The PAC-12 has grabbed the spotlight of college football over the first two weekends of the season. Defending Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams has played and excelled twice already in 2023, with wins over San Jose State and Nevada. Deion Sanders and the Colorado Buffalos shocked the country by traveling to the most recent FBS Runner-up, TCU, and winning. The PAC-12 is amazingly unbeaten at 13-0 in this early stretch of collegiate action and boasts the country’s best depth of talent at quarterback.
However, the PAC-12 has been on the wrong side of many recent conference realignment developments. USC and UCLA had announced over a year ago that 2023 would be their last in the PAC-12. They will make the jump to the BIG-10 in 2024. In late July, Colorado announced they would also leave after 2023, in this instance for the BIG-12. One week later, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah followed suit. With the PAC-12 now dangling by a string, the final fiber tore this past week as California Berkley and Stanford jumped ship for the ACC. Oregon State and Washington State are now all that remain.
Despite the likely collapse of the conference, this final season of PAC-12 action may be worth staying up late for. Aside from having unprecedented quarterback depth and several national championship contenders, we have plenty of speed and talent at the playmaking positions. Historically known as a wide-open and high-scoring conference, the PAC-12 will deliver an incredible and on-brand season in 2023. Devy value and eventual NFL Draft values are beginning to match the hype here! Let’s look at the best Devy assets in this final season of PAC-12 football.
Caleb Williams, QB, USC
Back for his third and likely final collegiate season, Caleb Williams and the USC Trojans have the talent to challenge for a national championship. Already the presumptive 1.01 in next year’s NFL Draft, it’s the final collegiate hurdle for 2022’s Heisman winner. Williams has everything you covet in a top quarterback prospect. The poise to win from within play structure, excellent accuracy and ball placement, and leadership qualities are evident when watching the USC superstar on film. On top of premier arm strength, Williams checks many traditional NFL quarterback scouting boxes.
However, the skillset that makes Williams so coveted in NFL circles is his creativity and playmaking ability behind the line of scrimmage. While capable of creating yardage with his legs, Caleb’s rare athletic gifts are most often displayed while he remains an eligible passer. With excellent lower-body strength and an understanding of manipulating rushers, Williams is tough to take down from within the pocket. Good upper body flexibility and mobility allow him to make plays on boot and rollout concepts. The best quarterback prospect since Trevor Lawrence, Caleb Williams, will be the top pick in every Superflex draft next draft cycle.
Cameron Ward, QB, Washington State
Caleb Williams claiming the top quarterback spot should not come as a shock. However, perhaps Cameron Ward’s inclusion in the second spot will. As evidenced by recent conference realignment, Washington State gets little national recognition. As a result, Cam Ward is still mostly overlooked by the draft and devy community. Now in his second year as the starter for the Cougars, Ward transferred in from Incarnate Ward.
While he may not have the rare arm talent of Caleb Williams, what makes Cam Ward appealing is similar to the USC passer. Ward is a point guard playing quarterback with excellent playmaking ability from within the pocket. Accurate in the short and intermediate areas, Ward has a quick release and is decisive when reading the field. The focus on campus this offseason has been adding pass-catching weapons to open the offense up vertically. While there were mistakes, Ward got off to a fast start with 451 passing yards this weekend vs. Colorado State. Shades of Russell Wilson at Wisconsin creep into my head while watching Cam, and it’s time we gave him his due praise.
Michael Penix, QB, Washington
Expected to declare following a strong, and most importantly healthy, 2022 season, Penix returns to a Huskie team loaded with playmakers. Quantifying what has made Penix a high-level starter in his year-plus at Washington is challenging. A left-handed distributor, Penix has above-average but not unique arm talent. Accuracy occasionally is inconsistent downfield, and unfortunately, Penix lacks the final component that is becoming elemental to QB play at the NFL level: playmaking.
He, however, has shown toughness in battling through injuries that plagued him in his time before Washington and is the unquestioned leader of a team ranked in the top 10 nationally. With receivers Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan, and Ja’Lynn Polk to make plays, I expect Penix will put up massive numbers in the PAC-12. While his talent puts him on that edge as an NFL prospect between a competent starter and a quality backup, we shouldn’t underestimate Michael Penix.
Shedeur Sanders, QB, Colorado
The father and son combo of Deion and Shedeur Sanders has already shaken up the college landscape. While the ink on this experiment in Boulder is still not dry, this may be the prevailing story of the college football season. Shedeur spent two seasons at Jackson State before he and Deion moved to Colorado. The winner of the Deacon Jones Trophy, given to the top player in HBCU, expectations for Sanders were high entering the weekend.
However, few expected Sanders to show the poise, creativity, and anticipation he demonstrated in his first game for Colorado. Facing the seventeenth-ranked team in the nation on the road, Sanders threw for 510 yards, a record for an FBS player making his debut. Sanders masterfully made up for what he lacks in ball velocity with timing and ball placement. Question marks still exist along the offensive line, but Shedeur showed a skillset capable of covering for overmatched protection. Let’s remain grounded for now. It is, after all, only one game. However, let’s also be honest. If this is the play we are treated to all year, Sanders will contend for a Heisman trophy.
