Pac-12 football is a quarterback’s paradise

It’s a shame that the Pac-12 Conference as we know it will be no more. UCLA, USC, Washington, and the University of Oregon have taken their talents to the Big Ten Conference. Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State have decided to cast their futures in the Big 12 Conference. 

Then Cal and Stanford had the nerve to jump ship and move to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). 

With all things turned upside down in what formally appears to be the last season of the Pac-12 as we have grown to love, the one steady source college football fans have been able to count on this season is incredible quarterback play. If you look across the board, the Pac-12 Conference has some of the best quarterback talent in the nation. 

Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward (1), looking for an open receiver against UCLA, is one of the top quarterbacks in the country. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

If you name a team, more than likely that school has a top-tier pass thrower. Bo Nix of Oregon leads the country in pass completion percentage at a 78 percent clip and has the Ducks ranked No. 6. Caleb Williams of USC puts on a show every weekend and is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. With a defense challenged to stop opponents every week, Williams has had to put on his Superman cape every week just to make sure the Trojans are in every ballgame.  

Among many of the highlight-reel plays he has generated this season, Williams passed for three touchdowns and ran for a score in one half of play of a 56-10 win against Stanford. 

“I prepare each week for each team the same,” Williams said.“I prepare to play four quarters plus, for whatever goes on within games. It’s hard to win football games. Sometimes it looks easy, but it is hard. You go through weeks and summers and springs of training and things like that just to get to this point. So you treat everything the same. You treat everyone the same. I’m not pacing myself at all. I’m going out there trying to kill. It’;s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make everybody feel our pain and put it on our own terms.”

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is simply the truth. Penix leads the nation in passing yards and is in the front row of Heisman Trophy candidate conversations. Without question, Penix will be at the top of the list of signal-callers selected in the 2024 NFL Draft. Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer talked about the growth of Penix after his team defeated USC, 52-42.     

Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders (2) tries to get this pass attempt off before UCLA defensive lineman Carl Jones Jr. (4) can get to him. Sanders is among the Top 5 quarterbacks for passing yards during the 2023 college football season. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

“There’s the big moments where you just entrust him with getting the protections right, you win again,” DeBoer said. “This has happened now both years, but when he’s seeing the same thing that we’re talking about on the side, he’s seeing the whole field. He’s not just executing the play, reading one defender, he’s seeing everything and when he gets on the headphone, he knows and is right on the same page with coach (Ryan) Grubb and the rest of the staff. The thing is, when it doesn’t go perfect, he just owns it and knows that he needs to come back and be even better. But you know that doesn’t happen too often, because he’s on point.”

You know you’re a pretty good player when a head coach starts off his postgame press conference talking about you. That was the case when UCLA head coach Chip Kelly gave kudos to Washington State’s Cameron Ward after the Bruins had throttled and harassed the Cougars’ quarterback into a non-typical outing. 

Ward is rated as the No. 6 quarterback in the country in passing yards. The Bruins, though, held Ward to less than 200 yards passing (197 yards) and forced the Washington State signal-caller into two interceptions in a 25-17 win at the Rose Bowl Stadium. 

“I think Cam Ward is one of the really special quarterbacks,” Kelly said. “I think that he was 19 of 39 and he hadn’t thrown a pick on the season. To pick them twice, we knew that was going to be a challenge. But I think it was both – the coverage on the back end and that was a question earlier in the week with how those guys would hold up, and then the pressure that our front provided and our linebackers provided. There were a bunch of them.”

To put UCLA’s defensive effort against the Cougars in perspective, Ward and Washington State average just over 414 yards in total offense per game. Because of all this great quarterback play this season, the Pac-12 has five teams in the latest Top 25 College Football Playoff Rankings. Washington (No.5), Oregon (No. 6), Oregon State (No. 12), Utah (No. 18), and Arizona (No. 21) all made the cut. 

One team that is on the outside looking into that bubble is Colorado. The hype machine that has followed the Buffaloes since the arrival of head coach Deion Sanders has benefitted the Hall of Fame cornerback’s son, who is the starting quarterback for Colorado. Despite some naysayers, Shedeur Sanders has come into his own as a top-flight quarterback.   

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) hands the ball off to running back Dillon Johnson (7) during the Huskies’ 52-42 win against the USC Trojans on Nov. 4, 2023. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

The younger Sanders transferred from Jackson State University to join forces with his father. 

Has there been growing pains for father and son so far? Yes. But the pandemonium of enthusiasm surrounding Deion Sanders and Shedeur Sanders and Colorado has proved to be a financial and commercial windfall for the university as a whole. 

Even though the football program is undergoing a transition from pup to powerhouse, there’s little question about the talent and moxie that Sheduer Sanders possesses. Shedeur Sanders ranks No. 3 in passing yards among quarterbacks. He also has a 70 percent completion rate as well, making him a lethal marksman with the ball. 

The fact that Shedeur Sanders is still able to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country despite being hit and sacked (46 after nine games) so many times is certainly a testament to his will to succeed. After seeing his son get sacked seven times in a 28-16 loss to UCLA, Coach Prime talked about getting better on the offensive line and trying to keep Shedeur upright.

“The hardest thing to acquire is linemen,” Deion Sanders said. “So, when you get a good one, you hardly see linemen jump to a different school. I think we have some guys that it’s going to be a good little seasoning, but overall we just don’t have the fight or the passion to do what we want to do. I’m a little bit biased because I’m his father, but I believe we have the best quarterback in the country,” Deion Sanders said. “I don’t think any other quarterback can put up with ours, standing and [delivering] like ours always do week in and week out and take a beating like he’s taking. We got to address that scheme was [and] functionally with what we have.” 

Top Photo: USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) scrambles to make a play against Stanford during a 56-10 win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 9, 2023. Photo by Sammy Saludo/News4usonline

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