Pac-12 QB Rankings 2023: Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr. Were the Best of the West

    Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr. battled it out for the Pac-12 Championship, but which one finishes the season atop the others in our Pac-12 QB Rankings?

    Our weekly iteration of our 2023 Pac-12 QB Rankings is here, taking a look at where they stack up through 13 weeks of the season. Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix battled it out for supremacy, but it was clear that the two best quarterbacks in the country called the Pac-12 home in 2023.

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    2023 Pac-12 QB Rankings

    As with all of our conference rankings and our national quarterback evaluations, the Pac-12 QB rankings below consider everything involved with quarterbacking at the major college football level.

    While statistics are listed, they were not the lone deciding factor in ranking the athletes. The list below prefers programs with a solidified quarterback situation and one signal-caller who plays significant snaps against top-tier competition. Two-quarterback systems will always be looked down upon, especially in those cases where an answer has not yet been provided for the long term.

    Other factors in these rankings include but are not limited to game film, injury history, play-calling, offensive system knowledge and continuity, general quarterbacking mechanics, level of competition, the elevation of supporting casts, and several other influential factors.

    All QB Rankings: 1-133 | ACC | B1G | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC | AAC | C-USA | MAC | MWC | Sun Belt | FBS Ind. 

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    Tier 1: The Elite Pac-12 QBs

    1) Bo Nix | Oregon

    Last Week’s Ranking: 1st (no change)
    Yards: 4,145 | TDs: 40 | INT: 3 | Comp. %: 77.2% | YPA: 9.5

    Bo Nix was the pinnacle of excellence in 2023. While the season didn’t end the way you’d expect it to, we’re all prone to a far-from-average performance, and that’s what the nation — sadly — got to see in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

    Still, if you boil Nix’s performance down to a single game, you’re doing him and yourself a disservice. Go back and watch the tape from the full season of Nix in 2023.

    In that tape, you’ll find the nation’s most efficient, accurate, and physically dominant passer. He was clean from any standpoint you’d ask him to be from, whether he was kept free from pressure or under duress, whether he was rolling left or right, whether or not he had the benefit of a play-action fake, it didn’t matter.

    Those who knock Nix for a single-game performance need to check their recency bias and look at the broader picture. And that picture depicts Nix as clearly the best quarterback in 2023.

    2) Michael Penix Jr. | Washington

    Last Week’s Ranking: 2nd (no change)
    Yards: 4,218 | TDs: 33 | INT: 9 | Comp. %: 65.9% | YPA: 9.1

    It was a great showing in the Pac-12 Championship for Michael Penix Jr. and the Washington Huskies. Penix needed to do very little, yet what he did do was wow with his pinpoint accuracy and dominant decision-making when he was at the top of his game.

    However, was it enough to usurp Nix as the best in the Pac-12? It was not.

    With a little bit of a midseason slump, Penix Jr. needed all of his 319 passing yards in the Pac-12 Championship Game to take the regular season passing yards crown, yet it was just his first 300-yard game since early November.

    But this is just semantics. Penix Jr. was the second-best quarterback in the Pac-12 and that ranks him as the second-best quarterback in the country at the same time. That’s the stellar level of play we all saw from the Pac-12 in its final season in its current form.

    Penix Jr.’s status as an elite passer and accurate downfield dime dropper was cemented last year. He followed that up with yet another 4,000-plus-yard campaign and a Heisman Trophy Finalist appearance. What a career it was and what a final season it was for Penix.

    3) Caleb Williams | USC

    Last Week’s Ranking: 3rd (no change)
    Yards: 3,633 | TDs: 30 | INT: 5 | Comp. %: 68.6% | YPA: 9.4

    The final game of the season saw Caleb Williams and the USC Trojans inexplicably lose to a UCLA team that was dominated by Cal the week after. There is, however, no denying the talent that Williams possesses.

    In fact, Williams had arguably his best throw of the season against UCLA when he stepped up to rebuild the pocket and launched a 50-yard dart downfield from his back foot with perfect accuracy. It was the lone highlight of a disastrous performance from his whole team, and that’s sort of how it went in 2023 for USC.

    The decorated Williams threw for 30 touchdowns, having to play the role of Superman more often than not. He accomplished 93 career passing touchdowns, won a Heisman Trophy, and ultimately didn’t play for anything meaningful because of letdowns from the other side of the ball.

    No matter how you slice it, Williams did everything humanly possible to will his teams to victory and it’s no wonder why someone who was consistently let down would be emotional. Williams’ legacy is secured and he’s one of the all-time great college football quarterbacks, even if what likely amounts to his final season wasn’t as good as his 2022 season was.

