Michigan needs a big year from Devin Gardner.
The term “hot seat” is no stranger to college football fans. Hot seat talk usually revolves around coaches, but quarterbacks can be grouped into the same conversation. Without a good coach or quarterback, it’s not easy to win games on the FBS level.
Considering how valuable quarterbacks are to reaching a bowl game, conference title or national championship, let’s take a look at some of the signal-callers on the hot seat for 2014.
Something important to keep in mind: This list doesn’t necessarily reflect quarterbacks that are in danger of losing their job.
With different potential for teams, each quarterback has their own set of expectations for 2014. For instance, Georgia’s Hutson Mason is the clear No. 1 quarterback in Athens. If he’s just adequate, the Bulldogs are probably ticketed for No. 2 or even No. 3 finish in the SEC East. However, if Mason is an All-SEC candidate, Georgia could be a darkhorse in the national title picture. At Arkansas, Brandon Allen’s development will play a key role in determining whether or not the Razorbacks can win a game in SEC play in 2014. North Carolina's Marquise Williams played well in the final half of 2013. If he can pickup where he left off, expect the Tar Heels to finish near the top of the Coastal.
College Football's Top 20 QBs on the Hot Seat for 2014
Brandon Allen, Arkansas
The SEC West is college football’s toughest division, so a rebuilding Arkansas team will have trouble earning a win in conference play for the second year in a row. The Razorbacks’ backfield is among the best in the nation with Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and Korliss Marshall leading the way. Allen started 2013 on a high note by completing 15 of 22 passes for 230 yards and three scores against UL Lafayette. However, Allen suffered a shoulder injury against Southern Miss and threw only eight touchdowns to nine interceptions over the final eight contests. In SEC play, Allen completed just 47.7 percent of his throws and only eight of his completions went for 30 yards or more. Arkansas’ receiving corps is still a work in progress, but sophomore tight end Hunter Henry is already among the best in the nation. With a potent ground attack and an emerging star at tight end, Allen’s development is critical for a team that needs to upgrade its passing game to push for a bowl in 2014.
Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
With Wisconsin losing a few key pieces from last year’s team, Nebraska and Iowa have a good chance to push for the division crown. The Cornhuskers do have their share of personnel concerns, including a rebuilt offensive line and secondary, but this team has talent at the skill positions with running back Ameer Abdullah and receiver Kenny Bell. Armstrong was thrown into the fire last year due to an injury to Taylor Martinez and performed well considering the circumstances. Armstrong finished 2013 with 966 passing yards and nine touchdowns and 202 yards on the ground. After learning on the job last season, Armstrong should be prepared for the week-to-week rigors of the Big Ten. And if the sophomore takes a step forward in his development, the Cornhuskers could emerge as the team to beat in the Big Ten’s West Division – and quiet some of the pressure on Bo Pelini.
David Ash, Texas
Ash never had a chance to build off a promising 2012 season, as a concussion prematurely ended his 2013 campaign. In 2012, Ash completed 67.3 percent of his throws for 2,699 yards and 19 touchdowns. Talent is never a question mark at Texas, and Charlie Strong seems to be the right coach to develop elite recruiting classes into production. However, if the Longhorns want to challenge Baylor or Oklahoma in the Big 12, quarterback play has to improve. Ash’s injury history is a concern, especially as there’s little in the way of proven options on the depth chart, and Max Wittek did not graduate in time to transfer to Austin for 2014. The defense should improve under Strong’s watch this season, and the backfield could be among the best in the nation. The Longhorns don’t need a huge statistical season from Ash, but they definitely need him on the field for all 12 regular season games.
Jacoby Brissett, NC State
After five quarterbacks attempted a pass in a NC State uniform last season, second-year coach Dave Doeren is counting on Brissett to bring stability to the Wolfpack’s offense in 2014. Brissett ranked as a four-star recruit by 247Sports in the 2011 signing class and threw for 455 yards and three touchdowns in two years in Gainesville. With Jeff Driskel entrenched as the starter, Brissett transferred to Raleigh for more playing time. The junior should be a good fit in coordinator Matt Canada’s offense and will provide an immediate upgrade for the offense after NC State averaged only 221.6 passing yards per game in 2013. If Brissett struggles, it’s back to the drawing board for Doeren, as true freshman Jalan McClendon is slated to be the No. 2 option.
