Here's a challenge as tough as finding a speed limit sign that doesn't end in a zero or a five: find a 2013 NFL Draft propsect list that doesn't have USC quarterback Matt Barkley in one of the top three spots. Good luck.
There's an obvious reason for that. Barkley is great. The 6-foot-2 senior is the premier quarterback in the Pac-12 and perhaps the entire nation, and despite a relatively average last two weeks, is still very much in the mix for the Heisman Trophy.
While his reign atop the Pac-12 quarterbacking ranks is firmly set, the pecking order behind him is anything but. Due to the departures of several successful starters from a season ago, injuries or coaching decisions, there have been several new quarterbacks who have had great starts.
Among that list is Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, who as we point out in our Lessons from Utah post on Monday, is quickly climbing the conference ladder. Given his hot start among many others, the question needs to be asked:
Who is the second-best quarterback in the Pac-12?
Through the season's first third, there have been six guys who have shown enough to be "in the mix" for the title. Let's review them, and then vote below on your pick for the Pac-12's No. 2. After that, it's debate time in the comment section.
CONTENDERS (in alphabetical order)
Brett Hundley - UCLA
Key Stats: 66.2 completion %, 1,193 yards, 9 TD, 3 INT, 151 yards rushing, 2 TD, 152.0 rating, 3-1 record
Talk about foreshadowing. One his first collegiate play, Hundley ran for a 72-yard touchdown. That play symblolizes the kind of start this redshirt freshman has had in 2012. Guiding the Bruins' powerful offense (No. 3 in the nation), Hundley has become one of the most exciting young players in the nation. He helped UCLA score an impressive win over Nebraska and a spot in the Top 25 before coming up just short last week. As with any player his age, he has room for improvement, but he should be a dynamic playmaker for at least the next three years.
Taylor Kelly - Arizona State
Key Stats: 72.5 completion %, 1,000 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT, 182. 2 rating, 147 yards rushing, 3-1 record
What a difference six weeks can make. Kelly has gone from fall camp afterthought to the Pac-12 leader in passing efficiency (ninth nationally), from game manager to playmaker, and most importantly, from backup to winner. The redshirt sophomore has shown great poise and command of the offense, and his ability as a passer has been among the biggest surprises in the conference. He's led dominant wins against NAU, Illinois and Utah, and nearly pulled off an amazing comeback win in Missouri. The kid is a winner.
Sean Mannion - Oregon State
Key Stats: 64.6 completion %, 655 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 141.4 rating, 2-0 record
Mannion's stat line has suffered from the team having played only two games, but he's made the most of them. The sophomore has led impressive wins over two ranked teams, first Wisconsin at home and most recently at UCLA. At 6-foot-5, Mannion is a prototypical pocket passer with a powerful arm, and if he can continue his strong start while avoiding the interception woes from last season, the Beavers could be in for many more wins in the future.
Marcus Mariota - Oregon
Key Stats: 69.6 completion %, 934 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT, 165.6 rating, 125 yards rushing, 4-0 record
Another quarterback competition where a perceived underdog has not only won the job, but excelled. Mariota beat out Bryan Bennett for the privilege of operating the Ducks' explosive attack. He's operated the spread option attack very well, as the Duck offense has not missed a beat. Perhaps the biggest surprise has been his passing, where he has completed nearly 70% of his throws while posting a very impressive 10 to two touchdown to interception ratio.
Keith Price - Washington
Key Stats: 62.2 completion %, 560 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT, 126.9 rating, 2-1 record
If this debate occurred during the pre-season, Price would be the runaway winner coming off a 33-touchdown season. Now? Not so much. A lackluster start has hampered Price, a redshirt junior, who has struggled leading a Washington offense that lost several key playmakers. The road ahead is not going to be easy for Price, as he faces Stanford, Oregon and USC in the next three weeks. However, he showed last year what is capable of, and a return to form come be on the horizon as his new offensive mates develop.
Matt Scott - Arizona
Key Stats: 65.9 completion %, 1,205 yards, 7 TD, 4 INT, 135.5 rating, 199 yards rushing, 2 TD, 3-1 record
Finally freed into the starting lineup with Nick Foles' departure, Scott made up for lost time over the first three weeks. He accounted for nine total touchdowns against just one interception in leading Arizona to a 3-0 start including the stunning 59-38 win over Oklahoma State. He crashed last week with a three-interception showing in the 49-0 loss in Oregon, but Scott has shown that he can be an exciting dual-threat playmaker.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
Connor Halliday - Washington State
Key Stats: 54.3 completion %, 855 yards, 8 TD, 5 INT, 130.4 rating, 1-1 record
In Mike Leach's offense, Halliday is capable of big numbers, indicated by the majority of his numbers coming over the last two weeks. However, the redshirt sophomore is still very raw and needs to cut down his turnovers while improving his accuracy.
Jon Hays - Utah
Key Stats: 58.8 completion %, 467 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT, 133.0 rating, 1-1 record
If there is one certainty on this list, it's that being Jordan Wynn's backup means guaranteed playing time. For the second straight season, Hays takes over for Wynn following Wynn's career-ending shoulder injury. While Hays has made improvements, the senior has hit his ceiling as a solid game manager. Nothing more, nothing less.
Zach Maynard - Cal
Key Stats: 63.4 completion %, 927 yards, 4 TD, 4 INT, 131.0 rating, 1 rushing TD, 1-3 record
One moment, Maynard is making a jaw-dropping play. The next, he makes a dumbfounding mistake. That unevenness has come to define the senior's career at Cal, keeping the talented lefty out of the upper ranks.
Josh Nunes - Stanford
Key Stats: 53.4 completion %, 615 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT, 127.8 rating, 3-0 record
Replacing Andrew Luck is an uneviable task, but having the talent around you like Nunes does in Palo Alto helps. The Cardinal remaining a running team, but Nunes has made some plays through the air. He helped engineer the big win over USC, but failed to complete over 47% of his throws and had two interceptions. His best days may lie ahead.
Jordan Webb - Colorado
Key Stats: 56.7 completion %, 777 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT, 122.6 rating, 2 rushing TD, 1-3 record
Coming to Boulder after posting a 4-15 record at Kansas, Webb presided over perhaps the worst three-game stretch in recent Pac-10/12 memory. But he did help get the Buffaloes a win at Washington State by engineering a great fourth quarter rally.