With fall practice wrapping up, and Week 0/1 preparation beginning for all 130 college football teams, it's time to evaluate how every program looks at quarterback for the 2021 season. The FBS level lost a handful of big-time names from last year, including Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, Kyle Trask and Mac Jones. However, the talent level remains high this season, as Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler and North Carolina's Sam Howell are likely first-round picks in next year's draft, and a wave of rising stars like Alabama's Bryce Young and Clemson's D.J. Uiagalelei are ready to emerge.
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/career stats, 2021 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank all 130 quarterbacks in the nation for 2021. This list could look a lot different by kickoff, especially once some of the battles are settled across the FBS level.
College Football Starting QB Rankings for 2021 (Top 130)
130. Jonah Johnson, New Mexico State
Johnson and Weston Eget are battling to take the first snap in Las Cruces this year. Johnson spent two years at Fresno City (Calif.) College before transferring to New Mexico State in 2020. He showed some promise in the Aggies’ two-game spring season, throwing for 358 yards and one touchdown and rushing for 64 yards and two scores.
129. Rhett Rodriguez, ULM
Rodriguez transferred from Arizona to play under his father (Rich Rodriguez) this season. From 2017-20, Rhett played in 10 games with the Wildcats and completed 51 percent of his passes for 578 yards and three scores to four picks. Colby Suits and Jeremy Hunt will push Rodriguez for the starting nod.
128. Matt McDonald, Bowling Green
McDonald – a transfer from Boston College – struggled in his first season with the Falcons, connecting on just 43.9 percent of passes for 712 yards and one touchdown to six picks. A full offseason to work with the starting lineup should help McDonald’s performance in 2021.
127. Tyler Lytle, UMass
The Minutemen have struggled to find steady quarterback play under coach Walt Bell. That could change in 2021, as Lytle – a transfer from Colorado – should upgrade the passing game.
126. Justin Tomlin, Georgia Southern
Tomlin is suspended for the first two games of the season, leaving Cam Ransom, Sam Kenerson or running back Amare Jones to get the nod under center in the interim. Tomlin played in eight games for the Eagles last year, running for 197 yards and a touchdown and connecting on 11 of his 25 throws for 161 yards and three picks.
125. Hayden Wolff, Old Dominion
Wolff, Stone Smartt and UCF transfer D.J. Mack are locked into a tight battle for the starting job under new coach Ricky Rahne.
124. Max Bortenschlager, FIU
FIU was limited to just five games last season, so a normal offseason and the arrival of play-caller Andrew Breiner should bring some needed stability. Bortenschalger – a transfer from Maryland – completed just 45.8 percent of his throws last season. He will be pushed by Kaylan Wiggins and Haden Carlson.
123. Jack Zergiotis, UConn
UConn did not play in 2020, but the practice time was valuable for Zergiotis after showing some promise as a freshman in ’19. The Montreal native threw for 1,782 yards and nine touchdowns but also tossed 11 picks and averaged only 6.9 yards per attempt. He’s battling Steven Krajewski to start this fall.
122. Gunnar Holmberg, Duke
David Cutcliffe knows how to develop quarterbacks, but the veteran coach will have his hands full in 2021. The Blue Devils struggled on offense in ’20, averaging only 24.8 points a game. Clemson transfer Chase Brice started all 11 games for Duke last fall but opted to depart for Appalachian State. Holmberg played in six games as a reserve last season and connected on 18 of 25 throws for 161 yards and two picks. The former three-star prospect played in one game as a freshman in ’18 and missed ’19 due to a knee injury. There’s a steep learning curve ahead for Duke’s quarterback room this year. Luca Diamont or freshman Riley Leonard could push Holmberg if he struggles early in ’21.
121. Jordon Brookshire, San Diego State
Johnson – a transfer from Georgia Tech – showed some promise in a start against Nevada, throwing for 184 yards and a touchdown and accumulating 29 yards and a score on the ground. He entered fall practice as the favorite, but Brookshire was named the starter by coach Brady Hoke in late August. The former JUCO transfer threw for 410 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 101 yards last year. Mississippi State transfer Jalen Mayden is also on the roster.
120. Gunner Cruz, Arizona
New coach Jedd Fisch’s background on offense should provide some optimism that once the quarterback battle is settled, Arizona should be able to show progress on this side of the ball throughout the 2021 season. A three-man battle between Cruz, USF transfer Jordan McCloud and Will Plummer took place this fall, with Cruz and Plummer edging ahead by late August. Cruz transferred to Arizona after spending two years at Washington State. He took a redshirt season in 2019 and played in just one contest last fall, connecting on five attempts for 34 yards and a touchdown against USC. McCloud played in 20 games at USF and accounted for 3,127 total yards but didn’t arrive in Tucson in time to compete in the spring. Plummer played in three games for the Wildcats last season and connected on 53.8 percent of his throws for 388 yards and three interceptions. Both Cruz and Plummer are expected to play in the season opener versus BYU.
119. Xavier Arline, Navy
The Midshipmen played five quarterbacks last year, and a battle is still unfolding this fall. Arline and Tai Lavatai are locked into a tight competition to start, with the winner of this needing to spark an offense that averaged only 17 points and 275 yards per game in 2020.
118. Justin Rogers, UNLV
Rogers was a touted, four-star prospect out of high school, but a serious leg injury prevented him from playing most of his senior year. After playing in just two games at TCU from 2018-19, Rogers transferred to UNLV in search of playing time. He recorded snaps in three games last season, connecting on 14 of 22 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. Can second-year coach Marcus Arroyo help Rogers reach his potential? If not, Miami/Ohio State transfer Tate Martell could get a look under center for the Rebels.
117. D’Wan Mathis, Temple
Coach Rod Carey dipped into the transfer portal for help after Anthony Russo left for Michigan State. Mathis – a former four-star prospect – played in four games (with one start) at Georgia and connected on 12 of 30 passes for 89 yards and a score. Can the former Bulldog reach his potential with the Owls?
116. Rocky Lombardi, Northern Illinois
The Huskies went with a youth movement last season but will turn to a veteran under center to improve the team’s chances of winning in the MAC. Lombardi arrives after spending four years at Michigan State, throwing for 1,902 yards and 11 touchdowns to 14 picks in that span. The Iowa native has good mobility but needs to clean up the mistakes (14 picks over 332 attempts) and bolster the completion percentage (48 percent).
115. Brendon Lewis, Colorado
With Sam Noyer transferring to Oregon State, and Tennessee transfer J.T. Shrout out for the year due to injury, Lewis is the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback in Boulder. Lewis was one of the Buffaloes’ top recruits in the 2020 signing class, ranking as the No. 427 overall prospect and No. 17 dual-threat quarterback. Lewis worked behind Noyer for all of 2020 and didn’t play a snap until the Alamo Bowl against Texas. However, he showed promise in the limited stint against the Longhorns, connecting on six of 10 attempts for 95 yards and recording 73 yards and a score on the ground. Lewis is still very raw but has intriguing upside for coach Karl Dorrell.
114. Trey Lowe, Southern Miss
Expect new coach Will Hall to bring a spark to a Southern Miss offense that averaged only 25.3 points a game last season. Lowe – a transfer from West Virginia – threw for 433 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 104 yards and a score last fall. A jump in production and overall play is likely under the new staff, but the development of freshman Ty Keyes is worth monitoring.
113. Kato Nelson, Akron
Nelson missed all of 2020 due to injury, but his return is good news for an Akron offense that mustered only 17.2 points a contest last year. The Florida native has accounted for 5,584 total yards and 36 overall scores during his career with the Zips.
112. Jacob Sirmon, Central Michigan
Sirmon ranked as a top-100 player by 247Sports coming out of high school and transferred from Washington to Central Michigan for playing time after receiving limited snaps in two years with the Huskies.
111. Luke McCaffrey, Rice
McCaffrey or Wiley Green is expected to get the nod under center for coach Mike Bloomgren’s team this fall. McCaffrey – a Nebraska/Louisville transfer – has intriguing athleticism (530 rushing yards with the Cornhuskers) but is developing (1 TD vs. 6 INTs in 2020) as a passer.