Brandon Connette, Fresno State
Derek Carr leaves big shoes to fill in Fresno State, and the Bulldogs had three quarterbacks vying for the No. 1 spot in the spring. Brian Burrell and Zack Greenlee remain in the mix, with Myles Carr slated to move to receiver. Connette is eligible immediately after transferring from Duke and should have an impact for coach Tim DeRuyter. Connette’s best season with the Blue Devils came in 2013, as he threw for 1,212 yards and 13 touchdowns and added 14 scores on the ground. It’s never easy replacing someone like Carr, who exited his career as one of the top players in school history. Connette will be asked to throw it a little more than he was at Duke, but his experience should help to provide an easy transition to the starting lineup. If he picks up where he left off in Durham, Connette could lead Fresno State to another Mountain West title.
Jeff Driskel, Florida
Even though Driskel missed nearly all of last season due to injury, it’s still hard to fathom why Florida’s offense averaged only 312.5 yards and 19.9 points per game in SEC play. Change was necessary after a horrific year on offense, with coach Will Muschamp hiring Kurt Roper from Duke to call the plays in 2014. Roper’s first priority is to help Driskel (a five-star recruit by 247Sports in 2011) reach his potential. Driskel has displayed promise at times, and his dual-threat ability is an asset for a team struggling to find the right pieces up front. However, Driskel has only one performance of more than 220 passing yards and tossed three picks through the first two games last season. It’s unfair to blame Driskel for all of Florida’s offensive woes, especially since the receiving corps is thin on proven options. If Driskel thrives under Roper, Florida can easily double its win total from 2013. But if Driskel struggles, the Gators will have to turn to true freshman Will Grier or sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg – a move that will likely ensure someone other than Muschamp is on the Florida sideline in 2015.
Devin Gardner, Michigan
Gardner’s first full year as Michigan’s starter had its share of ups and downs, which included a late-season foot injury that pressed Shane Morris into starting duty against Kansas State in the bowl game. On the surface, Gardner wasn’t bad last year. He threw for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 483 yards and 11 scores. Gardner also led the Big Ten (conference-only games) with 269.9 passing yards per game and did not toss a pick in his final four starts. While his overall numbers were solid, Gardner needs to be more consistent. He threw for 97 yards and tossed two picks against UConn, which came one week after throwing three picks against Akron. Gardner went just 13 of 28 against Iowa (98 yards) and threw for only 196 yards on 18 completions against Nebraska. Of course, it’s unfair to blame Gardner for all of Michigan’s problems, as the offensive line, rushing attack and receiving corps each had their share of question marks. If Gardner plays with more consistency, the Wolverines will have a chance to win 10 games. But if the supporting cast struggles, and Gardner is up and down once again, the pressure will start to build even more on coach Brady Hoke.
Hutson Mason, Georgia
Why so much pressure on a first-year quarterback? Even though the Bulldogs are coming off an 8-5 record from 2013, this team has the pieces to be a factor for a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff format. Georgia’s offense will have a healthy Todd Gurley at running back, along with receiver Malcolm Mitchell at full strength after missing nearly all of last year with a torn ACL. With Gurley and Mitchell back in the mix, combined with the addition of Jeremy Pruitt as the team’s defensive coordinator, the Bulldogs are poised to push for 10 wins. Of course, much of that depends on Mason. He showed plenty of progress in limited action last year, throwing for 320 yards in awful weather conditions against Nebraska and 299 yards in a victory against Georgia Tech. Georgia usually has no trouble developing solid quarterbacks. If Mason is as good as advertised this spring, the Bulldogs will be a factor in the mix for the SEC title.
Listen to Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Quarterback Breakdown for 2014
Cyler Miles, Washington
Chris Petersen’s first spring in Seattle was somewhat eventful. Miles was suspended for the spring after an off-the-field incident, which allowed Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams to get an early start on learning the new offense. Miles was reinstated earlier this summer and is expected to win the No. 1 job by the season opener. The sophomore was solid in his first taste of FBS action last year, completing 37 of 61 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns. Most preseason predictions have Washington as the No. 3 team in the Pac-12 North behind Stanford and Oregon. With the Cardinal visiting Seattle in 2014, the opportunity is there for the Huskies to surprise. But that largely depends on how quickly Miles can pickup the new offense and how fast Petersen can find a replacement for running back Bishop Sankey.
