The countdown to the 2016 college football season is already underway, and even with the season nearly 200 days away, it’s never too early to take a look at the returning talent and project some of the players due for a breakout season. Recruiting establishes the foundation for any program, but finding and developing quarterbacks is a challenging and essential task for any coach. Quarterback play is always under the microscope and could be the difference between winning a conference title or national championship or finishing with a disappointing record.
Quarterbacks are the highest-profile and most-important position on the field. With that in mind, let’s take a look at 20 quarterbacks on the rise for next season, as well as a handful of names to watch. With spring practice coming up and some of the battles set to be decided, this list will look a tad different by the fall.
College Football's Top 20 QBs on the Rise for 2016
Blake Barnett, Alabama
Uncertainty at quarterback has been a storyline for Alabama entering each of the last three spring practice sessions. Four quarterbacks – David Cornwell, Blake Barnett, Cooper Bateman and true freshman Jalen Hurts – are set to compete for the No. 1 spot this spring, with Barnett considered a slight favorite over Bateman. Barnett redshirted his first season at Alabama and was regarded as a five-star recruit coming out of high school. The California native brings a dual-threat element to the Crimson Tide’s offense and is the most-talented quarterback Nick Saban has recruited during his tenure in Tuscaloosa.
Max Browne, USC
Browne isn’t guaranteed the starting job yet, as he will have to hold off Sam Darnold for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart this offseason. However, Browne was a five-star recruit and the No. 11 overall player in the 2013 247Sports Composite and all signs suggest he is the frontrunner. After spending the last two years as Cody Kessler’s backup, it’s Browne’s time to claim the starting job. He completed 3 of 7 passes for 30 yards in 2014 and completed 8 of 12 throws for 113 yards last season. Developing Browne into a successful replacement for Kessler is a huge opportunity for new coach Clay Helton to get his tenure started in the right direction.
Jake Browning, Washington
Washington is a team on the rise for 2016 and should be among the frontrunners to win the Pac-12 next fall. A big reason for the Huskies’ expected jump in the standings next fall is the development of Browning. In 12 starts as a true freshman last season, Browning threw for 2,955 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also finished the year on a high note, completing 23 of 34 throws for 284 yards in the 44-31 victory over Southern Miss in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Keller Chryst, Stanford
Chryst was a big-time pickup for coach David Shaw on the recruiting trail, and after two years as an understudy to Kevin Hogan, the Palo Alto native is considered the favorite to take the first snap for Stanford in 2016. Chryst ranked as the No. 51 overall recruit and the No. 3 pro-style quarterback 2014 247Sports Composite. He played in four games as a redshirt freshman last fall, completing 5 of 9 passes for 59 yards and one touchdown. The most extended action of Chryst’s season took place against Arizona, as he completed all four pass attempts for 39 yards. Shaw has plenty of work ahead this offseason on offense with a revamped line and two key departures in the receiving corps. However, it seems the Cardinal has its quarterback of the future already in place.
Jacob Eason, Georgia
Eason has yet to take an official snap in a Georgia uniform, but high expectations are already in place for the true freshman. The Washington native ranked as the No. 5 overall recruit in the 2016 247Sports Composite and enrolled early to compete for the starting job this spring. Eason should benefit from the hire of veteran coordinator Jim Chaney, as well as standout line coach Sam Pittman for a Georgia offense needing a spark after averaging only 22.9 points in SEC games last season. Starting as a true freshman in the SEC isn’t easy, but Eason has all of the physical tools and talent needed to succeed right away.
Quinton Flowers, USF
A big reason for USF’s improvement in the win column in 2015 was the rise of the “Gulf Coast Offense” under coach Willie Taggart. The Bulls averaged 33.6 points a game last season, a significant increase from the 17.2 average in 2014. Flowers’ emergence in 2015 was a key cog in the development of the offense, as the Miami native tossed a school-record 22 touchdowns and added 991 yards and 12 scores on the ground. Flowers finished fifth in the American Athletic Conference by averaging 252.4 total yards per game and did not throw an interception in four out of the last seven contests. Continuing to make strides as a passer is the top offseason priority for Flowers.