    4) Noah Fifita | Arizona

    Last Week’s Ranking: 4th (no change)
    Yards: 2,515 | TDs: 23 | INT: 5 | Comp. %: 73.6% | YPA: 8.5

    It’s hard to imagine a world where Jayden de Laura returns to the Arizona Wildcats after the way Noah Fifita ended his 2023 season. Fifita took the reigns from de Laura back in Week 5, getting the start against Washington, and he hasn’t looked back.

    In fact, in just eight starts, Fifita threw for at least 200 yards and multiple touchdowns in all but one game. He threw for 23 touchdowns in those eight starts and eclipsed 2,400 yards, averaging over 300 yards per start in 2023.

    While Fifita isn’t the biggest quarterback you’ll see, it doesn’t matter with his rare blend of accuracy and touch to each level. He doesn’t force the issue because he doesn’t have to. He’ll see the field with precision, trust his arm when he does take shots, and understands how to keep the ball moving.

    Fifita blossomed in front of our eyes in 2023 and his ability to accurately his his receivers in space and on the move sets up this Wildcats offense to be one of the best next season.

    Tier 2: Well-Above-Average Pac-12

    5) DJ Uiagalelei | Oregon State

    Last Week’s Ranking: 5th (no change)
    Yards: 2,638 | TDs: 21 | INT: 7 | Comp. %: 57.1% | YPA: 8.4

    If it was the final game for DJ Uiagalalei in an Oregon State uniform, the Beavers faithful will certainly want to thank him for his services but also have to feel a bit let down with the final product after much success. Uiagalelei played himself back into a top-tier quarterback and showcased the talent that made him such a prized recruit once upon a time.

    It wasn’t perfect, it was far from it, but DJU put forth some incredibly impressive outings in 2023. The season ended with Jonathan Smith’s departure and the end of the Pac-12, but they can look back at the 2023 season with immense pride because of Uiagalelei’s improvement in the passing game.

    He threw for 21 touchdowns, one shy of his career-high, but proved he could hit downfield windows better than he ever did during three seasons at Clemson. His accuracy and touch were apparent and his power certainly showed off on multiple high-level deep passes through the middle of the field.

    The future is once again bright for Uiagalalei. Unfortunately, the same thing can’t be said for Oregon State as a program right now.

    6) Shedeur Sanders | Colorado

    Last Week’s Ranking: 6th (no change)
    Yards: 3,230 | TDs: 27 | INT: 3 | Comp. %: 69.3% | YPA: 7.5

    The year ended quietly for the Colorado Buffaloes and Shedeur Sanders. In fact, the year ended so quietly that we missed the news that Sanders had a fractured back that kept him out of the Buffs’ final game of the year against Utah.

    Sanders is absolutely one of the most talented quarterbacks in the Pac-12, or the Big 12 even, for 2024. If he returns to the Buffaloes offense next fall, expect Colorado’s staff to put an emphasis on keeping him safe and clean in the pocket.

    When he was able to stand in the pocket, Sanders showcased the talent he has with his arm and his ability to see the field. He was forced to move the pocket and run for his life far too often as the season progressed and the Buffs suffered because of it.

    There isn’t a throw Sanders can’t make on the football field, he just needs to have some surrounding pieces that don’t fall apart around him to do so.

    Tier 3: Above-Average Pac-12 QBs

    7) Cam Ward | Washington State

    Last Week’s Ranking: 8th (+1)
    Yards: 3,732 | TDs: 25 | INT: 7 | Comp. %: 66.7% | YPA: 7.7

    Rumor came out that Cam Ward was offered multiple million-dollar NIL deals following the 2023 version of the Apple Cup, but we’ll believe that when we see it. Ward turned the corner down the stretch, back into the quarterback we thought he could be when the season started, and put a scare into Washington’s Playoff hopes in the Apple Cup.

    It wasn’t meant to be because of some costly turnovers, but Ward largely improved his ball security issues this season. Save for a two-game stretch of poor football, Ward excelled in 2023.

    There’s certainly some gunslinging to Ward’s game, and if he wants a career in professional football, he’ll have to harness that into living to play another down and keeping the ball away from the enemy. When he’s at his best, Ward can hit every level of the field and some tight windows are no match for him.

    The future is still in the air as to where he plays in 2024, and Ward still has some things to work on.

    8) Fernando Mendoza | Cal

    Last Week’s Ranking: 7th (-1)
    Yards: 1,447 | TDs: 13 | INT: 7 | Comp. %: 62.4% | YPA: 6.9

    It’s remarkable to think what this Cal offense could have been had Frenando Mendoza played the whole season as the starter. For a team who entered the season with their coach on the hot seat and did very little through the meat of their schedule, they certainly played like potential ACC contenders in the month of November (sans the Oregon game) with Mendoza playing his best ball.

