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Sports >  NCAA football

Pac-12 football: The Hotline’s post-spring rankings of the QB depth across the conference

May 16, 2022 Updated Mon., May 16, 2022 at 8:57 p.m.

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

Welcome to our post-spring assessment of Pac-12 quarterback depth in 2022.

For some teams, the situation has evolved since the initial Quarterback Comfort Quotient (QBCQ) rankings were published in February. For others, the depth chart remains as it was, but the team’s relative position in the conference has changed.

To determine the QBCQ, we consider the caliber of the starter and the reliability of the backups, because you never know when the former will falter (or get injured) and the entire season will depend on the latter.

Case in point: The 2021 Utah Utes, whose Pac-12 championship-winning quarterback, Cam Rising, began the season on the bench.

Please note:

  • Not all backups are listed below, only those we believe are relevant for 2022.
  • If the projected starter is a newcomer – and that’s the case for most of the conference – his previous school has been listed.
  • The Hotline will publish our third and final QBCQ of ’22 at the conclusion of training camp.

1. UCLA

Previous ranking: 1

Projected starter: Dorian Thompson-Robinson

Backups: Ethan Garbers, Chase Griffin, Justyn Martin

Comment: We continue to rate UCLA’s quarterback depth chart as the best in the conference after all the comings and goings through the spring. Thompson-Robinson was an all-Pac-12 selection last year and should play at a high level again, but what separates the Bruins is their bench: If an unexpected event forced Garbers to take command on a permanent basis, UCLA would be in solid shape. Even Griffin has proven capable when called upon.

2. Utah

Previous: 3

Projected starter: Cameron Rising

Backups: Bryson Barnes, Ja’Quinden Jackson

Comment: We hesitate to place much stock in a single performance … unless it’s the final 10 minutes of the Rose Bowl against Ohio State. Barnes’ poise in place of the injured Rising during the tense finish would suggest the Utes have a solid backup plan if one of the league’s best starters were lost for an extended period of time. The Utes are well-stocked at most positions – they are the Hotline’s pick to win the South – and that includes quarterback.

3. USC

Previous: 2

Projected starter: Caleb Williams (Oklahoma)

Backup: Miller Moss

Comment: The Trojans are in great shape atop their depth chart with Williams, but the situation turns a tad perilous from there. Moss was a four-star recruit who had numerous high-level scholarship offers but has played in one game and attempted just 13 passes. And for the moment, Moss is the only scholarship reserve. (Third-stringer Mo Hasan has a ruptured Achilles.) Perhaps the transfer portal will deliver a backup for the backup.

4. Arizona

Previous: 4

Projected starter: Jayden de Laura (Washington State)

Backups: Noah Fifita, Jordan McCloud

Comment: No change here as the Wildcats remain on course for a significant upgrade to their QBCQ on both fronts: the quality of the starter and the reliability of the backup. De Laura played at an all-conference level for the Cougars and should make a smooth adjustment to Arizona’s system, while McCloud, who has 500 career attempts at Arizona and USF, stands as one of the top No. 2s in the conference.

5. Washington

Previous: 7

Projected starter: Michael Penix Jr. (Indiana)

Backups: Dylan Morris, Sam Huard

Comment: The transfer window has closed, and Morris remains on the roster despite the likelihood of losing his job to Penix. That’s a good thing for the depth chart: The Huskies are one of the few teams with an experienced backup and the only team whose third-stringer is a former five-star recruit. But quality depth is merely one piece of the QBCQ – high-level play from the starter matters, too. And on that front, we are slightly skeptical.

6. Stanford

Previous: 8

Projected starter: Tanner McKee

Backups: Ari Patu, Jack West

Comment: We envision McKee as one of the top quarterbacks in the conference but cannot ignore his skinny frame, lack of mobility, wobbly offensive line and the potential for injury. West hasn’t impressed as a starter or reserve, while Patu attempted just 16 passes in his rookie season. The Cardinal stands as a classic QBCQ case study: It has no reason to worry about its quarterback play, unless it has reason to panic.

7. Washington State

Previous: 10

Projected starter: Cam Ward (Incarnate Word)

Backup: Xavier Ward

Comment: To say we’re bullish on Cam Ward’s first season in the conference is an understatement. He might develop into the best quarterback in the North and a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate. That said, we’re bearish on WSU’s depth. With presumed backup Victor Gabalis recently entering the transfer portal, the Cougars are in dire shape if Ward misses meaningful time. None of the other quarterbacks have game experience.

8. Oregon State

Previous: 5

Projected starter: Chance Nolan

Backups: Tristan Gebbia, Ben Gulbranson

Comment: Nolan will enter training camp as the clear favorite for the job, yet we cannot help but wonder about the state of OSU’s quarterback room. Nolan was solid last season, not elite (19 touchdowns, 10 interceptions); Gebbia is a former starter – and that counts for something – but he hasn’t played in 21 months because of injury; and Gulbranson owns just nine career attempts. Admittedly, this ranking could require an adjustment upward in August.

9. Oregon

Previous: 6

Projected starter: Bo Nix (Auburn)

Backups: Ty Thompson, Jay Butterfield

Comment: Nix appeared to take control of the competition with his performance in spring practice and just might thrive under offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham. But we need to see it. In three seasons at Auburn, Nix never completed more than 61% of his passes, and his yards-per-attempt last season (7.1) was one of the lowest in the Power Five. No team in the conference has a wider range of potential outcomes for its quarterback play.

10. Cal

Previous: 11

Projected starter: Jack Plummer (Purdue)

Backups: Kai Millner, Zach Johnson

Comment: Plummer’s arrival as a grad transfer with two years of eligibility remaining provides a veteran option to replace Chase Garbers. But we’re not prepared to declare a quarterback upgrade in Berkeley just yet. Plummer started for Purdue and owns 500 career attempts, but he was benched midway through last season. The Bears would be slotted a tad higher in the QBCQ except for the inexperienced options behind Plummer.

11. Arizona State

Previous: 9

Projected starter: Emory Jones (Florida)

Backups: Trenton Bourget, Paul Tyson, Daylin McLemore

Comment: The Sun Devils are better positioned than they were before Jones arrived but worse off than before Jayden Daniels left for LSU in February. Jones has plenty of SEC starting experience, but the results were mixed. Remove his six-touchdown performance against Samford, and he finished the 2021 season with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His mobility and savvy will serve ASU well, but we prefer the wait-and-see mode.

12. Colorado

Previous: 12

Projected starter: Brendon Lewis

Backups: J.T. Shrout, Maddox Kopp, Drew Carter

Comment: The clear pick for the QBCQ cellar until we have full clarity with the pecking order and evidence of improvement. Lewis was erratic last season (albeit behind a substandard line). Will his efficiency reach a respectable level under a new coordinator (Mike Sanford)? And how seriously will Shrout contend for the starting job in training camp, assuming his rebuilt knee is cleared for full contact? CU needs someone to push Lewis.

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