110. Cade Fortin, USF
Fortin – a former North Carolina quarterback – edged Miami transfer Jarren Williams to start for the Bulls in coach Jeff Scott’s second season.
109. Todd Centeio, Colorado State
Likely as a result of the unusual 2020 offseason, Centeio never found his rhythm at Colorado State last fall. The Temple transfer played in three games and connected on just 38.9 percent of his passes for 207 yards and a score, while adding 92 yards on the ground. Centeio showed promise in his previous stop, which included a strong sample size in limited action in 2019 (34 of 51 for 444 yards and five scores).
108. Jason Bean, Kansas
The Jayhawks entered 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.
107. Austin Kendall, Louisiana Tech
With Luke Anthony on the mend from a serious leg injury suffered last December, coach Skip Holtz brought in Kendall as a safety net and a potential starter. Kendall started his career at Oklahoma and transferred to West Virginia prior to 2019. The North Carolina native played in 11 games with the Mountaineers, throwing for 1,989 yards and 14 touchdowns to 10 picks.
106. 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.
105. Gavin Hardison, UTEP
The strength of UTEP’s offense should be the line and backfield, but Hardison will have opportunities to work his way up this list. The New Mexico native returns one of Conference USA’s top receivers in Jacob Cowing, which should help him improve after throwing for 1,419 yards and five scores over seven appearances last fall.
104. Luke Doty, South Carolina
South Carolina’s offense is expected to be a work in progress under new coach Shane Beamer and coordinator Marcus Satterfield. The one-two punch of Kevin Harris and MarShawn Lloyd at running back and a solid offensive line will have to carry the offense early on, especially with Doty needing time to develop and a lack of playmakers at receiver. The South Carolina native played in eight contests as a true freshman last fall, connecting on 43 of 71 throws for 405 yards and two touchdowns. However, he also averaged only 5.7 yards per attempt and had an average depth of target of 7.6 yards. Doty flashed his mobility by running for 91 yards in his limited playing time, which could be a key asset for Satterfield to deploy as the young (but promising quarterback) gets more comfortable in 2021.
103. Tanner McKee, Stanford
Stanford coach David Shaw enters fall practice hoping for a quick resolution to the team’s quarterback battle between McKee and Jack West. The edge in experience goes to West with five career appearances and two starts, but McKee ranked higher coming out of high school (No. 46) to West (No. 235). McKee originally signed with Stanford in the 2018 class but didn’t arrive until ’20 due to an LDS mission. He played in one contest last fall, connecting on three passes for 62 yards against Oregon. West’s experience and familiarity with the system might give him an early edge in the battle. However, McKee’s talent eventually wins out to become the No. 1 QB on The Farm.
102. Haaziq Daniels, Air Force
Daniels showed potential in Air Force’s six games last season, as the New Jersey native ran for 297 yards and three scores over 55 attempts and also added 433 yards (55.6 percent completion rate) through the air. The 2020 snaps were the first of Daniels’ career at the Academy, providing optimism for more development in ’21.
101. Tyhier Tyler, Army
Army has a handful of quarterbacks with experience on the roster, so the battle to start could go into the season. Tyler gets the nod here since he finished 2020 as the starter and ran for 578 yards and five scores over the last seven contests. If Tyler doesn’t get the start, it could fall to Jabari Laws, Christian Anderson, Jemel Jones or Cade Ballard.
100. Gunnar Watson, Troy
Watson is locked into a tight battle with Missouri transfer Taylor Powell for the starting nod this fall. Last season, Watson missed two games but still threw for 2,141 yards and 16 scores. He also led the Sun Belt in completion percentage (70.1). However, he tied for seventh among conference signal-callers with just five completions of 40-plus yards.
99. Chase Brice, Appalachian State
Brice is now on his third FBS program. He spent 2017-19 at Clemson, which included a clutch performance in ’18 to lead the Tigers to a win over Syracuse. After accounting for nine passing scores from 2018-19 as the backup to Trevor Lawrence, Brice left for an opportunity to start at Duke. Unfortunately for Brice, the ’20 season was a struggle. He averaged only 4.8 yards per attempt, completed 54.8 percent of his passes, and tossed 15 picks over 352 throws. Was last year a result of the limited practice time or will Brice continue to struggle to find his rhythm?
98. Kurtis Rourke, Ohio
Kurtis’ brother (Nathan Rourke) torched the MAC from 2017-19 as the Bobcats’ starting quarterback. Can Kurtis replicate that production in 2021? The limited sample size from ’20 (386 yards and three touchdowns through the air and glimpses of potential on the ground) shows it’s possible.
97. N’Kosi Perry, FAU
The Owls struggled to get consistent play under center last season, averaging just 5.6 yards per pass attempt. Coach Willie Taggart brought in a pair of transfers – Perry and Michael Johnson Jr. – to push Nick Tronti for the starting nod. Perry played in 24 games at Miami from 2018-20 and threw for 2,484 yards and 24 touchdowns. The former four-star prospect should be a good fit for Taggart’s offense.
96. Hunter Johnson, Northwestern
Johnson edged Ryan Hilinski for the starting nod this fall. The Clemson transfer played in six games for the Wildcats in 2019 and completed 46.3 percent of his throws for 432 yards and one touchdown to four picks. Hilinski was placed into a difficult spot as a true freshman at South Carolina, as he was pressed into the No. 1 job after Jake Bentley was lost for the year after the opener. But Hilinski – a former four-star recruit – was poised in his 11-game stint, throwing for 2,357 yards and 11 touchdowns to only five picks. Hilinski had three efforts of 300 or more yards, including 324 versus Alabama. The California native averaged only 5.8 yards per pass attempt, but it’s tough to read too much into the numbers considering the quick transition period and overall struggles of the offense. Will Johnson's second opportunity to start go better than his stint in '19?
95. Tommy DeVito, Syracuse
The 2021 season is an important one for Syracuse coach Dino Babers. For the Orange to get back to a winning record and a bowl, jump-starting an offense that managed only 17.8 points a contest in ’20 is a must. Offensive line woes have limited this group the last two years but experience and better depth should help Syracuse in the trenches, which should give DeVito a better chance to thrive. The New Jersey native worked as the backup to Eric Dungey in 2018 but moved to the top spot on the depth chart and started 11 games the following year. DeVito threw for 2,360 yards and 19 touchdowns that season. However, the bulk of his production came in non-conference matchups. DeVito hoped to get on track last fall, but a foot injury suffered against Duke on Oct. 10 ended his season early. Can the junior deliver a breakout year? Or will Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader eventually unseat him for the starting job?
94. Carter Bradley, Toledo
With Eli Peters retiring, Bradley is expected to get the nod over Dequan Finn as Toledo’s No. 1 quarterback. Carter, the son of former NFL head coach and current assistant Gus Bradley, has played in 14 games over the last three seasons, throwing for 1,405 yards and 10 scores. If Bradley can play up to his potential, Toledo’s track record of producing high-powered offenses should give him a chance to push for all-conference honors.
93. Noah Vedral, Rutgers
The arrival of play-caller Sean Gleeson helped the Scarlet Knights show marked improvement on offense last fall. After averaging 13.3 a game in 2019, this offense posted 26.7 per contest in ’20 and another step forward this year is within reach. Vedral contributed to that improvement last fall, as the former UCF and Nebraska signal-caller connected on 61.5 percent of his throws for 1,219 yards and nine touchdowns and rushed for 193 yards and a score. With underrated playmakers returning in receiver Bo Melton and running back Isaih Pacheco, along with a full offseason to work with the supporting cast and staff, Vedral should deliver a solid senior year for the Scarlet Knights.
