Spring practice for nearly all 128 college football teams is slated to start in March, but it’s never too early to preview the quarterback position and how some of the new faces blend in with the returning stars. It’s no secret quarterback play is critical to the success of any program. First-year starting quarterbacks have experienced success at a high level recently, as three of the playoff teams in 2015 had a new starter under center.
With spring practice inching closer for all 128 teams, Athlon Sports is taking an early look at the quarterback position by ranking every starter for 2016. This list could look a lot different by August, especially once some of the battles are settled at Power 5 programs. Our rankings are compiled by using many factors including career stats so far, 2015 statistics, pro potential, projection for 2016, value to the team, recruiting background and just overall talent. Think of this list as an early power ranking for 2016, with tweaks expected at the end of spring and prior to Week 1.
Ranking Every FBS QB for 2016: Pre-Spring Edition
128. Emiere Scaife, Georgia State
Scaife is penciled in as the favorite, but Utah transfer Conner Manning is eligible immediately and will push for time this offseason.
127. Dallas Davis, South Alabama
Davis gets the early nod as South Alabama’s next quarterback after completing 11 of 23 throws for 108 yards and one score last season.
126. Nate German, Rice
German is an intriguing prospect for coach David Bailiff, but he has only two pass attempts in his career. He spent 2015 at receiver and caught 18 passes for 379 yards and three scores.
125. Josh Allen, Wyoming
Wyoming has a wide-open race at quarterback this offseason. Allen was lost for the year after an injury against Eastern Michigan on Sept. 12 but showed promise in limited snaps (3 of 4 for 32 yards).
124. Kevin Olsen, Charlotte
Former Miami quarterback has landed at Charlotte after spending time at Riverside City College. He threw for 1,080 yards and 13 scores in 2015.
123. Devin Powell, Tulane
Tulane is switching to a new offense under coach Willie Fritz, and the quarterback situation heads into spring with plenty of question marks. Tanner Lee transferred, and a couple of quarterbacks join the team from the 2016 recruiting class.
122. George Bollas, Kent State
Bollas and Colin Reardon split time under center for the Golden Flashes in 2015. Bollas tossed two touchdowns and six picks on 167 attempts but showcased his rushing ability by ranking second on the team with 275 yards.
121. Billy Bahl, Miami (Ohio)
Bahl tossed 13 interceptions last season but seven of those came in a two-game stretch (WKU and Ohio). He rebounded late in the year with steady performances against Eastern Michigan and UMass.
120. Ford Childress, Fresno State
Fresno State’s offseason makeover is underway, as Eric Kiesau was hired as the team’s new play-caller, and Zack Greenlee announced his intentions to transfer. Childress is listed here as the starter, but Kilton Anderson and Chason Virgil aren’t far behind.
119. Ikaika Woosley, Hawaii
Nick Rolovich is a good hire for the Rainbow Warriors, but the former Hawaii quarterback opens his first spring with uncertainty under center.
118. Ryan Higgins, Louisiana Tech
Higgins is penciled in as the early favorite to replace Jeff Driskel, but Price Wilson is one to watch this offseason.
117. Ross Comis, UMass
Life as a FBS Independent will be challenging for UMass, but Comis looks like a solid replacement for Blake Frohnapfel. Comis completed 15 of 21 throws for 171 yards and two touchdowns last year.
116. Jason Driskel, FAU
Jaquez Johnson was limited at times due to injury in 2015, which allowed Driskel to gain valuable snaps for 2016. He completed 77 of 151 passes for 965 yards and three scores, including a 385-yard performance against Buffalo.
115. Dalton Sturm, UTSA
Sturm – a walk-on – stepped into the starting lineup after Blake Bogenschutz was lost for the season due to a concussion. He threw for 1,354 yards and 13 scores and rushed for 361 yards and one touchdown.
114. Grant Rohach, Buffalo
Iowa State transfer is penciled in as the favorite here, but redshirt freshman Tyree Jackson is a name to watch.
113. Perry Hills, Maryland
Maryland’s starter for 2016 is uncertain after three quarterbacks combined to throw 29 picks last year.
112. Jordan Davis, UL Lafayette
Davis played well in the Ragin’ Cajuns final two contests of 2015 and has a favorable path to the starting job after Jalen Nixon was moved to running back.
111. Ahmad Bradshaw, Army
Coach Jeff Monken has two quarterbacks – Bradshaw and Chris Carter – he can build around in 2016.
