As usual, the Big 12 doesn't lack for quarterback talent going into the 2021 college football season. Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler takes the top spot in Athlon's Big 12 quarterback rankings, and the sophomore could be the best in the nation by the end of the year. Iowa State's Brock Purdy also returns, with TCU's Max Duggan and Oklahoma State's Spencer Sanders rounding out a strong top four. The conference could get even deeper with talent under center if Texas Tech's Tyler Shough or West Virginia's Jarret Doege has a breakout season.
Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2021. 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, 2021 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) — were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the Big 12 for 2021.
Ranking the Big 12 Quarterbacks for 2021
10. Jason Bean, Kansas
The Jayhawks head into fall practice with three candidates vying for the starting job after no quarterback seized the No. 1 spot in 2020. Miles Kendrick and Jalon Daniels saw extensive playing time in Lawrence last year but combined to throw nine interceptions to just seven scores while leading an offense that averaged only 15.8 points a game. Considering the struggles of the offense last season, Bean is likely to get every opportunity to win the starting nod. The North Texas transfer showed promise in 16 games with the Mean Green, including a solid eight-game stint in 2020 (1,131 passing yards and 14 touchdowns and 346 rushing yards and five scores). Tougher competition in the Big 12 and accuracy (54.5 percent in 2020) remain question marks for Bean going into ’21.
9. Gerry Bohanon, Baylor
Baylor’s offense struggled mightily last season, finishing ninth in the conference in scoring (23.3 ppg) and yards per play (4.4). New coordinator Jeff Grimes brings hope for instant improvement in 2021, but unless a quarterback emerges, the Bears won’t get back on track on this side of the ball. Four candidates – Bohanon, Jacob Zeno, Blake Shapen and true freshman Kyron Drones – are vying for the No. 1 spot this fall. The battle is wide open, but Bohanon was listed as the backup to Charlie Brewer last season and has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster. The Arkansas native is 18 of 38 for 194 yards with two passing scores and added 296 yards and three touchdowns on the ground over 15 career appearances. Bohanon gets the nod here due to his edge in experience, but Zeno could easily take the first snap of '21.
8. Tyler Shough, Texas Tech
Shough is an intriguing quarterback, but also an unknown commodity for Texas Tech. With Alan Bowman transferring to Michigan and touted freshman Behren Morton needing time to develop, coach Matt Wells dipped into the portal to bring Shough from Oregon to Lubbock. Shough had the difficult task of replacing Justin Herbert last season and showed promise through the first four games by connecting on 65.8 percent of his throws for 10 touchdowns and 1,158 yards. However, the next three contests saw Shough regress and lose time to backup Anthony Brown. The Arizona native completed 29 of 50 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns to two picks over the Ducks’ final three games of 2020. And while his completion percentage from that stint was 58 percent, it’s a number propped up by a 77.8 mark in limited time from the Fiesta Bowl. It was a rough finish to the season for Shough, but he’s talented (former four-star prospect), averaged 9.3 yards per pass attempt, and brings more mobility to the offense than recent Texas Tech quarterbacks. There’s a lot of unknown here – but also a lot of upside for 2021.
7. Jarret Doege, West Virginia
For West Virginia to take another step forward under coach Neal Brown, the offense needs Doege to deliver better play under center. Doege started all 10 games for the Mountaineers last season and completed 63.9 percent of his throws for 14 touchdowns. The Texas native had a string of four consecutive 300-yard efforts last fall and tossed only four picks over 374 attempts. However, Doege heads into the year looking to rebound after a sluggish performance in a 42-6 loss to Iowa State and a benching in the Liberty Bowl against Army. The senior did have some bad luck with the most drops from his receiving corps (27) among quarterbacks in the Big 12. However, he also didn’t land many big plays and ranked near the bottom of starters in the conference in average depth of target (8.3).
