Pac-12 football preview: Breaking down the quarterback comfort levels for each team

Charlie Brewer during the first day of fall camp at the University of Utah's practice facility.

Charlie Brewer during the first day of fall camp at the University of Utah's practice facility. (Utah Athletics)



At the dawn of the 2021 season, the state of quarterback play in the Pac-12 appears fragile.

If a handful of veterans elevate their performance — USC's Kedon Slovis, UCLA's Dorian Thompson-Robinson and ASU's Jayden Daniels, to name three — then the collective output should approach the standard set in previous years.

If their inconsistency continues and none of the touted newcomers emerge, this could be the worst season for quarterbacks the Pac-12 has experienced in eons.

Welcome to the final, murkiest installment in our series previewing the 2021 Pac-12 season.

We delayed publication of the Quarterback Comfort Quotient (QBCQ) rankings to this point — two days before kickoffs — in order to create maximum clarity. And still, so many teams have so much to resolve.

As always, the QBCQ takes into account the quality of the starter and the experience and talent possessed by the top reserves. After all, the backup quarterback is the least important player on the roster until he's the most important.

The teams that grade out favorably in this exercise have high-level starters and experienced backups.

One without the other is suboptimal.

Here we go …

1. Utah

Starter: Charlie Brewer

Backups: Cameron Rising, Ja'Quinden Jackson, Peter Costelli

Comment: Rising started the opener for the Utes last year but was injured early and missed the rest of the season (and spring practice). Brewer, who threw 65 touchdowns in the Big 12 (for Baylor), excelled in the spring and beat out Rising for the job in training camp. That tells us the Utes are in good shape in both QBCQ categories: the quality of the starter and the caliber of the backup.

2. Oregon State

Starter: Sam Noyer

Backups: Chance Nolan, Tristan Gebbia (injured)

Comment: The Beavers announced Noyer as the starter on Monday but left open the possibility that the dynamic could change when Gebbia recovers from lingering hamstring issues. At that point, OSU will be the only team with two 2020 Pac-12 starters on the roster: Gebbia ran the offense in Corvallis while Noyer started for Colorado — and was named second-team all-conference.

3. Washington

Starter: Dylan Morris

Backups: Sam Huard, Patrick O'Brien

Comment: Morris showed promise in 2020 but the sample size was small (four starts, all at home). However, there are quality options with a five-star talent (Huard) and a former Mountain West starter. (O'Brien had 400+ attempts at Colorado State). UW might not have the best starter or second-stringer, but it goes three-deep as well as anyone.

4. USC

Starter: Kedon Slovis

Backups: Jaxson Dart, Miller Moss

Comment: No better example of QBCQ extremes than USC, where the starter could be one of the top players in the country but the backups are first-year freshmen. The Trojans would be a spot or two higher but for two issues: Slovis struggled last year; and his skinny frame will endure considerable punishment standing in the pocket 40+ times per game.

5. Oregon

Starter: Anthony Brown

Backups: Ty Thompson, Jay Butterfield, Robby Ashford

Comment: Brown took control of the job in spring practice and became the official starter a few days ago. There are talented but inexperienced options behind him in Thompson and Butterfield, so we don't expect a long leash. But the Ducks would be better off with Brown, a former starter at Boston College, leading them onto the field at Ohio State next week. Which means he needs to show well in the opener.

6. Arizona State

Starter: Jayden Daniels

Backups: Trenton Bourguet and Daylin McLemore

Comment: The Sun Devils have a returning starter with something to prove as a pocket passer and two backups with everything to prove. But we expect a stellar season from Daniels; otherwise, ASU would be much further down the list. Bourguet has two career attempts; McLemore has none. If Daniels gets hurt, the situation turns dicey.

7. UCLA

Starter: Dorian Thompson-Robinson

Backups: Ethan Garbers, Chase Griffin

Comment: The range of possibilities for quarterback production is wide in Westwood. Will Thompson-Robinson's inconsistency continue — he wasn't sharp against Hawaii — or will he mature into an elite passer and lead UCLA to a first-rate season? Garbers has talent but not much experience; Griffin played last year and is a solid third option.

8. Cal

Starter: Chase Garbers

Backups: Zach Johnson, Kai Millner, Ryan Glover

Comment: Were this a list of the least interesting quarterback situations, Cal would join ASU at the top. Garbers has been the unquestioned starter all along and doesn't have a hot-shot newcomer attempting to disrupt the status quo. Johnson and Millner are rookies, while Glover is an FCS transfer from Penn and Western Carolina.

9. Washington State

Projected starter: Jayden de Laura

Backups: Jarrett Guarantano, Cammon Cooper, Victor Gabalis

Comment: de Laura and Guarantano engaged in a tight competition throughout training camp, and coach Nick Rolovich might not publicly disclose his decision ahead of kickoff against Utah State. (Hence the use of 'projected' starter.) WSU could have a far better situation than this ranking indicates, but we simply haven't seen enough from either candidate.

10. Colorado

Starter: Brendon Lewis

Backups: Drew Carter, Jordan Woolverton, JT Shrout (injured)

Comment: When we published the initial QBCQ rankings many months ago, CU had three options with Lewis, 2020 starter Sam Noyer and Shrout, the Tennessee transfer. Then Noyer left for Oregon State and Shrout injured his knee, leaving only Lewis, whose lone appearance last year came in the Alamo Bowl. And behind him, there's zero experience.

11. Stanford

Projected starter: Tanner McKee

Backups: Jack West, Isaiah Sanders

Comment: The depth chart released this week lists McKee "or" West as the starter. We suspect the decision has been made — there's no reason to inform Kansas State — and believe both will play. West has more experience, but McKee is the more talented passer. This feels like a competition that won't be settled for several weeks.

12. Arizona

Starter: Gunner Cruz

Top backups: Will Plummer and Jordan McCloud

Comment: Coach Jedd Fisch announced two quarterbacks, Plummer and Cruz, will play in the opener against BYU. That isn't a good sign given the level of inexperience — ideally, one candidate would have separated. Don't discount the potential for McCloud, a former FBS starter (South Florida), to eventually emerge after he learns the offense.


Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.


Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at jwilner@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Pac-12 Hotline: Subscribe to the Pac-12 Hotline Newsletter. Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

Jon Wilner

SIGN UP FOR THE KSL.COM NEWSLETTER

Catch up on the top news and features from KSL.com, sent weekly.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast