Quarterback is the toughest position to play at any level. And regardless of team or conference affiliation, college football quarterbacks are always under the spotlight to produce. Good quarterback play or improvement at the position could be the difference between winning a national title or finishing outside of the playoff mix.
Even though quarterbacks are always under the spotlight, there’s always a few names that fly under the radar every preseason. 2015 is no different, as names like NC State’s Jacoby Brissett, Arkansas’ Brandon Allen, Memphis’ Paxton Lynch or Colorado’s Sefo Liufau earn a spot on Athlon’s list of underrated quarterbacks to watch this fall.
College Football's 10 Most Underrated Quarterbacks for 2015
Brandon Allen, Arkansas
With a strong defense and rushing attack in place at Arkansas, Allen isn’t going to be asked to throw for 300 yards or more on a weekly basis. But Allen’s 2014 season was largely overlooked in the SEC. In 13 games, Allen threw for 2,285 yards and 20 scores and tossed only five picks on 339 attempts. A shoulder injury limited Allen in 2013 but he rebounded with a solid 2014 campaign and should benefit from the addition of Dan Enos as the Razorbacks’ new coordinator in 2015. The senior won't have to carry the offense with his arm, but Allen's efficiency and the ability to limit turnovers will be huge for Arkansas' hopes of moving up in the SEC West standings.
Jacoby Brissett, NC State
Even though Florida State’s Jameis Winston is off to the NFL, the ACC is one of college football’s top quarterback leagues for 2015. North Carolina’s Marquise Williams, Florida State’s Everett Golson, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas are getting the bulk of the preseason headlines among ACC quarterbacks, but Brissett shouldn’t be overlooked. In his first year as the Wolfpack starter, Brissett threw for 2,606 yards and 23 scores. He also tossed only five picks (fewest among full-time ACC starters) and ranked fourth in the conference in quarterback rating.
Drew Hare, Northern Illinois
Hare may not be as dynamic or productive as Jordan Lynch or Chandler Harnish, but the Missouri native should challenge for a spot among the top quarterbacks in the MAC this year. In 14 games last season, Hare threw for 2,322 yards and 18 scores and recorded 900 yards on 159 rushing attempts. Hare didn’t open the year as the starter, but he led the offense over the final 12 games and guided Northern Illinois to a 7-1 mark over its final eight contests. Even though the MAC has plenty of proven options – UMass’ Blake Frohnapfel, Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson and Western Michigan’s Zach Terrell – returning for 2015, Hare shouldn’t be overlooked among MAC quarterbacks.
Driphus Jackson, Rice
David Bailiff has elevated Rice into one of the top programs in Conference USA’s West Division, as the Owls have won at least seven games in each of the last three years. Jackson showed promise as a reserve in 2012-13 and thrived in his first season as a starter in 2014. In 13 appearances, Jackson threw for 2,842 yards and 24 scores, while his 401 rushing yards ranked third among Rice players in 2014. The Owls return only seven starters this season, but Jackson’s emergence should keep Bailiff’s team in the mix for the West Division title.
Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State
Appalachian State’s quick transition to the FBS level was capped by a six-game winning streak to close 2014. Lamb didn’t open the year as the starter, but he passed Kameron Bryant on the depth chart early in the season and guided the offense to an average of 35 points per game in Sun Belt contests in 2014. Lamb threw for 2,381 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and added 483 yards and four scores on the ground. After earning Sun Belt Freshman of the Year honors in 2015, Lamb should push for all-conference honors behind an explosive (and experienced) offense this year.
Joe Licata, Buffalo
Buffalo hit a home run with the hire of Lance Leipold as the program’s new head coach. Under Leipold’s watch, Wisconsin-Whitewater won 109 games from 2007-14 and had one of Division III’s most prolific offenses by averaging 40.1 points per game last season. The addition of Leipold and coordinator Andy Kotelnicki should be a boost to Licata as he hopes to close out his career with a huge season and guide the program to another bowl trip. Licata has been steady for the Bulls over the last three seasons, recording back-to-back years of at least 24 passing scores. The senior is quietly one of the better quarterbacks in the MAC and should end his career as Buffalo’s all-time leader in passing yardage.
Sefo Liufau, Colorado
Good quarterback play and explosive offenses are the norm in the Pac-12. This season, the league is loaded with intrigue and proven options at quarterback, starting with USC’s Cody Kessler and California’s Jared Goff. And the depth in the league extends to Arizona’s Anu Solomon, Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici and Stanford’s Kevin Hogan. Considering Colorado is just 6-18 over the last two seasons, Liufau can be lost in the mix when examining the top quarterbacks in the Pac-12. However, in his first full year as the starter in 2014, Liufau threw for 3,200 yards and 28 scores. Additionally, Liufau completed 65.3 percent of his passes. By no means is the junior a finished product, but Liufau is a reason for optimism and improvement for Colorado in 2015.
Paxton Lynch, Memphis
Lynch has been a key cog in Memphis’ rebuilding efforts under coach Justin Fuente and should push Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel and Navy’s Keenan Reynolds for top honors among American Athletic Conference quarterbacks in 2014. Lynch redshirted in 2012 and took his share of lumps during a rebuilding year for Memphis in 2013. However, behind a solid defense and an offense that averaged 36.2 points a game, the Tigers surged to a 10-3 mark in 2014. Lynch threw for 3,031 yards and 22 scores last season, including 306 yards in the bowl win over BYU. And despite his size (6-foot-7), Lynch has surprising mobility (321 yards and 13 rushing scores). Expect Lynch to only get better under Fuente’s watch in 2015.
Sam Richardson, Iowa State
The Big 12 has several new faces slated to step into the lineup at quarterback in 2015. TCU’s Trevone Boykin is the unquestioned No. 1 option in the league, but new faces like Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Baylor’s Seth Russell and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes are under the spotlight in their first full year as the starter. Richardson ranks second among Big 12 quarterbacks in career starts and threw for 2,669 yards and 18 touchdowns in 11 games last season. Injuries to the offensive line and receiving corps hit the Iowa State offense hard in 2014, but with Richardson more comfortable in coordinator Mark Mangino’s scheme and better health from the supporting cast in 2015, the senior should post the best statistical season of his career.
Related: Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2015
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana
Sudfeld’s 2014 season was derailed by a shoulder injury suffered in the 45-29 loss to Iowa in early October. Prior to his injury, Sudfeld had 1,151 yards and six passing scores and guided the Hoosiers to at least three games of at least 30 points scored in the first half of 2014. While Sudfeld’s 2014 season ended in disappointment, there’s plenty of promise ahead for 2015. After all, Sudfeld threw for 2,523 yards and 21 touchdowns for Indiana in 2013. The receiving corps is a concern, and running back Tevin Coleman will be missed. However, Sudfeld’s return should be a boost for the Hoosiers’ bowl hopes this season.