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College Football's Top 15 Quarterback Debuts of 2015

Josh Rosen

Josh Rosen

New quarterbacks were under the spotlight in the first week of the 2015 college football season. UCLA’s Josh Rosen stole the spotlight with 351 yards against Virginia, as the true freshman garnered one of the top performances by a quarterback in Week 1. But the success of new signal-callers wasn’t limited to true freshman, as transfers Vernon Adams (Oregon), Everett Golson (Florida State) and Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) shined in their debut with new teams.

With the influx of new starters across the nation, Athlon set out to rank the debuts for the quarterbacks. An important note: We only considered freshmen in their first game, transfers or quarterbacks that had only one start at their current school for this ranking. Quarterbacks like Jeremy Johnson, Skyler Howard, Patrick Mahomes, Mike Bercovici and Deshaun Watson had too many starts to be considered for this list.

College Football's Top 15 New QB Debuts from Week 1

1. Josh Rosen, UCLA

It’s not often the performance matches the hype when it comes to freshman quarterbacks in their first start. However, Rosen met and exceeded a lot of expectations on Saturday. In a 34-16 win over Virginia, the true freshman completed 28 of 35 passes for 351 yards and three scores.

Related: 5 Teams That Quietly Impressed in Week 1

2. Malik Zaire, Notre Dame

Zaire entered the 2015 season with one start under his belt (Music City Bowl) and high expectations. After edging Everett Golson for the starting job in the spring, Zaire continued his breakout season with a sharp performance in the opener against Texas. He completed 19 of 22 throws for 313 yards and three scores and rushed for 16 yards. Additionally, five of Zaire’s completions went at least 20 yards or more.

3. Seth Russell, Baylor

New quarterback, same story on offense for Baylor. The Bears scored 56 points against SMU, set a school record with 10.5 yards per play average and recorded seven plays of 40 yards or more. Russell completed 15 of 30 passes for 376 yards and five scores and added 59 yards and one touchdown on the ground.

Related: 10 Amazing Stats to Know from Week 1

4. Vernon Adams, Oregon

Against his former team (Eastern Washington), Adams showed why he’s one of the impact transfers for 2015. The senior completed 19 of 25 passes for 246 yards and two scores and ranked second on the team with 94 rushing yards. Adams aced his first test. But the hard part comes up on Saturday, as the Ducks travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State.

5. Everett Golson, Florida State

Golson’s first game at Florida State started with a weather delay, followed by a slow start in the first half. The Notre Dame transfer was eased into the offense by coach Jimbo Fisher and completed 7 of 9 passes for 74 yards through the first two quarters. But Golson finished strong, throwing for 302 yards and four touchdowns on 19 completions. Golson also connected on five passing plays of 20 yards or more and two of 30 yards or more. 

6. Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech 

Driskel was a big-time recruit but never managed to have consistent success at Florida. With one year of eligibility left, Driskel transferred for an opportunity to start at Louisiana Tech and the early reviews are positive. The senior passed for 274 yards and four scores in an efficient 12 of 15 performance against Southern. He also added one rushing score and 15 yards on three attempts. 

Related: Week 1 of the 2015 CFB Season Taught us Nothing

7. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma 

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Oklahoma’s offense started slow in the first half against Akron, but Mayfield and new coordinator Lincoln Riley eventually got on track. Mayfield – a Texas Tech transfer – completed 23 of 33 passes for 388 yards and three scores. The junior was sharp in his opener, but the going gets tougher on Saturday against Tennessee. 

8. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern

Thorson’s numbers aren’t quite as impressive as some of the other names on this list, but the redshirt freshman was going against a stingy Stanford defense and delivered a solid all-around performance. Thorson completed 12 of 24 passes for 105 yards and rushed for 68 on eight attempts, including a 42-yard score in the first half that gave Northwestern the lead for good against the Cardinal.

9. Lamar Jackson, Louisville

Electric. That’s the easiest way to describe Jackson after his impressive debut against Auburn. The true freshman completed 9 of 20 passes for 100 yards and added 106 rushing yards and a score on 16 carries. Jackson’s mobility is a huge asset with Louisville revamping its offensive line, and the true freshman has already supplanted Reggie Bonnafon as the team’s starter for Week 2.

Related: Should Auburn Fans Worry About Jeremy Johnson?

10. Jake Coker, Alabama

Alabama’s quarterback battle took a few twists and turns, but the post-spring favorite – Coker – eventually took the first snap against Wisconsin. The defense and rushing attack is always going to lead the way for the Crimson Tide, so Coker doesn’t have to carry the offense. However, Coker was steady in his first start for Alabama, completing 15 of 21 passes for 213 yards and one score.

11. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss

Kelly is the x-factor for Ole Miss if it wants to contend in the SEC West this season. The junior college product (and former Clemson passer) started his career in Oxford on a high note in Week 1, throwing for 211 yards and two scores on nine completions. Also, two of Kelly’s completions went for 50 yards or more.

12. Max Wittek, Hawaii 

Wittek completed only 19 of 38 passes in the opener, but he threw for three scores and was a key cog in Hawaii’s 28-20 upset over Colorado. The USC transfer should give the Rainbow Warriors a good shot to get bowl eligible in 2015.

13. Thomas Sirk, Duke 

Duke coach David Cutcliffe is known as one of the best quarterback gurus in college football, and his next pupil (Sirk) was solid in his debut against Tulane. The junior completed 27 of 40 passes for 289 yards and two scores and added 68 rushing yards on 15 carries. Sirk is primed for a breakout year for the Blue Devils.

14. Tanner Mangum, BYU 

Mangum’s numbers weren’t as impressive as some of the other quarterbacks on this list, but the Idaho native delivered in the clutch for the Cougars. With BYU trailing 28-27, Mangum connected with Mitch Mathews for a 42-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to upset the Cornhuskers in Lincoln. With Taysom Hill out for the rest of the year, Mangum – a four-star recruit – should be a solid fill-in for BYU.

Related: Meet Tanner Mangum: BYU's New Quarterback

15. Nick Stevens, Colorado State 

The competition – Savannah State – wasn’t overly difficult, but Stevens was sharp in Saturday’s 65-13 win. In coach Mike Bobo’s first game with the Rams, Stevens completed 20 of 28 passes for 289 yards and five scores. He will face a tougher test in Week 2 with Minnesota visiting Fort Collins on Saturday.

Other Debuts Considered:C.J. Beathard, Iowa; Ahmad Bradshaw, Army West Point; Brent Stockstill, MTSU; Greyson Lambert, Georgia; Will Grier, Florida; Garrett Smith, ULM; Tyler Stewart, Nevada; Kyler Murray, Texas A&M; Quinton Flowers, USF; Jake Rudock, Michigan; Eric Dungey, Syracuse; Bryant Shirreffs, UConn; Blake Bogenschutz, UTSA; Drew Lock, Missouri; Cody Clements, South Alabama; Brooks Haack, ULL; Cameron Coffman, Wyoming; Seth Collins, Oregon State, Jake Browning, Washington, Ryan Finley, Boise State; Nate Romine, AFA, Kenny Potter, SJSU; Darius Wade, Boston College; Laviano/Rettig, Rutgers; Michael Birdsong, Marshall; Joe Hubener, Kansas State; Shuler Bentley, ODU