Who can catch the Heisman favorite?
Andrew Luck set Pac-10 records last year en route to almost winning the Heisman.
While Luck is the gem of the group, there are certainly many talented others behind him. Nine teams in the conference have their starting QBs returning, including both first-year teams—Utah and Colorado. There are also four returning 1,000-yard rushers and three 1,000-yard receivers.
With all this talent back in 2011, it will take a lot to take home the top QB award in the inaugural Pac-12 season. There are seven signal-callers, who can realistically challenge for the title, but they will all be chasing Luck.
Great QBs have become a stable on the west coast, and it will be surprising if there is not at least one new name everybody is talking about.
There are still some teams that have problems at the position though so here are the conference QB rankings, with my projected starter for each program in the title. Feel free to disagree.
Keith Price will battle Nick Montana to ake Locker
Losing Jake Locker, who left as the school's second career passer, will hurt the Huskies big time, but they have talented players still there.
Keith Price started against Oregon last year when Locker went down with a rib injury. He had a great spring and was named the starter. Price was not very highly ranked coming out of high school, No. 87 QB in his high school class according to Phil Steele, which is what separates him from backup Nick Montana. Price also needs to work on his mechanics and keeping the ball closer to his body when he runs.
Montana was ranked the No. 15 QB in his high school class according to Phil Steele and is the son of the famed Joe Montana. He is also a little bigger, 6'3" to the 6'1" of Price. There will be some competition if Price doesn't play well, and the world will really know who is going to be the starter when the huskies travel to Nebraska to take on a team the dominated in the 2010 Holiday Bowl.
Whoever wins the job should do pretty well with one of the conference's top returning receiver, Jermaine Kearse, the most underrated RB in the country, Chris Polk, and three starting offensive linemen back.
Last years starter Brock Mansion might end up third on a very deep depth chart at QB.
The good news is California has three very talented QBs on the depth chart; the bad news is that they don't have much experience.
Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard should be the favorite for the position as he took over after Drew Willy, the school's career passer, in 2009, and threw for 2,694 yards with a 18-15 TD/INT ratio. Senior Brock Mansion is the established player but failed to impress after starter Kevin Riley went down, throwing for 646 yards, a 48.9 completion percentage and five INTs in four starts.
Another possible starter is Allan Bridgford who sat out last year as a freshman but was the No. 10 QB out of high school. Beau Sweeney was Mansion's backup last year when Riley hurt his knee. The situation is really wide open with Maynard being the front-runner.
Jeff Tedford's job will be in jeopardy this year after the worst passing year in the coaches history, with a combined 2,101 yards.
For a coach that has mentored some great players coming through the system in the likes of, Kyle Boller, Aaron Rodgers and Nate Longshore, the position has become a problem in 2011. This year, it looks to be the team's biggest weakness, with a great high school class coming in. The No. 7 pro-style QB in the nation, Kyle Boehm, will add to the groups potential but won't be ready for the fall.
Overall, there should be better numbers but expect a rough season for Cal fans, as they are nowhere near the level they were at just three years ago.
Kevin Prince is the established starter, but will have to fight off others to keep that job.
Four players competed at QB for the Bruins last year, but none of them really asserted themselves.
Kevin Prince started the season but was not used to the new pistol offense, as he was injured before the season and couldn't practice. He brings a good passing game to the mix as well as a power running game that is becoming more effective with every down.
Behind him is Richard Brehaut, who showed a lot of passing ability in the 55-34 loss to Arizona State. He led the team in passing with 1,296 yards in 2010, despite only starting seven games. Both players committed the cardinal sin in the pistol offense. They had turnover problems, with their TD/INT ratios being 3-5 and 6-7 respectively.
Also in the mix is Nick Crissman who was the highest ranked player coming out of high school of the three ranked the No. 12 QB by Phil Steele.
If Rick Neuhiesel is smart though, he will turn to another highly ranked high school player in Brett Hundley. His job is in jeopardy, and this is the best QB recruit he has ever brought in.
To say Hundley ran the pistol offense well at Chandler High School in Arizona is an understatement. He combined the best of both worlds as he had 1,517 passing yards and 1,208 rushing yards. Hundley looked fluid as he ran the pistol to perfection, despite not having the quality players that other high schools in the division had. He is also the biggest of the four at 6'4", 225.
If the team is to keep with the pistol offense, Neuhiesel should go with Hundley. Prince and Brehaut are not running QBs, they had an average yards per carry of 2.3 and 1.1 respectively.
