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With Sean Mannion Returning, Pac 12 Football's 2014 QB Class Is Best in Nation

CORVALLIS, OR - OCTOBER 26: Quarterback Sean Mannion #4 of the Oregon State Beavers passes the ball during the third quarter of the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Reser Stadium on October 26, 2013 in Corvallis, Oregon. Stanford won the game 20-12. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Kyle KensingContributor IJanuary 8, 2014

Pity Pac-12 defenses: In 2014, they will face the best collection of quarterbacks in college football.

Sean Mannion joined in on the parade of Pac-12 quarterbacks passing on the NFL draft when the Oregon State junior declared his return to Corvallis, Ore., for one more year.

Mannion's return was not met with the same fanfare as UCLA redshirt sophomore Brett Hundley announcing his intention to spend another season in the Pac-12, which also came Monday.

A trying five-game stretch to close the regular season extinguished early Heisman Trophy talk and also explains the relative lack of national media attention Mannion's return received in comparison to his counterpart Hundley.

But it's also a testament to just how much talent the Pac-12 has returning at quarterback: Consider that Mannion is coming off a 2013 in which he set the conference's single season record with 4,662 passing yards, and his decision to captain the Beavers offense for one more season is quite significant.

Mannion rebounded from his late-season struggles with 314 passing yards and two touchdowns against rival Oregon, followed by a solid 24-of-33, 259-yard performance in the Beavers' Hawaii Bowl romp over Boise State.

His return is a big reason San Jose Mercury News columnist Jon Wilner ranks the Beavers No. 21 in his "ridiculously early" 2014 Top 25.

Oregon State is one of nine Pac-12 teams guaranteed to return its primary starting quarterback from the past season for 2014. If Utah's Travis Wilson is granted medical clearance to play, he makes 10. That leaves only Arizona and Washington introducing a new, full-time starter next season—and Washington reserve Cyler Miles made a start and finished the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl while senior Keith Price was nursing an injury.

Returning Pac-12 Quarterbacks
Player, TeamCompletions/Attempts (Pct.)Passing YardsPassing TD/INTRushing YardsRushing TD
Jared Goff, Cal320/531 (60.3)3,50818/10-621
Connor Halliday, Washington State449/714 (62.9)4,59734/22-1770
Kevin Hogan, Stanford180/295 (61.0)2,63520/103472
Brett Hundley, UCLA248/371 (66.8)3,07124/974811
Taylor Kelly, Arizona State302/484 (62.4)3,63528/126089
Cody Kessler, USC236/362 (65.2)2,96720/7-1241
Sefo Liufau, Colorado149/251 (59.4)1,77912/8430
Sean Mannion, Oregon State400/603 (66.3)4,66237/15-2230
Marcus Mariota, Oregon245/386 (63.5)3,66530/47159
Travis Wilson, Utah*133/237 (56.1)1,82716/163865
CFBStats.com

No other conference among the Group of Five with College Football Playoff priority has as much quarterback star power to go with the Pac-12's depth. The SEC, for example, loses a number of standouts: A.J. McCarron, Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray and Connor Shaw head that list.

The ACC returns with Heisman winner Jameis Winston, but loses such noteworthy starters as Tajh Boyd and Bryn Renner.

The Pac-12's group is top-heavy, replete with early Heisman favorites. Newsday includes Mannion in a list that also features Hundley and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, a frontrunner for the award through much of the past season before a late-season injury.

With Bryce Petty returning from a stellar campaign, Trevor Knight coming off a star turn in Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl defeat of Alabama and Davis Webb fresh from a thrashing of Arizona State, the Big 12 is perhaps closest to matching the Pac-12's upper echelon of quarterbacks in 2014. But matching the Pac-12's depth is another story.

Plenty has been said and written of the conference's top-tier quarterbacks, but it's the less discussed of the bunch that make the 2014 class the nation's best and add intrigue to the league's competition. 

Take Cal's Jared Goff and Colorado's Sefo Liufau. Their teams finished last in their respective divisions, but both showed promise starting as true freshmen.

"I watched him a lot through his [prep] career," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said of Liufau in October. "He's a darn good football player."

He lived up to Mora's praise by going 25-of-36 for 247 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions in Colorado's Nov. 2 loss at UCLA.

Depth isn't the only notable attribute that makes this quarterback crop so intriguing, either. The variety from one to another is immense.

There are dynamic dual-threats like Hundley, Mariota and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, as well as gunslinging passers Mannion and Washington State's Connor Halliday. Stanford's Kevin Hogan is a capable two-way talent operating the Cardinal's power-based offense, and USC's Cody Kessler only began to scratch the surface of his abilities while leading the Trojans to a 7-2 finish. 

Deep, diverse, talented or promising: No matter how one chooses to describes this class of quarterbacks, it's the best the nation has to offer for 2014. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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