Pac-12 QB Power Rankings entering Week 1: Caleb Williams... then a whole lot of talent
The Pac-12 will be the best quarterback conference in college football in 2023.
Not exactly a hot take. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner calls the shots in Los Angeles. Behind him, there are a handful of elite quarterbacks in the league. And behind them, just about every program outside of the Bay Area has either a proven commodity or a high-profile freshman taking over.
So, with that table-setter, here’s Saturday Out West’s Pac-12 quarterback power rankings entering Week 1. These will be updated weekly throughout the season.
12. Ari Patu/Ashton Daniels/Justin Lamson/Myles Jackson, Stanford
Stanford head coach Troy Taylor has a four-way quarterback battle on his hands and hasn’t given any indication which way he’s leaning.
“I think it’s become more and more clear for us, but I won’t make any announcement,” he said this week. “Everybody will know right when the game starts.”
We’ll need a bit more time to find out how good this room is, though. Patu and Daniels combined to attempt a total of 15 passes for Stanford last fall. Patu had another 16 attempts in two appearances the year prior. Jackson is a true freshman. Lamson is a Syracuse transfer who took a redshirt his first year and then missed all of the 2022 season with an injury.
11. Sam Jackson V, Cal
Jackson is another unknown. He played receiver as a sophomore in high school, then transitioned to quarterback ahead of his junior season (2019), then lost his senior season to COVID. At the college level, he has six career pass attempts. Jackson arrived at Cal in the spring ready to work. Coach Justin Wilcox named him the starter late in fall camp, but he won the job in the spring. He’s an explosive athlete. We’ll see if he can be what Cal needs.
10. Jaden Rashada, Arizona State
It looked for a moment like Arizona State would roll with Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne until a hamstring injury midway through training camp paved the way for the former 4-star recruit to win the job. Rashada took over the first-team reps and was said to really accelerate. First-year head coach Kenny Dillingham’s offense promises chunk plays en masse; Rashada has all the tools to make things go. So much of his story to this point has been dominated by the NIL saga at Florida. I’m looking for Rashada to go out and let his play recenter the focus.
9. Ethan Garbers, UCLA
Coach Chip Kelly plans to roll with a three-quarterback system in UCLA’s opener against Coastal Carolina. Garbers will be starting, Kelly says, because he has the most experience in the system. Still, expect to see Kent State transfer Collin Schlee and 5-star freshman Dante Moore.
My money would have been on Moore to earn the starting job, but Kelly zigging while we expected him to zag should have come as no surprise. The Bruin head coach is still an offensive wizard and UCLA should have the defense figured out this season. I’d expect the floor to be somewhat high with Garbers given his age and knowledge of the Kelly system. After two years at Washington, he transferred to UCLA and backed up Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Garbers has 599 yards, four touchdowns, and four interceptions in his UCLA career.
8. DJ Uiagalelei, Oregon State
Uiagalelei made 28 starts for the Tigers and threw for 5,681 yards and 36 touchdowns. The talent is undeniable but the ride can be a little unnerving at times. Uiagalelei completed 59.8% of his throws at Clemson and was picked off 17 times. Before last season even ended, Clemson fans were ready to move on to the next guy and it’s safe to say Uiagalelei was ready for a fresh start all the same.
At Oregon State, he won’t have the same kind of talent, but he also doesn’t have the same kind of spotlight or pressure. Clemson expected College Football Playoff berths. Oregon State is asking him to help it take the next step. Help. He won’t have to be “the guy,” so to speak. Good offensive line, strong running game, good defense, high-level coaching. It’s possible we see a smoother DJ U in this new setting.
7. Shedeur Sanders, Colorado
Sanders played for his dad at Jackson State and went 23-3 with two SWAC championships. Last year, he set a program record for passing touchdowns in a season (40) and his 3,752 passing yards finished just 57 yards shy of another program record. Sanders holds a career 68% completion rate, he takes care of the football, and he can make things happen with his legs when necessary.
The big question here is how much of that will translate to the Power Five level. CU will be getting everyone’s best week in and week out, regardless of what the record is. That’s what the offseason attention brings. Does Sanders have the talent around him? Does he have the protection?
6. Jayden de Laura, Arizona
In his first season with Arizona, de Laura threw for 3,685 yards and 25 touchdowns. There was some certifiable magic when he looked downfield. Arizona’s pass offense the year prior was dreadful, and de Laura provided exactly what coach Jedd Fisch hoped for. But Arizona had to live with the bad to enjoy the good. The lows were low.
When he played from behind — which was often —or when he played Washington State, de Laura tried to pull off the 21-point pass far too often. He threw 13 interceptions on the year. Four of those came against the Cougs, when some of the immaturity issues were really highlighted. He was also sacked 23 times. He gives you so much; the next step in his game will be avoiding the crucial mistakes when the Wildcats are most reliant on him.
5. Cameron Ward, Washington State
If Washington State can protect its quarterback, you’ll start to see Ward’s name rise up draft boards throughout the year. Ward jumped from the FCS level at Incarnate Word and threw for 3,231 yards (64.4%) with 23 touchdowns and nine picks in his first year at the Power Five level. He did so while under duress almost every play.
Ward was sacked 46 times on the season. Drake Maye was the only quarterback in the country who was pressured on more dropbacks. And, as one would expect, he really struggled when pressured. When he was kept clean, he had an 18:3 touchdown to interception ratio and a 78.8% adjusted completion rate. This is a really good quarterback. Wazzu owes him more time to show it.
4. Cameron Rising, Utah
What can you say about Rising that hasn’t already been said? He’s a baller and a leader. I would have liked to see Rising take a step with his deep ball last season and that didn’t really happen, but part of that has to do with the receiver situation. The Utes don’t win back-to-back Pac-12 championships without Rising. He’s tough and generally just doesn’t make many mistakes. (Unless he’s playing Oregon, which has five of the 13 interceptions Rising is responsible for the last two years.) He finished the 2022 season ninth nationally in ESPN’s QBR, a second consecutive top-10 finish.
3. Bo Nix, Oregon
The rest of the Pac-12 wants to know how much of Nix’s resurgent 2022 season was a product of Dillingham’s play-calling and the offensive line’s protection. Nix was hardly ever touched, and he finished fourth nationally with an 87.0 QBR. The shot plays were obviously the highlight plays, but part of Nix’s brilliance last fall was in the intermediate stuff. He was exceptional there, completing 65% of his passes (sixth among qualified P5 passers) with 10 touchdowns and only one interception.
2. Michael Penix Jr., Washington
The former IU quarterback reunited with his IU coordinator and took the country by storm. I was skeptical of Penix before the season started (such a dummy) but he proved right away the Indiana tenure was all about health. He made pro-level throws every week and showcased arm talent that rivals anyone in the country. The Husky star finished fourth nationally in expected points added — one spot behind Caleb Williams.
1. Caleb Williams, USC
He’s the best quarterback in the country. He makes absurd plays on a weekly basis. His playmaking ability is next-level. His ability to generate velocity from the most random throwing angles/bases frankly doesn’t make sense. In his debut season with USC, the Heisman winner threw for 4,537 yards and 42 touchdowns against only five interceptions. That was behind a shaky offensive line that allowed pressure far too often.