Deondre Francois/Malik Henry, Florida State
Sean Maguire finished 2015 as Florida State’s starter, but there’s a good chance a freshman takes the first snap of the year under center for the Seminoles. Francois – the No. 64 player in the 2015 247Sports Composite – is expected to push Maguire or win the starting job this spring. Henry – the No. 48 prospect in the 2016 247Sports Composite – will also factor into the mix.
Kenny Hill, TCU
Hill threw for 2,649 yards and 23 touchdowns in eight games with the Aggies in 2014 but was benched in favor of Kyle Allen. Hill decided to transfer to TCU after the 2014 season and is expected to replace Trevone Boykin as the team’s starting quarterback. The Horned Frogs have to revamp their offensive line, but Hill has a solid group of skill players in place and should be a good fit in coordinator Doug Meacham’s spread offense. Can Hill return to the form that garnered him the nickname "Kenny Trill" at Texas A&M? If he can, TCU's offense should remain near the top of the Big 12.
Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Since Bobby Petrino’s return to Louisville in 2014, the quarterback position has been somewhat of a revolving door for the Cardinals. Three players earned a start in 2014 and the same held true in 2015. But the carousel ended late in 2015, as Jackson emerged as the team’s clear No. 1 against Kentucky and in the Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M. Jackson completed 12 of 26 throws for 227 yards and two scores and added 226 yards (second most by a quarterback in FBS bowl history) and two touchdowns on the ground in Louisville’s 27-21 victory over the Aggies. The dynamic freshman fell just 40 yards short of 1,000 on the ground and posted one 300-yard passing performance (307 – Florida State). Jackson is still developing as a passer, but his rushing ability and overall talent will be tough for ACC defenses to contain in 2016.
Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State
After a strong sophomore campaign, the arrow on Lamb’s potential for Appalachian State is trending up. The Mountaineers are the early favorite to win the Sun Belt next season, and Lamb is poised to push for first-team all-conference honors after only earning an honorable mention in 2015. In 13 games last year, Lamb threw for 31 touchdowns and 2,387 yards and rushed for 436 yards and five scores. The Mountaineers lost three out of their top four receivers from last year, but Lamb’s return and a deep stable of running backs will keep this offense performing at a high level.
Chase Litton, Marshall
Replacing a four-year starter at quarterback with fingerprints all over the Marshall record book was no easy assignment for coach Doc Holliday last season. But the Thundering Herd eventually found the right quarterback, as Litton started the final 11 games and finished the year with 2,605 passing yards and 23 scores. The Florida native also completed 60.1 percent of his throws and threw for 486 yards in a 34-10 victory over Charlotte. Marshall entered last season’s spring practices looking for a quarterback. One year later, the Thundering Herd can now focus on building around Litton and competing for Conference USA’s East Division title once again.
Tanner Mangum, BYU
Mangum was thrown into the fire last season after Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending foot injury in the opener against Nebraska. While Mangum was a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class, the 2015 season was his first opportunity for extended action after a two-year mission to Chile. However, Mangum showed no rust in his first snaps with the Cougars, which included a Hail Mary touchdown pass to beat Nebraska, a game-winning score against Boise State with less than a minute to go and wins in seven out of BYU’s final nine games. Mangum finished 2015 with 3,377 passing yards and 23 scores and will be one of the building blocks (if he can hold off Hill for the starting job) for new coach Kalani Sitake in 2016.
Kent Myers, Utah State
Injuries hit Utah State’s quarterback position hard over the last three seasons, and coach Matt Wells seems due for better luck under center in 2016. Myers has showed plenty of ability over the last two years and finished 2015 with 1,950 total yards. Additionally, Myers has tossed only six interceptions on 318 career pass attempts. With Chuckie Keeton expiring his eligibility, it's Myers job to lose this spring.