110. Tyler Rogers, New Mexico State
Rogers threw for 974 yards and seven scores through the first four games of 2015. However, he missed the rest of the year due to injury. Southern Miss graduate transfer Tyler Matthews will push Rogers for the starting job.
109. Justice Hansen, Arkansas State
Hansen is a former Oklahoma quarterback who spent 2015 at Butler Community College. He threw for 1,694 yards and 12 touchdowns and added 226 yards and four scores on the ground. Hansen will compete with James Tabary for the starting job this offseason.
108. Kurt Palandech, UNLV
Palandech is expected to open the offseason as the starter, but junior college recruit Johnny Stanton is a name to watch.
107. Alec Morris, North Texas
Landing Morris as a graduate transfer from Alabama is a huge pickup for new coach Seth Littrell. Morris attempted only one pass in three seasons with the Crimson Tide but should be a good fit in Littrell’s offense.
106. Shuler Bentley, Old Dominion
Bentley opened the year as Old Dominion’s starter but was benched late in the year in favor of David Washington. However, Bentley was pressed into action again when Washington suffered an ACL tear against Southern Miss and responded with back-to-back three touchdown performances to end the year. Will Washington regain the starting job this offseason? The winner of this battle should be higher by August.
105. Bart Houston, Wisconsin
Houston was a big-time pickup for Wisconsin on the recruiting trail, but he’s attempted only 51 passes in three seasons of playing time. He completed 27 of 47 throws for 281 yards in limited snaps last year.
104. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
Coach Derek Mason removed the redshirt from Shurmur midway through 2015. He won his first start against Missouri (10 of 20 for 89 yards) and completed 13 of 26 passes for 166 yards and two scores in the 21-17 victory over Kentucky. Shurmur is a promising player to watch in 2016.
103. Zander Diamont, Indiana
Diamont has seven starts in his two seasons with the Hoosiers, but he’s not guaranteed the job next fall. Junior college recruit Richard Lagow is the name to watch this offseason.
102. Jesse Ertz, Kansas State
Ertz was lost for the year after a season-ending injury on the first series of 2015. He’s penciled in as Kansas State’s starter here, but redshirt freshman Alex Delton and Joe Hubener are in the mix.
101. Christian Chapman, San Diego State
Starter Maxwell Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury in late November, forcing Chapman to start the final two games of 2015. He aced his first on-field tests, throwing for 203 yards and one touchdown against Air Force in the Mountain West title game and 113 yards in the Hawaii Bowl win against Cincinnati.
100. Perry Orth, South Carolina
The addition of Kurt Roper as South Carolina’s play-caller should help an offense that averaged only 20.1 points a game in SEC contests last season. Orth is slated to compete with Connor Mitch, Lorenzo Nunez and incoming freshman Brandon McIlwain for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.
99. Chris Laviano, Rutgers
Laviano edged Hayden Rettig for the starting job last season and finished the year with 2,247 yards and 16 touchdowns. The offensive scheme is changing with a new staff in place, and Laviano will have to compete for the job once again.
98. Nate Romine, Air Force
Romine suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2 last season. He was granted an extra year of eligibility and is expected to return as the starter.
97. Kurt Benkert, East Carolina
Benkert was slated to start for East Carolina last season, but a torn ACL in August sidelined him for the entire year.
96. Troy Williams, Utah
Former Washington signal-caller spent 2015 at Santa Monica College and returns to the Pac-12 after a standout year in the junior college ranks.
95. JD Sprague, Ohio
Sprague has played in 17 games over the last two years and threw for 275 yards and three scores in a start against Ball State in 2015.
94. Manny Wilkins, Arizona State
Wilkins did not attempt a pass in four appearances last season but rushed for 55 yards on seven carries. He will be pushed by promising redshirt freshman Brady White this spring.
93. Ryan Willis, Kansas
Willis was one of the few bright spots for Kansas in an 0-12 season. He passed for 1,719 yards and nine scores as a true freshman and nearly led the Jayhawks to upset wins over Texas Tech and TCU.
92. Brogan Roback, Eastern Michigan
Roback finished 2015 with solid back-to-back performances and is the clear starter for 2016 with Reginald Bell transferring from Eastern Michigan.
91. Mack Leftwich, UTEP
UTEP’s offense is under the direction of new play-caller Brent Pease, and Leftwich is expected to be pushed by Ryan Metz and Kavika Johnson for the starting job this spring.
90. Tago Smith, Navy
It’s no secret Keenan Reynolds will be missed. However, Navy’s offense should be in good hands with Smith at the controls.
89. Riley Ferguson, Memphis
Paxton Lynch left early for the NFL Draft, but Memphis has an intriguing option stepping into the starting lineup. Ferguson – a former Tennessee quarterback – arrives in Memphis after throwing for 2,942 yards and 35 scores at Coffeyville Community College in 2015.
88. David Blough, Purdue
Blough showed promise in his first action with the Boilermakers, including a four-touchdown performance against Nebraska. He will be working with a new coordinator (Terry Malone) in 2016.
87. James Knapke, Bowling Green
Knapke started 13 games and passed for 3,173 yards after Matt Johnson was lost for the season in 2014. What tweaks will new coach Mike Jinks and his staff make on Bowling Green’s offense this offseason?
86. Riley Neal, Ball State
Mike Neu – a former Ball State quarterback – takes over in Muncie after Pete Lembo left to be an assistant at Maryland. Neal is one of the promising pieces for Neu to build around after throwing for 2,276 yards and 16 scores last season.
85. Matt Linehan, Idaho
Linehan cut his interceptions from 18 in 2014 to 11 last year and finished 2015 with a solid performance (21 of 31 for 309 yards and two touchdowns) against Texas State.
84. Bryant Shirreffs, UConn
NC State transfer helped UConn’s offense take a small step forward last year. Shirreffs threw for 2,078 yards and nine scores but also added 503 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
83. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Replacing arguably the best player in school history – Dak Prescott – is no easy task for coach Dan Mullen. Nick Fitzgerald is penciled in as the early favorite, but Elijah Staley is a name to watch this spring.
82. Luke Del Rio, Florida
Florida’s passing attack struggled in the second half of the season, and it’s safe to assume someone other than Treon Harris will take the first snap for coach Jim McElwain in 2016. Del Rio – an Oregon State transfer – is considered the favorite, but Purdue transfer Austin Appleby and true freshman Feleipe’ Franks are in the mix.
81. Chase Forrest, California
The battle to replace Jared Goff is set to begin this spring. Forrest is considered the early favorite, but Ross Bowers and Luke Rubenzer will compete for the No. 1 job.
Related: Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2016
80. Matt Davis, SMU
SMU should be better in its second season under coach Chad Morris. Quarterback play is under the spotlight, as Davis led the team with 761 rushing yards and threw for 2,263 yards and 16 scores. However, redshirt freshman Ben Hicks could push for the starting job.
79. Jerrod Heard, Texas
Texas enters another offseason with question marks on offense. New play-caller Sterlin Gilbert is tasked with implementing a spread attack that can jumpstart an offense that averaged only 25.3 points in Big 12 games last season. Heard can be a dynamic quarterback for the Longhorns, but he will be pushed for snaps by incoming freshman Shane Buechele.
78. Nelson Fishback, WKU
Fishback finished 2015 as Brandon Doughty’s backup, but coach Jeff Brohm has several options waiting to compete for the starting job. Two transfers – Mike White (USF) and Tyler Ferguson (Louisville) – will push Fishback for the starting nod this offseason. The winner of this quarterback battle should be higher on this list by August.
77. Justin Holman, UCF
Injuries and new faces in the supporting cast prevented Holman from building off his 2014 season (2,952 yards and 23 scores). New coach Scott Frost should help Holman get back on track.
76. Trace McSorley, Penn State
Penn State got an early preview of 2016 in the Gator Bowl, as McSorley replaced an injured Christian Hackenberg. McSorley completed 14 of 27 throws for 142 yards and two scores and showcased his mobility by adding 31 yards on the ground. How will McSorley and the Nittany Lions offense adapt to new coordinator Joe Moorhead?
75. Drew Lock, Missouri
Lock was thrown into the fire as a true freshman last season and passed for 1,332 yards and four scores. With a full offseason to work as the starter, the former four-star recruit should be better equipped for his second tour through the SEC.
74. Lamar Jordan, New Mexico
Jordan and Austin Apodaca formed an effective two-quarterback system for the Lobos last season. Jordan started 12 of 13 games for New Mexico and finished third on the team with 807 rushing yards.