With nine starters returning on offense, including all the receivers, if the team gets good QB play, the Bruins could make a lot of noise in a open Pac-12 South race. Look for that September 17th game against Texas at home to decide the QB battle.
Tyler hansen need to step up his play, if Colorado is going to not be a bottom dweller in their new conference.
Cody Hawkins went out on top, finishing as the top career passer in school history, his father Dan Hawkins did not.
They are both gone now, and Tyler Hansen is left in the wake, so are the other eight returning starters on offense. This team has good potential but will be transitioning. Hansen isn't that big, standing at 6'1", 210, but he can throw. Both Hawkins and Hansen combined for 221 passing yards per game last year with a good 20-11 TD/INT ratio.
Senior Rodney Stewart will be one of the top rushers in the league and will probably top his 1,318 yards from last year. This means that the QB will just need to throw for a decent amount of yards but take good care of the ball.
CU has not had an all-conference performer at the position since Koy Detmer in 1996. That doesn't look like it will change this year, but stranger things have happened before.
Behind Hansen is redshirt freshman Nick Hirschman (6'3", 225), who has a lot of potential but shouldn't push Hansen too much. Also added is junior college transfer Brent Burnette (6'3", 210), who played at Middle Tennessee in 2009 and incoming recruit Stevie Dorman (6'4", 210).
The Buffaloes will have good production and draw Arizona and Washington State at home, meaning they should have some conference wins. If Hansen puts together a great game, which he is capable of, this team could shock a team USC or Oregon at home.
If Jordan Wynn can improve his '10 numbers the Utes could find themselves in the first ever Pac-12 conference championship game.
If Jordan Wynn goes down with an injury, Utah fans will be in trouble.
Wynn had a good season last year throwing for 2,334 yards and a 17-10 TD/INT ratio, but that was against Mountain West secondaries. The transistion to a new conference will bring better weather but tighter defenses for the 6'1", 195lb junior.
He will have a chance to improve his numbers as the running game will be a lot worse with the top two rushers, Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata, who combined for 1,412 rushing yards, gone. There is 1,482 receiving yards gone also.
The transistion will be toughest for the O-line as there are a lot of talented pass-rushers in the conference, especially in the South division.
The team will not have a chance to get comfortable, as the second and third week are at USC and at BYU respectively. I think Utah can win one of those two, but they have to get quality play from Wynn.
It will have to be Wynn, because there is no depth at all behind him. Tyler Shreve, who greyshirted after his scholarship was voided in 2010, and Griff Robles who played in four games last year only throwing one pass, which he didn't complete. The backup for last year, Terrence Cain, is gone after throwing for 703 yards and a 6-2 TD/INT ratio. They also don't have any QBs coming in from high school this year.
The team will not be as good as some people have said, but they will win some games, and possibly go to another bowl.
Ryan Katz had a good second year under Mike Riley, but will need even more since Jacquizz Rodgers is gone.
If Ryan Katz was in another conference, he might be an all-conference performer.
Instead, he is No. 7 in a very loaded conference at the toughest position in football. Katz (6"1", 209lb) is leading the team many expect to compete for second in the tough North division. While he does have all but one of his O-line starters back, Jacquizz Rodgers is gone. This means much more passing from a team that has a really tough road schedule, including a September 10th meeting with Wisconsin.
Katz is small but plays big within the pocket. He needs to continue to be strong in the pocket as he is not that good of a runner, despite 78 attempts last year, he only recorded 14 rushing yards.
Behind Katz is Cody Vaz, another short QB who played in five games last year. Also behind him will be Sean Mannion and Jack Lomax, the son of ex-NFL player Neil Lomax. Those three will compete for the backup role with Mannion being the highest ranked coming out of high school.
As long as Katz stays healthy, the Beavers will have a decent season and will have a shot at making it back to a bowl game after last year's postseason absence.
Brock Osweiler's play could take the Sun Devils from Pac-12 South favorite to National Title contender.
ASU was the best 6-6 team last year losing to Wisconsin, Oregon State, USC and Stanford by less than five points.
It was about time that something went right for the Sun Devils when they pulled one out against rivals Arizona. The man behind that win was Brock Osweiler.
With new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's offense, Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler threw for a combined outstanding 3,331 yards in 2010. Having one QB should help improve those numbers, but the problem for the Sun Devils at the beginning of 2010 was not the production but the turnovers.
