Talented QBs to spark Pac-12 teams

Conference features quality passers for 2019 season

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Justin Herbert is already being touted as the one of the top QB options in the country, and he’ll lead Oregon for another year while his NFL draft stock continues to rise.

The Pac-12 has struggled to get itself in national title contention lately and the conference has had its share of bumps in the road on the gridiron.

What the conference isn’t lacking, however, is talent at quarterback.

National publications listing the best quarterbacks in the country for the upcoming season include several Pac-12 passers near the top, including Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Stanford’s K.J. Costello.

Colorado’s Steven Montez is among those listed. Coming into his final season with the Buffaloes, Montez is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Pac-12, with skills to be among the best in the country. Phil Steele’s annual preview magazine lists Montez as the 12th-best draft eligible quarterback this season (Herbert and Costello are both in the top seven).

CU’s success this season will depend largely on how Montez plays, while Herbert, Costello, Arizona’s Khalil Tate and others hold the key to their teams’ fortunes. With quarterbacks likely to play a key role in deciding the conference, here’s a look at how each team stacks up at the position.

Arizona Wildcats (5-7, 4-5 Pac-12)

Projected starter: Khalil Tate, Sr., 6-foot-2, 215 pounds (2018: 170-of-302, 2,530 yards, 26 TD, 8 INT; rushing: 74 att., 224 yards, 2 TD).

Others to watch: Grant Gunnell, Fr., 6-6, 190; Jamarye Joiner, Fr. 6-1, 210; (3-of-4, 17 yards); Rhett Rodriguez, Jr. 6-0, 200 (43-of-83, 516, 3 TD, 2 INT; rushing: 11 att., minus-3 yards).

Outlook: In 2017, Tate proved to be one of the most explosive running quarterbacks in the country. Last year, Tate adjusted to a new head coach (Kevin Sumlin), new coordinator and position coach (Noel Mazzone) and was hobbled with a bad ankle. He didn’t run much but he did, at times, prove to be deadly with his arm. If healthy this year and more comfortable in the offense, he could be one of the most dynamic players in college football. Rodriguez, who filled in for the injured Tate last year, leads the group of backups.

Arizona State Sun Devils (7-6, 5-4)

Projected starter: Dillon Sterling-Cole, Jr. (0-of-2, 0 yards; rushing: 2 att., 22 yards)

Others to watch: Jayden Daniels, Fr.; Ethan Long, Fr.; Joey Yellen, Fr.

Outlook: ASU goes from having one of the most experienced QBs in the conference (Manny Wilkins, who started three years) to having virtually no experience at the position. Sterling-Cole has thrown only 17 career passes, but he knows the offense. Still, he’s far from secure in the starting role. Three true freshmen enrolled early and Daniels had a strong spring. Sterling-Cole and Daniels could battle throughout fall camp for the job.

California Golden Bears (7-6, 4-5)

Projected starter: Chase Garbers, So., 6-2, 205 (159-of-260, 1,506 yards, 14 TD, 10 INT; Rushing: 98 att., 420 yards, 2 TD)

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Cal’s Chase Garbers figures to help the Bears gain some consistency on offense in 2019.

Others to watch: Devon Modster, Jr., 6-2, 215; Jack Newman, So., 6-1, 190.

Outlook: Garbers was in a time-share early last year with Brandon McIlwain (who is now in more of an “athlete” role on offense), but took over the main duties late in the year with mixed results. Cal’s offense was often stagnant last year. Now a sophomore, Garbers is hoping to be better and he came out of spring atop the depth chart. He’ll continue to battle in the fall with Modster, though. In 2017, Modster threw for 671 yards and four touchdowns as Josh Rosen’s backup at UCLA.

Colorado Buffaloes (5-7, 2-7)

Projected starter: Steven Montez, R-So., 6-5, 220 (258-of-399, 2,849 yards, 19 TD, 9 INT; rushing: 94 att., 238 yards, 4 TD).

Others to watch: Tyler Lytle, So., 6-5, 215 (4-of-5, 55 yards, 1 INT; rushing: 4 att., minus-14 yards); Sam Noyer, Jr., 6-4, 215 (8-of-14, 60 yards, 2 INT; rushing: 4 att., minus-8 yards); Blake Stenstrom, Fr., 6-4, 215.

Outlook: Entering this season, Montez has the second-most career starters among Pac-12 quarterbacks, with 27 (Oregon’s Justin Herbert has 28). He’s started each of CU’s 24 games the past two years and could become the program’s all-time passing leader this year. When he’s on, Montez is one of the best in the Pac-12. His consistency has to match his durability, however. Lytle and Noyer both have limited game experience and multiple years in the program, while Stenstrom will hope to move up the depth chart.

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Colorado’s Steven Montez has NFL potential and figures to be on full display with offensive coordinator Jay Johnson opening up the playbook.

Oregon Ducks (9-4, 5-4)

Projected starter: Justin Herbert, Sr., 6-6, 230 (240-of-404, 3,151, 29 TD, 8 INT; rushing: 71 att., 166 yards, 2 TD).

Others to watch: Cale Millen, Fr., 6-3, 210; Tyler Shough, 6-5, 210, Fr.; Bradley Yaffe, 6-3, 215, Fr.

Outlook: Despite being projected by some of the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, Herbert elected to return for his senior year. He’s the best QB in the Pac-12, if not the country, a possible Heisman Trophy candidate and potentially the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft. The Ducks will lean on him as they pursue a Pac-12 title, and perhaps more. Behind Herbert, there’s no experience, but Shough had a solid spring and is likely the top backup.

Oregon State Beavers (2-10, 1-8)

Projected starter: Jake Luton, Sr., 6-7, 225 (140-of-224, 1,660 yards, 10 TD, 4 INT; rushing: 28 att., minus-144 yards).

