Day two of the college football Most Intriguing week is here. Today’s list, the 25 Most Intriguing Quarterbacks:
1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
He arrived looking like the prototype produced at a quarterback lab: 6-foot-6, with an arm you could write sonnets about. Then he actually exceeded the hype as a true freshman: ran off an established starter; led his team to a 15-0 record and a national championship; and improved with such an inexorable push that by the end of the season he was a superstar. Lawerence’s last two games, against the imposing defenses of Notre Dame and Alabama: 66 percent accuracy, 674 passing yards, six touchdown passes, zero interceptions, 37 Clemson points per game. No wonder the NFL can’t wait to get its hands on him come 2021. And his flowing blonde mane has surpassed Mike Gundy’s mullet as the signature hair in the sport.
2. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
After bursting onto the scene with that walk-off national championship bomb his freshman season, Tua was so good in 2018 that he altered the Nick Saban paradigm, turning the Crimson Tide into a pass-first program. He broke the NCAA single-season pass efficiency record (199.44), threw for a whopping 11.2 yards per attempt, and had 43 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. Despite all that, the season ended up marked by almosts — he was beaten out for the Heisman Trophy by Kyler Murray, and he was outgunned in the national title game by Trevor Lawrence. Did error-plagued late-season games against Georgia and Clemson damage Tua’s confidence or expose vulnerabilities? We’ll find out.
3. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
An eventful career takes one final twist, with a transfer to Oklahoma and the chance to be the Sooners’ third straight Heisman QB. Hurts was good enough to win a lot of games at Alabama, but not good enough to hold off Tua Tagovailoa and retain the starting position. He did have one final hero turn in a Crimson Tide uniform, coming off the bench to lead the comeback win over Georgia in the SEC championship game, a just reward for a guy who handled a difficult situation with grace. Only after the season did he move on. In the era of immediately eligible transfer QBs, nobody has arrived on a new campus with more established credentials than Hurts.
4. Justin Herbert, Oregon
Until Trevor Lawrence blew up, this was the 6-6, rocket-armed QB NFL scouts were fixated upon. Then he turned down the 2019 draft to play one more year at Oregon — and it could be a year that both boosts his stock and returns Oregon to playoff contender status. Herbert leads a veteran team with plenty of playmakers and an experienced offensive line. The building blocks are in place for something big. His numbers were good last year — 29 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 7.8 yards per attempt, just 59.4 percent accuracy — but didn’t quite match the physical tools. More wins and more production could give NFL teams looking for a QB something to think about — Tua or Herbert?
5. Justin Fields, Ohio State
A major part of the Buckeye makeover for 2019. New coach Ryan Day plugs in a new starting QB, fresh from Georgia, his immediate eligibility obtained thanks to the Great Transfer Emancipator, attorney Tom Mars. Fields was the No. 1 quarterback prospect entering college in 2018, but he joined the list of five-star guys who couldn’t beat out Jake Fromm and sought a starting spot elsewhere. Even when he did get on the field last year, Fields was given a limited play package that didn’t showcase his skills. Given that, and his underwhelming spring game performance at Ohio State, some questions remain unanswered.
6. Sam Ehlinger, Texas
Perhaps the most Tim Tebow-like player since Tebow himself. Now, can he win like Tebow? A big, physical runner who averaged more than 10 carries per game and scored 16 rushing touchdowns last year also showed he can throw it with aplomb, passing for 25 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He was especially good in two games against rival Oklahoma, accounting for 775 yards of total offense and nine total touchdowns. The next step is producing under the expectation of contending for a national title. Terry Bradshaw is not a fan, but Tom Herman is.
7. Shea Patterson, Michigan
His arrival from Mississippi energized the listless Michigan offense, but he still wasn’t enough to get the Wolverines over the scarlet-and-gray hump. This year, Michigan seemingly has a great chance to do that — and to do it with the most potent offense of the Jim Harbaugh Era. Patterson was pedestrian in the big games at season’s end in 2018, being completely outgunned by Dwayne Haskins against Ohio State and then producing his lowest efficiency rating of the year in a bowl-game blowout against Florida. Will new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis push Patterson’s play to the next level, with a system that better fits his freelancing skills and mobility?
8. Jake Fromm, Georgia
Still starting and still winning between the hedges, despite the comings and goings of more celebrated QBs. He’s become the face of Kirby Smart’s rebuild. Despite back-to-back SEC East titles and 24 victories over two seasons, Fromm has been a bit underrated — he wasn’t even second-team all-SEC in voting by the coaches in 2017 and ’18 — but this season could change that. By the time it’s over, he could be second in school history in career touchdown passes in just three seasons, at a program that has seen a lot of four-year QB stars. Now he just has to find a way to lead the Bulldogs past nemesis Alabama.