73. Garrett Smith, ULM
A shoulder injury ended Smith’s season prematurely, but he showed plenty of promise in 10 games, throwing for 2,033 yards and 17 scores.
72. Brandon Silvers, Troy
Troy’s offense showed slight improvement under first-year coach Neal Brown last season. Silvers missed one game but finished the year with 2,378 yards and 20 scores. He’s tossed just 10 picks in 601 career attempts.
71. Tyler Stewart, Nevada
Stewart was steady in his first season as the Nevada starter. He ranked third on the team with 322 rushing yards and four touchdowns and threw for 2,139 yards and 15 scores. Improving the completion percentage (57.1) and generating more big plays in the passing game are two priorities for Stewart and Nevada’s offense to work on this offseason.
70. Logan Woodside, Toledo
Phillip Ely’s season-ending injury in 2014 pressed Woodside into action, and the Kentucky native threw for 2,263 yards and 19 scores in 12 games. With Ely back under center last year, Woodside was able to use 2015 as a redshirt year.
69. Joel Lanning, Iowa State
New coach Matt Campbell has a track record of success on offense and inherits a few talented pieces to work with next fall. How quickly will Lanning adapt to the new scheme in 2016?
68. Dwayne Lawson, Virginia Tech
Lawson is unproven and isn’t guaranteed to win the starting job. However, new coach Justin Fuente has a good track record at developing quarterbacks. Whether it’s Lawson, Brenden Motley or junior college recruit Jerod Evans, the Hokies should find the right answer under center.
67. Jalan McClendon, NC State
Former four-star recruit has waited his turn behind Jacoby Brissett and played sparingly (8 of 14 for 69 yards) last season. An intriguing option for new coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz.
66. Darell Garretson, Oregon State
Garretson sat out 2015 after transferring from Utah State. In two seasons with the Aggies, Garretson threw for 2,576 yards and 18 touchdowns. Former Utah State coordinator Kevin McGiven coached Garretson from 2013-14 and is slated to call the plays for the Beavers in 2016.
65. John Franklin, Auburn
After watching Jeremy Johnson and Sean White combine for 11 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions in 2015, it was clear the Tigers needed a boost at quarterback. Franklin joins the competition from the junior college ranks, and the former Florida State signal-caller should be a good fit for coach Gus Malzahn’s offense.
64. Drew Barker, Kentucky
With Patrick Towles transferring to Boston College, it’s Barker’s time to take control of Kentucky’s offense.
63. Austin Allen, Arkansas
It’s safe to assume the winner of Arkansas’ quarterback battle will rank higher on this list by August. Dan Enos was one of the top coordinator hires of last offseason and helped Brandon Allen develop into an All-SEC quarterback. USC transfer Ricky Town is expected to push Austin Allen for the starting job.
62. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
Thorson is talented – No. 188 overall recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite – and guided Northwestern to 10 wins in 2015. While his running skills are a huge asset for the offense, Thorson is still developing as a passer (7 TDs, 1,522 yards).
61. John Wolford, Wake Forest
Wolford has showed promise in his first two seasons with the Demon Deacons, but injuries and a shaky offensive line prevented him from building off his freshman passing totals.
Related: Early ACC Predictions for 2016
60. Matt Johns, Virginia
Johns’ 20 touchdown passes last season tied for third among ACC quarterbacks. However, he also tossed 17 picks and has to adapt to a new play-caller (Robert Anae).
59. Eric Dungey, Syracuse
Dungey showed a lot of promise in limited action last season and is expected to take control of Dino Babers’ high-powered offense.
58. Thomas Woodson, Akron
Woodson assumed the starting quarterback job for the Zips in the fourth game of the year and finished 2015 with 2,793 total yards. His emergence was a key cog in Akron finishing 8-5 – the best mark in program history – and the first bowl win for the school.
57. Tyler O’Connor, Michigan State
Connor Cook was the Big Ten’s best quarterback last season, but the Spartans got an early preview of the 2016 signal-caller battle when Cook was sidelined against Ohio State. O’Connor helped Michigan State pull off the upset by completing 7 of 12 passes for 89 yards and one score. He will compete with Damion Terry this spring for the starting job.
56. Alex McGough, FIU
McGough is quietly developing into one of Conference USA’s top quarterbacks. In 12 games last season, he completed 269 of 420 throws for 2,722 yards and 21 touchdowns.
