College football is drawing ever closer. As the first kickoff of the season approaches, numerous lists of players and coaches to watch pop up. With that in mind, here are the top 15 quarterbacks to watch in college football this year. All players are listed in alphabetical order.
Just Missed the Cut
CJ Beathard – Iowa
Josh Dobbs – Tennessee
Mason Rudolph – Oklahoma State
Seth Russell – Baylor
Anu Solomon – Arizona
Now on to the actual countdown.
J.T. Barrett – Ohio State
As good as JT Barrett has been for Ohio State, there is a feeling that so much more is possible. Some of it is not entirely his fault. During a stellar 2014, he was injured in the Michigan game and was replaced by Cardale Jones who led the Buckeyes to a national title. Barrett was unable to win back his job until late in the 2015 season at which point they lost to Michigan State. Barrett had a nice pair of bounce back games against Michigan and then against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. In his career he’s thrown for 3,826 yards and 45 touchdowns.
Luke Falk – Washington State
Falk is the best quarterback Mike Leach has had since Graham Harrell at Texas Tech in 2008. He played through a variety of injuries last year and led the Cougars to one of their best seasons ever: a 9 win season that included wins at Oregon, at UCLA and against Miami in the Sun Bowl. Falk has thrown for a whopping 6,415 yards and 43 touchdowns in his year and a half as a starter.
Lamar Jackson – Louisville
One of the youngest players on this list, Jackson’s career at Louisville got off to a bad start. On the first play of the season against Auburn, Jackson made a terrible decision and forced a ball into triple coverage and it was intercepted. For most of the year it was a revolving door at quarterback for Louisville with Bobby Petrino cycling between Jackson, Reggie Bonnafon and Kyle Bolin. Jackson finally showed his potential in the last regular season game, against Kentucky, dragging Louisville back from an early 21-0 deficit to an eventual 38-24 win. His breakout game was the Music City Bowl against Texas A&M where he became just the third play to rush for over 200 yards and pass for over 200 yards (joining Vince Young and Johnny Manziel) leading the Cardinals to a 27-21 victory.
Brad Kaaya – Miami
Kaaya is perhaps one of the best examples of a great talent going to waste due to a lack of coaching. For all of Al Golden’s efforts, he couldn’t win big in Miami and he couldn’t get the best out of his quarterback. With Mark Richt now the head coach, many believe that Kaaya will get the guidance he needs to be one of the nation’s elite quarterbacks. He has still managed to throw for a robust 6,436 yards and 42 touchdowns in two full seasons as the Hurricanes starter.
Chad Kelly – Ole Miss
His story has been well documented. He’s the nephew of Hall of Fame Buffalo Bill’s QB Jim Kelly. He was kicked off the team at Clemson and then won a national title at East Mississippi Community College before landing at Ole Miss. He then led Ole Miss to its best record since 2003, going 10-3 and beating Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl. He passed for over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdown tosses last year. Some experts believe he could be a dark horse for the Heisman Trophy.
DeShone Kizer – Notre Dame
During spring practice in 2015, Kizer was third on the Notre Dame depth chart behind Everett Golson and Malik Zaire (more on him later). But then Golson transferred to Florida State and Zaire got hurt in the second game of the season against Virginia. Kizer led ND to the victory in that game and showed something of a clutch gene (on display against Virginia, Clemson, Temple, Stanford). He still has to battle to win the starting job this year, despite his success last year. He threw for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns while rushing for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Trevor Knight – Texas A&M
One of the best quarterbacks who fell off the rails and got a second chance. The highest point of Knight’s career at Oklahoma was beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2013 season. He started 2014 off well, but then Katy Perry asked him to call her while on College GameDay and it was all downhill from there. He arrives at Texas A&M where Kevin Sumlin has had his fair share of excellent quarterbacks, nearly all of whom have seemed desperate to get away from the program. At SEC Media days however, Knight seemed confident that he and Sumlin were going to get along famously.
