25. Jesse Ertz, Kansas State
After missing all of 2015 because of a knee injury suffered on his first snap, Ertz returned and flashed his dual-threat ability last season. While guiding the Wildcats to a 9-4 record, Ertz threw for 1,755 yards and nine touchdowns and rushed for an additional 1,012 yards and 12 scores.
24. Jake Bentley, South Carolina
Bentley appeared to be on the path to a redshirt year last season, but head coach Will Muschamp decided to play the true freshman in late October. The move paid dividends for the Gamecocks, as Bentley gained valuable experience and also guided the team to a 4-3 record over the final seven games. After throwing for 1,420 yards and nine scores in less than a full season, Bentley is poised for an even bigger (and better) 2017 campaign.
23. Shea Patterson, Ole Miss
Chad Kelly’s late-season knee injury forced head coach Hugh Freeze to remove Patterson’s redshirt for the final three games. In Patterson’s first start, he led the Rebels to a 29-28 victory at Texas A&M by throwing for 338 yards and two scores and adding 64 yards on the ground. Patterson finished 2016 with 880 passing yards and six touchdowns, but also completed a little more than half (52.2 percent) of his attempts over the final two games. The sophomore should take a step forward in his first full season under center.
22. Justin Herbert, Oregon
Herbert assumed the starting job in early October last season and impressed in his seven starts. The Oregon native showed remarkable poise for a freshman with only four interceptions on 255 attempts, while throwing for 1,936 yards and 19 scores. Additionally, Herbert rushed for 161 yards and two touchdowns. He should thrive under new head coach Willie Taggart.
21. Jacob Eason, Georgia
As expected with any true freshman quarterback, Eason had his share of ups and downs last fall. However, the five-star recruit showed flashes of his potential by throwing for 2,430 yards and 16 scores. Georgia’s supporting cast around Eason is a work in progress, as the offensive line and receiving corps are two preseason question marks. Eason has all of the arm talent to rank among the best in the SEC. Will he take a step forward in 2017?
20. Josh Allen, Wyoming
After his 2015 season was cut short due to injury, Allen emerged as one of the nation’s top Group of 5 quarterbacks and guided Wyoming to a Mountain West Mountain Division title last fall. In 14 starts, Allen threw for 3,203 yards and 28 scores and rushed for 523 yards and seven touchdowns. Allen won’t have key targets Tanner Gentry, Jake Maulhardt and Jacob Hollister to throw to in 2017, but the junior should be in the mix for first-team all-conference honors.
19. Brett Rypien, Boise State
It’s a close call for the top spot among Mountain West quarterbacks, but let’s give Rypien the nod over Josh Allen. As a sophomore in 2016, Rypien threw for 3,646 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also earned first-team All-Mountain West honors for the second year in a row.
18. Mike White, WKU
White thrived under former head coach Jeff Brohm, as he earned second-team All-Conference USA honors after throwing for 4,363 yards and 37 scores last year. New head coach Mike Sanford should keep WKU’s offense performing at a high level, but top targets Taywan Taylor (98 catches) and Nicholas Norris (76) will be missed.
(Photo courtesy of WKU Athletics/Steve Roberts)
17. Brent Stockstill, Middle Tennessee
A collarbone injury limited Stockstill to just 10 games in 2016, but he still finished the year with 3,233 yards and 31 touchdown passes. Over the last two seasons as Middle Tennessee’s No. 1 quarterback, Stockstill has thrown 61 TD passes. His return to full strength should help the Blue Raiders contend for the Conference USA title in 2017.
16. Logan Woodside, Toledo
Woodside headlined Toledo’s explosive offense last season and claimed first-team All-MAC honors after torching opposing defenses for 4,129 yards and 45 scores. He tossed at least two touchdowns in every game and finished fourth nationally by completing 69.1 percent of his pass attempts.
15. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Replacing the best player (Dak Prescott) in school history wasn’t going to be easy for Mississippi State last year. However, Fitzgerald ended 2016 as one of the top breakout players in the SEC and is poised to challenge for all-conference honors this fall. As evidenced by his 1,375 rushing yards and SEC-leading 16 touchdowns, Fitzgerald is a difference-maker on the ground. He also passed for 2,423 yards and 21 scores.
14. Austin Allen, Arkansas
A midseason knee injury seemed to slow Allen in the second half of 2016, but his first year as a starter was a success. Over 13 games, Allen threw for 3,430 yards and 25 touchdowns. He also led all SEC quarterbacks by connecting on 53 passes of 20 or more yards. A rebuilt receiving corps will be an early challenge for Allen in 2017.
13. Deondre Francois, Florida State
The Seminoles will be looking for Francois to take the next step in his development in 2017. As a redshirt freshman last fall, Francois completed 58.8 percent of his throws for 20 scores and added 196 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. After taking several monster hits, there’s no question about Francois’ toughness or willingness to stand in the pocket and deliver a strike. However, head coach Jimbo Fisher would like to see Francois get rid of the ball quicker and improve his accuracy this offseason.
12. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Stidham ranked as one of the top quarterback recruits in the 2015 signing class and was pressed into action as a true freshman at Baylor following a season-ending injury to Seth Russell. Stidham showcased his talent in the limited stint, throwing for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns. He left Waco following the dismissal of Art Briles and spent 2016 at a junior college but did not play. Stidham figures to be the missing piece for Auburn’s offense.
11. Jalen Hurts, Alabama
The emergence of Hurts played a key role in Alabama’s run to the College Football Playoff last season. And with 14 starts under his belt as a true freshman, Hurts should be even better in his second year as a starter. The running ability of Hurts (954 yards, 13 TDs) brings a different dimension to the Alabama offense. However, Hurts is still developing as a passer.
10. Josh Rosen, UCLA
A shoulder injury ended Rosen’s season prematurely, but the junior is slated to return to full strength for 2017. As Rosen showed in 2015 as a true freshman, he’s one of the nation’s top quarterbacks and could climb by a few spots on this list by the end of this season. However, he also needs more help from the ground attack and his offensive line.
9. Trace McSorley, Penn State
The emergence of McSorley and hire of Joe Moorhead as the program’s play-caller provided a needed spark for Penn State’s offense last season. McSorley spent 2015 as Christian Hackenberg’s backup and entered ‘16 with just 40 career pass attempts. But McSorley didn’t take long to grow into the starting job and finished with 3,614 passing yards and 29 scores while also adding 365 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. He should push Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett for first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2017.
8. Luke Falk, Washington State
Falk is the catalyst for Washington State’s high-powered passing game. He’s eclipsed 4,000 yards and passed for 38 scores in back-to-back years. Falk ranked fourth nationally by averaging 343.7 passing yards per game last season.
7. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State’s Big 12 title hopes rest on Rudolph’s right arm and the big-play connection with wide receiver James Washington. Rudolph has developed into one of the nation’s best quarterbacks over the last three seasons and should push for All-America honors after throwing for 4,091 yards and 28 touchdowns last year.