Many teams are sorting out who is their starter and what might their starter play like against competition. We have the luxury of knowing who we have, the team knows and we’ve established our identity. – BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said.

Who will face the toughest quarterbacks in 2015: Utah State, BYU or Utah?

Aside from the offensive line, skill and experience at the quarterback position is a make or break affair for football programs. Few teams can expect to fire on all cylinders when breaking in a new signal caller. The good to great ones can be game-changers, bust open games and lead inspired comebacks and big upsets.

This is why it was so intriguing in 2014 when eventual national champion Ohio State and locally, Utah State, did so well when injuries forced calls of duty from second and third-string QBs.

“Having a returning quarterback gives you the best chance to win early in a season,” said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. “Many teams are sorting out who is their starter and what might their starter play like against competition. We have the luxury of knowing who we have, the team knows and we’ve established our identity.”

Here is an analysis of QBs the major local programs will face this season, grading the position by experience, productivity and proven star power. I docked teams that have no returning starter. I gave credit to opponents who have proven transfer QBs coming in. I did not consider supporting casts, receivers, offensive lines or in what realm of competition they would face. It was totally subjective and based on opinion mixed with meaningful statistics.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I gave a 10 to QBs who had proven star status. These are QBs who’ve produced more than 30 TDs in a season. I gave zeros, a 1 or 2 to a “start over” situation at a program like Nevada in losing Cody Fajardo. It got tough when evaluating UCLA’s situation with two freshmen vying to replace veteran Brett Hundley and the candidates are talented albeit inexperienced.

No question Utah’s schedule of Pac-12 competition, with a tough South Division, produced the most talented QBs. BYU comes in second and USU third.

It was surprising how many opponents the Cougars, Utes and Aggies face who have almost no Division I experience at QB. This could prove to be a big key to all defenses in 2015.

All three programs face some of the same opponents.

Here’s the breakdown:


The Utes will face three superstar-rated QBs in USU’s Chuckie Keeton, California’s Jared Goff and USC senior Heisman candidate Cody Kessler. They get big breaks against Washington’s inexperienced Jeff Lindquist or redshirt freshman K.J. Carta- Samuels and when Oregon State visits on Halloween, there is no Sean Mannion but redshirt freshman Nick Mitchell or true freshman Seth Collins.

The journeyman QBs Utah’s stout defense faces are Arizona State's Mike Bercovici, who is a better passer than departed Taylor Kelly, but not as mobile, Arizona’s sophomore Anu Solomon (28 TDs), who is erratic but experienced, and Colorado’s Sefo Liufau who threw for 28 TDs and completed 65 percent of his passes.

The biggest mystery is what the Oregon Ducks will throw at the Utes now that Marcus Mariota is gone. Candidates are Jeff Lockie (70 percent passer as a reserve) or highly-touted Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams, who passed for more than 10,000 yards and 110 touchdowns in three years before transferring. How do you rate that position in Eugene? Is Adams’s situation a 2, 8 or 10 when he has yet to take a snap as a Pac-12 QB?

Utah will face mostly unproven QBs or systems against Michigan, Fresno State, Oregon State, Washington and UCLA.

With UCLA, the Ute and Cougar defenses will face freshman Josh Rosen. He’s been nicknamed Chosen Rosen, The Rosen One and The Chosen One. Like former Cougar Jake Heaps, the 6-4, 210-pound Rosen was considered the top high school QB in the country and UCLA linebacker Myles Jack said he wouldn’t be surprised if Rosen won the Heisman. Impressive, but still, it's hype.

Michigan could go with Iowa transfer Jake Rudock, junior Shane Morris or true freshman Alex Malzone. The Ute and Cougar defenses will see Michigan switch to a pro-style offense out of first-year coach Jim Harbaugh and there is mystery surrounding implementation and personnel. The situation has “new” and “unproven” written all over it.


The Cougars are lucky they don’t face East Carolina’s departed Shane Carden, the gunslinger for the nation’s third-ranked passing attack last year. His replacement will be junior college transfer Blake Kemp. The Cougars do face two top QBs, the first being USU’s Keeton. The second is more of an 8, in Cincinnati's Gunner Kiel, who threw for 3,254 yards and 31 touchdowns last season.

BYU and Utah will face UCLA freshman Rosen — considered a better passer than graduated Brett Hundley — who beat out Jerry Neuheisel. Rosen’s stock must be taken seriously because of his surrounding cast of blockers and receivers. He’s a freshman, but you can’t give the Bruins a zero at that position.

In its opener, BYU faces junior Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong, a 53-percent passing duel-threat QB. Armstrong is being tutored by new offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, former quarterbacks coach for the New York Jets.

BYU faces essential QBs with little game experience against Boise State, UCLA, Michigan, East Carolina and Fresno State. UConn will bring in a dual-threat QB in Bryant Shirreffs, who transferred from North Carolina State.

Missouri’s Maty Mauk threw for 25 TDs with 53 percent accuracy in a tough SEC. He’s experienced, but I have him at a similar ranking to what Utah will see in Arizona’s Solomon and Colorado’s Liufau.


The Aggies get huge breaks with the QBs they face. The best they’ll see is BYU’s Taysom Hill, Utah’s Travis Wilson and I’ll throw in SUU’s Ammon Olson (3,049, 21 TDs). Colorado State’s MWC Player of the Year Garrett Grayson is gone, as is Nevada’s Fajardo, Air Force’s Kale Pearson and Boise State’s Grant Hedrick. Fresno State is starting over as are Washington and Wyoming. New Mexico has Lamar Jordan back, but he rates about a 4.

The most intriguing situation the Aggies face is against Boise State. Like BYU, they’ll face Ryan Finley, a lanky, strong-armed passer who may not be as mobile as Hedrick but has plenty of weapons in a system that is known for quick fixes with offensive personnel.

The Aggie defense faces BYU’s Hill in the last game of the regular season. USU hits on Hill have resulted in both of his season-ending surgeries. This game is in Logan and there will be plenty of emotion on both sides. The big question is will Keeton and Hill face each other?

In the MWC, one of the stories of September will be what San Diego State does at the QB position after six guys competed for that spot this spring. It isn’t as if they don’t have talent, but none has played for the Aztecs in meaningful ways. Transfer Maxwell Smith, who played 21 games for Kentucky, looks like the leader to start and is being pushed by Oregon transfer Jake Rodriques.

Would you rate the SDSU situation a 0, 2, or 4, or because Smith is experienced elsewhere can the Aztecs get an 8? I gave the Aztecs an unproven but talented rating of 3.

So here are the scores for local opponent QB ratings: Utah 63 (average 5.2), BYU 53 (4.4) and USU 45 (3.8).

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at