Pac Tracks: Passing thought: what if the best quarterback in L.A. is not Case Keenum, Jared Goff or Josh Rosen?

Three things I never fathomed saying last Halloween.

1). Cubs Win!

2). President Trump.

3). Sam Darnold is the best-looking quarterback, pro or college, in Los Angeles.

But first, a word from our sponsors…

The Pac 12 has always been known for producing quarterbacks.

This year, not by choice, it’s pumping out a lot of them.

Injuries and indecision at the pivotal position have already forced 22 different starters into the lineup.

And here’s a shock: stability at the position, or lack thereof, has been a key to win-loss success for conference schools.

What if USC had not waited three games to start Sam Darnold over Max Browne? Or Oregon had not lollygagged in identifying Justin Herbert?[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

What if Colorado quarterback Sefo Lifau had not been forced by injury from the Michigan game, with the Buffs leading in the second half at Ann Arbor?

Indecisions, indecisions. Stanford, mired in a three-loss season, recently pulled the plug on Ryan Burns in favor of Keller Chryst.

And suddenly Christian McCaffrey became McCaffrey again?

It should be no surprise that Washington and Washington State, which lead the Pac 12 North with a cumulative 14-2 record, have steadily started Jake Browning and Luke Falk.

While Browning has stayed relatively injury-free, Falk has stayed in the lineup despite being pounded like a piñata. It’s a good thing Saturday’s game at Oregon State was so late few were awake enough to question why he was playing.

Washington State trainers need to construct a better Kevlar suit to protect their most precious commodity: call it a “Falk Jacket.”

You don’t think injuries matter? Arizona and Arizona State, bringing up the caboose of the Pac 12 South, have started six quarterbacks, three each. Arizona State had to throw a baby freshman, Dillion Sterling Cole, at Oregon last week. Arizona has played five quarterbacks in total, included a converted tight end and a walk-on.

So here is my general assessment of the quarterbacks not coming out of general anesthesia.

Washington’s Browning is clearly the best, playing at the highest level. Of course, he’s blessed with the league’s best supporting cast.

Still, let’s give it up: Jake ranks No.2 nationally in NCAA pass efficiency and boasts 28 throwing touchdowns with only three interceptions. He’s not as run-flashy as Heisman candidates Lamar Jackson (Louisville), or Deshaun Watson (Clemson), yet Browning is very accurate and mobile enough to buy time and make plays with his feet.

In other words: you can win a national title with him.

The most prolific quarterback—and quite a pleasant surprise—has been Cal transfer Davis Webb. He is living proof why the fifth-year transfer rule works. Instead of wasting his last year behind superstar Pat Mahomes at Texas Tech, Webb has been allowed to unleash a senior season that should earn him an NFL contract.

It’s saying something when an offense hardly misses the No.1 pick in the NFL draft, but Webb has kept the Cal engine purring in place of Jared Goff. While Davis Webb sounds more like a PGA Tour pro, he has already passed for 2,914 yards with a league-leading 29 touchdowns. Way to play that NCAA rule book.

The juiciest quarterback story, though, belongs to Los Angeles, and it's not Case Keenum vs. Goff with the Rams.

The story is how USC's Sam Darnold has shockingly, in only five starts, surpassed UCLA’s Josh Rosen as the best QB in town.

What!?

Bruin fans can argue this all they want, but I've got the “Chosen One” currently frozen at two.

Rosen remains everything you want in a plug-and-play quarterback, but has not yet lived up to the lofty hype he received out of John Bosco High School.

Darnold over Rosen?

It may be temporary, or my temporary insanity.

UCLA fans would argue Rosen has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. Ok, but he’s still made six starts to Darnold's five.

And here’s the bottom line: Darnold is 4-1 since taking over the starting job from Max Browne. Darnold has completed 67.4% of his passes with a touchdown-to- interception ratio of 18-3. He currently ranks No. 7 nationally with a quarterback rating of 173.1. Darnold has also rushed for 149 yards with a 4.7 per-carry average.

Rosen ranks 50th nationally with a rating of 138.9 and is only the seventh-rated quarterback in his own league. He has 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Yes, USC has better receivers than UCLA this year, but Rosen had great receivers last year and finished with 23 touchdowns and 11 picks.

On paper, this should not be happening. In fact, you’d hardly even know Darnold and Rosen came out the same high school class.

Darnold was a “relative” unknown from San Clemente who rode the bench last year at USC. He is listed in USC’s 2016 media guide as “a promising red-shirt freshman.”

Rosen’s send up was a bit different. While Darnold made the Orange County Register’s Fab 15 squad (second team), Rosen was considered the nation’s top prospect.

Darnold, to me, is a more instinctual player. A gamer. He reminds me of “college” Tim Tebow. Rosen is much more a refined, prototype passer honed by hours of quarterback-academy practice.

This story isn’t over yet. Darnold and Rosen can take care of this over the next two years, with two pending head-to-head settlement statements.

(Update: there are reports surfacing Tuesday that Rosen could miss the rest of the season with nerve damage to his throwing shoulder, which is a real shame. Rosen still has two years of eligibility remaining but will likely only play next year before entering the 2018 NFL draft. Too bad. Rankman was looking forward more than one cross-town face off to match the epic battles of Rodney Peete vs. Troy Aikman and Todd Marinovich vs. Tommy Maddox.)

So, instead of arguing over Darnold and Rosen, let's enjoy them while they last. [/membership]

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