1. Jake Browning (Washington)
A likely contender for this year’s Heisman Trophy Award, Washington’s Jake Browning returns to college football for his junior campaign as the headliner of a loaded slate of Pac-12 gunslingers, who will all vie for that coveted trip to New York City at the end of the season. If Browning’s 2017 season is anything like his 2016 campaign, the Huskies’ quarterback could also work his way into one of the top picks in the NFL Draft, after he threw for a staggering 43 touchdowns a season ago (2nd only to Toledo’s Logan Woodside in the country) while also leading the Pac-12 in both quarterback rating (167.5) and average yards per pass attempt (8.8). While not only were Browning’s numbers absolutely gaudy, his ability to lead Washington to a 12-2 overall record, a Pac-12 title and a birth in the College Football Play-off, shows the true colors of this truly gifted talent. Oregon State will have their hands full trying to contain Browning on September 30th but will be aided by a bye week previous to their showdown with the Huskies.
Last Season’s Match-Up: 14/28, 291 PASS YDS, 4 TD’S (3 PASS), 89.9 QBR
2. Sam Darnold (USC)
Another Heisman contender like Browning, Darnold is a trendy pick for the award around the college football landscape due to the after-effect from his breakthrough freshman campaign, when he commandeered the Trojans to nine-straight victories to end the season. Culminating with a Rose Bowl win over Penn State, in which Darnold threw for a record 453 yards and 5 touchdowns, the rising sophomore is on track to lead USC back into the upper-echelon of college football in his first full season as the program’s starting gunslinger. Oregon State avoided a match-up with the Trojans a season ago but they’ll travel to the City of Angels on October 7th, in what may be their toughest regular season game on paper.
Last Season’s Match-Up: N/A
3. Luke Falk (Washington State)
A high-precision passer who excels effortlessly in Mike Leach’s “air-raid” offense, Luke Falk is the type of big arm talent that can give Oregon State’s defense a world of headache, especially when he has free range to spread the field to his many versatile offensive weapons. Falk tore up the Beavers during their 2016 season match-up, in which he tossed for 415 yards and 5 scores and the Cougars will likely let their gunslinger take his chances, against what will be a reworked secondary in Corvallis in 2017. Washington State is a growing dark-horse candidate to be the surprise of the college football season and if that expectation comes to fruition, Falk will be front and center at the helm of this Cougars group.
Last Season’s Match-Up: 33/46, 415 PASS YDS, 5 TD’S, 74.5 QBR
4. Justin Herbert (Oregon)
A late starter in his surprising rookie season for the Ducks, Justin Herbert took his chance when it was given to him for Oregon and already looks to be one of the more versatile quarterback talents in the league. It’s just finding wins now for Herbert and his Oregon that seems to be the hard part, after last year’s abysmal 4-8 season, which culminated with the school firing head coach Mark Helfrich. On to 2017, where Herbert will have to start again with a new head coach in Willie Taggart, the Ducks believe they have a revival act inside of them, but as with most groups, it’ll start and end with the play of their gunslinger. Herbert showed his talent in moments a year ago, tossing for 6 scores against California and 489 yards versus Arizona State, but a lack of consistency is still glaring for the soon-to-be-sophomore, especially against the more heralded defenses in the league.
Last Season’s Match-Up: 16/28, 180 PASS YDS, 1 TD, 57.5 QBR
5. Troy Williams (Utah)
No, Troy Williams may not have the gaudy stats of a Jake Browning or Luke Falk, or even have the NFL pedigree of a Sam Darnold, but there’s something about the versatile game and poignant leadership of the Utes’ signal-caller that could really shine through this upcoming season for Utah. That type of supposed potential is the reason that Williams made the list over some other impressive talents listed below. You can attribute some of Williams “vanilla” stat totals to the system in which he plays (which is noticeably less opportunistic that some other Pac-12 outfits) but don’t forget now, the Utes’ quarterback may be one of the best athletes in the open-field, which came in crucially during last season’s 9-4 display. In terms of the adjustments and approaches that Oregon State will have to make to contain Williams, he rightfully deserves his spot on the list.
Last Season’s Match-Up: 4/13, 42 PASS YDS, 15 CAR, 40 RUSH YDS, 1 TD
Josh Rosen (UCLA): A player who very easily could’ve made the top five on this list, Rosen is one of those trendy talents who continues to leave question marks, with lingering injuries and inconsistent offensive outputs always hanging over him. Criticism aside, Rosen did throw for 1,915 yards in just six games of action a year ago, along with posting an impressive 138.9 QB rating.
Steven Montez (Colorado): Montez tossed for 293 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 47-6 thrashing of the Beavers last season, the highest-point total allowed by the Oregon State defense all-year long. He’ll likely step into the full-time starting role for the Buffs this season, with another year of growth and development under his belt.
Nick Stevens (Colorado State): After stepping up for his team during the later-half of the 2016 campaign, due to an injury to then-starter Collin Hill, Stevens completed 119 of his 173 passing attempts for 1,859 yards and 19 scores in an abbreviated slate of action. Rams’ head coach Mike Bobo has already named him the 2017 starter and all reports are that Stevens is due for a potential break-out campaign.