55. Keller Chryst, Stanford
Chryst has big shoes to fill in replacing Kevin Hogan. The California native ranked as the No. 51 overall recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite and completed 5 of 9 passes for 59 yards and one score in limited action last season.
54. Tyler Jones, Texas State
Jones was expected to push for all-conference honors in 2015, but his passing yards and touchdowns dropped, while his interceptions increased to 10. However, Jones has rushed for at least 500 yards in back-to-back seasons. Should rebound under new coordinator Brett Elliott.
53. Trevor Knight, Texas A&M
Knight is eligible immediately after transferring from Oklahoma. With Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen leaving College Station, Knight is expected to start over Jake Hubenak this fall.
52. Kent Myers, Utah State
Chuckie Keeton has expired his eligibility, which means the full-time job under center is expected to go to Myers. He’s had his share of promising moments over the last two years and accounted for 1,950 total yards and 19 scores in 2015.
51. Nick Stevens, Colorado State
Stevens’ first season as Colorado State’s starter had its share of ups and downs, but he finished the year with 2,965 yards and 24 passing scores. Additionally, Stevens earned second-team All-Mountain West honors.
50. Blake Barnett, Alabama
Barnett is the highest-ranked quarterback signed by Nick Saban at Alabama. After a redshirt year, he should be the frontrunner to start over Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell.
Related: Very Early Top 25 for 2016
49. Chase Litton, Marshall
Rakeem Cato left big shoes to fill at Marshall, but coach Doc Holliday appears to have his next star at quarterback. Litton threw for 2,605 yards and 23 scores last season and completed at least 60 percent of his passes in four out of the last five games.
48. Max Browne, USC
Browne – a five-star recruit – has patiently waited his turn behind Cody Kessler. It’s a limited sample size, but Browne was sharp in three appearances in 2015 (8 of 12 for 113 yards).
47. Brandon Harris, LSU
LSU’s national title hopes could hinge on Harris’ development this offseason. He threw for 13 touchdowns and 2,158 yards but struggled late in the year against Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
46. Jacob Eason, Georgia
It’s not easy starting as a true freshman at quarterback in the SEC, but Eason – the No. 2 quarterback and a five-star recruit in the 247Sports Composite – is up to the task. Assuming he wins the job over Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey, Eason should move up this list by August.
45. Kenny Potter, San Jose State
Potter was a good find for coach Ron Caragher out of the junior college ranks. In his first season at the FBS level, Potter threw for 1,984 yards and 15 scores and ranked second on the team with 415 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
44. Drew Hare, Northern Illinois
Hare was on his way to a solid 2015 campaign but a season-ending Achilles injury in early November prevented him from playing in Northern Illinois’ final five games. An Achilles injury isn’t an easy recovery, but Hare will be back as one of the top quarterbacks in the MAC.
43. John O’Korn, Michigan
O’Korn is the leader to replace Jake Rudock on a crowded Michigan quarterback depth chart. He threw for 3,117 yards and 28 scores as a freshman in 2013 but took a step back (951 yards and six touchdowns) and was replaced by Greg Ward in 2014.
Related: Early Big Ten Predictions for 2016
42. Mitch Leidner, Minnesota
Leidner showed improvement as a passer in 2015 and finished the season on a high note (223 yards, 1 TD) against Central Michigan. How big of a difference will new coordinator Jay Johnson make with this offense next season?
41. Favian Upshaw, Georgia Southern
Looking for a breakout star for 2016? Take a look at Upshaw. He gashed Bowling Green for 199 rushing yards and four scores in the GoDaddy Bowl and averaged 7.3 yards per carry in limited snaps last season. Kevin Ellison also returns in 2016, giving the Eagles two outstanding options at the position.
40. Patrick Towles, Boston College
Towles is eligible right away as a graduate transfer from Kentucky. After a promising 2014 campaign (2,718 yards, 14 TDs), Towles took a step back and was later benched in favor of Drew Barker. Expect Towles to benefit from a fresh start in Chestnut Hill.
39. Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh
Tennessee transfer was solid (20 TDs) in his first season with the Panthers. Has to find a new go-to target with receiver Tyler Boyd off to the NFL.
38. P.J. Walker, Temple
Walker already owns the school record for touchdown passes (52) and is poised to finish his career at Temple as the program’s all-time leading passing yardage.
