college-ready quarterbacks in the nation, and, after one season of redshirting, appears ready to take over as the star of the Golden Bears offense. He has a lightning quick release, accurate arm and deceptive mobility. He is a perfect fit in Sonny Dykes' patented high-flying passing attack, and while he should experience some freshman growing pains in 2013, fans in Berkeley have to be excited to have the Kline era officially underway.
10. Travis Wilson, Utah (SO)
Due to an injury to Jordan Wynn, Wilson was pushed into the starting lineup as a true freshman last season. And as expected, Wilson had his share of ups and downs. The California native threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona but completed only 8 of 23 throws against Washington. He finished the year with 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns and added 40 yards and four scores on the ground. At 6-foot-6, Wilson clearly has the size and skill set to eventually become one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks. However, the sophomore still has a ways to go, and in addition to the arrival of Dennis Erickson as co-offensive coordinator, the Utes must replace top running back John White. In time, Wilson will rise in the rankings. But for 2013, he’s still an unknown commodity.
11. B.J. Denker, Arizona (SR)
With Anu Solomon arriving on campus later this offseason, and Jesse Scroggins recovering from a foot injury, Denker holds on to the top spot for Arizona – at least for now. The junior college recruit made one start for the Wildcats last year, throwing for 136 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 44 yards and one score against Colorado. Denker finished 2012 with 259 yards passing and three scores. Although Denker finished spring atop the depth chart, the battle to replace Matt Scott will pickup once Solomon and Scroggins are able to compete. Denker played well in limited action last year, but don’t expect the senior to replicate Scott’s numbers if he is the No. 1 quarterback.
12. Connor Wood, Colorado (JR)
The Buffaloes opened spring practice with six quarterbacks vying for the starting spot. And the race appeared to be down to two candidates: Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood. However, Hirschman decided to transfer in mid-April, leaving Wood as the team's No. 1 quarterback. The wildcard to watch will be true freshman Sefo Liufau, as he will get a chance to steal the starting spot in the fall. Hirschman and Wood both played significant snaps last season, but neither played well enough to secure the No. 1 spot. Wood threw for 265 yards and one touchdown last year in his first chance at major action on the FBS level. New coach Mike MacIntyre should generate some improvement from Colorado’s offense in 2013, but the quarterback situation is still a major concern.
Related College Football Content
Ranking the Pac-12 Coaches for 2013
Ranking All 125 College Football Coaches for 2013
Washington or Oregon State: Who Will Have More Wins in 2013?
Pac-12 Schedule Analysis for 2013
Ranking the Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era