Which College Football Conference Has the Best Quarterbacks in 2013?

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The SEC leads the way as the top quarterback conference.

Which College Football Conference Has the Best Quarterbacks?

Braxton MillerQuarterback play is the most scrutinized position in college football each season. The difference between winning a conference championship or just getting bowl eligible could all depend on the player under center. Last season, Texas A&M’s offense thrived under the direction of Johnny Manziel. However, on the other side of the coin, Michigan State regressed after the departure of Kirk Cousins. Had the Spartans received better quarterback play from Andrew Maxwell, they could have won the Big Ten Legends Division.

Considering how much of an impact quarterbacks play in determining the outlook of a team, it’s no surprise to see this position discussed prominently when it comes to preseason predictions.

Debating which league has the best quarterbacks isn’t as prevalent as which conference ranks second to the SEC in terms of overall strength, but the overall depth of leagues in terms of quarterback talent is an interesting preseason discussion.

The SEC ranks as Athlon’s No. 1 quarterback league, but the Pac-12 and Mountain West are also a strong overall group. The ACC and Big Ten have solid options at the top, but plenty of question marks remain in the middle. The Big 12 is usually one of college football's top quarterback leagues, but the conference has an inexperienced group of signal-callers returning for 2013.

Power Ranking the Conferences in Terms of Quarterback Strength


1. SEC

With three potential All-American signal-callers returning for 2013, the SEC gets the nod as the top quarterback conference. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel may have trouble repeating last year’s numbers, but the sophomore is still in line for another monster season. Alabama’s AJ McCarron isn’t going to match Manziel’s passing totals, but the senior has won back-to-back national titles and tossed just three picks on 314 attempts last year. Georgia’s Aaron Murray ranked second nationally in pass efficiency in 2012 and passed for a career-best 36 scores. There’s a drop off after the top three passers, but the next group – Connor Shaw, Tyler Russell and Bo Wallace – are all coming off solid seasons. Florida’s Jeff Driskel should be improved in his second year as the starter, while Missouri’s James Franklin is expected to be at full strength after playing at less than 100 percent from shoulder surgery in 2012. The bottom of the league has room to improve, but new coaches at Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn and Kentucky should breathe some much-needed life into their offenses.

Ranking the SEC Starters: (SEC predictions for 2013)

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
2. AJ McCarron, Alabama
3. Aaron Murray, Georgia
4. Connor Shaw, South Carolina
5. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State
6. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
7. Jeff Driskel, Florida
8. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
9. James Franklin, Missouri
10. Austyn Carta-Samuels, Vanderbilt
11. Jalen Whitlow, Kentucky
12. Justin Worley, Tennessee
13. Brandon Allen, Arkansas
14. Kiehl Frazier, Auburn
 

2. Pac-12

Even though Chip Kelly left for the NFL, Oregon’s offense should remain one of the best in the nation, largely due to the return of quarterback Marcus Mariota. The sophomore is poised to take another step in his development in 2013, and if the Ducks are in the national title hunt again, look for Mariota to jump into Heisman discussion. UCLA’s Brett Hundley totaled 4,095 yards and 38 scores in his freshman campaign last year, and Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly returns after finishing ninth in the nation in pass efficiency in 2012. Ranking the Pac-12 as the No. 2 quarterback conference will largely hinge on if Washington’s Keith Price can regain his form from 2011, along with the development of Stanford’s Kevin Hogan. This group could get even deeper if USC settles on a quarterback, and Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz seizes the job at Oregon State. Keep an eye on Utah’s Travis Wilson and California’s Zach Kline. Both quarterbacks could be in for a breakout season in 2013.

Ranking the Pac-12 Starters: (Pac-12 predictions for 2013)

1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
2. Brett Hundley, UCLA
3. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
4. Keith Price, Washington
5. Kevin Hogan, Stanford
6. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
7. Max Wittek, USC
8. Connor Halliday, Washington State
9. Zach Kline, California
10. Travis Wilson, Utah
11. B.J. Denker, Arizona
12. Connor Wood, Colorado
 

3. Mountain West

The Mountain West has quietly assembled one of the nation’s top quarterback groups for 2013. Fresno State’s Derek Carr and San Jose State’s David Fales are on the radar for NFL scouts, and Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton shared first-team All-WAC honors last year. Nevada’s Cody Fajardo nearly had 4,000 yards of total offense in 2012, while Wyoming’s Brett Smith has 6,417 yards and 47 passing scores in two years in Laramie. Boise State’s Joe Southwick and UNLV’s Nick Sherry are set to improve in their second year as the No. 1 quarterback, with the bottom of the conference having potential with Ohio State transfer Taylor Graham (Hawaii) and Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson.