92. Brandon Peters, Illinois
Bret Bielema has several challenges to navigate in his first season in Champaign but having a veteran quarterback like Peters certainly eases some concerns about the transition on offense. In his first year on campus in 2019, the Michigan transfer threw for 1,884 yards and 18 touchdowns and helped guide the Fighting Illini to a bowl. However, Peters and the entire Illinois offense struggled last fall, as he was limited to just five games and threw for 429 yards and three scores. A fresh start under the new staff, along with better luck in the health department, should help Illinois and Peters rebound a bit on offense in ’21.
91. Sean Chambers, Wyoming
Injuries have derailed each of Chambers’ first three seasons in Laramie, but if he can stay healthy, the potential is there for the California native to finish much higher on this list. Chambers is a work in progress as a passer (46.3 career completion percentage) but is a dynamic runner (894 yards and 12 scores over 150 attempts).
90. Bailey Hockman, Middle Tennessee
Asher O’Hara’s decision to transfer opened the door for the Blue Raiders to bring in Hockman to start. The NC State transfer originally started his career at Florida State and started 11 games with the Wolfpack from 2019-20. During the ’20 campaign, Hockman was instrumental in helping the team to an 8-4 mark, stepping into the starting role after an injury to Devin Leary, completing 2,088 yards and 13 touchdowns to 11 picks.
89. Austin Aune, North Texas
Aune doesn’t have a complete season of starts on his resume, but the small sample size from 2020 is intriguing. The former New York Yankees minor leaguer completed 54.6 percent of his throws for 1,650 yards and 13 touchdowns to just four picks. Aune averaged 8.9 yards per attempt and had 10 completions of 40-plus yards – despite having only 185 attempts in 2020. He will have to hold off former North Carolina signal-caller Jace Ruder this fall.
88. Terry Wilson, New Mexico
Four different players took snaps for the Lobos last season, but coach Danny Gonzales’ team should have more stability under center with Wilson arriving from Kentucky. The former Wildcats’ signal-caller threw for 3,436 yards and 20 touchdowns and ran for 1,015 yards and 10 scores over 25 appearances in Lexington.
87. Spencer Petras, Iowa
Iowa rebounded from an 0-2 start to finish the 2020 season with six consecutive victories. Petras’ performance played a small role in that improvement, as he tossed only two picks over Iowa’s last six contests and connected on 14 of 25 throws for 211 yards in a 28-7 victory over Wisconsin. The California native finished his first season as the starter with 1,569 passing yards and nine touchdowns but connected on just 57.1 percent of his throws and averaged 6.4 yards per attempt. Petras will be under pressure to pick up his play in 2021, with Alex Padilla and Deuce Hogan waiting in the wings if he stumbles.
86. Tristan Gebbia, Oregon State
Gebbia is the front-runner to start in Corvallis, but coach Jonathan Smith added insurance this offseason in former Colorado signal-caller Sam Noyer. Gebbia suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in the fourth game of 2020, with backup Chance Nolan started the remaining three contests. The two quarterbacks combined for nine touchdowns and five interceptions, while Gebbia held a significant edge in completion percentage (62 percent to 50.5). Oregon State’s offense managed only two completions of 40-plus yards last season, so regardless of whether Gebbia, Noyer or Nolan starts, the passing game needs to generate a few more big plays.
85. Joe Milton, Tennessee
Wide open is probably the best way to describe Tennessee’s quarterback battle under new coach Josh Heupel. The Volunteers feature two transfers (Hendon Hooker and Milton) and one option that was on the roster last year (Harrison Bailey) vying for the starting nod. Hooker and Bailey were positioned as the favorites in the spring, but Milton’s development this fall is the x-factor in the quarterback derby. Hooker was a solid performer from 2019-20 at Virginia Tech, throwing for 2,894 yards and 22 touchdowns to just seven picks and running for just under 1,000 yards and 14 scores in that span. Milton had a strong debut for Michigan in last year's opener but struggled the rest of the way. Heupel can tweak his scheme to fit whichever quarterback wins the job, and the new staff should feel relatively confident in this position considering the options in Knoxville this fall.
84. Will Levis, Kentucky
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops hopes the hire of Liam Coen as the team’s new play-caller provides a spark for the passing game and helps the offense go to the next level in 2021 and beyond. But for Coen’s offense to take off, the Wildcats have to find consistent play at the quarterback position after the team’s passers averaged only 5.5 yards per attempt and tossed just seven touchdowns over 11 games last year. Terry Wilson opted to transfer to New Mexico, leaving Beau Allen and Joey Gatewood to battle in the spring, with Levis arriving on campus this summer. After using a redshirt season in 2018 at Penn State, Levis played in 15 games over the next two years. During that span, he threw for 644 yards and three touchdowns and added 473 yards and six scores on the ground. Levis has showed flashes of promise at Penn State, but there’s a lot of transition to overcome with a new coordinator and system.
83. Brady McBride, Texas State
McBride is a quarterback on the rise for 2021. The Memphis transfer flashed potential last year, throwing for 1,925 yards and 17 touchdowns to just seven picks and adding 76 yards on the ground. The Bobcats upped their scoring average from 18.4 points a game in 2019 to 27.7 last year, and with McBride having an offseason to develop under coach Jake Spavital, this offense should take another step forward in the Sun Belt.
82. Jake Bentley, South Alabama
South Alabama will be the third stop in Bentley’s career. After starting at South Carolina, Bentley transferred to play at Utah last year and threw for 882 yards and six scores over five games. In five seasons, Bentley has connected on 62.4 percent of his passes for 8,409 yards and 61 scores. Cutting down on interceptions (38 in his career) is a must if the Jaguars are to contend for a bowl. The good news for Bentley: South Alabama’s receiving corps is among the best in the Sun Belt.
81. Ken Seals, Vanderbilt
Seals was one of the few bright spots for Vanderbilt last season and is expected to be a key part of new coach Clark Lea’s rebuilding effort over the next couple of years. The Texas native started all nine games for the Commodores as a true freshman in 2020 and connected on 64.6 percent of his throws for 1,928 yards and 12 touchdowns to 10 picks. Seals had to work behind a patchwork line and the limited offseason certainly impacted the entire development of the offense. Vanderbilt does have weapons returning at receiver, so another step forward by Seals in his development could place him closer to the middle of the pack in the SEC.
80. Anthony Russo, Michigan State
The quarterback battle between Russo and Payton Thorne is likely to continue deep into the fall. Michigan State is desperately looking for offensive improvement after finishing last in the Big Ten in scoring (18 ppg) and averaged 4.8 yards per play in 2020. After taking a redshirt year in ’19, Thorne played in four games (with one start), throwing for 582 yards and three scores last season. Russo played in 31 games (26 starts) at Temple from 2017-20 and finished his career in Philadelphia with 6,292 passing yards and 44 scores. Interceptions (32) and yards per attempt (7.0) are two areas for Russo to improve upon with the Spartans.
79. Braxton Burmeister, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech hasn’t had much consistency under center, as four different players have led the team in passing over the last five years. And that carousel of change under center continued with the December departures of Hendon Hooker (Tennessee) and Quincy Patterson (North Dakota State). The job is Burmeister’s to lose this season, and the Oregon transfer showed some signs of promise in his first year in Blacksburg. The unusual nature of the 2020 season, along with injuries, prevented Burmeister from finding his form in the first three games. However, he completed 25 of 34 passes for 339 yards and one touchdown and ran for 42 yards over the final two games. Burmeister is still largely unproven, but his average depth of target (10.4) and strong showing at the end of ’20 provides upside for coach Justin Fuente this fall.
78. Jayden de Laura, Washington State
A complete and normal offseason to break in the run-and-shoot attack should help Washington State’s offense show marked improvement in coach Nick Rolovich’s second year at the helm. However, Rolovich needs to find a triggerman for this attack, as the quarterback battle between de Laura and Tennessee transfer Jarrett Guarantano has continued into the fall. De Laura missed spring practice due to an off-field issue but was reinstated to the team in late May. While a quarterback battle is technically ongoing, it would be a major surprise if de Laura didn’t start the 2021 opener. The Hawaii native showed flashes of potential in the abbreviated four-game slate last fall. As a true freshman, de Laura threw for 227 yards and added three overall scores in a win at Oregon State and connected on 25 of 39 passes for 321 yards in a loss to Oregon the following week. Overall, de Laura ended last season with 886 passing yards and five touchdowns and ran for 34 yards and two scores on 28 carries. Considering de Laura’s talent and potential within this offense, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him easily outperform this ranking.
