Let’s Choose Sides!

The Pac-12 is dead. Or, at least by the end of this season it’s down to two teams: Oregon State and Washington State. Yet, you could argue, the Pac-12 has the best stable of Quarterbacks in the country. Seems counter-intuitive? Does a league that’s essentially going out of business really have the best players at the marquee position? Well, let’s go right to the top. Let’s compare Quarterbacks in the Pac-12 with those in the premier league in the country, the SEC.

First, a Little History Lesson

The Southeastern Conference (SEC) was founded in 1932 by 13 members of the old Southern Conference. The SEC currently has 14 members and will expand to 16 schools in 2024 after adding Texas and Oklahoma (So much for the Southeast part). The SEC has won 43 football national championships.

The Pac-12 evolved over time from several earlier conferences, including the original Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) which started in 1915. The original Pac-8 inherited its automatic berth in the Rose Bowl by morphing from the PCC and then adding schools like Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington State. By 2011, after adding Colorado and Utah, the Pac-10 finally had grown to the Pac-12. Through its consortium of members, the Pac-12 can claim ownership of at least 21 national championships.

“The Grandaddy of Them All” ~Keith Jackson

But, the Pac-12 has had something the SEC did not: The Rose Bowl. The first post-season game ever played was the 1902 Rose Bowl. It has been played annually since 1916 and since 1945 it has been the highest attended college football bowl game. Until the Bowl Championship System (BCS) game in 2002, the Rose Bowl had been the exclusive home of the annual game between the Pac-12 champion and the Big 10 champion. The Pac-12 holds a 32-30 edge over the Big10 in the head-to-head games. The all-time attendance record for a college football game is still the 1973 edition of the Rose Bowl. In that game, John McKay’s undefeated USC trounced Woody Hayes’ Ohio State Buckeyes 42-17 to go 11-0 and win the national championship. Today, the Rose Bowl payout is $35 million per team, the highest (by far) of any bowl game. The payout is distributed to the participating teams’ conference and is split among all conference schools.

What Happened to Conference Alignment and Loyalty?

In 1982 two schools, the University of Georgia (SEC) and the University of Oklahoma (Southwestern Conference), successfully challenged the NCAA practice of negotiating rights to college football games and restricting the time and number of games that could be broadcast. The Supreme Court ruled the practice to be in violation of anti-trust laws and freed all colleges and conferences to negotiate on their own. One after another, the major conferences negotiated their own TV rights deals with the networks, and eventually launched their own networks starting with the Big10 Network in 2007.

For the past 15 years major broadcast and cable networks have been bidding up the ante for college football and basketball TV rights. The bottomline: in 2022 the SEC distributed $721.8 million in rights fees to its 14 member schools. That comes out to about $50 mil per school and is about to increase substantially in 2024. With this type of money came an end to rivalries and regionality as the key drivers of college football scheduling and alignment. TV reach (markets and viewers) is now more important than history and tradition.

And the Pac-12?

Consequently, in 2022 the Big10 announced a seven year, $8 billion deal with CBS, NBC, and Fox. The deal is projected to eventually distribute $80-$100 million per year to each of its 16 member schools. It’s now 16 members because USC and UCLA were enticed to leave the glory years of the Pac-12 behind for a better bottom line. I can’t blame them. You see, the Pac-12’s TV rights payout was woefully short at about $19 million per school. Additionally, the Pac-12 management miscalculated the conference’s value to the market in 2023. When the Pac-12 reportedly turned down a $30 mil per school offer from ESPN and countered with an ask of $50 million, ESPN walked from the deal. The Pac-12 had been late to the table and the networks’ inventory of time slots was drying up along with the rights fees with them. In 2022-23, one after another Pac-12 school bailed for greener pastures, including Oregon and Washington followed by USC and UCLA to the Big 10, Arizona, ASU, Utah and Colorado to the Big 12, and finally it was announced in September that Stanford/Cal will be joining the ACC in 2024. The once proud Pac-12 has two last teams standing: the small market schools of Oregon State and Washington State. The fate of the Pac-12 as an entity is yet to be determined beyond 2023, but I’m pretty sure it does not include a partnership with the Rose Bowl.

So What Does All This Have To Do With QBs?

