The college football landscape keeps changing. Is Colorado in the Big 12 yet? And no one actually knows what the Pac-12 is going to look like next season. But one thing’s for sure, the Conference of Champions is deeper than it’s been in quite some time. There are phenomenal quarterbacks littered throughout the league, including the returning Heisman Trophy winner. Even though the Pac-12’s reputation will take a hit when the L.A. schools leave, the Pac could realistically have one of the best football conferences in the country this season. Here are three things to watch in the Conference of Champions this year.
Back in the 1990s, the Pac-12 was considered a quarterback-driven league. Players like Joey Harrington, Ryan Leaf, and Jake Plummer all made their stints during this era.
As of recent times, it feels like the signal callers of the Conference of Champions have taken a step back. There have been a few standouts, such as last year’s Heisman winner Caleb Williams and ex-Duck Justin Herbert, but top to bottom, it feels the quarterbacks of the Pac lack consistency.
That is up until this season.
A recent ESPN article, “Ranking the 10 best college football quarterbacks heading into the 2023 season,” has the Pac-12 donning three of the top five signal callers in the country.
Williams holds the No. 1 spot, followed by Michael Penix Jr. at No.2 and Bo Nix at No. 5.
Utah’s Cam Rising just missed the top five, landing at No.6 on their list.
And it runs deeper.
The next tier of quarterbacks in the Pac could be prominent in their own right. Oregon State, Washington State, and Arizona all have proven winners at the power conference level.
Outside of the bay area schools, all the teams in the Pac-12 should have a reliable quarterback this season.
The Pacific Northwest
With conference realignment dominating the headlines, it’s easy to overlook what’s happening in the Pacific Northwest.
All four teams in the region could finish above .500, with three of the four holding the potential to capture a conference championship.
Oregon’s probably leading the group with second-year head coach Dan Lanning and quarterback Nix, but the duo’s complemented by the Ducks’ usual plethora of talent.
The focal point for UO this season should be finishing meaningful games. They sputtered down the stretch in 2022.
The other favored team in the PNW this year is Washington.
The Huskies enter 2023 with a slim shot at making the College Football Playoff.
The Dawgs are led by 2nd-year coach Kalen DeBoer and quarterback Penix Jr.
If UW would like to compete for a Pac-12 Championship, they’ll likely need to survive the middle of their schedule when they face USC, Utah, and Oregon State.
Third up in the PNW is the Beavers.
Oregon State shocked many pundits last year with their 10-win season and desecration of Florida.
This year, they could prove better, but it’s all reliant on one man. DJ Uiagalelei.
Uiagalelei was the starter at Clemson before moving to Corvallis in the off-season; if he boosts the Beavers’ passing attack, they could find themselves in Las Vegas.
The last team in the region is the Washington State Cougars.
The Cougs are likely a step below the other programs, but their defense, combined with quarterback Cam Ward should make them a viable threat.
They’ll likely finish with a record around .500 and, at best, could sneak into the top 25.
Amid conference realignment, NILs, and an ever-changing college football format, the world’s ending.
But one thing’s sure; it should prove an exciting year in the Pac-12.
In SI’s preseason rankings, the Pac has five teams in the top 25, with USC leading the way at the No. 7 spot.
Following them is Oregon at No. 13, Utah at 15, and Washington at No. 21.
Oregon State rounds out the group at the 24th spot.
Combine this with opposing fans getting their final shot at the L.A. schools, and the Conference of Champions is starting to make Vince McMahon proud.
Sports entertainment at its finest.