Threet had a conference-high 16 INTs including four against Oregon. Osweiler had a number of passes that could have been picked off against U of A, but his big arm saved him as the balls were thrown very hard. Now Threet is gone; he quit football after concussion symptoms. So is dual-threat QB Samson Szakacsy, who left the program, leaving just Osweiler and a couple of freshmen.
Osweiler's biggest strength is that he is big, 6'8", 235. He showed his athletic ability also as he scrambled often against U of A, accumulating 56 yards. He has the potential to be first team all-conference, which says a lot in the Pac-12, but he has yet to prove himself.
Behind him are true freshman Mike Bercovici, redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly and true freshman dual-threat QB Michael Eubank. Bercovici has a monster arm and impressed a lot of people with his strong spring.
Kelly was there last year but didn't get any snaps. He has a decent ability to run but doesn't get consistent accuracy on his throws.
Eubank could be used alongside Osweiler as a run threat, but Dennis Erickson didn't take advantage of Szakascy that way so it would be surprising if he started now.
No matter who backs him up, Osweiler will be relied on to produce a great season and even to save Erickson's job.
Jeff Tuel will have to carry the Cougars this year if they are to break out of the basement.
Two years ago, Jeff Tuel became just the second freshman, Drew Bledsoe in 1990, to start at the storied QB position for Washington State.
Tuel threw for 789 yards in five starts as a freshman and 2,780 yards in his first full season in 2010. He made all-conference honorable mention last year and has a chance to improve on that this year as the top two receivers, Marquess Wilson and Jared Karstetter, return.
Last year, the Cougars shocked a lot of people by pulling the upset in Corvallis. This year, they get five winnable conference games with competitions at Colorado (after a bye), Oregon State (at Qwest Field), at California (at AT&T Park in San Francisco), Utah (struggled against the pass last year in the Mountain West) and Washington (also at Qwest field).
If the team can win two of those, it should be a good year. If the team can win three or more, it's likely to get to its first bowl since the 2003 Holiday Bowl.
Tuel will likely improve on his numbers, and he kept the team close in a couple of games in 2010. Behind him is Marshall Lobbesstael, who started games before Tuel got there. He is a capable backup who can fill if Tuel goes down.
Tuel will be one of the more underrated QBs in the conference and should be a dark horse all-conference candidate if he can pull some upsets.
Nick Foles might be the best QB Tucson has ever seen.
The Wildcats have never had a QB drafted. That will likely change with Nick Foles.
Foles will have to deal with no returning starters on the offensive line though. The team doesn't even have any of its backups back either, as there is a total of one game-starter returning. The good thing for Foles is that he will have a clear-cut Biletnikoff Award contender back in Juron Criner.
Another problem will be that the defense will not be close to as good as it was last year with Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore gone, meaning longer drives. U of A was second in the conference in pass completion percentage against last year with 57.3 percent, mostly because of Reed and Elmore's pass rush.
Foles is very accurate and should be OK as the short throw is a stable of Arizona's offense. However the long balls to Criner will likely be gone. Foles had 10 INTs last year which will have to go down, especially if he is throwing shorter passes because of the pick-six risk.
Also Foles has to work on his scrambling ability as he had -113 yards rushing. Now, nobody is expecting Foles to turn into a Darren Thomas, but if he wants to play better, this is where he can easily improve. Willie Tuitama, who is the school's career passer, had -166, -163 and -120 in 2006,'07 and '08 respectively. If Foles wants to be better than Tuitama, this is the area he can do better in.
When it comes to backups, Arizona has the best in the conference in Matt Scott. Scott can run the ball. He had 135 rushing yards last year, despite being the backup. He was also the No. 5 dual-threat QB coming out of high school in 2008 and was expected to take over for Tuitama before Foles transferred from Michigan State. Mike Stoops has been talking about redshirting Scott as the team does have Bryson Beirne, a four-year senior, also in the rotation. True freshman Daxx Garman was also in for the spring.
The Wildcats have a very tough schedule to break in a new O-line starting with their second game at Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, at USC and at Oregon State before their bye. If they can win two or three of those games, a bowl should be in the cards this year.
Darron Thomas will be looking to repeat a spectacular season as a first-year starter.
If Jeff Maehl was returning, Darron Thomas would be No. 1 on this list.
He had an outstanding 2,881 passing yards and a 30-9 TD/INT ratio in 2010! He also completed 61.5 percent of his passes. The biggest problem for the Oregon offense will be replacing Maehl, who caught 35 percent of Thomas' completions. Also they have three new starters on the O-line and only five returning starters from the most underrated defense in college football.