    Mendoza finished with just 13 touchdowns against seven interceptions, but he was integral in keeping their offense on schedule and on time. He threw his receivers open at times and was great in clutch moments in their victories, setting up their running game for success.

    Mendoza got just seven starts and wasn’t asked to do much in each of those, yet he threw for multiple touchdowns in all but one of those games. There’s a lot to like with Mendoza’s game going forward as he certainly played a game much older than he actually is.

    Tier 4: Average Pac-12 QBs

    9) Ashton Daniels | Stanford

    Last Week’s Ranking: 9th (no change)
    Yards: 2,247 | TDs: 11 | INT: 8 | Comp. %: 58.8% | YPA: 6.9

    For a first half against Notre Dame, the Stanford Cardinal looked like they could compete with the Fighting Irish. But then the second half happened. The Cardinal were outclassed by a more physical opponent and the quarterback play suffered when they had to force the ball downfield.

    There was plenty of good during the 2023 season under head coach Troy Taylor and Ashton Daniels at quarterback. But, like all middling quarterback situations, the good was often outweighed by the bad at every turn. QB play was too sporadic for the Cardinal to sustain any sort of winning streak and the highlight-reel plays that came were overlooked by some bad turnovers and ill-fated decisions.

    For Daniels moving forward, the down-to-down consistency will have to improve. His decision-making will also need to get better because he has all the tools to be an above-average quarterback in the ACC next fall.

    Moving away from Pac-12 play in 2024, Daniels and the Cardinal have the pieces in place to potentially make some noise because of his talent. But they have a lot to prove.

    10) Ethan Garbers, Collin Schlee, Dante Moore | UCLA

    Last Week’s Ranking: 10th (no change)
    Yards: 984 | TDs: 9 | INT: 3 | Comp. %: 66.4% | YPA: 7.3

    After commanding the game against USC in Week 12, the UCLA offense looked like a shadow of what they were against the Trojans in Week 13. The Cal defense let the offense have it in terms of pressure and confused both Dante Moore and Ethan Garbers in the backfield.

    The future is absolutely Moore for the Bruins moving forward, and it’s still befuddling why he was removed from the action only to be thrust back in at times this season. He has a potentially elite arm and can use his eyes to navigate open throwing windows very well. Moore can hit every level of the field and no window is too small when he’s on his game.

    There were growing pains for Moore and both Ethan Garbers and Collin Schlee did little to indicate those growing pains weren’t worth going through to get Moore up to speed for 2024. The future hangs in the balance as the competition stiffens for UCLA in the Big Ten.

    Tier 5: Work-To-Be-Done Pac-12 QBs

    11) Bryson Barnes | Utah

    Last Week’s Ranking: 11th (no change)
    Yards: 1,517 | TDs: 12 | INT: 9 | Comp. %: 58.5% | YPA: 6.6

    Credit to the Utah Utes coaching staff for being able to work together through suboptimal quarterback play in 2023 and still reach 8-4 as their overall record. The season went downhill quickly when it was apparent Cam Rising wasn’t going to be ready to play and they trotted out Nate Johnson, Luke Bottai, and Bryson Barnes to win them games this season.

    Barnes was the feel-good story of a pig farmer turned walk-on successful quarterback, but certainly was limited in terms of his success through the air. He had his moments, absolutely, but the play at the quarterback position for Barnes kept the Utes behind schedule against tough competition.

    He was a dynamic athlete and his moments came in spurts against both Washington and Arizona where he displayed some solid passing mechanics and power downfield. Barnes was surprisingly nimble on his feet and showcased some great athleticism with the ball in his hands.

    Overall, however, it was a very underwhelming year from the quarterback position and you’d expect the Utes staff to build up more depth behind their top quarterback option in years to come.

    12) Jaden Rashada, Trenton Bourguet | Arizona State

    Last Week’s Ranking: 12th (no change)
    Yards: 1,486 | TDs: 1 | INT: 4 | Comp. %: 60.9% | YPA: 6.0

    Somehow, Jaden Rashada returned to action in Week 13. He is absolutely the future of this program and gives them a chance to have a two-dimensional offense. But he was clearly hampered by injury in the final game of the season for the Sun Devils.

    Keeping Rashada healthy and in good standing will be key as Arizona State transitions to the Big 12 in 2024, and keeping him upright in the pocket is paramount to that.

    Rashada has immense arm talent and can harness some solid throws to every level of the field. It was a disaster of a season for Arizona State without him in the lineup, and while Week 13 didn’t give us much to look back upon with much hope, his early-season play indicates where this program should be in 2024.

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