Ranking the Mountain West Starters:
(Mountain West predictions for 2013)

1. Derek Carr, Fresno State
2. David Fales, San Jose State
3. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State
4. Cody Fajardo, Nevada
5. Brett Smith, Wyoming
6. Joe Southwick, Boise State
7. Nick Sherry, UNLV
8. Adam Dingwell, San Diego State
9. Garrett Grayson, Colorado State
10. Cole Gautsche, New Mexico
11. Kale Pearson, Air Force
12. Taylor Graham, Hawaii
 

4. ACC

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is one of the top-10 signal-callers in the nation, and North Carolina’s Bryn Renner is due for an increase in in passing yards and touchdowns in the second year under coach Larry Fedora’s offense. Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas was one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks in 2011, but he struggled in 2012 and will have a new coordinator (Scot Loeffler) this year. Miami’s Stephen Morris should build off a solid junior year (3,345), while Florida State’s Jameis Winston is poised for a breakout season. Wake Forest’s Tanner Price and Boston College’s Chase Rettig are solid, and Georgia Tech’s Vad Lee was impressive in limited action in 2012. For the ACC to climb higher on this list, the bottom of the conference has to improve. NC State’s Brandon Mitchell, Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage and Syracuse’s Drew Allen are three intriguing transfers to watch this year.

Ranking the ACC Starters: (ACC predictions for 2013)

1. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
2. Bryn Renner, North Carolina
3. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
4. Stephen Morris, Miami
5. Jameis Winston, Florida State
6. Tanner Price, Wake Forest
7. Vad Lee, Georgia Tech
8. Chase Rettig, Boston College
9. Tom Savage, Pittsburgh
10. Anthony Boone, Duke
11. Brandon Mitchell, NC State
12. C.J. Brown, Maryland
13. David Watford, Virginia
14. Drew Allen, Syracuse
 

5. Big Ten

The Big Ten boasts one of the nation’s top Heisman candidates (Braxton Miller), an improving senior (Taylor Martinez), and one of the year’s breakout candidates in Michigan’s Devin Gardner. While the top of the conference is strong, the rest of the Big Ten has much to prove. Northwestern’s Kain Colter is one of the nation’s top all-purpose players, but he splits time under center with Trevor Siemian. Indiana’s Tre Roberson missed most of last season with a leg injury, and Michigan State’s Andrew Maxwell was a disappointment in his first year as the starter. Two names to watch: Penn State true freshman Christian Hackenberg and Minnesota sophomore Philip Nelson. If Hackenberg lives up to his recruiting hype, and Nelson continues to improve, it will strengthen the Big Ten’s overall quarterback outlook.

Ranking the Big Ten Starters: (Big Ten predictions for 2013)

1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State
2. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
3. Devin Gardner, Michigan
4. Kain Colter, Northwestern
5. Tre Roberson, Indiana
6. Joel Stave, Wisconsin
7. Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State
8. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
9. Philip Nelson, Minnesota
10. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois
11. Rob Henry, Purdue
12. Jake Rudock, Iowa
 

6. Big 12

Transition is the key word when it comes to Big 12 quarterbacks this year. There’s no clear No. 1 signal-caller for first-team all-conference honors. Oklahoma State’s Clint Chelf played well over the final weeks of 2012, throwing for 14 touchdowns in the last six games. TCU’s Casey Pachall is back after missing most of last year due to a suspension. Oklahoma’s Blake Bell has played well in limited action but still has plenty to prove with his arm. Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Kansas State’s Daniel Sams and Texas Tech’s Michael Brewer are in for breakout years, while Kansas hopes Jake Heaps lives up to his recruiting hype. Texas’ David Ash improved from 2011 to 2012 and has the most career starts by a quarterback in the Big 12. Overall, this group is a weakness heading into the preseason. But by the end of 2012, the Big 12 could have a strong group of signal-callers.