77. Jeff Sims, Georgia Tech
Sims was tossed into the fire right away as a true freshman last season. As expected, he experienced plenty of ups and downs, but the playing time should help Sims take a step forward in 2021. The Florida native was a big-time get for coach Geoff Collins on the recruiting trail after ranking as the No. 10 dual-threat quarterback in the ’20 signing class. Sims started his career by throwing for 277 yards in a road upset over Florida State and later posted 238 yards and two touchdowns through the air to close out the regular season with a victory over Pitt. The overall numbers (1,881 yards and 13 touchdowns to 13 picks) leave plenty of room to improve, and the Yellow Jackets’ staff will certainly need Sims to work on his accuracy (54.9). However, the talent is there to make a big jump as a passer, and Sims showcased his dynamic athleticism by running for 492 yards and six scores last fall.
76. Davis Brin, Tulsa
Brin has played in only four games, but the Tulsa coaching staff has to be intrigued with his potential, especially after an impressive performance against Tulane last fall. The Texas native came off the bench to lead a comeback win over the Green Wave, connecting on 18 of 28 throws for 266 yards and two scores.
75. Tyler Johnston III, UAB
Johnston III has battled injuries in each of the last two seasons, but a healthy 2021 should place him back near the top of the list among quarterbacks in Conference USA. After starting five contests in ’18, Johnston III assumed the full-time job the following year and threw for 2,250 yards and 17 touchdowns (but also tossed 15 picks). A shoulder injury limited him to five games last season, but Johnston III still connected on 58.8 percent of his passes for 843 yards (8.7 per attempt) and seven scores.
74. Tanner Mordecai, SMU
With Spencer Rattler entrenched as the starter at Oklahoma, Mordecai transferred for a chance to start at SMU. His numbers (50 of 70 for 639 yards and four touchdowns) with the Sooners were solid, but true freshman Preston Stone will be hard to keep on the sidelines.
73. Grant Gunnell, Memphis
Brady White leaves big shoes to fill in Memphis, but coach Ryan Silverfield has some promising options in the mix under center. Gunnell played in 12 games at Arizona from 2019-20 and connected on 66.5 percent of his throws for 1,864 yards and 15 touchdowns. There’s some untapped potential here.
72. Jaren Hall, BYU
Replacing Zach Wilson won’t be easy, but Hall is an intriguing talent for BYU to build around in 2021. The Utah native played in two contests in ’18 but filled in with Wilson out due to injury for two starts and played in six overall games. During the ’19 season, Hall threw for 420 yards and a touchdown on just 31 completions and showcased his dual-threat ability by averaging 4.8 yards per rush (139 yards) and recording three scores. If Hall stumbles in ’21, Baylor Romney or Jacob Conover would be good Plan B options.
71. Frank Harris, UTSA
Injuries prevented Harris from playing in 2018 and for most of ’19, but the Texas native finally got a chance to showcase his potential last year. Over 12 starts for the much-improved Roadrunners, Harris threw for 1,630 yards and 12 touchdowns (63.6 completion percentage) and rushed for 528 yards and nine scores.
70. Brett Gabbert, Miami (Ohio)
Miami (Ohio) only played in three games last season, and Gabbert was limited in one and missed another game due to injury, which prevented him from building off a promising freshman campaign. As a true freshman in 2019, Gabbert led the RedHawks to a MAC title and threw for 2,411 yards and 11 touchdowns.
69. Cade McNamara, Michigan
All eyes in Ann Arbor will be watching the development of five-star freshman J.J. McCarthy, but McNamara has the inside track on the starting job for the 2021 opener against Western Michigan. After using a redshirt year in ’19, McNamara played in four games (with one start) last fall and connected on 43 of 71 throws for 425 yards and five scores. The bulk of his production (260 yards and four touchdown passes) came against Rutgers, as he didn't eclipse 100 passing yards versus Wisconsin or Penn State. If McNamara stumbles, and McCarthy isn’t ready, Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman is a solid option for coach Jim Harbaugh.
68. Jack Plummer, Purdue
Purdue returns one of the top receiving corps in the Big Ten, but the offense won’t take off without better play under center. The Boilermakers have a couple of options vying for the job, with Plummer and Aidan O’Connell battling UCLA transfer Austin Burton and Michael Alaimo. Plummer played in three contests last season and connected on 71 percent of his passes for 938 yards and eight touchdowns. The previous year, Plummer threw for 1,603 yards and 11 touchdowns over nine appearances. O’Connell opened 2020 as Purdue’s No. 1 quarterback, but the guess here is Plummer gets the nod for ’21.
67. Logan Bonner, Utah State
Bonner followed coach Blake Anderson from Arkansas State to Logan, and the former Red Wolves’ quarterback should hold off Andrew Peasley for the starting job. The Texas native should give Utah State’s offense a needed spark (15.5 points a game in 2020) after throwing for 3,166 yards and 30 touchdowns in Jonesboro since 2017.
66. Clayton Tune, Houston
Is this the year coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense takes off in Houston? To do so, Tune needs to continue his development after a solid 2020 (2,048 yards and 15 TDs). Cutting down on the interceptions (10 in eight games) is a must.
65. Cornelious Brown IV, Georgia State
If you are looking for a breakout quarterback from the Sun Belt, Brown should be the name to watch. The Alabama native had a strong debut for the Panthers in 2020, showcasing his big-time arm for 2,278 yards and 17 touchdowns. Brown also added 301 yards and seven scores on the ground, which helped him rank second among Sun Belt signal-callers in total offense (257.9 ypg) last season.
64. Chris Reynolds, Charlotte
After throwing for 2,564 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2019, Reynolds seemed primed to rank among the top quarterbacks in Conference USA last season. But the abbreviated slate, along with a shoulder injury, limited Reynolds to just 1,305 yards and eight scores over six contests. With one of the top receiving corps in the conference at his disposal, Reynolds should rebound in a big way this fall.
63. Bailey Zappe, WKU
Zappe was prolific at FCS Houston Baptist, and the transition to WKU could be relatively seamless thanks to his offensive coordinator (Zach Kittley) and three receivers from HBU following him to Bowling Green. In a four-game stint with the Huskies in 2020, Zappe torched opponents for 1,833 yards and 15 touchdowns to one interception.
62. K.J. Jefferson, Arkansas
Upside and potential. That’s the best way to sum up Jefferson going into the 2021 season after receiving playing time in eight games and making two starts since stepping onto campus in ’19. Jefferson played in five contests last season under first-year play-caller Kendal Briles and showcased his ability with a solid performance (18 of 33 for 274 yards and three touchdowns and 32 rushing yards and a score) in a 50-48 loss to Missouri. Jefferson connected on 20 of 41 throws for 295 yards for the entire year, which dropped his accuracy to 47.2 percent over two seasons in Fayetteville. In order for Jefferson to take the next step and finish higher on this list, he has to improve his accuracy and continue his overall progression as a passer under Briles. The mobility, arm strength and potential are all there for a big season if he can do just that.
Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2021
61. Sean Clifford, Penn State
The development and overall play of Clifford are both instrumental to Penn State’s 2021 season. The Nittany Lions dipped to 5.5 yards per play last season and 17 turnovers were a big problem for a team that lost three games by seven points or less. Getting Clifford to take better care of the ball (nine INTs in 2020) is a priority, and the Ohio native has room to improve overall after averaging just 7.5 yards per attempt and 209.2 passing yards a contest last fall. For the season, Clifford threw for 1,883 yards and 16 touchdowns and ran for 335 yards and three scores. After accounting for more than 3,000 total yards and scoring 28 times in ’19, most expected Clifford to take another step forward last fall. Can new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich get the junior signal-caller back on track?