Gary Nova, Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights were a big winner in realignment by moving from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten, but it’s not an easy transition for a program coming off a 6-7 record in 2013. The hire of Ralph Friedgen as offensive coordinator was one of the top assistant additions by any FBS team and should help the offense improve after managing only 23 points per game in conference play last season. Nova was benched late in 2013 and has tossed 30 interceptions over the last two seasons. There’s not much in the way of proven options behind Nova for Friedgen, as Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano have yet to complete a pass on the collegiate level. If Friedgen can help Nova limit his mistakes, Rutgers will have a chance to push for a bowl in its Big Ten debut. But if he struggles early in the year, Bimonte or Laviano will see plenty of playing time in 2014.
Kevin Olsen, Miami
Miami’s quarterback situation has already changed significantly since the start of spring practice. Ryan Williams was slated to replace Stephen Morris, but he suffered a torn ACL in the spring, and coach Al Golden added Kansas transfer Jake Heaps this summer. Olsen redshirted in his first season in Coral Gables last year and is on track to start the season opener at Louisville. Four-star recruit Brad Kaaya is set to join the battle this summer, and his development will be critical with Olsen’s inexperience and Heaps learning the offense after joining the team in June.
Stephen Rivers, Vanderbilt
James Franklin set the bar high for new coach Derek Mason, and the first-year coach enters 2014 with a glaring question mark at quarterback. Mason hopes Rivers (a LSU transfer) is the answer under center, with redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary also pushing for time. Rivers has prototypical size for a quarterback (6-foot-7) and you may have heard of his brother (Philip) in NFL circles. Rivers played in only four games at LSU and misfired on both of his pass attempts. Making the junior’s job even tougher in 2014 is Vanderbilt’s receiving corps, which lost standout Jordan Matthews to the NFL. With a solid defense and rushing attack, Rivers won’t have to post All-SEC numbers for the Commodores to return to the postseason. However, for a program coming off 18 wins in the last two years and the departure of the team’s No. 1 player (Matthews), there’s extra pressure on the quarterbacks to perform in 2014.
Joel Stave, Wisconsin
The Badgers will once again own one of the nation’s top rushing attacks. Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement headline a backfield that is the best in the Big Ten and is capable of carrying Wisconsin to a Big Ten West Division title. While there are no concerns about the ground attack, coach Gary Andersen is hoping to jumpstart a passing attack that averaged only 201.9 yards per game in Big Ten games last season. Stave certainly wasn’t awful last year, completing 208 passes for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns. However, the staff would like more from its passing attack and is intrigued by Tanner McEvoy, a former junior college recruit who spent some time at safety in 2013. Stave missed part of spring practice due to a shoulder injury, which opened the door for McEvoy to state his case for the No. 1 spot. The Badgers must replace several key players, but the schedule is favorable and there’s a strong rushing attack to lean on. If Stave or McEvoy brings stability under center, Wisconsin can push for a final ranking among the top 10-15 teams in the nation.
Cole Stoudt, Clemson
After Florida State’s Jameis Winston, there is very little in the way of proven options in the ACC at quarterback for 2014. Stoudt is a darkhorse candidate for all-conference honors this year, especially under the direction of coordinator Chad Morris. The senior won a three-way competition in the spring to claim the starting job, which included touted freshman Deshaun Watson. In three years at Clemson, Stoudt has completed 86 of 119 passes for 742 yards and eight scores. If Stoudt successfully replaces Tajh Boyd, the Tigers should be the No. 2 team in the ACC and have a chance to win 10 games. But if he struggles early, expect to hear the calls for Watson increase.
Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
There’s very little separation among the top-six teams in the Coastal Division, so the difference between No. 1 and No. 6 could be just a game or two in the final standings. Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has recorded at least a .500 mark in ACC play in each of the last six years, but there’s a lot of pressure on the coaching staff to produce after going 14-13 over the last two seasons. Vad Lee decided to transfer after last season, leaving Thomas as the clear No. 1 in Atlanta. Thomas is regarded as an excellent athlete and averaged 7.1 yards per carry in 2013. If Thomas runs Johnson’s offense and limits the turnovers, the Yellow Jackets should be in the mix to win the Coastal. However, if he struggles in the starter role, Georgia Tech could have a new coaching staff in 2015.
Dylan Thompson, South Carolina
Similar to Georgia’s Hutson Mason, Thompson isn’t in any danger of losing his starting job, but his play could be the difference in whether or not South Carolina wins the East. After throwing for 1,027 yards and 10 touchdowns in relief of Connor Shaw in 2012, Thompson wasn’t as sharp in 2013. He posted a better completion percentage in 2013 (58.4 percent after 52.0 in 2012), but his interception total increased by one on fewer attempts, and Thompson left room for improvement in his performances against Missouri and UCF. Coach Steve Spurrier has already anointed Thompson as the starter, so there’s little doubt about the depth chart. However, the Gamecocks hope a full offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback helps Thompson produce like an All-SEC passer.
Clint Trickett, West Virginia
Considering West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is known for his pass-first offenses, it seems odd for the Mountaineers to enter the season with so much uncertainty at quarterback. However, that’s the scenario playing out in Morgantown this offseason, as none of the quarterbacks claimed the job in spring practice. West Virginia finished 2013 ranked No. 3 in the Big 12 (conference-only games) in passing offense, but the Mountaineers tossed 13 picks and threw just 12 touchdowns in nine league games. Trickett led the team with 1,605 yards and seven touchdown passes last season but was forced to miss spring workouts due to shoulder surgery. With West Virginia facing a tough non-conference schedule (Alabama and Maryland), and the pressure to rebound after a 4-8 mark in 2013, the Mountaineers need Trickett to be the answer under center. If he isn’t, junior college recruit Skyler Howard or Paul Millard will move into the starting lineup. True freshman William Crest is a wildcard to watch.
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
With the personnel losses at LSU and Texas A&M, Ole Miss has a chance to make some noise in the SEC West. The Rebels have made steady improvement under coach Hugh Freeze and a healthy year from Wallace should make a difference. After offseason shoulder surgery, Wallace watched his touchdown total dip from 22 in 2012 to 18 last season, while he averaged just 11.8 yards per completion in 2013. Quarterbacks that have shoulder surgery seem to need a full year before returning to 100 percent. If Wallace builds off his progress from the last two seasons and stays healthy, the Rebels could push for nine wins in 2014.
Marquise Williams, North Carolina
With victories in six out of their last seven games, North Carolina has momentum on its side in 2014. And there are many reasons to be optimistic about the offense, as coach Larry Fedora has recruited a wealth of talent at the skill positions, and Williams showed promise in a limited stint as the team’s starting quarterback last year. The Charlotte native is a good fit for Fedora’s offense, and his dual-threat ability is a valuable asset for a team with a rebuilding offensive line. The junior finished 2013 with 1,698 yards and 15 scores, but he was pushed for snaps in the spring by redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky. Williams is already feeling pressure on the depth chart to perform to hold onto his No. 1 spot. However, there’s added demands on Williams with North Carolina in position to win the Coastal. The good news for the Tar Heels: It seems like there are two quarterbacks Fedora feels comfortable with. The bad news: If Williams struggles, the quarterback battle will begin once again with Trubisky ready to claim the starting job.
Justin Worley, Tennessee
Butch Jones enters his second season at Tennessee with a myriad of question marks, none bigger than who starts at quarterback for the opener against Utah State. The Volunteers finished spring with three quarterbacks fighting for snaps, but Riley Ferguson transferred, leaving Worley and Joshua Dobbs vying for the No. 1 spot. Worley started seven games in 2013 and threw for 10 touchdowns and 1,239 yards in 2013. However, a thumb injury ended his season in late October. With a challenging schedule ahead in 2014, finding a quarterback could be the difference in Tennessee making a bowl or missing the postseason for the fourth consecutive season.