Clemson's Deshaun Watson is a rising star in the ACC.
College football’s spring practice session is already underway for some teams, which means the countdown to the 2015 season can officially start.
Quarterback play is always under a microscope and several playoff or conference title contenders are breaking in a new starter in 2015. While pinpointing breakout players is easier after spring practice, it’s never too early to examine some of the top rising stars at quarterback.
The list of quarterbacks on the rise takes into account players that were not a starter for a full season of games in 2014.
10 College Football Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2015
Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
Since joining the SEC in 2012, the Aggies have averaged 41.3 points per game. Life after Johnny Manziel presented a few challenges in 2014, but the arrow on Texas A&M’s offense is pointing up headed into 2015. Allen started the final five games for coach Kevin Sumlin, including a four-touchdown performance against Auburn and a 294-yard effort against West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl. The Arizona native finished 2014 with 1,322 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. Allen will be pushed by talented freshman Kyler Murray this offseason, but the edge in experience should help the sophomore hold onto the starting job. With a talented receiving corps returning, Texas A&M’s passing offense should be among the SEC’s best once again in 2015.
Mike Bercovici, Arizona State
Bercovici steps into the spotlight in 2015 as he assumes the keys to Arizona State’s high-powered offense from Taylor Kelly. The California native is already a known commodity for coordinator Mike Norvell, as Bercovici started three games in place of Kelly due to injury in 2014. Bercovici torched USC for 510 yards and five scores and threw for 245 yards and one touchdown in a 26-10 win over Stanford last year. In his Arizona State career, Bercovici has thrown for 1,478 yards and 12 scores. He also boasts a 62.2 percent completion percentage and produced three passing plays of 40 yards or more in 2014. The Sun Devils will miss receiver Jaelen Strong, but Bercovici is more than capable of keeping Arizona State’s passing attack firing on all cylinders.
Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
The insertion of Dobbs into the starting lineup in late October sparked Tennessee to a 4-2 finish over its last six games. The Georgia native threw for 192 yards against Alabama after replacing Nathan Peterman in the first half and guided the Volunteers to a 45-42 upset win over South Carolina by accumulating 467 total yards and five scores. Dobbs also played well in the bowl win over Iowa by accounting for 205 yards and three scores. The junior should have more help from his supporting cast in 2015, as Tennessee should be healthier at receiver, and a young offensive line has a full offseason to grow. Dobbs should push for All-SEC honors in 2015.
Jeremy Johnson, Auburn
Johnson varies slightly in style to former starter Nick Marshall, but Auburn’s offense shouldn’t miss a beat in 2015. The Alabama native ranked as the No. 11 pro-style quarterback in the 2013 signing class and has played well in limited action over the last two years. Johnson completed 29 of 41 passes for 422 yards and six scores in 2013 and threw for 436 yards and three touchdowns in 2014. He also has two starts under his belt, including one against Arkansas (2014). Johnson may not have the dynamic mobility of Marshall, but the junior is going to have a huge season directing the offense for coach Gus Malzahn.
Josh Rosen, UCLA
Perhaps it’s too early to place much pressure on Rosen, but there’s little doubt the freshman is ready to push for the starting job at UCLA in 2015. With Brett Hundley off to the NFL, the Bruins have an open battle for the quarterback spot this spring, with Jerry Neuheisel and Rosen considered the favorites. Rosen ranked as the No. 12 overall recruit and as a five-star prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite. While Neuheisel has the edge in experience, Rosen has more overall talent and upside. And since he enrolled in time to compete this spring, Rosen should have plenty of time to pickup the UCLA offense. Needless to say, the future is bright for the Bruins with Rosen at the helm.
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
It’s no coincidence Oklahoma State’s improvement on offense late in the year came with Rudolph at the helm. The Cowboys scored at least 30 points in five games against Power 5 opponents. Rudolph was the quarterback for two of those efforts, including an impressive 38-35 win over Oklahoma and a 30-22 bowl win over Washington. The South Carolina native finished 2014 with 853 passing yards and six scores in three appearances. Rudolph needs more help from his supporting cast in 2015, but the potential is certainly there for the sophomore to earn All-Big 12 honors.
Seth Russell, Baylor
Over the last five seasons, Baylor’s starting quarterback has averaged 4,031 yards and 30 touchdowns. With Bryce Petty off to the NFL, the keys to a high-powered offense are in Russell’s hands. Of course, he has to hold off a challenge this offseason from sophomore Chris Johnson and talented true freshman Jarrett Stidham. However, there’s a clear edge in experience for Russell, as he has one start under his belt and completed 48 of 85 passes in 2014. The Texas native torched Northwestern State for five scores and 438 yards last year and completed 8 of 17 passes for 82 yards in relief of Petty against Texas Tech. With one of the nation’s top receiving corps in place, Russell – if he wins the job – will be next standout quarterback for coach Art Briles.
Greg Ward, Houston
New coach Tom Herman has to be excited about Ward’s potential in 2015. The converted receiver replaced John O’Korn under center and started the final eight games at quarterback. Ward showcased his dual-threat potential in the bowl win over Pittsburgh, throwing for 274 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 92 yards on 14 attempts. He also passed for 360 yards against Cincinnati and 336 against Tulane and finished the year with 573 rushing yards and 2,010 through the air. Ward is far from a finished product, but the potential is there for a monster season in Herman’s offense for the Cougars in 2015.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Clemson has won at least 10 games in each of the last four seasons and has a good shot at extending that streak to five in 2015. Watson is the biggest reason for optimism and potential at contending for the ACC Championship, as the sophomore is expected to be at full strength in his recovery from a torn ACL by the season opener. The Georgia native ranked as the No. 41 recruit in the 2014 signing class and completed 93 of 137 passes for 1,466 yards and 14 scores in his debut. Watson also rushed for 200 yards and five scores last season. The departure of coordinator Chad Morris was a big loss for Clemson, but with Watson’s return and a talented group of skill players, the Tigers will be among the ACC’s best on offense in 2015.
Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
Zaire isn’t guaranteed the starting job for 2015, as Everett Golson remains in the mix after throwing for 3,445 yards last season and enters next season with 23 starts under his belt. However, all signs point to Zaire emerging as Notre Dame’s No. 1 option under center. In seven appearances last season, Zaire completed 21 of 35 passes for 266 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for 187 yards and two scores. The Ohio native’s most-impressive outing took place against LSU in the Music City Bowl, throwing for 96 yards and a touchdown, while adding 96 yards and a score on the ground in the upset win over the Tigers. With a strong supporting cast in place, Zaire has all of the necessary pieces for a breakout year.
Other Quarterbacks to Watch in 2015
Kurt Benkert, East Carolina
Shane Carden posted big numbers in East Carolina’s offense over the last three years. Coordinator Lincoln Riley also departed this offseason, but the Pirates aren’t expected to change much on offense. Benkert – a sophomore – will have the first shot at replacing Carden this spring.
Jake Coker, Alabama
The Florida State transfer was supposed to win the job last season but never made a start thanks to the emergence of Blake Sims. Now that Coker has a year of experience in coordinator Lane Kiffin’s offense, will the Alabama native claim the starting job?
William Crest/Skyler Howard, West Virginia
Crest was poised to spend 2014 as Clint Trickett’s backup at West Virginia but a shoulder injury ended his freshman season. The Baltimore native has tremendous upside and should benefit from another offseason to learn under coach Dana Holgorsen. If Crest is unable to win the job, the Mountaineers have a good fallback option in Skyler Howard, who threw for 829 yards and eight scores in 2014.
Luke Falk/Peyton Bender, Washington State
Falk was pressed into the starting job in 2014 after Connor Halliday suffered a season-ending leg injury against USC. The former walk-on threw for 601 yards against Arizona State but also tossed six picks over his last two games. Falk will be pushed by Bender – a three-star recruit in the 2014 signing class – for time this spring. The winner of this battle will post huge numbers in coach Mike Leach’s high-powered passing offense.
Tyler Ferguson, Louisville
Three quarterbacks – Will Gardner, Reggie Bonnafon and Kyle Bolin – started for coach Bobby Petrino’s team in 2014. Ferguson should push for time next season, as the Penn State transfer is eligible after sitting out last year. In his only season with the Nittany Lions, Ferguson completed 10 of 15 passes for 155 yards and one score.
Ryan Finley/Brett Rypien, Boise State
The Broncos have personnel voids to address on offense with the departure of quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi, but expect coach Bryan Harsin to find the right answers this offseason. The quarterback battle between Ryan Finley (a sophomore) and Matt Rypien (a true freshman, four-star prospect) will be one to watch this spring. Finley has the edge in experience, but Rypien was a big pickup on the recruiting trail for Boise State.
Brooks Haack, UL Lafayette
The Ragin’ Cajuns must replace quarterback Terrance Broadway, but coach Mark Hudspeth has a few talented options in place. Haack was a three-star recruit by the 247Sports Composite in 2012 and the Texas native has been solid as a backup over the last two years, completing 41 of 58 passes for 403 yards and three scores.
Ben Hicks, SMU
Hicks seems to be the perfect fit for new coach Chad Morris’ high-powered offense. The Texas native ranked as a three-star recruit in the 247Sports Composite for the 2015 signing class and should push Matt Davis for the starting job this offseason.
Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State
In its first season of FBS play, Appalachian State quietly finished 2014 on a six-game winning streak. Lamb turned in a promising freshman campaign, throwing for 2,381 yards and 17 scores and rushing for 483 yards and four touchdowns. The Georgia native started the final 10 games and led the Mountaineers to an average of 34.8 points per contest in that span.
Jack Milas, Ball State
Milas emerged as Ball State’s starter midway through 2014 but missed the last game of the year due to a wrist injury. The Illinois native showed promise by throwing four touchdowns and 326 yards against Western Michigan and completed at least 60 percent of his passes in three out of his six games.
Brice Ramsey, Georgia
Ramsey isn’t guaranteed the starting job next season, as he will be pushed for time by Jacob Park and Faton Bauta. However, regardless of whether it’s Ramsey, Park or Bauta under center, there’s a good chance the starter puts up solid numbers in Georgia’s offense.
Hayden Rettig, Rutgers
Rettig – the brother of former Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig – will compete with Chris Laviano to start in 2015. After sitting out a year due to a transfer from LSU, Rettig will have three seasons of eligibility remaining. Rutgers will have a new play-caller in 2015 after Ralph Friedgen decided to step down, and coach Kyle Flood promoted receivers coach Ben McDaniels to coordinator.
Thomas Sirk, Duke
Coach David Cutcliffe is one of the top quarterback gurus in college football. And assuming Sirk holds off Parker Boehme, the Florida native should be the next solid quarterback from Durham. In limited action last season, Sirk completed 10 of 14 passes for 67 yards and three scores. He also rushed for 238 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014.
Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
Northwestern hopes to get back to a bowl after a two-year absence, and the first step to a winning record will be settling the quarterback battle. Thorson will compete with Zack Oliver and Matt Alviti for the starting job this spring, and the talented redshirt freshman will be tough to keep off the field. Thorson ranked as a four-star prospect in the 2014 signing class and was the No. 188 overall recruit in the 247Sports Composite.