Every year, it seems the Pac-12 is home to some of the top quarterbacks in the nation. And it should be no surprise that narrative holds true in 2014, as the league possesses three potential All-American candidates this year.
Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is one of the nation’s top signal-callers and should benefit form a full offseason to recover from a knee injury. Mariota is a Heisman contender and should battle Florida State’s Jameis Winston for the top spot on the 2014 All-America team.
After Mariota are two quarterbacks from the Pac-12 South battling for the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in Athlon’s preseason quarterback rankings. UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly should have prolific seasons, while Hundley could be one of the top-10 picks in the 2015 NFL Draft.
The Pac-12 has plenty of quality options at quarterback outside of the top three, as USC’s Cody Kessler, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion all return from solid 2013 campaigns.
This league could get even deeper in 2014 if Utah’s Travis Wilson takes another step forward, while California’s Jared Goff and Washington’s Cyler Myles are two other passers to watch.
To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2014. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks based on accomplishments so far.
Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the rankings that will shape preseason predictions for this year.
Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven).
Ranking the Pac-12 Starting Quarterbacks for 2014
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (JR)
It was painfully obvious to Oregon fans everywhere just how important Mariota was when a knee injury cost Oregon a Pac-12 championship. Mariota was clearly not at full strength when the Ducks lost on the road against both the Cardinal and Wildcats in a three-week span. When healthy, Mariota might be the best quarterback in the nation (just ask Texas). He owns the Pac-12 record for consecutive passes without an interception, is 23-3 as a starter, has nearly 8,000 yards of total offense and has accounted for 77 touchdowns and thrown just 10 picks. All in just two seasons of work in Eugene. Look for a run at Pac-12 title, playoff berth and Heisman Trophy from the dynamic Hawaiian signal caller.
2. Brett Hundley, UCLA (JR)
It’s a close call for the No. 2 spot in the Pac-12 quarterback rankings. Hundley and Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly are both deserving of this spot, but since we are projecting a bit with these rankings, a slight edge goes to Hundley. The Arizona native decided to turn down the NFL for another year in Pasadena, and UCLA is primed for a run at the Pac-12 title with Hundley back under center. In 2013, Hundley threw for 3,071 yards and 24 scores, while leading the Bruins with 748 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. In UCLA’s 42-12 Sun Bowl rout over Virginia Tech, Hundley threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 161 yards on 10 attempts. There’s no question Hundley still has some developing to do as a passer, but the Bruins have a solid collection of options at receiver, and another offseason to work with coordinator Noel Mazzone should help Hundley grow into one of the top quarterbacks in the nation.
3. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (SR)
Kelly was one of the catalysts for Arizona State’s Pac-12 South title, throwing for 3,635 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushing for 608 yards and nine scores last year. Kelly’s 28 touchdown passes ranked third in school history for a single season, and the Idaho native earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors. In two years as the Sun Devils’ starter, Kelly has thrown for 57 touchdown passes and has back-to-back 3,000-yard passing seasons. With Arizona State losing a handful of key players on defense, the offense will have to carry this team in 2014. Kelly should have no trouble eclipsing the 3,000-yard passing mark again, especially with a potential All-American at receiver in Jaelen Strong making plays on the outside.
4. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (SR)
Like Washington State’s Connor Halliday, Mannion posted huge numbers a year ago but those totals came with some struggles as well. He was fourth nationally with 37 touchdown passes and second with 4,662 yards. Yet, Mannion threw 12 interceptions in his final five games, and Oregon State won just once after the calendar flipped to November. His electric first half was erased quickly by second-half struggles. That said, Mannion has a chance to join some elite Pac-12 company with another 3,000-yard season. Only three players in league history have three 3,000-yard passing seasons under their belt (Andrew Walter, Derek Anderson, Matt Leinart) and Mannion could join them in 2014. However, Mike Riley would trade that honor for a return to the top of the Pac-12 North Division. For that to happen, Mannion will have to be more efficient and take better care of the ball.
5. Kevin Hogan, Stanford (JR)
Hogan entered his sophomore season with high expectations, and while his statistics didn’t mean the lofty preseason benchmarks, the Virginia native still led his team to a Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl berth. His completion percentage dropped significantly (71.7 to 61.0) from 2012 to 2013 but his overall production went up (147.87 QB rating to 151.64). He has the ability to win a title against high-level competition as he proved a year ago, but in order to take the next step in his development, Hogan must prove to be more consistent. He threw one total touchdown in Stanford’s three losses a year ago and had four games in which he failed to reach paydirt. If he produces in conference at a more consistent level, the Cardinal quarterback could become one of the league’s best.
