If you want to win big in college football, it’s no secret that you’re going to need some quality play out of the most important position on the field — quarterback. If there’s any doubt about it, just look up recent Heisman Trophy winners and note how tilted the list is toward the position.
Perhaps the most prodigious conference when it comes to churning out quarterbacks is the Pac-12, which just produced a pair of top-10 picks in the NFL draft and sent the league’s all-time passing leader to back up another former Heisman winner. Despite some big names moving on though, there are still plenty of top-end talents remaining out West and a deep list of potential breakout stars that could join them.
As a result, it should be another exciting year around the conference given how easy it is to throw it around. With that in mind, here are the top 10 matchups involving Pac-12 quarterbacks:
1. Justin Herbert (Oregon) vs. Khalil Tate (Arizona) — Oct. 27 (Tucson, Ariz.)
Just about every Heisman list is going to have these two near the top given what they can do with the football in their hands. Herbert (above, right) was trending toward a monster season before getting hurt and has all the tools to pile up tons of yards as the face of the Ducks’ offense. Tate was one of the most electrifying players in the country and will benefit from a new coaching staff that knows how to help him progress as a passer.
2. Jake Browning (Washington) vs. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) — Sept. 1 (Atlanta)
One of the marquee non-conference games of the season pits a pair of College Football Playoff contenders against each other and a big reason for that are the quarterbacks involved. Stidham will be the focal point for the Tigers after a terrific debut season with the team that saw him throw for more than 3,100 yards. Browning wasn’t quite as good as he was two years ago when the team won the Pac-12 but he’ll be looking for a big game in Atlanta to reestablish himself as one of the most accurate passers in the country.
3. Jake Browning (Washington) vs. Justin Herbert (Oregon) — Oct. 13 (Eugene, Ore.)
The rise of Washington under Chris Petersen has reignited the typically nasty rivalry between the Ducks and Huskies but the play behind center has gone a big way toward making this an even bigger series. Browning (right) has had plenty of success against Oregon (707 yards, 9 TDs) but you can bet the very talented Herbert will look to even things up after missing last year’s edition of a game that could very well decide the Pac-12 North.
4. Khalil Tate (Arizona) vs. Tyler Huntley (Utah) — Oct. 12 (Salt Lake City)
The Pac-12 South might be on the line when these two dynamic talents meet on the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Huntley was solid behind center in his first season for the Utes and should probably be counted on to improve his numbers, especially through the air after throwing for 15 scores and adding another six on the ground. Tate is a fellow dynamic dual-threat hoping to become a more dangerous passer down the field in this matchup that will cause both defensive coordinators a little heartburn in October.
5. K.J. Costello (Stanford) vs. Justin Herbert (Oregon) — Sept. 22 (Eugene, Ore.)
Heisman runner-up Bryce Love might be the star of this early benchmark game in the North division but it’s the signal-callers who will likely determine if this is a close, bitter battle like it typically has been. Costello won’t shoulder the load like his counterpart will need to do but he proved to be the spark the Cardinal offense needed last year to get to nine wins. Herbert missed last year’s blowout loss to Stanford but will be looking to showcase his big arm against a quality secondary.
6. Brian Lewerke (Michigan State) vs. Manny Wilkins (Arizona State) — Sept. 8 (Tempe, Ariz.)
Lost amid the controversial coaching change in the desert was the fact that Wilkins really took hold of the quarterback job at ASU and put up quality numbers (3,270 passing yards and 27 total touchdowns). He’ll have a big non-conference test at home against a potential top-10 team in Michigan State and the Spartans’ signal-caller who will return to his home state looking for a big outing against a fellow QB who can also make you pay on the ground.
7. Justin Herbert (Oregon) vs. Tyler Huntley (Utah) — Nov. 10 (Salt Lake City)
The Utes’ schedule does them no favors as they face some of the top QBs in the conference, including a difficult cross-over game with the Ducks and Herbert coming to town just when the race toward Santa Clara gets tight. This could be a Pac-12 title game preview if things break a certain way and it would surprise nobody if that’s the case given how good these two are.
8. Manny Wilkins (Arizona State) vs. Khalil Tate (Arizona) — Nov. 24 (Tucson, Ariz.)
Wilkins (right) led a rally down in Tempe last year that included three touchdowns and was helped in part to his opposite number leaving with an injury. You can bet that Tate will be looking for a little payback and nothing more than lifting the Territorial Cup up at home. If you like big play after big play, this could be the easy pick during rivalry week for the most haymakers from each quarterback.
9. Steven Montez (Colorado) vs. Jake Browning (Washington) — Oct. 20 (Seattle)
Montez doesn’t get mentioned with some of his Pac-12 peers but he’s had a solid career in Boulder and will be looking to take the next step after nearly throwing for 3,000 yards in his first full season as the Buffaloes’ starter. He’ll have a huge chance to leave the mark if he can out-duel Browning, who posted similar numbers last season.
10. K.J. Costello (Stanford) vs. Ross Bowers (California) — Nov. 17 (Berkeley, Calif.)
There’s just one 3,000-yard passer who is back in the Pac-12 this season and you’d probably go deep down the list of quarterbacks before figuring out Bowers is that guy. He also tossed 18 touchdowns in his first year as the starter for the Bears and will be hoping to make the jump to a bowl team with a talented supporting cast also back in Berkeley with him. Standing in his way could be his rival from across the bay who emerged victorious in the Big Game last year.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.