The first thing you look at when evaluating a college football team is experience at quarterback. Here's an interesting factoid about the Pac-12: All 12 teams welcome back at least one quarterback with starting experience.
Of course, not all starting experience is equal. Washington's Keith Price has one start on the road at Oregon, which doesn't match the 20-plus starts of passers such as Arizona's Nick Foles, Stanford's Andrew Luck or USC's Matt Barkley. Nor do Cal and UCLA fans likely take much comfort from the starting experience of their returning quarterbacks.
So who welcomes back a "quality" starter? Well, we were going to rate that at passing for 2,500 yards* in 2010, but then saw Oregon State's Ryan Katz threw for 2,401 in 12 games. Had the Beavers earned a bowl berth instead of finishing 5-7, Katz would have hit the benchmark. And then we noticed that Utah's Jordan Wynn passed for 2,334 yards in just 10 starts.
The Pac-12 blog, perhaps even more than the Pac-10 blog, values flexibility.
The general gist to be taken from this list is this: In 2002, six Pac-10 quarterbacks eclipsed the 3,000-yard mark. Don't be shocked if that many do it again in 2011.
Here's the list. And then we look at a few expected starters who almost certainly will reach the 2,500, er, 2,300 mark in 2011.
1. Andrew Luck, Stanford (3,338 yards): Luck likely would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday, so the Heisman Trophy runner-up is pretty darn good. Does he throw for more yards in 2011? Maybe. His receiving corps took a hit, as did his O-line. Still, the over-under for Luck has to be around 3,500 yards.
2. Nick Foles, Arizona (3,191): Foles is the Pac-12 quarterback most likely to eclipse the 4,000-yard mark for three reasons: 1. He's good; 2. His receivers are good; 3. There's little indication with five new starting O-linemen the Wildcats will be consistent in the running game.
3. Darron Thomas, Oregon (2,881): Would you bet against Thomas putting up better numbers in his second year as the starter under coach Chip Kelly? Neither would I, even though the Ducks' offensive line has been shaky enough this spring to raise some eyebrows. Thomas is going to need, however, some young receivers to step up.
4. Matt Barkley, USC (2,791): The guess here is Barkley dusts the 3,000-yard mark this fall. His offensive line struggled this spring, but the young receivers are talented and Barkley seems due for a breakthrough.
5. Jeff Tuel, Washington State (2,780): Tuel also seems like a sure-thing to eclipse the 3,000-yard mark. He's a third-year starter with a strong crew of receivers. If his protection is just a little better this fall than last -- and it should be -- he and the Cougs will scare folks with their passing attack.
6. Ryan Katz, Oregon State (2,401): Katz might have the strongest arm in the conference, and with a year of experience under his belt he figures to take a step forward in 2011. But his corps of receivers has health issues, starting with James Rodgers' knee injury. But if Rodgers, Markus Wheaton and Jordan Bishop are 100 percent, Katz should thrive.
7. Jordan Wynn, Utah (2,334): Considering Wynn averaged 230 yards passing per game in his 10 games, he was on his way to 3,000 yards passing. Further, if you recall his MVP effort in the Poinsettia Bowl versus California in 2009 -- 26 of 36 for 338 yards and three TDs -- you know he can toss the rock around. But he sat out spring practices due to a shoulder injury and we don't yet know how he will adjust to Norm Chow's pro-style offense.
As for the other five teams, three have not yet decided on a starter: California, UCLA and Washington, though the (slight) favorites at this point this spring are Zach Maynard for Cal, Kevin Prince for UCLA and Keith Price for Washington.
1. Brock Osweiler, Arizona State: Osweiler had 797 of the 3,437 yards the Sun Devils passed for in 2010. He looked good in relief of Steven Threet over the last two games of the season. Considering the strong, experienced supporting cast working in year two of Noel Mazzone's spread offense, you'd expect Osweiler to reach the 3,000-yard mark.
2. Tyler Hansen, Colorado: Hansen, a senior, has played in a lot of games but he's yet to put a full season together for whatever reason. The expectation shouldn't be for huge numbers in Eric Bieniemy's offense -- you'd expect the Buffaloes to be run-first with running back Rodney Stewart. Still, if Hansen plays 13 games, the guess here is he'll throw for at least 2,500 yards.