9. Jacob Eason, Washington
The other touted QB Fromm ran out of Athens is now the man in Seattle, replacing four-year starter Jake Browning. It seems like we’ve been waiting forever to evaluate a fully formed Jacob Eason. At 6-6, 227 pounds and possessing a strong arm, he checks a lot of QB boxes. What he hasn’t done yet is produce big-time results. He was sporadic as a freshman starter on an 8-5 Georgia team in 2016, lost the job after being injured in the opener in ’17, then sat out ’18 as a transfer. It’s finally time to see what a mature and developed Eason can do.
10. Tate Martell, Miami
The musical chairs QB transfer market that sent Justin Fields from Georgia to Ohio State subsequently sent Martell from Ohio State to Miami. Martell seemed ticketed to be the Buckeyes’ starting QB this year, and at one point even publicly welcomed the challenge of a Fields transfer — but when it became reality, he moved on. Martell joins a Miami program that has been starving for quality QB play in recent years (the Hurricanes were 13th out of 14 ACC teams in pass efficiency in 2018). If he provides it, the Hurricanes could win the ACC Coastal in coach Manny Diaz’s first season.
11. J.T. Daniels, USC
No pressure, J.T., all you have to do is save Clay Helton’s job. Again. Daniels took over the Trojans’ starting job as a true freshman in 2018 and suffered the predictable lumps: sub-60 percent accuracy, 10 interceptions and just 14 touchdowns as the team limped to a 5-7 record. Many thought that would be enough to oust Helton, but he hung on for another season and has retooled the offense with new coordinator Graham Harrell. Maybe that brings out the talent most believe Daniels possesses. He will have to prove it in a hurry against a difficult schedule the first half of the year.
12. Kelly Bryant, Missouri
The Tigers lost a four-year starter in second-round NFL draft pick Drew Lock, but the arrival of Bryant from Clemson (plus an easy schedule) has created optimism in Columbia. Bryant led Clemson to the 2017 College Football Playoff, then lost the starting job early in ’18 to Trevor Lawrence and used the new four-game redshirt rule to his benefit to transfer and retain a final year of eligibility. Of all the transfer QBs moving into new roles, only Jalen Hurts has a more extensive body of work to date. It will be up to offensive coordinator Derek Dooley to maximize Bryant’s gifts.
13. Hunter Johnson, Northwestern
Another Clemson QB refugee expected to do big things in his new locale. Johnson was a five-star prospect coming out of Indiana who chose the Tigers, enrolled early with the hope of replacing Deshaun Watson and couldn’t move past Bryant on the depth chart, so he transferred after throwing just 27 collegiate passes. He sat out last year, learned the system, and now steps in for Clayton Thorson, the all-time passing yardage leader at Northwestern. If Johnson plays up to his prep credentials, the Wildcats will have a solid shot as repeating as Big Ten West champions.
14. Brandon Wimbush, Central Florida
He had an eventful, if not overly fruitful, career at Notre Dame. In both 2017 and ’18, preseason hopes were high for Wimbush to blossom and become the next star QB in South Bend. It never happened. In 2017, that was primarily because Wimbush just wasn’t ready as a passer. In 2018, that was primarily because Ian Book simply was better and took the job away three games into the season. That led to a change of address, and it now looks like the job will be his after injuries have depleted the UCF QB position. Star McKenzie Milton won’t play this year after the devastating injury late in ’18, and Darriel Mack broke his ankle this summer.
15. Kahlil Tate, Arizona
No QB had a more puzzling plummet in 2018 than Tate, who went from electrifying under Rich Rodriguez to mystifying in his first season under Kevin Sumlin. A Lamar Jackson-level running threat, Tate played through an ankle injury while simultaneously trying to become a pocket passer. The results were mixed — a 149 passer rating, just 56 percent accuracy, 26 touchdowns, eight interceptions, just 224 rushing yards. The biggest impact: Arizona scored 10 fewer points per game and slid from 7-6 to 5-7. Surely, Tate and Sumlin have gotten on the same page for 2019 — will he return to being an electrifying dual threat?
16. Whoever starts at Florida State
The Seminoles are flush with experience at quarterback, but also flush with questions. The likely day-one starter is James Blackman, who has made 13 career starts and showed promise in 2017 and ’18. But the addition of Wisconsin grad transfer Alex Hornibrook (32 career starts) makes for an interesting situation. Hornibrook went from a potential star to an interception-prone target of criticism in three tumultuous seasons, necessitating a change of scenery. Whoever gets the job, second-year coach Willie Taggart really needs him to play well after last year’s 5-7 bust. The Seminoles are coming off their worst scoring season since 1981, averaging just 21.9 points per game.
17. Adrian Martinez, Nebraska
The Cornhuskers started 0-6 last year and finished 4-8, but optimism is percolating on the Nebraska plains and a lot of that has to do with Martinez. As a true freshman he threw and ran for more than 3,200 yards and 25 touchdowns, with seven games of more than 300 yards of total offense and three with more than 400. If he has a season similar to McKenzie Milton’s second one as the starter under Scott Frost, look out. All Milton did in year two under Frost at UCF was produce 4,700 yards of offense and 45 touchdowns while leading an undefeated team.