60. Will Rogers, Mississippi State
The Air Raid attack struggled to get on track in coach Mike Leach’s debut season in Starkville, but the Bulldogs are likely to benefit from a normal offseason and a full complement of practices to install and learn the system. Rogers enters fall practice as the front-runner after throwing for 1,976 yards and 11 touchdowns as a true freshman last year. The Mississippi native averaged only 5.7 yards per attempt but connected on 69.1 percent of his throws and seemed to give the offense a spark late in the year. Even though Rogers has the inside track, true freshman Sawyer Robertson and Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham will get a chance to unseat him this fall.
59. Bo Nix, Auburn
Can new coach Bryan Harsin help Nix reach his potential in 2021? After ranking as a five-star prospect coming out of high school, Nix has posted two inconsistent seasons for the Tigers. As a true freshman in ’19, he threw for 2,542 yards and 16 touchdowns and ran for 313 yards and seven scores on the ground. However, Nix’s yards per attempt was only 6.7 and his accuracy checked in at 57.6 percent. As a sophomore, the numbers were only a tad better for Nix. He raised his completion percentage to 59.9 and his yards per attempt inched up to 6.8. Over 11 contests, Nix posted 2,415 passing yards and 12 scores and ran for 388 yards and seven touchdowns. Downfield passing might be a key area to watch early on to see if Nix has improved under Harsin. Last year, in throws behind the line of scrimmage and 0-9 yards downfield, Nix connected on 169 of 211 attempts. However, on attempts from 10 yards or more downfield, he only hit on 45 of 129 throws. LSU transfer TJ Finley is waiting in the wings if Nix doesn’t take a step forward this fall.
58. Adrian Martinez, Nebraska
Martinez appeared to be on track for stardom after his freshman season in 2018. However, he hasn’t matched that production over the last two years, and his overall performance in ’21 is crucial to Nebraska’s bowl hopes. The California native threw for 2,617 yards and 17 touchdowns and added 629 yards and eight scores on the ground in ’18 but watched his numbers dip (1,956 yards and 10 TDs) through the air as a sophomore. Martinez has maintained his rushing ability with more than 1,000 yards on the ground over the last two seasons, and his accuracy jumped to 71.5 percent last fall. However, he only averaged seven yards an attempt and tossed three interceptions to just four touchdowns. If Martinez can get back to putting up numbers along the lines of what he did as a freshman, it would be a huge plus for coach Scott Frost and the program’s hopes of posting a winning record this fall.
57. 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.
56. Kyle Vantrease, Buffalo
With Buffalo’s strong ground game and offensive line leading the way, Vantrease didn’t get many opportunities to win games with his right arm last year. However, the Ohio native has been steady when called upon, connecting on 62.3 percent of his throws for 1,326 yards and seven scores. The Bulls should still have one of the MAC’s better rushing attacks under new coach Maurice Linguist, but new play-caller Shane Montgomery knows Vantrease is reliable and ready for more opportunities.
55. Preston Hutchinson, Eastern Michigan
Hutchinson has to hold off a battle from Cincinnati transfer Ben Bryant, but there’s a lot to like about his potential after strong performances (2,124 yards and 15 TDs) in 13 career appearances (and seven starts) with the Eagles. The Ohio native tied for first among MAC signal-callers with four completions of 60-plus yards in 2020.
54. Holton Ahlers, East Carolina
With one of the AAC’s top receiving corps and two talented young running backs at his disposal, Ahlers seems poised for his best all-around season with East Carolina. Over the last three years, Ahlers has passed for 7,099 yards and 51 touchdowns and added 1,060 yards and 13 scores on the ground. The North Carolina native needs to cut down on the turnovers (19 picks over last two years) and raise the yards per attempt (7.3 over his career).
53. Grant Wells, Marshall
Getting Wells back on track is the top priority for new coach Charles Huff and play-caller Tim Cramsey. The West Virginia native started the season fast, which included four touchdowns versus Eastern Kentucky and five scores in a 42-14 victory over Middle Tennessee in November. But Wells (and Marshall’s offense overall) struggled in the final three games, as he failed to eclipse more than 165 yards in each of those contests. If Wells can regain his early form, he could have the inside track to be C-USA’s top quarterback in 2021.
52. Hudson Card, Texas
The battle to replace Sam Ehlinger was a toss-up going into fall practice, with Card edging over Thompson in late August. Regardless of which quarterback wins the job, we think the Longhorns should be fine on offense. Card and Casey Thompson 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.
51. Haynes King, Texas A&M
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher knows how to develop quarterbacks, so while King is largely unproven going into 2021, it’s safe to pick the second-year player to have a breakout year. Of course, he has to hold off Zach Calzada this fall, but after working as the backup to Kellen Mond last season, King likely has an edge to start. The Texas native ranked as the No. 131 overall prospect in the 2020 signing class and got his first taste of snaps at the SEC level with two appearances. King flashed his running ability with 43 yards on the ground against Alabama and finished his freshman campaign with two completions on four attempts for 59 yards and one score. In addition to the quarterback spot, Texas A&M also needs to quickly revamp its offensive line and continue to develop the returning talent at receiver.
50. Dylan Morris, Washington
The 2020 season only provided a four-game sample size for Washington’s offense under new play-caller John Donovan. As to be expected with that limited stint, the offense showed flashes and a mix of good and bad. Morris – in his first opportunity for snaps with the Huskies as a redshirt freshman – threw for 897 yards and four touchdowns to three picks and connected on 60.9 percent of his throws. Although the Washington native tied for second in the conference with four connections of 40-plus yards, he completed just four of 15 throws that went 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Morris went into fall practice atop the depth chart for Washington, but the development of true freshman Sam Huard is an x-factor to watch.
49. Anthony Brown, Oregon
Tyler Shough’s decision to transfer to Texas Tech leaves the starting job with Brown, but a trio of talented freshmen – Jay Butterfield, Robby Ashford and Ty Thompson – will keep the pressure on. Brown transferred to Oregon after spending 2017-19 at Boston College. The New Jersey native had two seasons derailed early due to injury but still threw for 4,738 yards and 40 touchdowns over 28 games. Brown also chipped in 423 rushing yards and four scores with the Eagles. Last season, Brown saw his first opportunity for snaps against USC in the Pac-12 title game and played extensively against Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl, connecting on 12 of 19 throws for 147 yards. With a strong arm, good accuracy and enough mobility to execute the reads in coordinator Joe Moorhead’s scheme, Brown should be a solid starter for the Ducks – assuming he can hold off the talented freshmen in ’21.
48. Chase Garbers California
California and its offense – especially Garbers – are likely to significantly benefit from a normal offseason. With a limited slate of practices to develop under first-year play-caller Bill Musgrave, the Golden Bears ranked last in the Pac-12 in yards per play (4.5) and 11th in scoring (20.3). And as a result of the unusual offseason and lack of development time, Garbers was unable to build off a promising 2019 season (1,772 yards and 14 TDs). The California native averaged only 5.7 yards per pass attempt and threw for 771 yards and six scores over the team’s four games in ’20. According to Pro Football Focus, Garbers had an adjusted completion percentage of 69.5 last year, which lagged behind the other starters in the conference. When healthy, Garbers has been effective and a key cog in the Golden Bears’ hopes of contending in the Pac-12 North. Also, better play up front and more weapons emerging on the outside would help Garbers take a step forward in ’21.
47. Chevan Cordeiro, Hawaii
Cordeiro flashed potential as the backup (with a few starts mixed in) behind Cole McDonald from 2018-19. The Hawaii native assumed the No. 1 spot on the depth chart last season and finally had a chance to showcase his talent over a full (almost) year. Cordeiro earned honorable mention All-Mountain West honors after throwing for 2,083 yards and 14 touchdowns to six picks while also adding 483 yards and seven scores on the ground. The junior should push for all-conference accolades this fall.
46. 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).
45. 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.
