With spring football starting to wind down for the Utah Utes, let’s take a look at where Utah’s quarterbacks stack up in the Pac-12. For this article, we will consider each team’s quarterback depth in addition to the quality of the starter. There are many ways to value a team’s quarterback room. Do you favor a room with a talented starter above all else? What about quality, proven depth? Or, do you want potential in your quarterback room?
College Football News ranked all 130 teams’ quarterback depth. Utah ranked 15th in the nation and third in the Pac-12 (behind Oregon [10th] and Colorado [11th]). I can see the argument to have Oregon ahead of Utah because Justin Herbert is considered to be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. But, Colorado... Seriously?! Tyler Huntley was better than Steven Montez and Sam Noyer, Colorado’s main backup, is far less proven than Jason Shelley.
Another take on ranking Pac-12 quarterback depth is from Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News. He has the Utes first in the conference because of the combination of a talented, experienced starter and a proven backup.
It not common that Utah ranks at or near the top of the conference in quarterback ranking. While Huntley is not the best starter in the Pac-12, he is one of the better quarterbacks in the conference, and Utah has the best backup in the Pac-12, which as Utah fans saw last year is sometimes necessary. Injuries to starting quarterbacks are inevitable for multiple Pac-12 teams every year. Without a quality backup, a good season can be derailed with an injury to a starter.
Now, here is the Block U Quarterback Depth Power Ranking
The Sun Devils lost Manny Wilkins, a multi-year starter. ASU hauled in three four-star quarterback recruits in the 2019 recruiting class, led by Jayden Daniels. Daniels, the highest-rated four-star recruit in the 2019 class, is likely to be the guy (or will be before the end of the season). Dillion Sterling-Cole, the only player with experience in the quarterback competition will push for the starting job as well. If Daniels starts, expect a lot of growing pains for the talented, but green, true freshman. He also needs to bulk up if he wants to stay healthy, weighing in at under 200 pounds.
Can Jake Luton stay healthy? Will he get overtaken by Nebraska transfer Tristan Gebbia or Jack Colletto, who has playing experience at OSU? This is a QB room where we will see real competition for the starting job, which is a good thing in that competition can help push the quarterbacks to be better, but it is also a bad thing in that OSU really does not have a proven Pac-12 caliber starting quarterback.
Cal was awful at quarterback last year, but they have several experienced players who can battle it out including UCLA transfer Devin Modster and Chase Garbers.
9. UCLA Bruins
The experience that Dorian Thompson-Robinson gained last year should help him progress in year two under Chip Kelly. Kelly is also in his second season and should have UCLA playing better than they did in year one. Losing Modster to Cal though leaves UCLA without a proven backup, which is troubling given Thompson-Robinson’s style of play and his injury history last year.
Can Mike Leach strike gold two years in a row with graduate transfer quarterbacks? Former Eastern Washington signal caller Gage Gubrud will be running Leach’s offense, which is not vastly different from what he ran at the FCS level. Gubrud will probably lead the Pac-12 in passing yards in 2019 because of WSU’s scheme, but that does not mean he will be one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. WSU lacks in-game experience at the FBS level, so they get knocked in these rankings.
Huskies fans will not like this ranking. Chris Petersen has the best collection of raw quarterback talent (based on recruiting rankings) of any program in the conference, one former five-star and three former four-star recruits. Here is the problem, none of those players have ever thrown a pass in a Washington uniform. Jake Haener, the primary backup to Jake Browning last season, is the only player who has any game experience in a Washington uniform, and the few meaningful reps he played did not go well. He threw a pick-six that proved to be the difference in a loss at Cal. People will chime in about Jacob Eason and how great he is. He certainly has the arm and size to be an elite quarterback. A consensus top recruit coming out of high school, he chose to leave the state of Washington to play for the Georgia Bulldogs, where he started for most of his freshman season. An injury early in his sophomore season allowed to Jake Fromm to take over the job, leading to Eason’s transfer back home to Washington. Here is the thing, Eason has not thrown a pass since October 2017. He has had time to develop since his freshman season, but he did not put up stellar numbers then. His quarterback rating was almost 10 points lower than JT Daniels, and he completed just over 55% of his passes. He has a huge arm, but can he deliver the ball accurately and read a defense? There is a ton of potential with this group, and Eason could end up being the best quarterback in the conference, but he has not proven that yet.
6. USC Trojans
This may seem high for some people, but hear me out. True freshman quarterbacks often struggle, but taking his lumps in 2018 gives JT Daniels the experience needed to improve in 2019. Remember, he was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. I was not impressed with Daniels last year, but he only arrived at USC in August, so having a whole offseason in the weight room and to gain more experience at the college level could help him live up to his lofty recruiting ranking. The depth behind him, Matt Fink and Jack Sears, saw action last season as well. They will help push Daniels in practice and be there if an injury happens.
Montez is the top half of Pac-12 quarterbacks entering the 2019 season. He has good size and athleticism that might help him get looks from the NFL after he graduates. The depth behind him is relatively unproven, so as I mentioned earlier, it is asinine to have the Buffs ahead of the Utes (or Arizona honestly who has a better starter and more proven depth).
K.J. Costello put up a nice year last year. But, can he do it again without an entire basketball team as his wide receivers? All he had to do was throw the ball up high and one of the bevy of “trees” he had at receiver could come down with the ball over shorter defensive backs. Most of those guys are gone, as is Bryce Love, can Costello prove he is the guy without so much talent around him? Costello put up the second-best season of any Pac-12 quarterback last year (behind Herbert) and is a candidate to be the best quarterback in the conference if he can continue the success he had last year (which will be tough because of the aforementioned turnover at wide receiver and tight end).
For month of October in 2017, Khalil Tate was the hottest name in college football. He cooled off down the stretch in 2017 and injuries slowed him down in 2018. While the hype surrounding him entering 2018 was too much, he is still a dangerous playmaker. Behind him, Rhett Rodriguez saw some playing time when Tate was out with injuries and performed serviceably, giving Arizona some peace of mind if Tate gets hurt in 2018.
2. Oregon Ducks
If Herbert stays healthy, the Ducks are in good shape at the quarterback position. If he goes down with an injury, which has happened in his career, the Ducks will be forced to rely on redshirt freshman Tyler Shough, who has not throw a pass in college but was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. I am not as sold on Herbert as some around the country are. For example, his quarterback rating last season was less than five points higher than Huntley’s. Oregon had multiple games where they struggled to move the ball. Herbert is the best quarterback in the Pac-12 on paper to start the season, but do not be surprised if he does not finish there.
1. Utah Utes
Huntley and Shelley are the best one-two punch in the Pac-12 entering the 2019 season. Both have shown they can win games in the Pac-12. Huntley is one of the better starters in the league and Shelley is the most accomplished backup. If Cameron Rising gets his immediate-eligibility waiver granted, that will just give Utah that much more depth.