Let’s call it irony. The Pac-12 may be dead, but its product is still thriving. The argument here is that the best group of Quarterbacks in the country reside in the Pac-12, and they are generating results in the national rankings as well as eyeballs to their television broadcasts. The Pac-12 currently has 7 teams ranked in the top 20 in the country. That’s more than any other conference (The SEC has 6)! How ironic that the conference with the best skill position players at the most important position on the team… is going out of business!!!

MY Top Pac-12 and SEC QB Comparisons

Ok, it’s draft day, and we represent teams that desperately need a Quarterback. But you must pick between the QBs paired below because we’re only drafting from the SEC or the Pac-12. I have taken the best of both conferences and paired them for comparison. The SEC #1 vs the Pac-12 #1, the SEC #2 vs the Pac-12 #2, etc, etc… from the comparisons we will decide our top 5 QB choices. The “rounds” below do not equate to NFL Draft status rounds.

Pac-12 My #1 Rated QB Caleb Williams, USC

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is making a strong case to be the first repeating Heisman winner since Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in 1975. Currently the #2 ranked Quarterback in ESPN’s QBR efficiency category, Williams has been dominating in USC’s 6-0 start. His 22 TD passes lead the country and that’s against only one interception. He’s thrown at least 3 TD passes in every game while completing passes at a 74.5% rate. Beyond the stats, Caleb Williams is an electrifying player with dazzling arm strength and the ability to make incredible plays off platform. His football IQ combined with a broad vision of developing plays enables Caleb to make plays others don’t even see. One great NIL dynamic? Caleb’s father has been quoted as saying if the NFL team selecting his son is not an ideal setting he could return to USC for his senior season. So maybe Caleb says hello to the Big 10?

Williams Watch: #10 Southern Cal visits South Bend this weekend vs #21 Notre Dame. See Caleb match it up with Sam Hartman of the Irish.

SEC MY #1 rated QB Jayden Daniels, LSU

Jayden Daniels has always been an elite athlete. Early in his career his athleticism and escapability cramped his evolution as a refined passer, but no longer. Over the past two seasons at LSU, Jayden has joined the ranks of elite passers. His 19 TD passes vs only 2 pics speaks for itself. His QBR efficiency rating is #3 in the country and his 10.9 average per attempt speaks to his long ball effectiveness. But, the additional 422 yards rushing shows he can still beat you as a dual threat. If Daniels has a liability, it could be the LSU defense. The Tigers lost in a shootout two weeks ago to Ole Miss 55-49 while Jayden passed for 414 yards and 4 TDs with zero pics. Last week against fellow gun-slinger Brady Cook at Missouri, Daniels pulled out the 49-39 win rushing for 130 yards while tossing 3 TDs again with zero picks.

Daniels watch: #22 LSU travels to #11 ranked Alabama on November 4

Pac-12 My #2 Rated QB Michael Penix, Washington

Way back in 2018, Michael Penix played 3 games at Indiana, tore his ACL and was redshirted. In 2019 he was named the starter with the Hoosiers, but again was limited by injury and only played 6 games. Michael returned as Indiana’s starter in 2020 but in November suffered another torn ACL vs Maryland and was done for the season. Even with all the injuries, his body of work at Indiana was impressive with a 12-5 record as the starter while posting 29 TD passes, although with a troubling 15 Ints. But in 2022 Penix transferred to the University of Washington where things changed dramatically.  Penix led the Huskies in 2022 to an 11-2 record (Huskies were 4-8 In 2021) and was the FBS leader in passing yards, averaging 357 per game. After an Alamo Bowl win, Michael was named winner of the AP Comeback of the Year Award. He has continued the roll in 2023 as the southpaw is ranked #1 in QBR efficiency with 16 TDs vs only 2 pics. His monster 11.2 yards per attempt leads the country. While his injury history is of concern, his 6’3” 230 lb frame and his pocket presence has helped keep sacks down to an impressive 3.