Dakota Prukop, Oregon
Oregon’s FCS-to-FBS graduate transfer route worked well last season with the addition of Vernon Adams. Can the Ducks strike gold two years in a row? Prukop certainly seems like a great fit in Eugene. The Texas native accumulated 3,525 yards of total offense with Montana State in 2014 and was even more prolific in 2015. In 11 contests, Prukop threw for 3,025 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for 797 yards and 11 scores. Transitioning from the FCS level to the speed and talent of the Pac-12 will present a few challenges. However, Prukop seems ready for a new challenge at the Pac-12 level.
Josh Rosen, UCLA
Rosen was the nation’s top freshman quarterback in 2015, and high expectations surround the California native entering offseason workouts and spring practice for the 2016 campaign. Rosen started all 13 games for coach Jim Mora and threw for 3,669 yards and 23 scores. Additionally, Rosen completed 60 percent of his passes and finished with six performances of 300 yards or more. There are some question marks surrounding Rosen’s supporting cast next fall, but all of the skills and talent are in place for the former five-star recruit to take another step forward in his development.
Brett Rypien, Boise State
Rypien and Ryan Finley are slated to compete for the starting job this spring, but it’s hard to pick against Rypien winning the job after a solid true freshman campaign. Finley was lost for the season after he suffered an ankle injury against Idaho State on Sept. 18, and Rypien saw his first snaps for the Broncos, completing 8 of 9 passes for 126 yards against the Bengals. Rypien started the final 10 games for coach Bryan Harsin and finished with 3,350 yards and 20 touchdown passes. He also completed 63.6 percent of his throws and earned first-team All-Mountain West honors last season. Boise State’s offense has produced its share of prolific quarterbacks in recent years, and Rypien has the talent to be one of the nation’s top Group of 5 passers this season.
Brent Stockstill, MTSU
Stockstill was one of the nation’s top freshmen quarterbacks last season and is poised to take another step forward in his development this fall under new coordinator Tony Franklin. In 13 games last year, Stockstill threw for 4,005 yards and 30 scores and set a FBS freshman record with 327 completions. Additionally, Stockstill’s 66.7 completion percentage ranked second in Conference USA to WKU’s Brandon Doughty, while his 4,005 passing yards were the most by a freshman in 2015. He also finished the season by throwing for 300 or more yards in five out of MTSU’s final six games.
Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
Marquise Williams earned second-team All-ACC honors last season and finished his career in Chapel Hill with 96 career touchdowns. However, North Carolina’s offense won’t miss a beat in 2016 with a new quarterback under center. Trubisky has waited his turn behind Williams but has played in 19 games over the last two seasons and completed 82 of 125 passes for 1,014 yards in that span. The Ohio native was a four-star recruit out of high school and should emerge as one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks next fall.
Related: Early ACC Predictions for 2016
Favian Upshaw, Georgia Southern
Georgia Southern’s offense is in good hands at the quarterback spot with the talented duo of Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw back for 2016. After rushing for 199 yards and four scores in the GoDaddy Bowl win over Bowling Green, can Upshaw push for more playing time under new coach Tyson Summers?
Davis Webb, Colorado
Webb was considered a rising star at Texas Tech after throwing 44 touchdowns in his first two years in Lubbock. However, late in the 2014 season, Webb suffered an ankle injury and did not play in the final four games. Patrick Mahomes replaced Webb in the starting lineup and never surrendered the job in 2015. Prior to his injury, Webb threw for 2,539 yards and 24 touchdowns and completed 61.2 percent of his throws in 2014. With Mahomes entrenched as the starter, Webb is heading to Colorado for 2016 via the graduate transfer route. There’s no guarantee Webb takes the first snap for the Buffaloes, but returning starter Sefo Liufau is recovering from a Lisfranc injury and may not play in 2016. While the starting job isn’t guaranteed, it’s hard to believe Webb would transfer to Colorado and sit on the bench. He should be an impact transfer for coach Mike MacIntyre.
