Gold: Ranking the Pac-12 Week 1 starting QB debuts
On the one hand, the Pac-12 is led by the best collection of returning quarterbacks in the country, including returning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams from USC and top-10 candidates Bo Nix of Oregon and Michael Penix Jr. of Washington. And that’s not even including 2-time reigning conference champion Cam Rising.
On the other hand, no less than half the league is debuting new starting quarterbacks.
As a whole, the league was remarkable, as I noted in Monday Out West.
In total, Pac-12 passing games connected on 308-of-424 passing attempts for 3,981 yards, 37 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
Let’s take a look back at Week 1’s newbie QBs …
(Unranked) Sam Jackson V, Cal
How do you rank someone after 4 passes and less than 20 minutes of play? That would not be fair. Nor was it fair that Jackson was sidelined by an upper-body injury in the 2nd quarter.
He was off to a fine start by then, completing 3-of-4 passes for 33 yards and a touchdown including a 23-yard scoring strike to Jeremiah Hunter on his first throw. Jackson, a TCU transfer playing his first major action, also rushed 3 times for 18 yards.
If we extrapolate that over a full game, that’s impressive.
7. Ethan Garbers, UCLA
UCLA’s primary backup the past 2 seasons, Garbers beat out true freshman Dante Moore for the position, but there’s a reason that you see Moore on this list as well.
Garbers struggled to look downfield in his playing time, averaging to 7.1 yards per pass. That’s not new — he averaged just 7.9 yards per pass last year across 37 attempts.
The 2 interceptions didn’t help his effort, either, though Chip Kelly attributed 1 of those picks elsewhere. For the day, his 114.5 quarterback rating was the worst in the league.
6. Ben Finley, Cal
After Jackson went down, you could understand if Cal fans got a little nervous. Or at least Justin Wilcox. This feels like a make-or-break year for the Bears’ head coach.
How relieved must he have been, then, to see what Finley did in relief. Finley completed 24-of-34 passes for 279 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception for a passer rating of 143.3. He also helped guide a running game that broke out for 357 yards and 6 scores.
Ultimately, Cal’s 58 points were its most since 2014.
5. Jaden Rashada, Arizona State
On his 4th play of his college career, Rashada made it clear why he won the QB competition out in Tempe, going for 33 yards to Melquan Stovall. That kicked off an 11-of-15 start for the true freshman.
But a storm delayed the game for what felt like an eternity, and the Sun Devils slumped in the second half, with Rashada competing just 7 more passes.
When he got protection, he was pretty good. Unfortunately, that might be rare this season.
4. Dante Moore, UCLA
Moore entered the game late in the 1st half and promptly led UCLA to a touchdown. The Bruins went on to score points on 4 of his 5 drives, reason enough for Kelly to switch over to the 5-star freshman this week.
But it was his bond with J. Michael Sturdivant that really sticks out. Their first 2 connections went for 33 and 62 yards, the latter a 1-play touchdown.
Not a bad backup job for his first time in blue and gold.
3. Ashton Daniels, Stanford
Much of the preseason hubbub coming out of Palo Alto revolved around Ari Patu and Justin Lamson. But ultimately the dual-threat Daniels won out.
After a solid if unspectacular season-opener, he’ll keep the job.
Daniels completed 25-of-36 passes for 248 yards and 2 scores and rushed another 11 times for 42 yards. That versatility will set him apart in Troy Taylor’s offense.
2. DJ Uiagalelei, Oregon State
Easily one of the most intriguing players in the conference if not the country, Uiagalelei proved why he was so coveted out of high school and the transfer portal with his 5 total touchdowns in a rout of San Jose State.
Playing behind a talented and experienced offensive line, Uiagalelei was able to step up into the pocket and strong arm the ball. He connected on 80% of his passes, though his 9.6 yards per attempt were a notch below the conference’s top players. Still: A 199.9 efficiency rating is nothing to sneeze at.
1. Shedeur Sanders, Colorado
A no-brainer. Sanders is no stranger to college football, but playing in the SWAC and playing in the Pac-12 (and against the defending national runner-up) is a whole new ball of wax.
Against much stiffer competition than he ever saw at Jackson State, Sanders was downright incredible. He completed 38-of-47 attempts for 510 yards and 4 touchdowns, striking from short and from deep. He was on point. He was decisive. He was victorious, leading the Buffaloes to the 45-42 win over TCU.
It was nothing short of the most remarkable Pac-12 debut in history.