Penix watch: #7 Washington hosting #8 Oregon and QB Bo Nix this Saturday

SEC My #2 Rated QB Jaxson Dart, Mississippi

Jaxson Dart has had star quality pasted on him since he graduated from HS in Draper, Utah. In HS his senior year he passed for 4,691 yds and 67 TDs vs only 4 pics. His Senior year! Oh yeah, he also rushed for over 1,000 yds and 12 TDs and was MaxPreps National Player of the Year. Naturally, he enrolled at Southern Cal. In his first game in 2021 at USC, Dart set the record for most yardage by a QB in his debut with 391 vs Washington State. His time with the Trojans would end with the coaching change that brought in Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams from Oklahoma. Jaxson hit the portal and ended up with Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss. Kiffin, himself a former USC coach, was transitioning the Mississippi offense from pass-heavy to more emphasis on the run. Dart’s dual threat skills are a perfect fit. In 2022 both Mississippi and Dart were in transition. The team never found the consistency needed to win big in the SEC and Dart seemed to reflect that in his decision making. Although he had a solid year, it produced a disappointing 7-5 record. But in 2023 the team has been clicking; they’re at 5-1 with the only blemish a loss to #11 Alabama. The highlight so far was the thrilling 55-49 win over LSU in a game that saw Jaxson complete 26 of 37 for 382 yards and 4 TDs with zero pics. Jaxson won the shootout with Jayden Daniels and he has Ole Miss ranked #13 in the country. The remaining schedule is favorable with one big speed bump at Georgia.

Dart watch: #13 Mississippi at #1 Georgia on November 11.

Pac-12 My #3 Rated QB Bo Nix, Oregon

Bo Nix was rated the #1 dual-threat in the country coming out of Pinson Vally HS in Pinson, Alabama. The 161 TDs enticed an offer to Auburn University. As a true freshman Bo won the QB1 job and led the Tigers to a 9-4 record and a big 48-45 win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl. He was voted SEC freshman of the year. 2021 was not as generous to Bo and his season would end early via injury. He did throw for 11 TDS with only 3 pics, but his decision-making was in question. The old run vs pass dilemma, which is it? Can someone be too gifted? Furthermore, Nix was caught in the Bryan Harsin coaching dilemma at Auburn, with boosters and press wanting Harsin out almost from day one on the job. Nix decided it was portal time and landed at Oregon. The Ducks had a new coach, Dan Lanning, who had seen Bo Nix first hand playing in the SEC the year before while he was the DC at Georgia. It was instant karma for both. Oregon would go 10-3 in 2022 and Nix flourished with 3,594 yards passing and 29 TDs vs only 7 pics. Bo added 510 rushing yards and another 14 TDs. But the indecision was gone and a new seemingly more mature Bo Nix took Autzen stadium in Eugene by storm. In 2023 he is clearly in command and the leader of Oregon on and off the field. He has the Ducks at 5-0 and ranked #8 in the country. With 15 TDs vs only one pic, his 80.4% completion percentage leads the nation. Don’t bet against this guy in a shootout as Colorado and Coach Prime found out in week four’s Oregon blowout of the Buffalos.

Nix watch: #8 Oregon and Bo Nix at #7 Washington and Michael Penix this Saturday. Fans, don’t miss this one for pure Quarterback enjoyment!

SEC My #3 rated QB Carson Beck, Georgia

Ok, I know this may be a surprise rating, but I’m following the trending curve with Carson Beck. I’m also seeing other SEC QBs like Spencer Rattler and Joe Milton trending a bit down. How did we get to Beck? Well, it starts with stability. Carson delivered a state championship to Mandarin High in Jacksonville, Florida his senior year. At 6’4” and 220lbs he was recruited by everyone including Alabama and Georgia. His freshman year at Georgia he entered a VERY crowded Quarterback room. Players included Stetson Bennett, JT Daniels (who had transferred in from USC after Beck committed), and 5 star Q’Wan Mathis. In that freshman year Beck would see action in 3 games all in a mop-up role. Entering 2022, Beck was named QB2 to Stetson Bennett and again played in only three games. During the ensuing Spring and summer camps Beck competed with a fresh round of Georgia recruits including 5 stars…. And 4 stars. Kirby Smart refused to name a starter until the first week of the 2023 season, when he finally anointed Carson Beck. In his first game as a starter vs UT Martin, Carson would throw for 294 yards and a TD plus add a rushing TD in the 48-7 win. He repeated a similar performance in the next game vs Ball State, another Georgia win at 45-3. But he really began to impress me when the SEC schedule started. In his first SEC start Beck brought the Dawgs back from a 14-0 deficit throwing for 269 yards. Two games later against Auburn he passed for 313 yards and the go-ahead TD pass to Brock Bowers as Georgia prevailed over Auburn on the road 27-20. Most recently, in his first start against a ranked opponent #20 Kentucky, Carson threw for 389 yards and four TDs in a 51-13 rout. So we’re seeing a player who stayed loyal to his school and avoided the temptation of the portal to wait his turn at UGA. He has been schooled in the same system for the past four years and knows it inside and out. He has his team undefeated and has exceeded 300 yards passing in his past 3 games and on the season has 11 TD passes vs only 3 pics. Carson Beck deserves this shot and so far he is delivering in an environment where every opponent wants to knock off the #1 team in the country. This guy is the real deal.