Ranking the Big 12 Starters: (Big 12 predictions for 2013)

1. Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State
2. Casey Pachall, TCU
3. Blake Bell, Oklahoma
4. Bryce Petty, Baylor
5. David Ash, Texas
6. Michael Brewer, Texas Tech
7. Daniel Sams, Kansas State
8. Clint Trickett, West Virginia
9. Jake Heaps, Kansas
10. Sam Richardson, Iowa State
 

7. MAC

The MAC is in good shape at the top of the conference. Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch finished seventh in Heisman voting last season and is one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks. Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton and Ball State’s Keith Wenning both ranked in the top 50 nationally in total offense last year, while Toledo’s Terrance Owens returns after throwing for 2,707 yards and 14 scores last season. Western Michigan’s Tyler Van Tubbergen takes over for Alex Carder and has played well in limited action. The bottom of the conference has a lot of unknowns, especially with Central Michigan, Akron and UMass.

Ranking the MAC Starters: (MAC predictions for 2013)

1. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
2. Tyler Tettleton, Ohio
3. Keith Wenning, Ball State
4. Terrance Owens, Toledo
5. Matt Schilz, Bowling Green
6. Tyler Van Tubbergen, Western Michigan
7. Austin Boucher, Miami (Ohio)
8. Joe Licata, Buffalo
9. David Fisher, Kent State
10. Cody Kater, Central Michigan
11. Kyle Pohl, Akron
12. Tyler Benz, Eastern Michigan
13. Mike Wegzyn, UMass
 

8. American

Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater is one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, but the rest of the American Athletic Conference has room to improve. UCF’s Blake Bortles was solid in his first season as a starter last year, throwing for 3,059 yards and 25 touchdowns. However, after Bortles, that’s where the question marks begin. Brendon Kay stabilized the quarterback play for Cincinnati in the second half of 2012, but he will transition to a new offense under new coach Tommy Tuberville. After a solid start, Rutgers’ Gary Nova tossed 14 picks over the final seven games. SMU’s Garrett Gilbert has yet to live up to his five-star billing out of high school, and Connecticut’s Chandler Whitmer struggled (although he didn’t have much help around him) in his first season with the Huskies. The rest of the conference has quarterback question marks, but picking up Steven Bench as a transfer from Penn State should help stabilize USF’s play under center.

Ranking the American Starters: (American predictions for 2013)

1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
2. Blake Bortles, UCF
3. Brendon Kay, Cincinnati
4. Gary Nova, Rutgers
5. Garrett Gilbert, SMU
6. Chandler Whitmer, Connecticut
7. Steven Bench, USF
8. David Piland, Houston
9. Jacob Karam, Memphis
10. Connor Reilly, Temple
 

9. Conference USA

Marshall’s Rakeem Cato is one of the top non-BCS quarterbacks in the nation, and East Carolina’s Shane Carden is back after throwing for 3,116 yards and 23 scores last year. Tulsa’s Cody Green was solid in his first season with the Golden Hurricane, and Rice’s Taylor McHargue has been effective when he can stay healthy. The middle of Conference USA’s quarterback depth chart should get stronger this year, as Jameill Showers and Scotty Young are two of the top transfer signal-callers in the nation. UTSA’s Eric Soza impressed in the Roadrunners’ first season on the FBS level, and Tulane’s Nick Montana – yes, the son of the NFL Hall of Famer – should help keep the Green Wave’s offense averaging over 250 passing yards per game.

Ranking the Conference USA Starters: (C-USA predictions for 2013)

1. Rakeem Cato, Marshall
2. Shane Carden, East Carolina
3. Cody Green, Tulsa
4. Taylor McHargue, Rice
5. Jameill Showers, UTEP
6. Logan Kilgore, MTSU
7. Jake Medlock, FIU
8. Eric Soza, UTSA
9. Austin Brown, UAB
10. Scotty Young, Louisiana Tech
11. Nick Montana, Tulane
12. Derek Thompson, North Texas
13. Cole Weeks, Southern Miss
14. Melvin German III, FAU
 

10. Sun Belt

The Sun Belt’s quarterback play is top-heavy in 2013. ULM’s Kolton Browning and Louisiana’s Terrance Broadway are standout performers, and Troy’s Corey Robinson returns after throwing for 3,121 yards last year. Utah State transfer Adam Kennedy was a solid pickup for Arkansas State. However, the rest of the conference is filled with question marks under center this season.

Ranking the Sun Belt Starters:
(Sun Belt predictions for 2013)

1. Kolton Browning, ULM
2. Terrance Broadway, Louisiana-Lafayette
3. Corey Robinson, Troy
4. Adam Kennedy, Arkansas State
5. Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky
6. Ross Metheny, South Alabama
7. Tyler Arndt, Texas State
8. Ben McLane, Georgia State

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