37. Dane Evans, Tulsa
Evans showed marked improvement under first-year coach Philip Montgomery, throwing for 4,332 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2015. The Texas native will be one of the top quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference next fall.
36. Sean Maguire, Florida State
Maguire isn’t guaranteed to start next fall, as Florida State has two talented freshmen – Malik Henry and Deondre Francois – waiting in the wings.
35. Skyler Howard, West Virginia
Howard finished the 2015 season on a high note with 532 passing yards and five scores in the Cactus Bowl win over Arizona State. Cutting down on the picks (14) and raising the completion percentage (54.8) are two areas for Howard to work on for next season.
Related: Early Big 12 Predictions for 2016
34. Dakota Prukop, Oregon
The Ducks are taking the FCS graduate transfer route once again to find their next starting quarterback. Prukop is one of the hardest quarterbacks to rank on this list. He earned first-team All-America honors by the Associated Press in 2015 after accumulating 3,822 total yards and 39 scores. How quickly will he adapt to the Pac-12?
33. Wes Lunt, Illinois
Lunt certainly has the talent to be one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks. Is this the year he puts it all together?
32. Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
Armstrong has the most career passing yards (6,691) of any Big Ten quarterback returning next fall. Cutting down on the interceptions (16 in 2015) is his top priority in 2016.
31. Kenny Hill, TCU
Kenny Trill is back after sitting out 2015 due to NCAA transfer rules. He passed for 2,649 yards and 23 scores before losing the starting job at Texas A&M in 2014. Has big shoes to fill in replacing Trevone Boykin.
30. Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
Trubisky spent the last two seasons as the backup to Marquise Williams and is ready for an opportunity to be the full-time starter for the Tar Heels in 2016. In limited action last season, Trubisky threw for 555 yards and six touchdowns and completed 40 of 47 passes. Trubisky is poised to be one of the ACC’s breakout stars.
Related: Early ACC Predictions for 2016
29. Thomas Sirk, Duke
Sirk is the next standout quarterback for coach David Cutcliffe. Work remains as a passer, but he added 803 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground in 2015.
28. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
What a difference a year makes. Georgia Tech went from the champion of the ACC’s Coastal Division to a 3-9 team. Thomas is the catalyst for the Yellow Jackets’ offense, and coach Paul Johnson’s team needs him to resemble the player that rushed for 1,086 yards in 2014.
27. Tanner Mangum, BYU
Taysom Hill’s season-ending injury in the opener was a big loss for the Cougars, but Mangum kept BYU’s offense performing at a high level. In his first snaps in a BYU uniform, Mangum helped lead the team to wins over Nebraska, Boise State, Utah State and Cincinnati. Former four-star recruit is poised to take another step forward next season.
26. Davis Webb, Colorado
Webb is eligible immediately at Colorado after transferring from Texas Tech. He had back-to-back seasons of at least 20 touchdowns with the Red Raiders in 2013-14. Sefo Liufau’s status for 2016 is in doubt after an injury suffered late in the 2015 season.
25. Brett Rypien, Boise State
As a true freshman last year, Rypien was the Mountain West’s top quarterback (3,350 yards, 20 TDs). Ryan Finley is back from injury and will compete with Rypien for the starting job.
24. Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati
Kiel missed three games and had an up-and-down season in 2015. However, he’s also the quarterback that threw for 3,254 yards and 31 scores in 2014 and should rebound next fall.
23. Brent Stockstill, MTSU
Stockstill was one of the nation’s top freshman quarterbacks in 2015 and should thrive under new play-caller Tony Franklin. Stockstill’s 327 completions last season were the most by a freshman in FBS history.
22. Cooper Rush, Central Michigan
Central Michigan struggled to establish its ground attack, leaving Rush to carry the offensive workload in 2015. He responded with 3,848 passing yards (a career high) and 25 passing scores.
21. Zach Terrell, Western Michigan
The state of Michigan should be home to the MAC’s top quarterbacks in 2016. Terrell gets a slight nod over Cooper Rush in our early MAC rankings, but both quarterbacks should have big seasons. Terrell threw for 3,526 yards and 29 scores last year.
20. Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State
Despite throwing for 2,387 yards and 31 touchdowns and adding 436 yards and six scores on the ground, Lamb flew under the national radar last season. Expect that to change in 2016 as he’s the best quarterback returning in the Sun Belt.