44. Michael Pratt, Tulane
The future is bright for Pratt after an impressive debut in 2020. He led all true freshman with 20 touchdown tosses and finished with 1,806 yards through the air despite not playing in the first two games of the season. Pratt also ran for 229 yards and eight touchdowns and tied for fourth among AAC signal-callers with four completions of 40-plus yards.
43. Devin Leary, NC State
Leary has showed bits of promising play in each of the last two years and could finish higher on this list if he can put everything together in 2021. Last season, Leary got off to a fast start with 890 passing yards and eight scores to just two picks in his first four appearances. However, he suffered a season-ending leg injury against Duke and was sidelined until spring practice. The sophomore has plenty of help at his disposal this year with four starters back up front, along with one of the ACC’s top backfields and receiving corps.
42. Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland
Maryland’s offense started the season with a sluggish performance against Northwestern but rebounded with back-to-back solid outputs against Minnesota and Penn State. Tagovailoa was a big part of that turnaround, as he torched the Golden Gophers for 394 yards and three scores and connected on 18 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns in a road win versus the Nittany Lions. The Hawaii native (and brother of Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa) finished his first season in College Park with 1,011 passing yards and seven touchdowns while averaging a solid 8.3 yards per attempt. The Terrapins return one of the Big Ten’s top receiving corps, giving Tagovailoa a chance for a breakout year in 2021.
41. Drew Plitt, Ball State
Plitt’s continued development was a big reason why Ball State hoisted the MAC title last season and has a good shot to repeat in 2021. After throwing for 2,918 yards and 24 scores in 12 games in ’19, Plitt passed for 2,164 yards and 17 touchdowns in just eight contests. His 63.4 career completion percentage ranks second in Ball State history.
40. Hank Bachmeier, Boise State
Bachmeier burst onto the college football scene by throwing for 407 yards in a win at Florida State in 2019 but injuries derailed his debut and limited him to just seven more contests. The California native once again got off to a fast start (268 yards and three TDs in the ’20 opener) but missed two contests and finished the year with a down performance in the Mountain West title game. There’s no doubt Bachmeier is talented, and the supporting cast should be strong for the Broncos in ’21. If Bachmeier quickly settles into new coordinator Tim Plough’s scheme, look for a huge year from the talented junior.
39. Jake Haener, Fresno State
Haener is one of Athlon’s top breakout quarterbacks for 2021. The Washington transfer threw for 2,021 yards and 14 touchdowns, while leading all Mountain West quarterbacks in yards per pass attempt (8.7) and finishing second in completion percentage (64.7) in six games last year.
38. Layne Hatcher, Arkansas State
With Logan Bonner transferring to Utah State, the job is all Hatcher’s in 2021. The Alabama transfer stepped into the starting role after Bonner suffered an injury in ’19 and proceeded to torch opposing Sun Belt defenses for 2,946 yards and 27 touchdowns. Last year brought much of the same success. Despite sharing snaps with Bonner, Hatcher threw for 2,058 yards and 19 touchdowns to just two interceptions. His 10.6 yards per attempt was the best mark among Sun Belt quarterbacks, while his 14 completions of 40-plus yards also topped the conference.
37. Levi Lewis, Louisiana
Returning for a super senior season allows Lewis to fill in one missing piece on his resume: A Sun Belt title. The Ragin’ Cajuns are well-positioned to cross that hurdle in 2021, as a veteran roster gives coach Billy Napier the right pieces to win the conference championship. Lewis has been instrumental to Louisiana’s rise over the last couple of seasons. After throwing for 3,050 yards and 26 touchdowns and running for 195 yards and three touchdowns in 2019, he added 2,274 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air and 335 yards and five scores on the ground last year. Steady, veteran play with minimal mistakes once again should allow Lewis to rank among the top Group of 5 signal-callers in ’21.
36. Nick Starkel, San Jose State
After stints at Arkansas and Texas A&M, Starkel is poised to finish his career on a high note as one of the top Group of 5 quarterbacks in college football for 2021. The Texas native led San Jose State to the Mountain West title last year, throwing for 2,174 yards and 17 touchdowns to only seven picks. He connected on 64.2 percent of his throws and tossed only seven picks over 254 attempts. Starkel’s 8.6 yards per attempt ranked second among Mountain West quarterbacks last season.
35. Connor Bazelak, Missouri
Interesting might be the best way to sum up Bazelak’s 2020 season. After receiving playing time in three games (and one start) as a true freshman in ’19, Bazelak emerged as Missouri’s No. 1 quarterback two games into the ’20 campaign. In his first start last fall, Bazelak torched LSU for 406 yards and four touchdowns in a thrilling 45-41 win for the Tigers. However, Bazelak proceeded to throw only one touchdown pass over his next six games and topped 225 passing yards just two times the rest of the year. Despite the statistical oddity, Bazelak finished with 2,366 passing yards and seven touchdowns through the air, providing optimism for Missouri going into ’21.
34. Sam Hartman, Wake Forest
Hartman’s career started in promising fashion by winning the job as a true freshman in 2018. A leg injury ended his debut prematurely, which opened the door for Jamie Newman to seize the starting job for the last four games of ’18 and for the ’19 campaign. But with Newman opting to depart Winston-Salem prior to last season, Hartman regained his starting role and helped the Demon Deacons rank among the ACC’s top offenses by averaging 36 points a game in ’20. In nine appearances last fall, Hartman threw for 2,224 yards and 13 touchdowns to only five picks. Also, he tied for second among ACC quarterbacks by connecting on 10 passes of 40-plus yards.
33. Brennan Armstrong, Virginia
Filling the shoes of Bryce Perkins was no easy assignment for Armstrong last season. However, after tossing two interceptions in each of his first three contests in 2020, the Ohio native seemed to play better over his final six appearances. Armstrong finished the year by torching Abilene Christian for 383 passing yards and threw for 287 yards and a touchdown and ran for 130 yards in a win over Boston College. For the season, Armstrong threw for 2,117 yards and 18 touchdowns and added 552 yards and five scores on the ground. Also, the underlying analytics show promise with an average depth of target of 10.8 and 10.5 air yards on each attempt. With a full (and normal offseason) to work as the No. 1 quarterback, Armstrong is poised to take another step forward in his development in 2021.
32. Kenny Pickett, Pitt
Awarding all players a free year of eligibility allowed Pickett to return for his fifth season in the Steel City. And with a big year in the stats department, Pickett is likely to own the Pitt school records for total offense and passing yards in a career. Over 39 appearances with the Panthers, Pickett has passed for 7,984 yards and 39 touchdowns. Also, his career completion percentage sits at 60.4 going into 2021. Pickett’s average depth of target is a solid 9.4 yards, and his 10 completions of 40-plus yards tied for second among ACC quarterbacks last fall.
31. Jack Coan, Notre Dame
Coan may not be the flashiest signal-caller in the nation, but he’s efficient and should be the perfect replacement for Ian Book at Notre Dame. The New York native played in six games as a freshman at Wisconsin in 2017 and started four games the following year. However, Coan assumed the full-time job in 2019 for the Badgers and delivered a standout season. In 14 starts, Coan connected on nearly 70 percent of his passes (69.6) for 2,727 yards and 18 touchdowns. Additionally, he tossed only five picks and averaged eight yards per attempt. Coan should be the perfect bridge quarterback in South Bend until touted freshman Tyler Buchner is ready to play.
30. Malik Cunningham, Louisville
Cunningham seemed poised to rank among the top quarterbacks in the ACC after throwing for 2,065 yards and 22 touchdowns and adding 482 yards and six scores on the ground in 2019. Unfortunately for Louisville, the Alabama native regressed on the stat sheet last fall. Over 11 games, Cunningham threw for 2,617 yards and 20 scores but also tossed 12 picks. He ran for 609 yards and seven touchdowns, which propelled the Cardinals’ signal-caller to finish No. 4 in the ACC in total offense (293.3 ypg). Even though last year didn’t quite live up to preseason expectations, the guess here is Cunningham puts everything together and helps Louisville rebound in ’21.