18. Joe Burrow, LSU
There was more spark and spunk at quarterback in Baton Rouge last season than there had been in many previous years. That’s due to Burrow, the Ohio State transfer who stepped in and led the Tigers to their first 10-win season since 2013. Playing within yet another unspectacular LSU offensive scheme, Burrow’s numbers did not dazzle — he was 65th nationally in pass efficiency and 79th in completion percentage. But he had his moments in big wins over Auburn (leading a game-winning drive), Georgia (rushing for 66 yards and two touchdowns) and UCF (career-high 394 passing yards). With the arrival of passing game coordinator Joe Brady from the New Orleans Saints, hope springs eternal that the LSU offense will upgrade from competent to actually explosive in 2019.
19. Ian Book, Notre Dame
Despite not being blessed with abundant physical tools, Book has become the near-perfect guy to run Brian Kelly’s offense. An accurate passer and quick decision maker with an ability to extend plays with his legs, Book forced his way into the starting lineup three games into last season and the Fighting Irish offense hit another gear. He’s an ideal extension of the Irish coaching staff. Notre Dame has an 11-1 record when Book throws eight or more passes in a game, but there will be more on his shoulders this year after major defensive losses and with a difficult road schedule (at Georgia, Michigan and Stanford).
20. Brock Purdy, Iowa State
He rocketed from third string to stardom last fall as a true freshman, stepping in and taking the Cyclones to a 7-2 record in games where he saw appreciable action. Iowa State was actually in contention for the Big 12 title all the way into mid-November, thanks in no small part to the performance of Purdy. Against Big 12 opponents, Purdy racked up a stout pass efficiency rating of 177. Iowa State was picked to finish third this year in the Big 12, its highest predicted finish in decades. Purdy’s potential is a big reason why.
21. Feleipe Franks, Florida
His career has covered the gamut: prized recruit, fall guy, now he’s well into a redemptive stage after finishing the 2018 season with strong performances in four straight wins. Franks has benefitted from the arrival of quarterback whisperer Dan Mullen, who gradually convinced his 6-6, 240-pound force of a QB that adding a dual-threat element to his game is a good thing. If Franks takes the next step in his development this season, the Gators could challenge Georgia in the SEC East.
22. K.J. Costello, Stanford
Costello did what even Andrew Luck could not do — make coach David Shaw embrace a pass-first offense. The Cardinal threw 424 times and ran it 384 times last year, the first time Stanford finished a season with more passes than runs since 2004. That was in part because Costello proved he could handle being the centerpiece of the offense, showing a greater grasp of the playbook and the position after some struggles in 2017. The pro scouts are intrigued by the 6-5 Costello, who could square off against eight other QBs on this list this season.
23. D’Eriq King, Houston
The nation’s returning leader in total offense, racking up 332 yards per game and eight yards per play last year for the Cougars. King was a touchdown machine, accounting for 50 of them either passing (36) or running (14) while only playing 11 games. In a pre-Kyler Murray grid world, a (listed) 5-11, dual-threat QB from a spread offense wouldn’t get a lot of attention from the NFL. If both King and Murray have successful 2019 seasons, the pros may end up studying a lot of tape on Houston’s quarterback in preparation for the 2020 draft.
24. Tommy Stevens, Mississippi State
He was a utility man at Penn State — a little quarterback, a little running back, a little receiver. Stevens threw for 304 yards, ran for 506, caught passes for another 62 and scored 14 touchdowns — but when he wasn’t guaranteed the starting job last spring, he transferred and reunited with former Nittany Lions offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead in Starkville. Stevens still has a battle with Keytaon Thompson on his hands to be the starter for the Bulldogs, but Moorhead will have him on the field on some capacity.
25. Plug and play at Washington State
In 2018, Gardner Minshew showed up as an unheralded transfer from East Carolina and became the latest great Mike Leach quarterback. This year, that guy could be Eastern Washington transfer Gabe Gubrud, an All-American on the FCS level who hung 551 yards total offense on Wazzu in a 2016 upset win. Gubrud will have two returning players to beat out for the job. Whoever gets it, expect the usual massive passing numbers within the Leach aerial circus.
Just missed the list: Steven Montez, Colorado; Mason Fine, North Texas; Bryce Perkins, Virginia; Nate Stanley, Iowa; Tyler Huntley, Utah; Matt Corral, Mississippi; Brian Lewerke, Michigan State; Jake Bentley, South Carolina; Cole McDonald, Hawaii; Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati; Zac Thomas, Appalachian State; Jordan Love, Utah State; Nathan Rourke, Ohio; Terry Wilson, Kentucky; Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee.
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