19. Quinton Flowers, South Florida
Flowers turned in a breakout year in 2015 and helped USF make a four-game jump in the win column. Another offseason to work with coach Willie Taggart should help Flowers take the next step in his development as a passer.
18. Anu Solomon, Arizona
Injuries prevented Solomon from building off his freshman season, but he finished strong with 329 passing yards and two scores in the New Mexico Bowl.
17. Nick Mullens, Southern Miss
Coach Todd Monken left Hattiesburg for the NFL, but Southern Miss is still the favorite to win Conference USA’s West Division in 2016 with Mullens returning for his senior season after throwing 38 touchdowns last year.
16. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Jackson enters the offseason firmly entrenched as Louisville’s No. 1 quarterback. The Florida native has room to grow as a passer (54.7 completion percentage in 2015), but showcased his dynamic, play-making ability with 960 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
15. Jake Browning, Washington
Browning is one of the top rising stars in the nation. After a solid freshman season (2,955 yards and 16 passing scores), Browning should push for all-conference honors in 2016.
14. C.J. Beathard, Iowa
Beathard was a big reason why Iowa climbed into playoff contention and nearly won the Big Ten title last season. He threw for 2,809 yards and 17 scores and ranked fourth on the team with 237 rushing yards last season.
13. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
A foot injury late in the year hindered Rudolph against Oklahoma and Ole Miss, but he took a clear step forward in his development and is poised for an even better 2016 campaign.
12. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
Dobbs led all SEC quarterbacks with 671 rushing yards last season and posted solid totals (2,291 yards and 15 touchdowns) as a passer. Dobbs needs to generate more big plays in the passing game after Tennessee finished ninth in the SEC in passing plays of 30 yards or more in 2015.
11. Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
Will Zaire take the first snap for Notre Dame next fall? Or will DeShone Kizer hold onto the starting job after taking over for Zaire due to injury in 2015? The winner of this battle could be a few spots higher this fall.
10. Josh Rosen, UCLA
Rosen would be higher on this list if we simply ranked based on pure talent. He passed for 3,669 yards and 23 scores as a true freshman in 2015 and is only going to get better with more snaps.
Related: Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2016
9. Luke Falk, Washington State
Falk led the nation in 2015 by averaging 380.1 yards per game and was tied for fourth with 38 touchdown passes. Expect even bigger numbers in his second year at the controls of coach Mike Leach’s offense.
8. Brad Kaaya, Miami
Kaaya’s touchdown total dipped from 26 (2014) to 16 in 2015. However, his yardage was up and completion percentage increased by nearly three points. Should have a huge season under the direction of new coach Mark Richt.
7. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
Mahomes directs Texas Tech’s high-powered attack and accounted for 46 overall scores last season. He also ranked fourth nationally by averaging 357.9 passing yards per game in 2015.
6. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
Kelly passed for 31 scores and 4,042 yards in his first year in Oxford. Supporting cast is a question mark in 2016 after left tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Laquon Treadwell departed early for the NFL, but Kelly is the clear No. 1 quarterback in the SEC next season.
Related: Early SEC Predictions for 2016
5. Greg Ward, Houston
Coach Tom Herman is one of the nation’s top offensive coaches, and Ward will continue to thrive under his direction. He accounted for 281.1 total yards per game and 38 overall touchdowns last season.
4. Seth Russell, Baylor
A neck injury ended Russell’s 2015 season in late October. But prior to the injury, Russell was setting a torrid pace, tossing 29 scores and only six picks on 200 attempts. Can he hold off Jarrett Stidham for the starting job?
3. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
After a back-and-forth battle with Cardale Jones last season, Barrett is the clear leader and answer at quarterback for Ohio State. Expect to see Barrett resemble the player that scored 45 touchdowns as a freshman next fall.
2. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Mayfield was the driving force behind Oklahoma’s improvement on offense and run to the Big 12 title and playoff appearance. Under the direction of new coordinator Lincoln Riley, Mayfield threw for 3,700 yards and 36 scores and his mobility (405 yards and seven touchdowns) was a huge asset behind an offensive line that struggled at times.
1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Watson set the bar high in his first season as the full-time starter for Clemson. And it's not crazy to suggest he could be even better as a junior next fall. Watson passed for 35 touchdowns and 4,104 yards and guided the Tigers to an appearance in the national title game last season. His supporting cast remains one of the best in the nation, and top receiver Mike Williams is back after missing nearly all of 2015 with a neck injury.