The Arizona Wildcats enter the 2021 season with the worst starting quarterback situation in the Pac-12 and fifth worst of any Power 5 program, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus.
PFF sorted each FBS school’s starting QBs into six tiers, and Arizona’s falls under the last tier: “Needs Significant Improvement.”
“These quarterback situations are marred by past poor play or unpromising candidates to lead the offense in 2021,” PFF writes.
Arizona’s starting QBs rank No. 111 nationally, eight spots ahead of former Wildcat Rhett Rodriguez and Louisiana Monroe and well behind former starter Grant Gunnell and Memphis at No. 39. Arizona is the lone Pac-12 school in triple digits, and only Iowa (112), Northwestern (116), Duke (124) and South Carolina (125) have it worse among Power 5 schools.
One reason for such a low ranking: PFF isn’t exactly sure who will start at QB for Arizona this season. While PFF lists one starting quarterback per school for most of the 130 FBS programs, the site includes Jordan McCloud, Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer as possible Arizona starting QBs.
McCloud, a transfer from South Florida, is the most experienced of the gunslingers. He made 10 starts in 2019, throwing for 1,429 yards, and he threw for 1,341 yards in seven starts in 2020.
McCloud, who has three years of eligibility remaining, threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns in his final game with the Bulls, a 58-46 loss to UCF.
Washington State transfer Cruz is another option at QB. The redshirt freshman from Gilbert sat out the 2019 season and made just one appearance in 2020, completing five of seven passes for 34 yards and one touchdown in the Cougars’ 38-13 loss to USC.
Then there’s Plummer, the only QB with experience taking the field for Arizona.
The second-year freshman made his collegiate debut at UCLA after Gunnell injured his hand on Arizona’s very first play from scrimmage. Plummer went on to throw for 151 yards on 17-35 passes. He gave away two interceptions as Arizona lost 27-10.
A week later, Plummer started against Colorado and threw for 154 yards on 19-32 passes including one interception. Arizona lost that game 24-13.
Plummer also appeared in the Wildcats’ 70-7 season loss to ASU, where he threw for 83 yards on 7-13 attempts.
Considering Arizona’s overall lack of experience at the position, it’s not surprising to see the Wildcats so far down on the list. Things would be much different if Gunnell stuck around in Tucson.
A year ago, PFF had Gunnell as the highest-graded returning QB in the Pac-12. PFF is once again a big believer in Gunnell as he enters his first season at Memphis:
“The 2020 version of Gunnell was wildly different from the 2019 iteration. He took 185 dropbacks across eight games for Arizona in 2019 and displayed pinpoint accuracy en route to an 85.4 passing grade. But Gunnell attempted only 93 passes across four games in 2020 due to an injury in his third game of the season and racked up seven turnover-worthy plays. He subsequently transferred to Memphis following the 2020 campaign. He specifically joined the Tigers to push the ball downfield, as that’s not something he was given the green light to do at Arizona.
“Gunnell’s career average depth of target is among the lowest in college football, at just 6.1 yards. Yet, he excels on such throws, generating a 65.5% accurate pass rate on 10-plus-yard attempts and earning a 93.2 passing grade. While he didn’t have enough snaps to qualify, that accurate pass rate was on pace to be the best in the country. He is a prime candidate to move up this list.”
Here is where Arizona’s 2021 opponents stand among PFF’s starting QB rankings. PFF doesn’t include NAU as they don’t compete in the FBS.
- BYU (Sep. 4): Jaren Hall — No. 49
- San Diego State (Sep. 11): Jordon Brookshire, Lucas Johnson, Jalen Mayden — No. 118
- Oregon (Sep. 25): Anthony Brown, Ty Thompson — No. 79
- UCLA (Oct. 9): Dorian Thompson-Robinson — No. 87
- Colorado (Oct. 16): Brendon Lewis, JT Shrout — No. 90
- Washington (Oct. 22): Dylan Morris — No. 28
- USC (Oct. 30): Kedon Slovis — No. 10
- California (Nov. 6): Chase Garbers — No. 59
- Utah (Nov. 13): Charlie Brewer — No. 71
- Washington State (Nov. 19): Jayden de Laura — No. 31
- ASU (Nov. 27): Jayden Daniels — No. 72