Darnold headlines loaded ‘Conference of QBs’
The Pac-12 has been called the Conference of Quarterbacks and it looks like it will really live up to that this season.
USC’s Sam Darnold leads a strong group of returning QBs, including Jake Browning of Washington and Josh Rosen of UCLA.
But there are some newcomers, too.
Oregon State has community college transfer Jake Luton, while Utah’s Tyler Huntley wrested away the starter’s job from a senior incumbent after a glimpse of the field last season.
A primer for the quarterbacks that will lead the league’s teams this season:
SAM DARNOLD, USC: When fans last saw Darnold, he was throwing for 453 yards and five touchdowns in USC’s comeback win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
As a redshirt freshman last season, Darnold started 10 games and threw for 3,086 yards with 31 TDs. Now the Trojans are ranked No. 4 in AP’s preseason poll and he was named a preseason first-team All-American.
“Obviously there are some grand expectations for him, but he’s welcomed those. That’s part of being a USC quarterback. That’s why you come to USC. You’re the face of the program and you’re the leader of the program,” coach Clay Helton said.
JAKE BROWNING, WASHINGTON: Even though he was hampered by a shoulder injury last season, Browning led the Huskies to the Pac-12 championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
He threw for 3,430 yards and tied a Pac-12 record with 43 touchdown passes to earn the league’s offensive player of the year honor as a sophomore.
Recovered from shoulder surgery, Browning is ready to lead the No. 8 Huskies, drawing motivation from the season-ending loss to Alabama in the playoffs.
“I’m not happy with how last season went. We lost. We finished with a loss, and to have that sour taste in your mouth now for almost eight months, that’s doesn’t feel good,” Browning said. “So there’s no mistaking that there’s some motivation for us and that we can do better.”
JOSH ROSEN: UCLA: Rosen has thrown for 5,583 yards and 33 touchdowns in his first two years, but he’s often garnered more attention for off-field antics on social media. He’s toned down his profile heading into this season.
“You grow every day,” said Rosen, who had shoulder surgery following UCLA’s 4-8 season. “Get older, you get bigger, get better, get smarter, and UCLA has treated me very well the last few years. And I definitely look forward to continuing that process.”
LUKE FALK, WASHINGTON STATE: A former walk-on, Falk decided to return to the Cougars for his senior year. He’s one of the reasons the Cougars are ranked No. 24.
Falk posted his second straight season with at least 30 touchdown passes last year when he threw for 4,204 yards and 37 TDs.
“He’s not a guy that has a bunch of highs and lows. Just kind of steady, focused, intense work ethic without any panic to it. I do think his best football is ahead of him,” coach Mike Leach said.
JUSTIN HERBERT, OREGON: Herbert was thrust into a role as Oregon’s starting QB as a freshman last season when graduate transfer Dakota Prukop struggled. Herbert would go on to play in nine games, throwing for 1,936 yards with 19 touchdowns but the Ducks finished a disappointing 4-8.
“Last year I think I didn’t do a good job of being vocal or talking very much. So I think it kind of hurt us from a strategy standpoint. I didn’t have the comfortability to go to the offensive linemen or the running backs or the receivers,” he said. “But I think just being more comfortable around them has been super helpful.”
TYLER HUNTLEY, UTAH: The sophomore won the starter’s job over senior Troy Williams, who started all 13 games last season and was voted an offensive captain during fall camp.
Huntley played in four games last year, passing for 60 yards and running for 15 yards with a touchdown. Williams threw for 2,757 yards and 15 touchdowns with eight interceptions last season.
“He’s electric,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s able to make a play when everything breaks down, he can escape and extend the play and make something happen.”
MANNY WILKINS, ARIZONA STATE: Wilkins is considered the front-runner despite competing with Alabama transfer Blake Barnett in camp.
Wilkins started 10 games as a sophomore last season, throwing for 2,329 yards and 12 touchdowns, while rushing for 246 yards and five scores. But he was hindered by injury.
“I’ve enjoyed watching the competition probably as much as I’ve ever enjoyed any competition. What’s been neat is to watch them elevate each other, and it’s a fierce competition. And it’s created that atmosphere on our whole team,” coach Todd Graham said.
STEVEN MONTEZ, COLORADO: Montez played in 10 games as a freshman last season and went 2-1 as Colorado’s starter when senior Sefo Liufau was hurt. The Buffaloes finished 10-4 last season and earned their first bowl berth since 2007.
“I think there’s a little bit of confidence there, just seeing that I’ve had game experience and I’ve done a decent job running the offense and just getting us in good situations for making plays,” Montez said.
KELLER CHRYST, STANFORD: Chryst tore the ACL in his right knee in Stanford’s bowl game but came back to regain his starting job in fall camp. He was 6-0 as a sophomore starter last season with 10 TD passes, and the Cardinal finished 10-3.
UNDECIDED, CALIFORNIA: New head coach Justin Wilcox is letting the competition at quarterback play out during fall camp. He’s got several options after the departure of Davis Webb, including Chase Forest, Ross Bowers and freshman Chase Garbers.