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Sports >  NCAA

Pac-12 football early look: Quarterback rankings for the 2021 season (the backups matter, too)

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 30, 2021

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

For those unfamiliar with the Quarterback Comfort Quotient, our periodic offseason examination of depth charts across the Pac-12, it’s based on the following premise:

The backup quarterback is the least important player on the roster … until he’s the most important.

As a result, the QBCQ ranking below assesses the quality of the starters and the proven reliability of the backups.

After scouring rosters, we can report the ideal combination does not currently exist.

That could change in coming months as seniors make stay-or-go decisions and the transfer portal works its magic. (We’ll revisit the QBCQ following spring practice, then again at the close of training camp.)


• Not all returnees have been listed

• Where incoming transfers are named, I have included their former team.

• Pac-12 players who have entered the portal are (for now) considered departures.

1. Oregon

Who’s gone: Cale Millen

Who’s back: Tyler Shough, Anthony Brown, Jay Butterfield

Who’s new: Ty Thompson (freshman)

Projected starter: Shough

Comment: Shough hardly locked down the job with his play late last season, but Oregon’s unmatched depth sets it apart in a conference devoid of the ideal tandem mentioned above. Brown is a former multiyear ACC starter while Thompson and Butterfield were high-level recruits with significant upside. Any of the four could start the opener, which is both good and bad for the Ducks.


Who’s gone: N/A

Who’s back: Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Chase Griffin

Who’s new: Ethan Garbers (Washington), Kajiya Hollawayne (freshman)

Projected starter: Thompson-Robinson

Comment: The Bruins are a half-step short – on multiple fronts – of claiming the top spot: Thompson-Robinson improved his efficiency last season and seems poised for a breakout season. Griffin was solid in his two starts (Oregon and Arizona), and Garbers, a former four-star signee, is plenty respectable as the option behind door No. 3.

3. Arizona State

Who’s gone: N/A

Who’s back: Jayden Daniels, Daylin McLemore, Trenton Bourguet

Who’s new: Finn Collins (freshman)

Projected starter: Daniels

Comment: We selected Daniels as the first-team all-conference quarterback – a decision that required a minor leap of faith: That his pocket passing would make the incremental improvement needed for elite status. But the Sun Devils are merely No. 3 because of what lies below Daniels: Bourquet, the projected backup, attempted just two passes last season.

4. USC

Who’s gone: Matt Fink

Who’s back: Kedon Slovis

Who’s new: Miller Moss (freshman), Jaxson Dart (freshman)

Projected starter: Slovis

Comment: We’re listing Fink as a departure, but that’s far from certain – his intentions have not been publicly disclosed. His return would add a backup with more than 100 career attempts to a position group that includes one of the top starters and two prized recruits. (USC would have a strong case for the top spot.) Without Fink as insurance, the situation turns a bit fragile.

5. Washington

Who’s gone: Ethan Garbers, Kevin Thomson, Jacob Sirmon

Who’s back: Dylan Morris

Who’s new: Sam Huard (freshman), Patrick O’Brien (Colorado State)

Projected starter: Morris

Comment: Few teams have experienced as much turnover in the quarterback room as the Huskies, where graduate transfers come and go without taking a snap. Morris was solid in his rookie season but faces a major challenge from Huard, the five-star UW legacy. O’Brien attempted more than 400 passes in the Mountain West and is a solid Plan C.

6. Utah

Who’s gone: Jake Bentley, Drew Lisk

Who’s back: Cam Rising

Who’s new: Charlie Brewer (Baylor), Ja’Quinden Jackson (Texas), Peter Costelli (freshman)

Projected starter: Brewer

Comment: Utah’s options for 2021 have expanded rapidly in recent weeks, thanks to the transfer portal. We’re not sure Jackson’s ready, and Rising’s shoulder injury (sustained in the opener) will delay his progress. By default, Brewer is the front-runner – and not a bad one, either.

7. Washington State

Who’s gone: Gunner Cruz, John Bledsoe

Who’s back: Jayden de Laura, Cam Cooper

Who’s new: Jarrett Guarantano (Tennessee), Xavier Ward (freshman)

Projected starter: Guarantano

Comment: Regardless of whether Guarantano wins the job, he stands as one of the Pac-12’s most important quarterback arrivals: Without him, the Cougars would face a deeply precarious situation. In his first season, de Laura showed promise but also flaws. If nothing else, daily competition from a former SEC starter will accelerate his progress.

8. Cal

Who’s gone: Devon Modster

Who’s back: Chase Garbers, Spencer Brasch

Who’s new: Kai Millner (freshman)

Projected starter: Garbers

Comment: What would the QBCQ be without the Bears in the bottom half? They seem forever on the verge of improved standing but, for various reasons, are unable to take the step. We like Garbers generally but, after a four-game season with disruptions to the offensive line, need to see more from his partnership with playcaller Bill Musgrave.

9. Oregon State

Who’s gone: Nick Moore

Who’s back: Tristan Gebbia, Chance Nolan, Ben Gulbranson

Who’s new: Sam Vidlak (freshman)

Projected starter: Gebbia

Comment: Few teams rely as heavily on the transfer portal as OSU, and we suspect a quarterback will materialize in Corvallis in the coming months. Gebbia, whose own career started at Nebraska, is the clear front-runner over the current group after his solid performance before injury. But collectively, the position feel a tad light.

10. Colorado

Who’s gone: Tyler Lytle

Who’s back: Sam Noyer, Brendon Lewis

Who’s new: J.T. Shrout (Tennessee), Drew Carter (freshman)

Projected starter: Lewis

Comment: CU owns the only situation in which three outcomes are equally possible: Noyer started last season but struggled late; Lewis is young but impressed in the Alamo Bowl; and Shrout has meaningful SEC experience (plus three years of eligibility). Our hunch is Lewis wins the job: More upside than Noyer, better feel for the system than Shrout.

11. Stanford

Who’s gone: Davis Mills

Who’s back: Jack West, Tanner McKee

Who’s new: Ari Patu (freshman)

Projected starter: McKee

Comment: It has been years since Stanford entered an offseason with as much uncertainty at quarterback as it faces in 2021. We’re skeptical that West can raise his game to the necessary level, thus shifting the spotlight to McKee, a former four-star recruit cut from the Pro Style model who attempted just seven passes last season.

12. Arizona

Who’s gone: Grant Gunnell, Rhett Rodriguez

Who’s back: Will Plummer, Kevin Doyle

Who’s new: Gunner Cruz (Washington State)

Projected starter: Plummer

Comment: Atop the list of immediate priorities for coach Jedd Fisch is fortifying his quarterback room following the departure of Gunnell, the 2020 starter. Plummer is a true sophomore who attempted 80 passes in the fall. That’s not many, but it’s 73 more than Cruz threw in Pullman. Good chance the Week 1 starter isn’t on the current roster.

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