Gold: The Pac-12 QB matchups you don't want to miss in 2023
With 3 of the top 5 Heisman contenders residing in the Pac-12 — including the reigning Heisman winner — and several more compelling quarterbacks, the west is home to the best collection of throwers in the country. Up and down the coast and into the mountains, old and veteran, young and full of vigor — Pac-12 passers reign supreme.
That means we’ll be blessed with a weekly aerial show that rivals the Blue Angels, thrilling showdowns that are for all the marbles and head-to-head battles that could define not just one game but the season.
Here’s a look at the top quarterback matchups you don’t want to miss in 2023 …
USC’s Caleb Williams vs. Utah’s Cam Rising
Last year, the USC/Utah matchup went down as one of the best Pac-12 games in recent memory. Utah won, 43-42, behind 30-of-44 passing for 415 yards and 2 scores from Rising, who added 60 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns.
But it’s not really fair to say he outdueled Williams, who went 25-of-42 for 381 yards and 5 touchdowns — his first of 4 straight games with 5 scores.
Rising did have the better ending, leading Utah to a 15-play, 75-yard drive, capped by his 1-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion. Kyle Whittingham going for it on 2 to win it by 1? That’s a heck of a lot of trust in your QB, and Rising delivered.
This time, the matchup heads to the L.A. Coliseum, one week after the Trojans head out to South Bend for a test against the Fighting Irish and transfer quarterback Sam Hartman.
This assumes, obviously, that Rising is healthy by the mid-point in the season.
UCLA’s Dante Moore vs. Arizona State’s Jaden Rashada
We might be ready for the dawn of a new era by the time UCLA and Arizona State meet on Nov. 11.
By then, both fabulous freshmen could be starting. Granted, there is also a chance that neither quarterback is in the driver’s seat by this time.
But anyone who watched UCLA’s and Arizona State’s spring practices knew Moore and Rashada — 247Sports’ No. 3 and No. 6 quarterback recruits in the country, respectively — were the most talented passers on the field. Both are in similar situations, with returning quarterbacks who have familiarity with the offense (UCLA’s Ethan Garbers and ASU’s Trenton Bourguet) and incoming transfers who saw extended time last year (UCLA’s Collin Schlee and ASU’s Drew Pyne).
I’m betting Chip Kelly and Kenny Dillingham have long turned to their talented freshmen sooner than later.
Williams vs. Washington’s Michael Penix Jr.
The first of 2 terrific matchups that we were robbed of last season because of schedule-makers, Williams has a potential Heisman-deciding head-to-head with Penix in Week 10.
But this showdown does not just pit arguably the nation’s top 2 quarterbacks against each other, but 2 of the best receiving corps in all of college football. Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk vs. Dorian Singer, Mario Williams and Brenden Rice? That’s a fireworks show.
The most exciting matchup here might just be USC head coach Lincoln Riley vs. Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb.
Williams vs. Oregon’s Bo Nix
One week after Williams squares off with Penix, he’ll have to travel to the unfriendly confines of Autzen Stadium to tangle with Nix, another Heisman candidate.
Only problem for USC is that Oregon was darn-near unbeatable at home last year, going 5-1, with only a 3-point loss to Washington.
Nix was 123-of-173 passing for 1,510 yards and 17 touchdowns with 1 interception, plus 7 rushing scores.
Good luck, USC defense.
Nix vs. Penix
This one will be a rematch of one of the best games of the year, yet another satisfying bout that went to the final round. Penix outlasted Nix, who went down with a late-game injury that spoiled the fun a bit. Nix attempted a last-drive comeback but fell short, knocking the Ducks from the Pac-12 perch.
Penix lit it up for 408 yards and 2 scores with 1 interception, including 8 passes for 122 yards to Polk. Nix hit 19-of-28 passes for 280 yards and 2 touchdowns with 55 rushing yards and a score, connecting 5 times for 139 yards and a touchdown with Troy Franklin.
This time, Washington gets this key conference game at home.
Arizona’s Jayden de Laura vs. Washington State’s Cam Ward
It was abundantly clear last season that de Laura was out of his element facing his former squad for the first time, as Washington State tricked the former Pac-12 freshman of the year into a season-high 4 interceptions.
De Laura did pass for 357 yards, including 9 completions for 176 yards and a score to Singer, who has since bounced to USC.
Ward only passed for 193 yards in the win, with no Cougar catching for more than Donovan Ollie’s 53.
At this point, some of the bad blood might be thinned out, but the mid-October game is one to watch, and a must-win for Arizona’s postseason hopes.
Nix vs. Oregon State’s DJ Uiagalelei
Last season, Oregon State was an effective passing game away from being 11-1 in the regular season. In fact, the Beavers weren’t all too effective against the Ducks, with Ben Gulbranson passing for just 60 yards and 2 interceptions with 0 interceptions. Yet Oregon State won the in-state rivalry game, 38-34, as Nix passed for 327 yards and 2 scores but was rendered ineffective on the ground.
There’s a chance Gulbranson runs it back for Jonathan Smith in 2023, but Smith reeled in Uiagalelei from Clemson for a reason. He adds a downfield dynamic with which Gulbranson simply cannot compete.
If Uiagalelei lives up to his former 5-star billing, the Beavers will be among the nation’s elite and this always fun matchup gets that much tastier.