Thomas is a dual-threat QB who played like an all-conference passer passer last year. He did still have 485 yards rushing last year and look for that to be increased even more in 2011 with more of an emphasis on holding the ball. Also, he did get sacked 10 times, which is a little much for a dual-threat QB.
If he can improve on his numbers, Thomas might be a legitimate Heisman contender.
What separates Oregon from a couple of the other Pac-12 schools is that they really don't have anybody ready to step in if Thomas goes down. With Nate Costa leaving as a senior last year, the only QB with any experience is sophomore Daryle Hawkins. Hawkins is a running threat, as evidenced by his 93 yards on 18 attempts in four games last year.
After Hawkins is redshirt freshman Bryan Bennett and incoming freshman Marcus Mariota, both of whom are not high ranked coming out of high school. Bennett is the only one who is more of a pocket-passer, but the kid still has some speed with a 4.6 40 time in high school, according to rivals.com.
The Ducks have a very difficult schedule as their first game is against LSU in Arlington, Texas. If they can survive that one, their hardest games will be at home against ASU, at Washington and at Oregon.
The team will have very high expectations coming off a national championship appearance, but they better be wary of each opponent. The conference is deep this year and even a team like Colorado could stun the Ducks and keep them from the title.
The last two years Matt Barkley's stats put him on the map, but he will need to win more games to put himself in contention for the Heisman.
Matt Barkley has continued to improve in his two years at USC going from 2,735 passing yards with a 15-14 TD/INT ratio in 2009 to 2,791 yards and a 26-12 ratio in 2010. He also had the second-best completion percentage in the conference at 67.1 last year.
He will need to find a new No. 2 receiver this year though as Ronald Johnson, Stanley Havili and David Ausberry are gone. Robert Woods is back, but the sophomore might have some problems breaking the press at only 6'1",185 lbs. Kyle Prater and George Farmer are the 2009 and 2010 No.1 high school receivers though and will have their chance to play for that role.
The biggest miss will be Havili, as he made many clutch catches for the program out of the backfield. Clutch was a problem for Barkley as he struggled during the big games in 2010. He threw two INTs against Oregon last year and had only 186 yards and no touchdowns in the loss against Washington. He was hurt for both the Oregon State and Notre Dame losses.
Behind Barkley is a talented young trio. Jesse Scroggins, Matt Wittek and Cody Kessler will all have a chance for backup duty. Whoever wins will likely be better than Mitch Mustain last year who didn't have a good end to the 2010 season. All three have potential as they were all top 10 QBs coming out of high school. Senior Brett Kan transferred from Princeton and is also in the mix.
What this group doesn't have is experience with the system, which could hurt the team if Barkley went down. Unfortunately for the Trojans, the schedule is more difficult to start out with than 2010's.
The team will play three of its south rivals in Utah, Arizona and Arizona State before their bye. The other games are against bottom-dwellers Syracuse and Minnesota, though, so they could get some work in from their backups there.
Andrew Luck returned to college football in 2011. He will be a Heisman favortie before he snaps the ball, but will he will be able to stay there throughout the year?
Andrew Luck has to be No.1.
The future 2012 NFL draft first overall pick will take the field for Stanford once again but this time under a new head coach. He broke the conference record for completion percentage at 70.7 percent. He also had a school record 32 TD passes to go along with 3,338 yards. What many people forget is he was very nimble in the pocket scrambling for a total of 453 rushing yards with an 8.2 yards per carry.
With Cam Newton gone, Luck is the Heisman favorite, finishing second last year. He does lose his top two receivers, including Doug Baldwin who had 58 receptions for 857 yards and nine TDs. They also lose three starters on their O-line, though they have 2010's first team all-conference left tackle. Stepfan Taylor, the top returning rusher, will take some of the pressure off too.
There will not be much transition since David Shaw has been coaching at Stanford since 2007. Shaw should be able to help Luck as well as he once was the quarterbacks coach when Rich Gannon was at the Oakland Raiders in 2001.
Behind luck is a couple of talented underclassman in sophomore Josh Nunes (6'4", 209), redshirt freshman Brett Nottingham (6'4", 210) and true freshman Kevin Hogan (6'4", 205"). Nunes should be able to step in barring an injury from Luck as he played in four games last year. The unit does lose Alex Loukas, who played behind luck and rushed for 150 yards.