Other Quarterbacks to Watch
Austin Allen, Arkansas
Austin’s brother – Brandon Allen – expired his eligibility after the bowl win against Kansas State. Austin has played sparingly the last two seasons and has to hold off talented transfer Ricky Town.
Drew Barker, Kentucky
With Patrick Towles transferring, there’s no question about Barker’s playing time. It’s his time to shine in Lexington.
Christian Chapman, San Diego State
Aztecs still lean heavily on their ground attack and defense, but Chapman showed promise after taking over for an injured Maxwell Smith last season.
Eric Dungey, Syracuse
Dungey showed promise as a true freshman last season (1,298 yards and 11 scores) and should handle the controls of Dino Babers’ high-powered offense at Syracuse this season.
Nelson Fishback, WKU
Brandon Doughty will be tough to replace, but the Hilltoppers should still have one of the top offenses in Conference USA next season. Fishback worked as Doughty’s backup last year and faces competition from transfers Mike White (USF) and Tyler Ferguson (Louisville) for the starting job.
Nick Fitzgerald/Elijah Staley, Mississippi State
Replacing Dak Prescott won’t be easy, but coach Dan Mullen has some intriguing options returning under center. Damian Williams returns from a redshirt year, while Fitzgerald and Staley have showed promise in limited snaps.
Justice Hansen, Arkansas State
Former Oklahoma quarterback is back on the FBS level after a stint at Butler Community College.
Ben Hicks, SMU
Talented redshirt freshman could push Matt Davis for the starting job this offseason.
James Knapke, Bowling Green
Matt Johnson leaves big shoes to fill in Bowling Green. However, new coach Mike Jinks can turn to Knapke (3,173 yards, 15 TDs in 2014) as a capable replacement in 2016.
Jalan McClendon, NC State
McClendon was a four-star recruit out of high school and redshirted in his first season with the Wolfpack. He saw limited snaps (8 of 14 for 69 yards) last year and is the favorite to replace Jacoby Brissett.
Riley Neal, Ball State
Neal is a promising signal-caller for coach Mike Neu to build around in his debut in Muncie. Neal threw for 2,276 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 399 yards and two scores after replacing Jack Milas as the team’s starter.
John O’Korn, Michigan
O’Korn threw for 3,117 yards and 28 touchdowns for Houston in 2013 but lost the starting job to Greg Ward in 2014 and transferred to Michigan. He’s the frontrunner to replace Jake Rudock.
Kenny Potter, San Jose State
Potter shined in his first year with San Jose State and guided the program to a bowl win over Georgia State. The junior college recruit threw for 1,984 yards and 15 scores and rushed for 415 yards and seven touchdowns.
Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
Coach Derek Mason removed Shurmur’s redshirt midway through 2015, and the Pennsylvania native finished the year with 503 passing yards and five touchdowns in five games. He should take a step forward with a full offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback.
Brandon Silvers, Troy
Silvers took a step forward under new coach Neal Brown last year (2,378 yards and 20 TDs) and should emerge as one of the Sun Belt’s top quarterbacks in 2016.
Garrett Smith, ULM
Solid freshman season (2,033 yards and 17 TDs) ended early due to injury. A key cog returning for new coach Matt Viator.
Brady White, Arizona State
White ranked as the No. 67 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite and is slated to compete with Manny Wilkins and Bryce Perkins for the starting job this offseason.
Logan Woodside, Toledo
Woodside used 2015 as a redshirt year after starting 11 games in relief of an injured Phillip Ely in 2014. Woodside threw for 2,263 yards and 19 scores in 2014 and completed 62.5 percent of his passes.
Thomas Woodson, Akron
Woodson is developing as a passer, but he accumulated 2,793 total yards and 20 overall scores last season.