Gold: Ranking Pac-12 quarterbacks' chances of joining the 30-TD club
You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that USC has the most 30-touchdown seasons by quarterbacks in Pac-12 history with 10.
That Washington State ranks 2nd on the list with 8 is more surprising, until you remember that Mike Leach coached in Pullman for nearly a decade, and 7 of those seasons came during that stretch, including 3 from Luke Falk alone.
Ten of the 12 conference programs have had at least 1 30-TD passer. Arizona and Colorado have zero.
For both of those teams, that ignominious distinction might change in 2023.
The Pac-12 has a chance to make history this year. The league has never had more than 4 QBs reach 30 TD passes in the same season. This year, 6 have a legitimate chance to hit that mark.
Here’s a look at the current crop of Pac-12 starters and their chances of joining the prestigious 30-TD club …
Jaden Rashada, Arizona State — 1%
Rashada is out for the foreseeable future, and both Drew Pyne and Trenton Bourguet have shown little potential in their time. While the true freshman has shown some major potential, he won’t get to 30 this year.
In fact, just 2 hurlers in ASU history have hit the memorable mark — Andrew Walter in 2004 and Michael Bercovici in 2015. Both share the program record with 30.
Cam Rising, Utah — 1%
Had Rising returned healthy for the start of the regular season, I may have pegged him to join Alex Smith (program-record 32 in 2004) and Scott Mitchell on Utah’s short list. Last year, Rising passed for 26 touchdowns, 6th in Utes history. But arriving even as soon as this week, it won’t happen.
And most clearly, Nate Johnson nor Bryson Barnes won’t come anywhere close this year.
Sam Jackson IV, Cal — 2%
Jackson hasn’t completely seized the starting role, as Ben Finley has gotten ample playing time. Finley has more completions, attempts and yards, but Jackson has the touchdown edge at 4 to Finley’s 3. With Finley getting nicked up in the Week 4 loss to Washington, Jackson should have the chance to pile up some stats Saturday against Arizona State.
He’d be the 5th on Cal’s list, though 3 of the 4 30-touchdown seasons happened between 2014-16, all under Sonny Dykes guidance, with 2 — including 43 in 2015 — by 2016 No. 1 pick Jared Goff.
(In case you were wondering, Aaron Rodgers topped out at 24.)
Ashton Daniels, Stanford — 2%
Andrew Luck is the only Cardinal on the list, and he did it twice (32 in 2010 and program-record 37 in 2011). The odds another Stanford starter joins him are slim-to-none.
Daniels was finally back in the saddle in a major way Saturday in a narrow 21-20 loss against Arizona, completing 14-of-26 passes for 198 yards but no scores. He only has 3 TD passes for the year, and with the way the Cardinal offense is playing, he might not have more than a dozen.
DJ Uiagalelei, Oregon State — 20%
Leading an offense that features maybe the best running game in the Pac-12, Uiagalelei simply might not have the volume to get to 30. After getting humbled by the Washington State defense, he won’t have a much easier time Friday night against Utah.
If he does get to 30, he’ll join truly rarified air in Corvallis, as he’s join Sean Mannion (37, 2013) as the only 2 on the list.
Dante Moore, UCLA — 30%
Despite some pretty illustrious quarterbacks in college football lore, only 1 Bruin, Drew Olson has topped 30 touchdowns. Olson threw 34 in 2005, UCLA’s last truly memorable season.
It’s pretty obvious that Moore will join him soon, perhaps as early as this year. He suffered a setback Saturday in a disappointing showing against Utah, but count me among those who believe in Chip Kelly’s ability to adjust and move on. Moore has a gorgeous deep ball, the kind of touch that will surely lead to some big hits. He has 8 TDs so far, but if he gets a few more 3-score games like he had Week 2 at San Diego State, he’s on his way.
Jayden de Laura, Arizona — 40%
With 2 3-touchdown games so far and 9 touchdowns through 4 games, de Laura is off to a good start in his chase for 30.
But his bum ankle may keep him sidelined this weekend against No. 7 Washington, maybe the Wildcats’ stiffest tear this year. They’ll absolutely need de Laura against the Huskies, and de Laura can’t afford to miss any time.
He’d be the first Arizona player in history to hit the 30-touchdown plateau. A few have come close with 28, most recently Anu Solomon in 2014. De Laura’s 25-touchdown debut last year with the Cats ranks 6th on the their list.
Shedeur Sanders, Colorado — 60%
Sanders is on pace for 33 touchdowns, but he’s coming off a rude awakening against Oregon that revealed some major issues on the Colorado roster, especially up front. If he gets Travis Hunter back in the fold in the next couple of weeks, he’ll have a good chance to reach 30. But some landmines await late in the year. The Buffaloes play UCLA, Oregon State, Washington State and Utah in the final 5 weeks.
Should he get there, he’d be the first Colorado QB in history with the achievement. Sefo Liufau holds the program record with 28, set in 2014.
Bo Nix, Oregon — 75%
Nix, who just missed joining the club last year with 29 touchdown tosses to go with his 14 rushing touchdowns, is well on his way this year. He has 11 TD passes so far, with 3 3-touchdown games. Nix should feast on Stanford on Saturday before a bye week, but a 3-game stretch against Washington, Washington State and Utah looms large.
And what a club he’d join. Five Ducks threw 30 or more, including 2 who did it twice. Marcus Mariota had a program-record 42 TD passes in his 2014 Heisman campaign, a year after throwing 31 in 2013.
Cameron Ward, Washington State — 80%
Ward is off to a terrific start this year, with 13 touchdowns in 4 games after throwing 23 in 13 games last year, his first with the Cougars after 2 brilliant seasons at Incarnate Word. What he did to Oregon State on Saturday — more than 400 passing yards and 4 touchdowns — is illegal in some states. Quite frankly, it changes the entire outlook of his season.
He’d join a crowded room that includes Anthony Gordon (Pac-12 record 48 in in 2019), Falk, Gardner Minshew, Ryan Leaf and Connor Halliday twice.
Caleb Williams, USC — 95%
From Kedon Slovis to Sam Darnold, Matt Leinart to Matt Barkley and several in between, USC’s 30-touchdown list is loaded with big years.
But while USC’s list is loaded, but Williams already finds himself at the top with 42 touchdown tosses last year. He had 7 games with 3 or more scores in 2022, but he’s already 4-for-4 this year, including a 5-touchdown game against Nevada in Week 2. With his deep ball and mobility, he’s a threat to throw 5 every week, and he very well could this weekend against Colorado. He’s already at 15.
Michael Penix Jr., Washington — 98%
Speaking of deep ball, Penix might just throw the prettiest long bomb in college football. Blessed with a cannon, a confident head coach, a brilliant offensive coordinator and arguably the best trio of targets in Pac-12 and maybe the country, Penix is already more than halfway there with 16 touchdowns so far.
After hitting 31 last year, 3rd all-time in UDub history, he’s looking to move up the rankings this year. Keith Price’s 33 scores are well within his reach, but Jake Browning’s program-best 43 touchdowns in 2016 is the goal.