Ranking the AAC's signal-callers for 2019
The American Athletic Conference features a deep group of quarterbacks for the 2019 season. Houston’s D’Eriq King is the league’s No. 1 signal-caller and ranks among the best in college football. Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder and Memphis’ Brady White headline the next tier, with transfers Brandon Wimbush (UCF) and Shane Buechele (SMU) looking to make an impact at their new school in 2019. The league’s depth extends to Temple’s Anthony Russo, Navy’s Malcolm Perry and Tulane’s Justin McMillan.
Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2019. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, having a clear hold on the No. 1 position, previous production, 2019 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference for 2019.
Ranking American Athletic Conference QBs for 2019
12. Marvin Washington, UConn
Addressing a defense that was gashed for 8.8 yards a play last season is coach Randy Edsall’s top priority this offseason. However, UConn’s lengthy to-do list also includes finding a quarterback to replace David Pindell, who quietly ranked fourth in the AAC by averaging 258.4 total yards a game in 2018. Washington tops the list of challengers for Pindell’s vacated spot after completing 9 of 24 throws for 147 yards and three interceptions last season. Redshirt freshman Steven Krajewski and West Florida graduate transfer Mike Beaudry will push Washington for the starting job.
11. Holton Ahlers, East Carolina
New coach Mike Houston was one of the offseason’s top hires, and Ahlers could be primed for a breakout year under the new staff. The North Carolina native played in 10 games as a true freshman last season, throwing for 1,785 yards and 12 touchdowns to three picks. Ahlers paced the East Carolina rushing attack with 592 yards and six scores and eclipsed the 100-yard mark in a 55-21 victory over UConn. Improving a 48.3 completion percentage from his freshman season will be a priority for Ahlers in 2019.
10. Zach Smith, Tulsa
As evidenced by Smith’s No. 10 ranking among AAC quarterbacks, it’s a deep year for signal-callers in this conference. Smith began his career at Baylor, receiving playing time in 10 games at Baylor in 2016 and throwing for 1,526 yards and 13 touchdowns. As a sophomore in 2017, Smith played in nine games and threw for 1,471 yards and eight scores to eight picks. He sat out 2018 due to transfer rules but is battling sophomore Seth Boomer for the starting job. Considering Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery helped recruit Smith to Baylor, he should be an excellent fit in the Golden Hurricane offense.
9. Justin McMillan, Tulane
McMillan replaced Jonathan Banks as Tulane’s starting quarterback and compiled a 5-1 record over the final six contests. McMillan – a transfer from LSU – should be a good fit for new coordinator Will Hall’s offense and showed flashes of his potential by throwing for 372 yards versus East Carolina and 291 against Navy. The senior also added 238 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Considering McMillan didn’t arrive on campus until August last season, he should be more comfortable (and productive) in his second year in New Orleans.
8. Malcolm Perry, Navy
A breakout season seemed to be on tap for Perry in 2018. After all, he rushed for at least 114 yards in three out of his last four games in 2017, including a 250-yard performance against Army. While Perry was certainly productive (1,087 rushing yards and seven touchdowns), he did not record a start at quarterback after the first five contests. Instead, the Tennessee native spent the rest of the year as the starter at slot back. Perry is back under center for 2019, and there’s plenty of optimism for the senior to take the next step under coordinator Ivin Jasper this fall.
7. Anthony Russo, Temple
New Temple coach Rod Carey had success with dual-threat quarterbacks at Northern Illinois, so it will be interesting to see how this staff handles Russo’s development for 2019. The Pennsylvania native isn’t a statue in the pocket, but his strength is as a passer. Russo took over for Frank Nutile as Temple’s starting quarterback during the 2018 season and ended the year with 2,563 yards and 14 touchdowns to 14 picks. Russo threw for 444 yards and four scores in a 52-40 loss to UCF.
6. Blake Barnett, USF
After stints at Alabama and Arizona State, Barnett quickly settled into the starting role at USF last fall. He tossed seven scores through the first three games and ended the year with 2,710 passing yards and 20 overall scores. However, Barnett’s debut with the Bulls was hindered by a late-season shoulder injury, forcing him to miss two out of the final four games. As evidenced by USF’s 7-3 record with Barnett under center, his health will be key to erasing last year’s disappointing finish.
5. Brandon Wimbush, UCF
Full Disclosure: If we knew who was going to claim the starting job at UCF, it’s likely that quarterback would rank much higher on this list. However, with McKenzie Milton sidelined for 2019, it’s a wide-open battle between Wimbush and Darriel Mack. For now, let’s give a slight nod to Wimbush. The New Jersey native ranked as a four-star prospect out of high school and played in two games a freshman in 2015. After a redshirt year in 2016, Wimbush started 12 games for the Fighting Irish in ’17, throwing for 1,870 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushing for 803 yards and 14 scores. After opening 2018 as Notre Dame’s No. 1 quarterback and leading the team to a victory over Michigan in the opener, Wimbush was replaced by Ian Book as the starter in the fourth game of the season.
4. Shane Buechele, SMU
With Sam Ehlinger entrenched as the starter in Austin, Buechele left as a graduate transfer for an opportunity to start. With Ben Hicks moving on to Arkansas, SMU had an immediate need for experience and a starter for 2019. Buechele started all 12 games at Texas in 2016 and threw for 2,958 yards and 21 scores as a freshman. The following year, Ehlinger’s rise limited Buechele to seven starts, but he still finished with 1,405 yards and seven scores. Buechele played in only two games in 2018, completing 30 of 44 passes for 273 yards and two scores. The Texas native will have one of the AAC’s top receiving duos (James Proche and Reggie Roberson) at his disposal this fall.
3. Brady White, Memphis
Riley Ferguson left big shoes to fill last offseason, but White delivered a solid debut for coach Mike Norvell. He started all 14 games, throwing for 3,296 yards and 26 touchdowns to just nine picks. Even though Patrick Taylor should keep Memphis’ ground game performing at a high level without Darrell Henderson, White will have to take on more of the offensive workload in 2019.
2. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
Ridder didn’t start the opener for the Bearcats in 2018, but he quickly emerged as one of the top freshmen signal-callers in college football last season. The Kentucky native was instrumental in Cincinnati’s 11-win season, throwing for 2,445 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushing for 572 yards and five scores. Ridder did not throw an interception over his last five games and tossed only five over 311 attempts.
1. D’Eriq King, Houston
Dynamic. That’s the easiest way to sum up King’s ability. In his first full year as the team’s starting quarterback, King accounted for 2,982 yards and 36 scores through the air and contributed 674 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. A knee injury suffered in mid-November against Tulane prevented King from playing in the final two games of 2018. However, King’s 50 overall touchdowns are the most by a player in a single season in AAC history. Look for King and new coach Dana Holgorsen to score plenty of points this fall.
(Top photo courtesy of Houston Cougar Football Facebook page)