If the Pac-12 goes as its quarterbacks go, then 2019 has some promise:
Eight starters return, and that count doesn’t include Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who started seven games for UCLA, or Washington’s Jacob Eason, who played a full season at Georgia in 2016.
But if 10 teams are reasonably or completely set with the first stringer, precious few at solid at the backup spot.
And if 2019 goes as 2018 went, that could be a problem: Five starters missed time last season because of injuries.
Khalil Tate’s rolled ankle roiled Arizona’s season.
Utah went the stretch run (albeit successfully) without Tyler Huntley.
UCLA was without Wilton Speight for a chunk of the fall; same with Oregon State and Jake Luton.
USC played a third-stringer in a three-point loss to Arizona State (and missed the postseason by one game).
Let those examples serve as a reminder that the backup quarterback is the least important player on the roster … until he’s the most important.
With that in mind, the Hotline presents the first of three installments in 2019 of the Quarterback Comfort Quotient (QBQC), which takes into account the quality and experience of not only the starter but the backup.
We’ll do this again after spring practice and then before the season. As we saw last year, the transfer market can change things just a bit.
Projected starter: Tyler Huntley
Key backups: Jason Shelley and Drew Lisk
He won big games down the stretch, threw for 300 yards in the Holiday Bowl, can run and pass — and he’s only the backup. Short at quarterback so many years, the Utes are loaded for ’19 with Huntley, who’s ready for a run at all-conference honors, and Shelley, the best No. 2 by a wide margin. The competition through spring and summer will make both better.
Projected starter: Justin Herbert
Key backup: Tyler Shough
Yes, the Ducks have the most talented starter in the conference and perhaps the country. But because of the inexperience behind Herbert (resulting from Braxton Burmeister’s transfer), they don’t warrant the top spot. Shough is well-regarded and the likely starter in 2020 and beyond, but he has never attempted a pass.
Projected starter: Khalil Tate
Key backups: Rhett Rodriguez and Jamarye Joiner
Assuming good health, Tate will be the Week Zero starter (the Wildcats open early in Hawaii). The next six months are about refining skills and improving efficiency. Rodriguez is a capable short-term backup (a quarter, a half, maybe a game), but the long-term solution behind Tate is probably Joiner at this point.
Projected starter: K.J. Costello
Key backups: Jack Richardson, Davis Mills and Jack West
Were the QBCQ based solely on the quality of the starter, Stanford would be No. 2 behind Oregon. (Costello is a future pro.) But the backups have combined for just a handful of attempts and are all underclassmen. It’s close, but the Hotline would prefer Tate and RhettRod over Costello and Co., at least until we see how spring practice plays out.
Projected starter: Steven Montez
Key backups: Sam Noyer, Tyler Lytle and Blake Stenstrom
Montez improved his efficiency markedly in 2018 and should be one of the top starters in the conference, an enticing mix of size, mobility and experience. The experience behind Montez is limited: Noyer has 41 career attempts. Add a new system to the mix, and things are anything but settled for the Buffs.
Projected starter: Jacob Eason
Key backups: Jake Haener, Jacob Sirmon and Colson Yankoff
For all Eason’s arm talent and hype, he hasn’t played competitively since Oct. 7, 2017 because of the knee injury at Georgia and subsequent transfer. There’s no doubt he’ll start for the Huskies, but his effectiveness is TBD. The guess here is that Haener wins the No. 2 job.
7. Washington State
Projected starter: Gage Gubrud
Key backups: Cammon Cooper, Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon
Combined passes thrown for the Cougars by the quarterbacks listed here: 14. Combined passes thrown by Gubrud at Eastern Washington: 1,165. We’re not expecting Gubrud to be Gardner Minshew II 2, but the Air Raid will allow for quick assimilation and baseline effectiveness.
Projected starter: JT Daniels
Key backups: Matt Fink and Jack Sears
The more competition the better through spring practice and training camp. But the Hotline won’t believe Fink (the No. 2 last season) or Sears will ever win the job. Coach Clay Helton has too much invested in Daniels. The Trojans are in worse shape than they should be at quarterback but better shape than a handful of peers.
Projected starter: Dorian Thompson-Robinson
Key backup: Matt Lynch
Thompson-Robinson is a major talent whose experience last season (10 games, 194 passes) sets the Bruins up well for 2019 and, especially, 2020 — the year of rendering judgment on Chip Kelly. An offseason of strength and conditioning will help Thompson-Robinson handle the grind. And he best be up to that task, because as currently constituted, the Bruins don’t have a backup who’s even remotely proven.
Projected starter: Chase Garbers
Key backups: Devon Modster and Jack Newman.
One of the most interesting QB competitions in the conference, partly because of the horror show that was ’18 and partly because of Modster’s arrival. The former UCLA backup to Josh Rosen has limited playing experience (79 attempts) but will undoubtedly make a serious run at the starting job. It’s not like he’s trying to unseat Rosen, after all.
11. Oregon State
Projected starter: Jake Luton
Key backups: Tristan Gebbia and Jack Colletto
We’ve got Luton as the No. 1, for now, But his inability to remain healthy, Colletto’s experience and Gebbia’s arrival from Nebraska create an interesting dynamic. There’s competition, real competition, which surely makes coach Jonathan Smith better better about the position than he did this time last year.
12. Arizona State
Projected starter: Jayden Daniels
Backups: Ethan Long, Joey Yellen and Dillon Sterling-Cole
Daniels, the top-rated quarterback in California in the class of ’19, enrolled early and might seem like the presumptive successor to Manny Wilkins. But don’t discount Sterling-Cole, a fourth-year junior. Yellen and Long are well regarded but also rookies. Basically, ASU is starting over.
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