6. Cody Kessler, USC (JR)
Kessler and Max Wittek were neck-and-neck for the starting job last preseason, with Kessler eventually securing the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Kessler’s 2013 campaign started slow. In his first two games, Kessler threw for less than 100 yards in both contests and had only three touchdown tosses through the first three games. But as the season progressed, Kessler played better and seemed to benefit from the promotion of Clay Helton to coordinator. Kessler finished 2013 with 2,968 yards and 20 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. He threw for 288 yards and one touchdown in a 20-17 win over Stanford, while torching Fresno State for 345 yards and four scores in the Las Vegas Bowl. Marqise Lee is gone, but USC still has plenty of talent at receiver. With stability on the coaching staff and a solid ground game to lean on, Kessler is poised to build off his solid finish from 2013.
7. Connor Halliday, Washington State (SR)
Halliday led the nation in interceptions a year ago with 22 picks. He also led the nation in attempts (714), was No. 2 nationally in completions (449), finished No. 3 with 4,597 yards and was seventh with 34 touchdown passes. He also got Wazzu back to the postseason for the first time in a decade and set the NCAA record with 89 pass attempts in a loss to Oregon. Mike Leach will chuck it around again in 2014, and Halliday should post similar numbers once again. Over the final four games of the year, including wins over Arizona and Utah, Halliday threw 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions. If Halliday can continue to progress, he could be in for a monster season in Pullman.
Related Content: Ranking the Pac-12 Coaches for 2014
8. Cyler Miles, Washington (SO)
Miles was a four-star top-100 recruit who had offers from USC, Arizona State and Arizona among many others when he signed with Washington as the heir apparent to Keith Price. And in spot duty a year ago, Miles did nothing to dispel the idea that he will be an excellent Pac-12 quarterback. He saw action in eight games last fall with a brief stint in the starting lineup and that experience could be invaluable now that he is the full-time starter. Miles completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 418 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions for the season and helped UW defeat Oregon State on the road in his only start. Miles has not participated in spring practice due to an off-the-field incident, but he is expected to return to the team in the fall. Expectations with Chris Petersen and Miles under center will be sky high entering the playoff era.
9. Travis Wilson, Utah (JR)
Assuming Wilson is 100 percent healthy this year, the California native could be one of the most-improved quarterbacks in the conference. In nine games last season, Wilson threw for 1,827 yards and 16 touchdowns, while rushing for 386 yards and five scores. Wilson delivered a solid performance in Utah’s upset win over Stanford, completing 23 of 34 throws for 234 yards and two scores. The California native needs to improve his consistency, tossing 16 picks last season and completing only 56.1 percent of his throws. Wilson should benefit from the addition of play-caller Dave Christensen in 2014. Considering the addition of Christensen, as well as another offseason to work as the No. 1 starter, Wilson is due for improvement on the stat sheet. However, his health is still a question mark. Wilson was sidelined the last three games due to health concerns but was cleared for non-contact practices this spring. Assuming Wilson is cleared to participate in game action this year, he’s a quarterback poised to move up the rankings in 2014.
10. Jared Goff, California (SO)
Zach Kline was supposed to be The Guy in Berkeley entering last season, but Goff had other ideas. The freshman beat out Kline and proceeded to attempt 529 passes for the lowly Golden Bears. There were plenty of growing pains, but Goff threw just seven interceptions over the last 11 games of the year, while getting little to no help from his defense. If he can be more proficient throwing the ball — he completed 60.1-percent of his passes — and can pull an upset or two in the league, the California native could create some actual buzz around the Cal program heading into 2015. In the short team, the goal for 2014 should be to show improvement with the football and win a couple of games.
11. Sefo Liufau, Colorado (SO)
Mike MacIntyre needs a little time to rebuild the roster, but the future for Colorado looks bright with Liufau at the helm. As a true freshman last season, Liufau finished the year with 1,779 yards and 12 touchdowns and added 43 yards on the ground. Liufau tossed eight picks on 251 attempts but averaged 11.9 yards per completion last season. The Washington native finished 2013 playing at a high level, throwing for 364 yards against California and 241 yards against Utah. Most importantly, Liufau’s touchdown total surpassed his interception rate over the final three games of the year (7 to 3). With Paul Richardson gone, Colorado needs a few receivers to emerge to help Liufau develop. However, MacIntyre and coordinator Brian Lindgren developed David Fales into a likely NFL draft pick at San Jose State, and Liufau should benefit from another offseason from working with both coaches.
12. Jesse Scroggins, Arizona (SR)
Arizona finished spring practice with uncertainty at quarterback. Scroggins, Anu Solomon, Jerrard Randall and Texas transfer Connor Brewer appear to be the frontrunners to replace B.J. Denker, but this battle is expected to extend into the fall. Scroggins did not play last season, while Solomon redshirted and Randall spent 2013 in the junior college ranks at Northeast Mississippi Community College. For now, we will pencil Scroggins into the starting role for Arizona, but this could change hands a couple of times in the preseason and even during the year. And although the Wildcats’ quarterbacks rank last in this list, we suspect Rich Rodriguez will turn this into a strength by midseason.