Quarterback play is always under the spotlight in college football, and with less than 60 days until kickoff, it’s never too early to examine which true freshmen will have a chance to play right away this season. Georgia Tech’s Jeff Sims, Vanderbilt’s Ken Seals and Mississippi State’s Will Rogers were just a few of the freshmen from the 2020 signing class to make an impact last fall. The ’21 campaign will also produce its share of freshmen standouts, with Notre Dame’s Tyler Buchner, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy and SMU’s Preston Stone drawing plenty of offseason attention to claim the No. 1 job at their respective school.
Which true freshmen quarterbacks could play a significant role or start for their team in 2021? Here are 10 to watch:
10 True Freshmen Quarterbacks to Watch in 2021
Tyler Buchner, Notre Dame
247 Rating: No. 70 Overall; 4-Star Prospect
Notre Dame landed Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan to help bridge the gap to the program’s inexperienced (but talented) freshman quarterback in Buchner. The California native missed most of his sophomore season due to a torn ACL and missed his senior year due to COVID-19. However, Buchner has all of the talent needed to thrive in South Bend. As a junior in 2019, he threw for 4,474 yards and 53 touchdowns and added 1,610 yards and 28 scores on the ground. Buchner impressed in his first stint on campus with the Fighting Irish and finished spring by connecting on six of nine passes for 140 yards and adding a rushing score in the Gold-Blue Game.
Kyron Drones, Baylor
247 Rating: No. 278 Overall; 4-Star Prospect
Baylor enters the fall with a wide-open quarterback battle on tap for new coordinator Jeff Grimes. Gerry Bohanon (38 attempts) and Jacob Zeno (26) have experience, while Blake Shapen took a redshirt year in 2020. Drones missed some snaps due to injury as a high school senior but showcased his talent with a prolific junior year (3,390 yards and 46 scores and 825 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns). He also enrolled in time to compete in spring practice and will have an opportunity to push Bohanon and Zeno for the top spot in the fall.
Sam Huard, Washington
247 Rating: No. 11 Overall; 5-Star Prospect
Dylan Morris showed promise in Washington’s four-game season in 2020, but coach Jimmy Lake and coordinator John Donovan could find it tough to keep Huard on the sidelines too long. Huard – the son of former Husky great and NFL quarterback Damon Huard – finished his high school career with 13,214 passing yards (a new record in the state of Washington) and 153 touchdowns. With Morris and Colorado State transfer Patrick O’Brien ahead on the depth chart, Sam Huard won’t be needed to play right away. However, if the offense struggles, the calls for the talented freshman will only increase with each snap.
Ty Keyes, Southern Miss
247 Rating: No. 586 Overall; 3-Star Prospect
Keyes originally committed to Tulane but followed Will Hall to Hattiesburg when he left New Orleans to be the head coach at Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles return some experience at quarterback with Trey Lowe (59 attempts in 2020), but Keyes should push for playing time right away. The Mississippi native won the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award in 2019 and ’20 and accounted for 36 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards of total offense as a senior.
J.J. McCarthy, Michigan
247 Rating: No. 24 Overall; 5-Star Prospect
All signs point to McCarthy as the future for Michigan football. However, is that future coming now or ’22? With two experienced options in Cade McNamara and Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman also vying for the job, the Wolverines can afford to pace McCarthy’s development and not throw the freshman into the fire right away. After playing at Nazareth Academy (2017-19), McCarthy transferred to IMG Academy for his senior campaign. In four years of snaps, the Illinois native threw for 7,905 yards and 94 touchdowns.
Kyle McCord, Ohio State
247 Rating: No. 27 Overall, 5-Star Prospect
The Buckeyes have three highly touted and talented quarterbacks vying to start in 2021. However, the two redshirt freshmen in the mix – Jack Miller III and C.J. Stroud – played a combined 18 snaps last year, and McCord only arrived in Columbus this spring. Despite the overall inexperience of the quarterback room, the concern level is very low for coach Ryan Day. Regardless of who wins the job, the Buckeyes should be in good hands under center. McCord capped a successful high school career in Pennsylvania with 6,887 yards and 88 touchdown passes. His first spring with the Buckeyes concluded with a good showing in the spring game, as McCord connected on 12 of 17 throws for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Stroud has the inside track to win the job, but McCord’s development is something to watch in the fall.
Behren Morton, Texas Tech
247 Rating: No. 145 Overall, 4-Star Prospect
Oregon transfer Tyler Shough is the favorite to start in Lubbock, but Morton is still a name to watch this fall. The Texas native posted a prolific senior year at Eastland High School, torching opposing teams for 3,613 yards and 37 touchdowns. He also ran for 893 yards and 19 scores in 2020. Morton’s dual-threat ability and overall skill set is intriguing, but Shough or Henry Colombi may have to struggle for coach Matt Wells to make the switch.
Sawyer Robertson, Mississippi State
247 Rating: No. 133 Overall; 4-Star Prospect
Mike Leach has a couple of interesting options battling to start at quarterback this fall. Will Rogers garnered valuable experience as a true freshman last season, and Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham shined in the spring game. Those two are the frontrunners going into fall practice, but Robertson can’t be dismissed from the competition. On his high school tape, the Texas native shows a good awareness inside the pocket, accuracy and the ability to handle the mid-range passing game – all areas needed to thrive in the Air Raid attack. Robertson threw for 11,302 yards and 135 scores during his high school career at Coronado in Lubbock.
Preston Stone, SMU
247 Rating: No. 110 Overall; 4-Star Prospect
Stone is the program’s highest-rated prospect to officially hit campus under coach Sonny Dykes and is expected to battle Oklahoma transfer Tanner Mordecai for the starting job this fall. The Dallas native had numerous offers from Power 5 teams but opted to stay close to home. That’s great news for Dykes, as departing starter Shane Buechele leaves big shoes to fill under center. Stone threw for 3,429 yards and 38 touchdowns and added 536 yards and 10 scores on the ground as a senior. If he wins the job, look for Stone to put up huge numbers in SMU’s high-powered offense.
Ty Thompson, Oregon
247 Rating: No. 39 Overall; 4-Star Prospect
All signs point to Anthony Brown winning the battle to start at quarterback for Oregon in the 2021 season opener against Fresno State. However, Thompson’s development in the fall and within the season is worth monitoring. The Arizona native arrived this spring in Eugene after throwing for 9,891 yards and 100 touchdowns and running for 1,145 yards and 20 scores at Mesquite High School. Thompson has some ground to make up on the depth chart, but even if he doesn’t start in ’21, he could end up as the frontrunner to claim the job in ’22.
Others to Watch
Peter Costelli, Utah
Ethan Hampton, Northern Illinois
Riley Leonard, Duke
Sam Vidlak, Oregon State
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