6. Skylar Thompson, Kansas State
As evidenced by a four-touchdown performance in Kansas State’s upset at Oklahoma in 2020, a healthy Thompson should be a huge boost to this offense. A shoulder injury sidelined Thompson for the final seven games of last season, and the Wildcats averaged only 23.7 points a contest without their starting quarterback. Thompson’s steady play is also crucial for Kansas State’s ability to control the pace of the game and maintain an edge in time of possession (33:27 a game in ’19 to 29:00 in ’20). In a full season of starts in ’19, Thompson passed for 2,315 yards and 12 touchdowns to five picks and ran for 405 yards and 11 scores. The overall numbers might not jump off of the stat sheet, but Thompson is a key piece in the Wildcats’ offense and instrumental to hopes of a finish inside the top five of the conference in ’21.
5. Casey Thompson, Texas
The battle to replace Sam Ehlinger is a toss-up going into fall practice. However, regardless of which quarterback wins the job, we think the Longhorns should be fine on offense. Thompson and Hudson Card were both four-star recruits out of high school, and new coach Steve Sarkisian certainly knows a thing or two about offense. Thompson played well in limited snaps last season, which included a strong performance (8 of 10 for 170 yards and four touchdowns) in the Alamo Bowl. Card spent his true freshman season as the No. 3 quarterback and attempted three passes in two appearances. Thompson likely holds a small edge over Card, but this battle will go deep into fall practice.
4. Spencer Sanders, Oklahoma State
Sanders' development after an up-and-down sophomore season holds the keys to Oklahoma State’s hopes of pushing Iowa State for the second spot in the Big 12. The Texas native did miss time last fall due to an ankle ailment and played behind an offensive line that also struggled with injuries and attrition, so there are plenty of reasons for the lack of growth under center. And in an odd quirk, Sanders has posted nearly identical stat lines the last two years. He completed (155) and attempted (247) the same number of passes in each of the last two seasons. Also, Sanders threw 16 touchdowns as a freshman in 2019 and tossed 14 last fall. After running for 628 yards in ’19, that total dipped to 269 yards – likely a direct result of injuries and struggles up front. Taking better care of the ball has to be a priority for Sanders this year, especially after tossing 19 picks so far in his career with the Cowboys.
3. Max Duggan, TCU
If you are looking for a breakout quarterback in the Big 12 for 2021, then Fort Worth and TCU is the place to go. Offseason surgery hindered Duggan at the start of ’20, but he finished the year by guiding TCU to five wins over its final six games and paced the offense in rushing yards (526) and touchdowns (10). The Horned Frogs need Duggan to continue his progression as a passer, and there’s plenty of reason to believe he will break through this fall. Duggan averaged 10.9 yards a pass attempt over his final two contests and finished the season with 1,795 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air. Also, Duggan’s completion percentage (60.8) was seven points higher (53.4) than it was in ’19, and the Iowa native averaged 9.7 air yards per pass. With a normal offseason to jell with play-caller Doug Meacham, look for Duggan’s play to take off this fall.
2. Brock Purdy, Iowa State
Purdy is likely to hold every major passing record in Iowa State’s record book and finish as the top quarterback in program history by the end of the 2021 season. He already holds the school mark for passing touchdowns (62) and 300-yard games (12) and is expected to take the top spot in yardage, completions and (potentially) accuracy by the end of his senior year. Also, Purdy’s return is a big reason why Iowa State is expected to be in the mix to earn a trip to the CFB Playoff. After a breakout freshman season in 2018, the Arizona native threw for 3,982 yards and 27 touchdowns as a sophomore. Purdy’s numbers dipped slightly – perhaps due to injuries early at receiver in ’20 – but he still threw for 2,750 yards and 19 scores last year. He’s also rushed for 939 yards and 18 scores over the last three seasons. With a normal offseason to jell with his supporting cast, Purdy’s form this fall should look closer to the ’19 level.
1. Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
Rattler is the latest in Oklahoma’s run of standout quarterbacks under coach Lincoln Riley. The Arizona native was surrounded by high expectations going into 2020 in his first season as the starter and certainly lived up to the hype. After dealing with some growing pains, Rattler found his rhythm over the second half of the season and finished with 3,031 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. He also connected on 67.5 percent of his throws, tossed just four picks over Oklahoma’s final nine games, and led all Big 12 quarterbacks with 13 completions of 40-plus yards. Rattler’s elite arm strength allows him to make any throw on the field, while another offseason to learn all of the ins and outs of Riley's offense should help the sophomore take his performance up another level in ’21.
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