Breaking down the Pac-12's quarterback battles
The start of fall camps is right around the corner and at several major programs the focus will be on the quarterback position as former elite recruits battle it out for the starting job. Last week, we took a look at some of the most high-profile battles and had National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell weigh in on how he sees them shaking out. This week, we take a conference-by-conference look at the remaining quarterback competitions. Today, we focus on the Pac-12.
Frontrunner: Ross Bowers
Longshot: Chase Forrest
The situation: Bowers is back at Cal after winning the starting job last season and leading the team to a 5-7 record. But that didn’t stop head coach Justin Wilcox from opening the competition, especially with former South Carolina quarterback McIlwain eligible after sitting out last season due to transfer rules. It’s still likely that Bowers is the man when camp ends, but McIlwain has the talent to push for the job. Garbers spent last year redshirting and is hoping to do enough to get a shot at overtaking Bowers after backing him up last year. It will be hard for either backup to overtake Bowers, who is the Pac-12’s returning leader in passing yards per game.
Farrell’s take: Bowers has the experience in the offense and the familiarity of playing time compared to his competition, so you have to think he takes the job. McIlwain can do some interesting things with his feet and could be seen in certain packages. The depth at the position has certainly improved.
Frontrunner: Jake Luton
The situation: After opening the year as a starter and playing in the first four games of 2017, Luton suffered a season-ending injury and was replaced by Darell Garretson, who graduated. Luton is now fully healthy, but the new coaching staff in Corvallis has opened the competition to everyone, with Blount serving as Luton’s biggest threat after he impressed during the spring. Blount also has game experience, having played in 2016 before redshirting behind the two veteran quarterbacks in 2017. Colletto is also an intriguing option, especially since the junior college transfer was brought in late by the new staff with an eye toward competing for the job.
Farrell’s take: Luton won the job last year heading into last season and probably has the most upside of the group when it comes to being ready to start under the new staff. Blount has some game experience but took a backseat last year. Colletto is intriguing, for sure, but is he ready to jump in? I’d have to think Luton emerges as the guy.
Frontrunner: K.J. Costello
Challengers: Davis Mills
Longshots: Jack West, Jack Richardson, Dylan Plautz
The situation: We were on the fence about whether to include this one or not, especially since Costello left last season with a pretty firm grip on the job. But over the past few years it’s not out of the question for David Shaw to open up the competition, and after both Costello and Mills missed the spring with injuries it’s likely that there will be some form of QB battle during fall camp. Costello impressed enough last season to take the job from season-opening starter Keller Chyrst midway through the season, and Chyrst has since moved on to Tennessee. But Mills is a former five-star recruit who redshirted last season and has an elite skill set that is tough to find. Can he pull the upset and take the job? It will be tough, but expect Mills to see some playing time during the year whether he wins the job or not.
Farrell’s take: Costello has a pretty good grip on the job, and the only thing intriguing here is just how much talent Mills has. Is it enough to push Costello for the starting job and perhaps overtake him? That’s unlikely, but you have to like where Stanford sits when it comes to depth at the position. I’ll say Costello holds on to the job for now.
Frontrunner: Wilton Speight
The situation: It’s hard to tell how things are going to shake out with first-year head coach Chip Kelly, who has a knack for developing quality college quarterbacks. Speight elected to join the Bruins after transferring from Michigan, and seems like the most likely option to win the job, even though he doesn’t fit the mold of the traditional Kelly quarterback. Modster played extensively as a redshirt freshman last season while Josh Rosen was out with injuries, and Thompson-Robinson is an exceptional athlete who seems like the perfect fit for Kelly’s scheme. The three will battle it out throughout fall camp and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Kelly keep the winner of the job under wraps until game week of the season opener.
Farrell’s take: I have trouble seeing Speight as the starter here if Chip Kelly wants to keep his up-tempo scheme and work with a mobile quarterback. I think the guy to watch is Thompson-Robinson, to see how quickly he picks things up and how well he fits into the scheme. Perhaps for Year One Kelly will go a bit slower, but that’s not his nature, and DTR is a great fit for what he wants to do.
Frontrunner: Trey Tinsley
The situation: The Cougars are left with the unenviable position of replacing NFL draft pick and longtime starter Luke Falk, as well as his backup and the presumed starter Tyler Hilinksi, who tragically died earlier this offseason. Tinsley has spent the past two years in Pullman after transferring from junior college and might have a slight leg up on the competition, although he and Gordon both had their moments during the spring. The wildcards are true freshman Cooper, a four-star member of the Class of 2018 that enrolled early, and graduate transfer Minshew, who chose the Cougars after initially committing to Alabama. Given all the moving parts and the relative lack of playing experience among the group, it wouldn’t be a shock to see any one of the four quarterbacks win the job coming out of camp.
Farrell’s take: Take your pick on this one and no one knows what Mike Leach is going to do about much of anything. I would say keep an eye out on Minshew, who could step right in and surprise, or even Cooper if he shows the maturity. I think Tinsley and Gordon are adequate but could be overtaken.