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. 2016 is no different, as names like Illinois' Wes Lunt, Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong and Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph earn a spot on Athlon’s list of underrated quarterbacks and signal-callers that deserve more attention this fall.
College Football’s Top 20 Underrated QBs for 2016
Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
There’s no doubt Armstrong has to be more careful with the ball after tossing 16 interceptions last season. However, the senior enters 2016 as the Big Ten’s leader among active players in career total offense (7,998) and total touchdowns (69). He should take a step forward in the second year under coordinator Danny Langsdorf and coach Mike Riley.
Matt Davis, SMU
Second-year coach Chad Morris is one of college football’s top offensive minds and it won’t be long until the Mustangs show marked improvement in the win column. Lost in SMU’s 2-10 campaign last fall was a solid season from Davis. The former Texas A&M quarterback played in all 12 games and ranked fifth in the American Athletic Conference by averaging 252 total yards per game. Davis should continue to progress under the watchful eye of Morris this fall.
Dane Evans, Tulsa
Evans was one of the big winners from last year’s coaching carousel, as the Texas native thrived under the watch of new coach Philip Montgomery. The Golden Hurricane’s spread attack averaged 37.2 points a game and ranked 11th nationally in passing offense. Evans threw for 4,332 yards (second-most in school history) and 25 scores (a career high) last fall and led all quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference by averaging 8.9 yards per attempt.
Quinton Flowers, USF
Most of the preseason attention among quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference is devoted (and rightfully so) to Houston’s Greg Ward. However, Flowers pieced together a standout 2015 season and is an emerging star on the national level. Coach Willie Taggart implemented the “Gulf Coast Offense” to spark an attack that averaged only 17.2 points a game in 2014. The change in scheme and tempo benefitted Flowers, as he averaged 252.4 total yards per game last fall. Flowers threw for 22 scores and added 12 touchdowns on the ground, while just missing 1,000 rushing yards (991). Flowers should take the next step and develop into a better passer in 2016.
Drew Hare, Northern Illinois
Hare made this list last season, and the senior is a good candidate for this honor once again after his 2015 campaign was cut short by an Achilles injury. Prior to the season-ending ailment in early November, Hare threw for 1,962 yards and 14 scores and rushed for 252 yards and one touchdown. The senior has accounted for 5,657 yards and 44 scores over the last three seasons and should benefit from the arrival of Mike Uremovich as the team’s new play-caller.
Justin Holman, UCF
With the arrival of new coach Scott Frost and different schemes on both sides of the ball, all starting positions are up for grabs in fall practice. Freshman McKenzie Milton and senior Nick Patti are pushing Holman for the starting nod, but the Georgia native should claim the top spot. Assuming Holman starts, he will be at the control of a high-powered, no-huddle scheme. Last year was a lost season for Holman, as injuries and youth in the supporting cast prevented the offense from finding its footing. However, Holman was well on his way to a spot among the American Athletic’s top quarterbacks after a prolific 2014 campaign (2,952 passing yards and 23 scores and 189 rushing yards). A big rebound year could be in order for the senior.
Jared Johnson, UTSA
Johnson has yet to play a down at the FBS level, but the Sam Houston State graduate transfer could end up as one of the top newcomers in the Group of 5 ranks this season. In three seasons with the Bearkats, Johnson threw for 5,352 yards and 39 scores and also rushed for 1,601 yards and 11 touchdowns. Johnson was also voted as the Southland Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year last season. New coach Frank Wilson is known as an ace recruiter, and his ability to attract talent is already paying off for UTSA. Johnson has a strong track record of success at the FCS level and should provide some punch to an offense that averaged only 22.6 points a game last fall.
Trevor Knight, Texas A&M
Knight never managed to build off his huge performance in the 2014 Sugar Bowl (348 yards and four scores), but he still finished his career in Norman with 3,424 passing yards and 33 overall scores. Additionally, in a year where the SEC has few proven quarterbacks, the Texas native could challenge for all-conference honors at the controls of Texas A&M’s high-powered offense. Knight should be a good fit for new coordinator Noel Mazzone’s scheme, while his leadership is an asset for a team that struggled to get consistent play from its quarterbacks last year.
Matt Linehan, Idaho
Linehan’s development is one of the main reasons why Idaho could challenge for a bowl bid in 2016. After throwing for 2,534 yards and 11 touchdowns to 18 interceptions in 2014, Linehan showed marked improvement last fall. Linehan threw for 2,992 yards and 16 scores in 2015 and completed 63.4 percent of his throws (best among Sun Belt quarterbacks). Additionally, Linehan cut his interceptions to 11 on 391 attempts.