Patrick Mahomes – Texas Tech
Despite only being the starter at Texas Tech for one season, Mahomes has already attempted an astonishing 758 passes. Kliff Kingsbury was one of the great Texas Tech quarterbacks and he’s turning Mahomes into one as well. After beating out Davis Webb (who has since transferred to Cal) for the starting job, Mahomes hasn’t looked back, throwing for 4,653 yards last year with 36 touchdowns. If only Texas Tech had any sort of defense.
Baker Mayfield – Oklahoma
The man who usurped Trevor Knight at Oklahoma. Mayfield was instrumental in Oklahoma’s run to the College Football Playoff last year. His performances in key games against Tennessee, Baylor and TCU were a big reason Oklahoma was as good as they were. It’s no surprise that his two worst games were games that the Sooners lost: Texas and Clemson. Mayfield had a 69% completion percentage to go with 3,700 yards and 36 TD’s last year.
Hayden Moore – Cincinnati
Moore was something of a late addition to this list. It had long been assumed that Gunner Kiel, the former Indiana and LSU commit and former Notre Dame transfer, would be the starter for the Bearcats heading into this season. Not so, as Moore was named the starter for the season on August 22nd by head coach Tommy Tuberville. Moore first came into the public eye in a wild shootout game against Memphis last September. He came off the bench to replace a concussed Kiel and threw for an absurd 557 yards and 4 TDs. He finished the year throwing for 1,885 yards and 9 TDs.
Josh Rosen – UCLA
Not too many college football fans know much about Rosen. Part of that is he’s only a sophomore and part of it is that he plays in the Pac-12, so many of his games are late in the evening for a majority of college football viewers. Perhaps more famous for having a hot tub in his dorm room, rather than anything he’s done on the field, he nonetheless had 3,670 passing yards and 23 TD’s, but had 11 interceptions.
Brett Rypien – Boise State
The second of three Group of 5 QB’s on this list. Rypien is another one on this list who not too many fans are aware of, despite the fact that he plays for the pre-eminent Group of 5 team, with that famous blue turf. With 3,353 yards and only 20 TD’s against 8 interceptions, he certainly has room for improvement. He has few marquee games to showcase himself to the college football world, with their biggest game of the year coming against Luke Falk and Washington State on September 10th.
Greg Ward Jr. – Houston
The third, and best known, Group of 5 QB on this list. Ward led Houston to a NY6 game last year, where they upset Florida State in the Peach Bowl (and had they not inexplicably lost to UConn, they might have made the College Football Playoff). Ward’s biggest strength is his escapability. So many times he should have been sacked and found a way to get out of the pocket and pick up first downs. He has blossomed into something special under the tutelage of Tom Hermann. He and the Cougars have several marquee games to showcase themselves this year: Oklahoma on September 3rd and a Thursday night home game against Louisville on November 17th.
Deshaun Watson – Clemson
The undisputed best quarterback in the country and the odds on favorite for the Heisman Trophy. Watson was incredible last year for the Tigers, winning them an ACC title, and carrying them to within a quarter of a national championship. He has that unique ability to be excellent at both running and throwing, which causes sleepless nights for every defensive coordinator on the schedule. Any quarterback who has an Alabama defense at a loss on how to get a stop is a special talent. Last year Watson threw for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns in addition to running for 1,105 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Malik Zaire – Notre Dame
Yes, two Notre Dame QB’s on the same list. That’s because head coach Brian Kelly has been unable to commit to either Kizer or Zaire, stating that they are both top 5 players on the team. Zaire earned his first Notre Dame start in the 2014 Music City Bowl against LSU where he had 96 passing yards and 96 rushing yards in split reps with Everett Golson. Most importantly in his three career starts, he has yet to turn the ball over. In his only full game, he absolutely shredded Texas last year to the tune of 19/22 for 313 yards and 3 TD’s.