Beck watch: #13 Ole Miss and Jaxson Dart travels to #1 UGA on November 11

Pac-12 My #4 rated QB Cameron Ward, Washington State

I love Cam Ward simply because I’m biased toward anyone who plays football at the FCS level. Out of Columbia HS in West Columbia, Texas, Ward played in a Winged T offense where you don’t get many passing attempts. In fact, as a senior Cam Ward averaged 12 attempts per game. Ergo, his only scholarship offer out of high school (gee, I know that career path) was to FCS’ Incarnate Word. His first year with the ball he won the Jerry Rice award as the most outstanding freshman in the FCS. He went on to pass for 4,648 yards and 47 TDs in his sophomore season. In 2022 Ward entered the portal and transferred to Washington State. In 2022 the Cougars went 7-6 with Ward at the controls as he threw for 3,231 yards, 23 TDs while completing 64.5% of his passes. His average per completion was only 6.5 and near the bottom of FBS passers, but in 2023 Cam has refined the deep ball and increased his average per attempt to 9.9 completing 13 TD passes vs 1 Int. He’s ripping off completions at a 74.5% clip. Last week the Cougars suffered their first loss to #18 UCLA 25-27 and Ward tossed his first two pics of the season. He’d better buckle up his chin strap as Washington State, one of two surviving members of the Pac-12, has a rugged schedule ahead with the likes of #8 Oregon, Arizona State, Colorado and #7 Washington still on the schedule. I’m pulling for Cam; he’s an FCS baller!

Ward watch: #19 Washington State and Cam Ward travel to Eugene, Oregon and Bo Nix on October 21

SEC My #4 rated QB Brady Cook, Missouri

Brady Cook lost a heart-breaker this past weekend to LSU 49-39. The Tigers of Missouri were up 25-17 at the half when LSU roared back in the third quarter. Brady had a big day and Missouri had a final possession down only 42-39 with 34 seconds left. But with 80 yards to navigate in 34 seconds, Brady forced a throw resulting in a pic six that ended the game. Brady Cook finished the shootout with Jayden Daniels with 30 completions in 47 attempts for 395 yards and 2 TDs. Coming into this game Missouri was 5-0 and looking for that signature win on the national stage. You could say the same for Brady Cook’s career. As a first-time starter in 2022 he posted a 6-7 record which included a loss to national champion Georgia after Missouri was up 22-12 in the fourth quarter. The Dawgs would come back to win 26-22 but the game revealed Brady Cook as a gutsy gunslinger with a very gifted right arm. Cook would finish 2022 with 2,739 yards, 14 TD passes with 7 pics. A fine athlete, he added 585 yards rushing with another 6 TDs. Having Missouri 5-0 was great start and Cook has been leading by example with 13 TD passes against only 2 pics while completing 72% of his passes. As everyone knows the SEC only gets tougher as the season goes on, and Brady Cook will be traveling to #24 Kentucky and #1 Georgia before it’s over. Brady is my #4 rated SEC QB and he will have the stage to justify it before the season ends.

Cook watch: Missouri and Brady Cook travel to Athens, Georgia to meet the #1 Bulldogs and Carson Beck on November 4