29. Charlie Brewer, Utah
Brewer should be one of the top impact quarterback transfers for the 2021 college football season. The former Baylor signal-caller impressed in the spring for the Utes and should provide a needed boost under center after the offense tossed only six touchdowns in six games last fall. Brewer was essentially a four-year starter for the Bears and played in 44 overall contests from 2017-20. During that span, Brewer threw for 9,700 yards and 65 touchdowns. He tossed 28 picks over 1,304 attempts but connected on 63.5 percent of his passes in Waco. Brewer’s mobility (1,039 yards and 22 rushing scores) opens up another avenue for coordinator Andy Ludwig’s offense. Cameron Rising is expected to push Brewer in fall practice, but Brewer should win the job and be an impact addition for the Utes.
28. Graham Mertz, Wisconsin
Mertz delivered a big-time performance in his anticipated first start for the Badgers last season, throwing for 248 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-7 victory over Illinois. However, Wisconsin did not play the next two weeks due to COVID-19, Mertz suffered a shoulder ailment, and injuries at receiver slowed his development and overall production. As a result, it’s hard to read too much into Mertz’s first season, but he did finish the year with 1,238 yards and nine passing scores. Also, he connected on 61.1 percent of his passes and added two rushing touchdowns. Mertz is too talented for a repeat of 2020. With better luck in the health department at receiver, along with a normal offseason to work under coach Paul Chryst, look for the sophomore to contend for all-conference honors.
27. 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.
26. Tanner Morgan, Minnesota
The Golden Gophers are aiming for a rebound on offense after a disappointing 2020 season. Behind Morgan and receivers Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson, Minnesota averaged 34.1 points a contest in ’19. But the unusual offseason, a coordinator change, and limited playing time by Bateman certainly hindered the offense last fall. The disjointed, shortened schedule played a role, but it’s noteworthy Morgan’s numbers regressed in a big way in ’20. His completion percentage dropped to 57.9 percent from 66, while the yards per attempt dropped from 10.2 to 7.5. Also, Morgan tossed five picks in 183 attempts last year after throwing just seven over 318 the previous year. Approaching ’19 totals will be difficult, but Morgan should rebound in ’21.
25. McKenzie Milton, Florida State
If Milton is back to 100 percent (or anywhere close to the level we saw at UCF), he will provide a huge upgrade to Florida State’s quarterback room and offense. The Seminoles have struggled to get consistent and steady play under center since Jameis Winston left for the NFL, but Milton has the potential to change that in 2021. He threw for 8,683 yards and 72 touchdowns and ran for 1,078 yards and 20 scores over 33 appearances with the Knights. However, Milton hasn’t played since suffering a significant leg injury during the 2018 season. The senior looked sharp in Florida State’s spring game, which should give coach Mike Norvell plenty of optimism for 2021.
24. 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.
23. Max Johnson, LSU
With Myles Brennan out indefinitely due to an arm injury suffered in early August, Johnson is the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback in Baton Rouge. Johnson – the son of former NFL signal-caller Brad Johnson – played well as a true freshman last season, which included a huge road win at Florida and a monster performance (435 yards and three scores) against Ole Miss to close the ’20 campaign. Overall, Johnson threw for 1,069 yards and eight touchdowns and added 119 yards and two scores on the ground. Johnson may not have the strongest arm in the SEC, but the Georgia native has good touch and the right amount of accuracy to put the ball into windows where his receivers can make plays after the catch.
22. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA
A seven-game sample size doesn’t provide a complete picture, but there were plenty of positives for UCLA in last year’s abbreviated 2020 season. Thompson-Robinson’s play was one of those positives, as the offense averaged 35.4 points a game and ranked third in the conference in yards per play (6.14). The Nevada native’s completion percentage climbed to 65.2 after a 57.7 mark as a freshman and a 59.7 total in ’19. Additionally, Thompson-Robinson’s yards per attempt last fall marked the best of his career (8.6), while he accounted for 1,426 total yards and 15 scores in five appearances. He averaged only 7.5 yards per average depth of target last season and still needs to show more consistency. Is this the year everything falls into place for Thompson-Robinson?
21. Kaleb Eleby, Western Michigan
Eleby is a rising star and a candidate to have a monster 2021 season. The Missouri native threw for 1,715 yards and 18 touchdowns to just two interceptions piloting Western Michigan’s high-powered offense (41.7 ppg) last year. Eleby led all MAC quarterbacks in rating (195.08), averaged 11.2 yards per attempt, and connected on eight completions of 50-plus yards in ’20.
20. Emory Jones, Florida
Dan Mullen is one of the top offensive minds in college football, so don’t expect a major drop-off for Florida’s offense with Kyle Trask off to the NFL. After shining in limited snaps over the last three years, Jones is one of Athlon’s picks to have a breakout year in 2021. The Georgia native played in four games as a freshman in 2018 but upped that total to 11 contests in ’19. During that stint, Jones threw for 267 yards and three scores on 25 completions and ran for 256 yards and four touchdowns. As the backup to Trask last fall, Jones played in nine games and threw for 221 yards and two scores and ran for 217 yards and two touchdowns. He also averaged a healthy 9.1 yards in average depth of target in 2020. Jones is a better runner than Trask, so the offense will look a little different. However, with Mullen’s track record and Jones’ talent, Florida’s offense should keep performing at a high level in ’21.
19. Phil Jurkovec, Boston College
Jurkovec worked as a backup for two years at Notre Dame before transferring to Boston College for an opportunity to start under new coach Jeff Hafley. The Pennsylvania native shined in his first extended playing time at the FBS level and nearly led the Eagles to wins over Clemson and North Carolina. In 10 starts, Jurkovec threw for 2,558 yards and 17 touchdowns and added 150 rushing yards and three scores. Jurkovec tossed only five picks and connected on 61 percent of his passes. After impressing in an unusual 2020 season, a complete offseason to work under coordinator Frank Cignetti should help Jurkovec take the next step in his development.
18. Dustin Crum, Kent State
Kent State played in only four contests last year, but it was evident Crum picked up where he left off from a prolific 2020 season (3,329 total yards and 26 overall scores). The Ohio native torched teams with a 73.5 completion percentage for 1,181 yards and 12 touchdowns to just two picks. Crum averaged 10.5 yards per pass attempt, added 240 yards and four scores on the ground, and connected on six passes of 40-plus yards.
17. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
Considering the track record of Ohio State quarterbacks under coach Ryan Day, it’s not unreasonable to think Stroud finishes 2021 as the No. 1 signal-caller in the Big Ten. Stroud held off a charge from the reclassified (and very talented) Quinn Ewers, along with Kyle McCord and Jack Miller III this fall to win the job in late August. Stroud played eight games in 2020 and did not attempt a pass in limited action. However, the California native ranked as the No. 42 prospect out of high school and will be throwing to the nation’s no. 1 receiving corps. The talent, scheme and supporting cast are all there for a big-time debut from Stroud.
Related: Big Ten Football 2021 Predictions
16. Michael Penix Jr., Indiana
Penix is on the mend from a torn ACL suffered in Indiana’s win over Maryland but is on track to return for the 2021 opener against Iowa. The Florida native has been a dynamic player for the Hoosiers but injuries have derailed each of his three seasons in Bloomington. Penix posted career highs in passing yards (1,645) and touchdowns (14) last fall before the injury, giving him 3,258 yards and 25 passing scores over 15 appearances. Throwing deep, especially to the middle and right side of the field was a major strength for Penix. In those two areas last fall, he connected on 17 of 26 throws for 679 yards and five scores. The Hoosiers need Penix to stay healthy to have any shot of pushing Ohio State in the Big Ten East this year.
15. Carson Strong, Nevada
Strong is dealing with a knee injury, but assuming he’s back to full strength for 2021, Nevada will have one of the top quarterbacks in college football. The strong-armed Californian continued to progress after a nice freshman season in ’19, throwing for 2,858 yards and 27 touchdowns to just four picks in nine contests for the Wolf Pack. Strong connected on nine throws of 50-plus yards and tied for seventh nationally in completion percentage (70.1).
14. Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina
McCall burst onto the scene last year and quickly emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in college football. In addition to leading Coastal Carolina’s offense to an average of 6.7 yards per play and 37.2 points a game (and an 11-1 season), McCall threw for 2,488 yards and 26 scores (to only three picks) and ran for 569 yards and seven touchdowns. His 277.9 total yards a game led all Sun Belt quarterbacks, while a 10.0 yards per attempt mark ranked eighth nationally.
13. Dillon Gabriel, UCF
New coach Gus Malzahn inherits one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in Gabriel, but how his offensive play-calling and scheme meshes with the talented signal-caller will be something to watch early in 2021. The Hawaii native has been prolific in charge of UCF’s high-powered offense, throwing for 61 touchdowns and 7,223 yards over the last two years. Gabriel has only 11 picks over 811 career attempts and led all FBS quarterbacks with 21 completions of 40-plus yards in ’20.
12. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
Ridder firmly has a spot among the top 15 quarterbacks in college football after the best all-around season of his career. The Kentucky native guided Cincinnati to its second AAC title in a row by completing 66.2 percent of his throws (a career high) for 2,296 yards and 19 touchdowns. Also, Ridder posted 592 yards and scored 12 times (second-most by a quarterback last year). The reigning AAC Offensive Player of the Year made big strides in terms of overall play and passing performance last season and there’s every reason to believe that upward trajectory will continue into 2021.
11. Jayden Daniels, Arizona State
Daniels never had a chance to build off his promising freshman season in 2019, as Arizona State played just four games in ’20. Despite the limited season, there were plenty of positives for Daniels to build on, and a full offseason to work with play-caller Zak Hill should pay dividends for the offense this fall. Daniels was impressive as a true freshman, starting 12 games and throwing for 2,943 yards and 17 touchdowns to just two picks. Last season, Daniels showed flashes of his development by connecting on 58.3 percent of his passes for 701 yards and five scores. If Arizona State wants to win the Pac-12 this fall, it will need Daniels to take his performance up a notch. The California native has connected on 19 passes of 40-plus yards over the last two years and has limited the mistakes. However, his accuracy has been hit-or-miss at times and must improve in ’21 to rank as the top quarterback in the Pac-12.
10. Malik Willis, Liberty
The combination of Willis and Hugh Freeze’s offense propelled Liberty to its best season since joining the FBS level in 2018. The Flames nearly ran the table, averaged 38.2 points a game, and finished No. 17 in the final Associated Press poll. After spending his first two seasons at Auburn, Willis sat out 2019 after transferring to Liberty. The Georgia native was one of the most dynamic signal-callers in the nation last year, throwing for 2,260 yards and 20 touchdowns and nearly eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark (944) on the ground. Overall, Willis accounted for 34 touchdowns, while his 320.4 total yards a game were good enough for ninth nationally among quarterbacks.
9. Kedon Slovis, USC
After a standout freshman season in 2019, Slovis took a small step back in ’20. The Arizona native suffered an elbow injury in the Holiday Bowl against Iowa and may not have played at full strength as a result. Slovis’ accuracy dipped from 71.9 percent as a freshman to 67 percent last fall. Also, his yards per attempt declined to 7.3 from 8.9. Despite the small sophomore slump, Slovis still threw for 1,921 yards and 17 touchdowns to seven picks. Those totals came a year after he torched teams for 3,502 yards and 30 touchdowns in ’19. USC’s offensive line remains a question mark, and considering Slovis’ arm injuries at the end of each of the last two years, the Trojans have to provide better protection for their junior quarterback for the offense to thrive in ’21.
8. 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.
7. JT Daniels, Georgia
It’s a close call for the top spot in the SEC between Daniels, Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral. The top-heavy depth of the conference at quarterback is on display when Daniels ranks No. 3 among SEC signal-callers but is a top-10 quarterback nationally for 2021. After suffering a torn ACL in USC’s 2019 season opener, Daniels wasn’t quite ready for the ’20 opener and didn’t play until Nov. 21 against Mississippi State. But when Daniels finally got on the field, it didn’t take long for the California native to make a difference. The Bulldogs averaged eight more points a game with Daniels at the helm than they did in the previous six contests. Additionally, the arm strength and willingness by Daniels to push the ball downfield had an instant impact on Georgia’s offense and ability to stretch the field. In four games, Daniels threw for 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns to two picks and connected on 67.2 percent of his throws. Also, his yards per attempt (10.3) were the highest of any Georgia quarterback over the last 12 seasons. Look for Daniels and coordinator Todd Monken to build off last year’s strong finish in ’21.
6. Bryce Young, Alabama
Projection time. Yes, Young is still largely an unknown and doesn’t have the experience level of several players that rank behind him on this list. However, as a former five-star prospect in an offense that’s recently produced some of college football’s top quarterbacks (Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones), Young is primed for a huge year as Alabama’s starter. Working as the backup to Jones allowed Young to gain valuable snaps over nine contests last season, and he threw for 156 yards and one touchdown over 13 completions. Considering the track record of Alabama quarterbacks in recent years, along with Young’s talent, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he finishes ’21 as the No. 1 QB in the SEC.
5. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
Corral ranks as the top SEC quarterback, but it’s not an easy call to put the Ole Miss signal-caller at No. 1 with Georgia’s JT Daniels and Alabama’s Bryce Young in the mix for 2021. The arrival of Lane Kiffin helped Ole Miss emerge as one of the top offenses in college football, and Corral proved to be the perfect conductor for this attack. He started all 10 games for the Rebels last season, throwing for 3,337 yards and 29 touchdowns and adding 506 yards and four scores on the ground. Corral averaged a healthy 10.2 yards per attempt, connected on 70.9 percent of his throws, and led all FBS players in total offense (384.3 yards per game). He also paced the FBS in connections of 50-plus yards (11). The list of concerns for Corral is small, but he did toss 14 interceptions – all in losses last season. If he can eliminate the mistakes, challenging for All-America honors is a reasonable expectation for the junior.
4. D’Eriq King, Miami
The arrival of King and coordinator Rhett Lashlee completely transformed Miami’s offense last season. After the Hurricanes averaged 25.7 points a game in 2019, the pairing of Lashlee’s play-calling and King’s all-around ability bumped that total to 34 a contest last fall. King is one of the nation’s most dynamic signal-callers, and his leadership is also a big reason why the ‘Canes could push for a finish in the top 10 this season. The Texas native threw for 2,686 yards and 23 touchdowns to only five picks and ran for 538 yards and four scores in his first year in Coral Gables. An ACL injury suffered in the Cheez-It Bowl against Oklahoma State is not expected to affect him in 2021. Expect King to push for All-America honors this fall.
3. D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson
The Tigers have to replace the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft (Trevor Lawrence), but there are zero concerns about the quarterback position in Death Valley. Uiagalelei – a five-star prospect from the 2020 signing class – has already showed he’s plenty capable of keeping Clemson’s offense at the top of the ACC. The California native threw for 342 yards and three scores in a win over Boston College last year and followed up that performance by torching Notre Dame for 439 yards and two touchdowns in South Bend. Uiagalelei’s overall performance as a true freshman (914 yards and five touchdowns through the air) showed a small glimpse of what’s to come in ’21, as the sophomore should finish the year among the top quarterbacks in the nation.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2021
2. Sam Howell, North Carolina
Howell was the first big victory on the recruiting trail for coach Mack Brown in his return to Chapel Hill, and the North Carolina native has been instrumental in the Tar Heels’ rise over the last two years. After throwing for 3,641 yards and 38 touchdowns in a standout freshman season, Howell took his performance up a notch as a sophomore. His completion percentage jumped from 61.4 in 2019 to 68.1 in ’20, while also throwing for 3,586 yards and 30 scores over 12 contests. Howell led all qualifying quarterbacks in the ACC with an average of 10.3 yards per attempt and he connected o 10 completions of 50-plus yards. While the skill talent around Howell is new this fall, don’t expect that to slow down the talented junior, as he’s poised for another big season and likely an early departure to the next 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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