Others to watch: Jack Colletto, Jr., 6-3, 222 (23-of-47, 201 yards, 3 INT; rushing: 31 att., 16 yards, 5 TD); Tristan Gebbia, So., 6-2,195.

Outlook: Back for a sixth year of college football, the oft-injured Luton is favored to earn the starting job, but Gebbia will continue battling in the fall. Luton, who played at Idaho and Ventura Community College before coming to OSU, torched the Colorado defense in the second half last year, but that’s really been the highlight of his two seasons with the Beavers. Gebbia is a transfer from Nebraska who sat out last season. Colletto got some quality game time last year and will be in the mix.

Stanford Cardinal (9-4, 6-3)

Projected starter: K.J. Costello, Jr., 6-5, 215 (269-of-413, 3,540 yards, 29 TD, 11 INT; rushing: 42 att., minus-20 yards, 1 TD).

Others to watch: Davis Mills, So., 6-4, 220; Jack Richardson, Sr., 6-5, 213 (1-of-1, 6 yards); Jack West, Fr., 6-4, 210 (1-of-5, 4 yards)

Outlook: Like Oregon, Stanford was relieved when its quarterback put the NFL on hold. One of the top quarterbacks in the country, Costello is a talented pocket passer who threw for over 300 yards seven times last season. Although his top three receivers are gone, Costello is expected to put up big numbers again. His backups have very little experience, so the Stanford season could get interesting if Costello were to miss any time.

UCLA Bruins (3-9, 3-6)

Projected starter: Dorian Thompson-Robinson, So., 6-1, 195 (112-of-194, 1,311 yards, 7 TD, 4 INT; rushing: 50 att., 68 yards).

Others to watch: Austin Burton, So., 6-2, 200; Chase Griffin, Fr., 5-11, 185

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
UCLA has Dorian Thompson-Robinson back at the helm in 2019.

Outlook: Thompson-Robinson took some lumps as a true freshman last season and split time with graduated senior Wilton Speight. This year, he’s the man and the Bruins are banking on him showing some growth. UCLA will need Thompson-Robinson to stay healthy (last year he dealt with a shoulder injury), because there’s no game experience behind him. Former Legacy High School star Matt Lynch, who has been a backup the past three years, is now playing tight end.

USC Trojans (5-7, 4-5)

Projected starter: J.T. Daniels, So., 6-3, 210 (216-of-363, 2,672 yards, 14 TD, 10 INT; rushing: 45 att., minus-149 yards)

Others to watch: Matt Fink, Jr., 6-3, 200 (7-of-9, 46 yards, 1 TD; rushing: 7 att., 24 yards); Jack Sears, So., 6-3, 205 (20-of-28, 235, 2 TD, 0 INT; rushing: 10 att., 10 yards).

Outlook: As a true freshman last year, Daniels came in with a lot of hype and had an up-and-down season. The talent is clearly there, however, and it’s expected he’ll get much better with experience. Under new coordinator Graham Harrell, Daniels could have a big year. The Trojans have the luxury of returning their top backups, as well. Fink returned after originally intending to transfer.

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Utah’s Tyler Huntley is an explosive option for the Utes as they look to battle for the Pac-12 South title again in 2019.

Utah Utes (9-5, 6-3)

Projected starter: Tyler Huntley, Sr., 6-1, 210 (150-of-234, 1,788 yards, 12 TD, 6 INT; rushing: 108 att., 304 yards, 4 TD).

Others to watch: Drew Lisk, Jr., 6-1, 205; Jason Shelley, So., 5-11, 200 (98-of-168, 1,162 yards, 5 TD, 6 INT; rushing: 63 att., 192 yards, 3 TD)

Outlook: Huntley was having a solid season until a broken collarbone against ASU on Nov. 3 ended his year. Shelley started the last five games and played well, for the most part. Although Huntley was the better player in spring, Shelley is sure to push him for the job in the fall. Either way, the Utes are in good shape at the position, as Huntley and Shelley form the best 1-2 combo in the Pac-12.

Washington Huskies (10-4, 7-2)

Projected starter: Jacob Eason, Jr., 6-6, 225 (transfer from Georgia).

Others to watch: Jake Haener, So., 6-0, 195 (9-of-13, 107 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT); Jacob Sirmon, Fr., 6-5, 220

Outlook: The Huskies lost their all-time leading passer and four-year starter (Jake Browning) to graduation and might be better at quarterback. Eason earned the starting job at Georgia as a true freshman in 2016, throwing for 2,430 yards and 16 touchdowns, but lost his job to Jake Fromm after an injury in the 2017 opener. Now back near his home town of Lake Stevens, Wash., Eason is one of the most talented passers in the Pac-12. Haener and Sirmon were both top recruits out of high school.

Washington State Cougars (11-2, 7-2)

Projected starter: Gage Gubrud, Sr., 6-2, 205 (transfer from Eastern Washington)

Others to watch: Cameron Cooper, Fr., 6-4, 210; Anthony Gordon, Sr., 6-3, 205 (3-of-5, 17 yards, 1 INT); Trey Tinsley, Sr. 6-3, 210 (7-of-9, 63 yards, 1 TD)

Outlook: After transferring from East Carolina for his final season, Gardner Minshew was sensational last year for the Cougars. To replace him, head coach Mike Leach found another graduate transfer, bringing Gubrud in from Eastern Washington, where he was a two-time finalist for the Walter Payton Award (FCS player of the year). A toe injury sidelined him for the final 10 games last year, leading to him getting another year of eligibility. Although he has yet to be named the starter, Gubrud threw for threw for 9,984 yards, 87 TD and 32 TD in 32 games – including an upset of Wazzu in Pullman – at Eastern Washington. Gordon and Tinsley have experience in the program and will battle, as well.