Pac-12 MY #5 rated QB Shedeur Sanders, Colorado

Most of us know, Oregon’s Dan Lanning called it, “The Cinderella story” of Colorado this season. In earlier Quarterback connection stories I have expressed my displeasure at how Colorado under new Coach Prime ran off 76 Colorado football p[layers to bring in their own recruits and transfers. One of those transfers, of course, was Shedeur Sanders. Now shedder was highly recruited out of high school and could have accepted a job at anyone of many top FBS schools. Instead he chose FCS Jackson State when his father was named head coach. So I like the loyalty ! And it paid off as Sanders started the 2021 season as QB1 and delivered 30 TDs with only 8 pics. Like Cam Ward he was named FCS Freshman of the Year, known as the Jerry Rice award. 2022 just got even bigger for Shedeur and Jackson State. The team went 11-1 and Shedeur completed 70.6% of his passes for 3,732 yards and 40 TDs. While he rushed for only 173 yards he has excellent speed and escapability talent. He can keep plays off-platform alive and productive. And he is now proving those skills on the larger national FBS stage. We all know Deion Sanders has taken a team that was 1-11 last year and already sits at 4-2 in 2023. Kudos to the Sanders. My problem is a don’t like Rolls Royces. You see, that’s what Shedeur drives around campus. He is a big NIL recipient and isn’t afraid to display it. Unfortunately, this reminds me of the same values the Colorado administration applied when they allowed Coach Prime and staff to run off 76 young men who had made a commitment to play (and stay) at Colorado. Clearly, who am I to judge, right? Shedeur may be the most gifted athlete within this story. He probably deserves a higher rating. He’s shown 16 TD passes with only 2 pics this year. But, he has been sacked 30 times (yes 30) and his ESPN QBR efficiency ranking is 33rd in the country. So some work to be done, but, lots of potential. You know how he can move up my list? Sell the Rolls.

Sanders watch: Colorado and Shedeur Sanders play at #19 Washington State and Cam Ward , (both QBs are FCS transfers) on November 17

SEC MY #5 rated QB Spencer Rattler, South Carolina

Spencer Rattler was an elite HS QB at Pinnacle High in Phoenix, Arizona. Rattler threw for over 11,000 yards, 116 passing TDs, with 1,000 yards rushing and another 14 TDs. As the consensus #1 rated HS QB in the country, It made sense he would sign with Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma in 2019. After a redshirt freshman year, Spencer won the QB1 job. His second week on the job Rattler tied the Oklahoma record for most TD passes through two weeks with 8! But in that second start the Sooners were upset by Kansas State. The next week Oklahoma would be upset again, this time by Iowa State whom they had defeated 24 straight times in Ames; until then. Finally, Rattler and the Sooners put a big win on the board against arch-rival Texas in the Red River Shootout. Oklahoma would also win its 6th consecutive Big 12 Championship. The team would finish 9-2 with Spencer posting 28 TDs vs 7 pics completing 67.5% of his passes. He also rushed for another 6 TDs. In 2021, Spencer Rattler would be high on the Heisman watch list. I mean, let’s face it, he’s got one of THE greatest names for a QB, right? However 2021 just did not work out for Spencer Rattler. His decision making in the passing game came under scrutiny as his interceptions went up and the TD passes came down. He was eventually replaced in the Texas game by one Caleb Williams and that was that. In 2022 Spencer transferred to South Carolina and the SEC. In 2022 as the starter he led his team to an admirable 8-5 record passing for 18 TDs but a concerning 12 pics. He basically salvaged his season with two giant upsets in the last two games. First vs Tennessee where he passed for 6 TDs and then against rival Clemson. He became the first Gamecock QB to win back-to-back games against top 10 teams. Spencer started 2023 fast, winning the first two games and completing 80% of his passes with zero pics. But as the schedule has toughened his production has slowed. Currently at 2-3 he has 7 TD passes with 3 pics. In the loss last week to Tennessee, Rattler was 24 of 35 for only 169 yds, no TDs and 1 pic. Spencer needs his mojo back and the SEC defenses keep coming as he has been sacked 22 times already this season.

Rattler watch: South Carolina and Spencer Rattler at Missouri and Brady Cook on October 21

Time for the Tally!

Pac-12 #1 QB Caleb Williams vs SEC #1QB Jaden Daniels – Winner: Caleb Williams, hands down

Pac-12 #2 QB Michael Penix vs SEC #2 QB Jaxson Dart – Winner: Michael Penix, way too much edge in arm strength and accuracy

Pac-12 #3 QB Bo Nix vs SEC #3 QB Carson Beck – Winner: Bo Nix, this QB combines talent, guts, and experience

Pac-12 #4 QB Cam Ward vs SEC #4 Brady Cook – Winner: Cam Ward, the former FCS has something to prove for his league and himself

Pac-12 #5 QB Shedeur Sanders vs #5 SEC Spencer Rattler – Winner: Shedeur Sanders, too much talent, but please, sell the Rolls

Final Conclusion:

The Pac-12 swan-song season of 2023 contains one of the strongest QB classes for a single conference in recent memory. How officials of a league with so much entertainment talent and appeal could let it all slip away is baffling. “When the money gets bigger and the stakes get higher, the sea gets wider, and the sharks grow sharper teeth.”  ~ Keith Jackson

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