- Dante Moore, QB, UCLA
- Bo Nix, QB, Oregon
- DJ Uiagalelei, QB, Oregon State
- Cameron Rising, QB, Utah
- Jayden de Laura, QB, Arizona
In a typical season, this group of talent would pass for the cream of the crop in devy circles. Dante Moore, a 5-star recruit, won the starting job as a true freshman in this weekend’s late-night win over Coastal Carolina. He appears to be the next great passer for Chip Kelly. SEC transfers Bo Nix and DJ Uiagalelei have taken over the state of Oregon, and while he missed the opening night victory over Florida, let’s not forget about the grit Cameron Rising showed late last season. 2023 is an extraordinary season to be a quarterback in the PAC-12.
Rome Odunze, WR, Washington
The primary beneficiary of Michael Penix’s exceptional play, Odunze has flourished in the last year for Washington. Listed at 6’3″ and 215 pounds, Odunze runs routes and separates from defenders in a way uncommon for bigger receivers. While good in contested catch situations, this ability to get himself open in the deep and intermediate areas of the field translates well to the next level. Currently holding Day-2 NFL draft value, the type of season that puts Michael Penix in New York for the Heisman presentation is also likely to put Odunze in the first round of next year’s NFL Draft.
Carson Steele, RB, UCLA
A standout at Ball State in 2022, Steele rushed for over 1,500 yards for the Cardinals. A highly sought-after transfer, Steele found an outstanding home at UCLA. Filling the shoes of second-round pick Zach Charbonnet won’t be easy. However, Steele profiles very similarly to the former Bruin. Steele is a decisive and bruising runner with tremendous contact balance who creates most of his yardage after contact. Combined with soft hands and a good feel in the passing game, Steele will have a chance to duplicate his numbers with a Power-5 team. He has starting appeal in the NFL as the grinder in a committee.
Bucky Irving, RB, Oregon
One of the most explosive players in college football, Bucky Irving, is going into his second season in Eugene. Formerly a breakout with Minnesota, Irving managed 119 yards on just four rushes this weekend against Portland State. Irving has game-breaking ability as a rusher and receiver despite not profiling as an every-down back. Size is becoming less of a limiting factor for top draft choices at running back. Undersized, Irving’s ability to prove he’s an offensive weapon and not just a change-of-pace back will go a long way in determining how high he eventually gets taken in the upcoming draft.
J. Michael Sturdivant, WR, UCLA
While Dante Moore managed to win the starting QB job, J. Michael stole the show for UCLA. An exceptionally limber mover for a prototypically sized wideout, Sturdivant showed the ability to get vertical and create after the catch in his debut for the Bruins. Formerly of California Berkley, Sturdivant showed talent in his true sophomore season for the Golden Bears. Now paired with a brilliant offensive coordinator and top-tier QB, the sky is the limit for Sturdivant.
- Zachariah Branch, WR, USC
- Mario Williams, WR, USC
- Dorian Singer, WR, USC
- Jacob Cowing, WR, Arizona
- Benjamin Yurasek, TE, Stanford
Clearly, it’s good to be a receiver for Caleb Williams. Branch is a true freshman 5-star recruit who has already showcased a superstar ceiling. Williams profiles similarly to Hollywood Brown or Marvin Mims, speedster receivers Lincoln Riley has cultivated in his time at USC and Oklahoma. Singer is a well-rounded transfer from Arizona, shining brighter now as a Trojan. Speaking of Arizona, Jacob Cowing is one of the most complete slot players in the country. Finally, Benjamin Yurasek is coming off a disappointing 2022. Still, he has already begun to establish himself again as a top TE prospect, racking up nine catches and 138 yards in the opener vs. Hawaii.
THE BUFFALO IN THE ROOM
Travis Hunter, CB/WR, Colorado
The performance of the weekend could not go unaddressed. Despite Hunter profiling most prominently for NFL and collegiate purposes as a cornerback, there is an additional and undeniable skillset here as a receiver. While recording an interception and pass breakup, Hunter also recorded 11 catches and 119 yards on offense. He played 129 total snaps. Let that sink in. For those of us highly invested in IDP leagues, Hunter has the potential to be the most valuable defensive asset to come into the draft. Ever.
However, for the vast majority of devy and dynasty league managers, cornerback is not a starting position. While I hesitate to imagine that an NFL player could be a contributor on both sides of the ball, rules are meant to be broken. Head coach Deion Sanders played some on both sides of the ball as Cowboy and Falcon and is the type of coach willing to push the bounds of normal. I am at least open to the possibility that Travis Hunter is the type of transcendent talent that could challenge the common notion of a “versatile” player. While the future isn’t sure, let’s all enjoy the sheer entertainment this new look Buffalo team showcases.
What a sendoff for the PAC-12 2023 is sure to be! Following this weekend’s action, there are six PAC-12 teams ranked inside the Top 25. This means fan passion on the West Coast should be high. So, let’s hear it. Which of your favorite PAC-12 prospects got missed? Who was too high, too low? Keep it locked here with Dynasty Nerds as we navigate another wild devy and dynasty season.