The Big 12 enters 2018 in an unusual spot. For a conference known for high-powered offenses and standout quarterback play, the league is filled with question marks at the game’s most important position. West Virginia’s Will Grier is the clear No. 1 quarterback, but uncertainty follows in the top five. Texas’ Sam Ehlinger and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray have more upside than Baylor’s Charlie Brewer or Iowa State’s Kyle Kempt. However, how quickly will both players reach their potential? The uncertainty under center extends to the rest of the league, including Oklahoma State and Kansas State. For now, we went with the sure starters at the top (Grier and Brewer). However, Murray and Ehlinger have a ton of upside and could move up this list by December.
To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2018. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, having a clear hold on the No. 1 position, previous production, 2018 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the Big 12 for 2018.
Ranking the Big 12's Quarterbacks for 2018
10. Peyton Bender, Kansas
The Jayhawks have finished last in the Big 12 in scoring offense for eight consecutive seasons. Without better play under center in 2018, that streak is likely to extend to nine. Bender led the team with 1,609 yards and 10 scores but only completed 54.2 percent of his passes. Carter Stanley replaced Bender as the starter late in the 2017 season but didn’t fare much better. He finished the year with 1,108 yards and four touchdowns to seven interceptions. Junior college transfer Miles Kendrick is also in the mix for the starting job. Bender, Kendrick and Stanley could all receive significant snaps this fall.
9. McLane Carter, Texas Tech
Uncertainty surrounds Texas Tech’s quarterback situation for 2018. Carter, Jett Duffey and true freshman Alan Bowman are all in the mix to replace Nic Shimonek. While the spring didn’t provide a clear answer at quarterback, the Red Raiders have a strong track record of finding the right quarterback. Carter played in four games (with one start) and threw for 359 yards and two touchdowns. Duffey received playing time in just one contest, completing both of his passes for 16 yards. Carter is listed here, but Duffey has more upside. Considering the track record of quarterbacks in Lubbock, along with coach Kliff Kingsbury's background at this position, it's safe to assume the Red Raiders will be fine under center.
8. Taylor Cornelius, Oklahoma State
Mason Rudolph leaves big shoes to fill in Stillwater, and the Cowboys left spring practice with former walk-on Taylor Cornelius in front of the quarterback battle. Cornelius completed 6 of 10 passes for 148 yards as Rudolph’s backup in 2017. At Big 12 Media Days, coach Mike Gundy indicated Cornelius was the frontrunner to start the opener, so it would take a lot to unseat the senior in fall practice. The competition will continue into the fall and likely into the season if Cornelius struggles. Hawaii transfer Dru Brown will compete in fall camp after throwing for 2,785 yards and 18 touchdowns last year. Sophomore Keondre Wudtee and true freshman Spencer Sanders (likely the team’s most-talented option) are also in the mix.
7. Shawn Robinson, TCU
Robinson – a former four-star recruit – is the heavy favorite to replace Kenny Hill as TCU’s starting quarterback in 2018. The Texas native played in six contests last year and made a start in relief of Hill against Texas Tech. Robinson completed 6 of 17 passes for 85 yards and added 84 yards on the ground versus the Red Raiders. The sophomore isn’t short on talent and should benefit from a full offseason to work as the starter. Robinson should rank among the top breakout quarterbacks in 2018. Penn transfer Michael Collins is slated to be Robinson's backup this fall.
6. Skylar Thompson, Kansas State
Kansas State closed spring practice with Skylar Thompson and Alex Delton locked into a tight battle for the top spot under center. And as fall practice has progressed, that's the same storyline coming out of Manhattan. While a clear starter hasn't emerged, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Wildcats. Both players showed promise last season and are more than capable of leading the K-State offense. Thompson threw for 689 yards and five touchdowns, while Delton recorded 637. Both players were a threat on the ground, but Delton outrushed Thompson (500 yards to 267). Coach Bill Snyder has two capable quarterbacks at his disposal.
5. Kyle Kempt, Iowa State
Kempt stepped up in a big way last season. He assumed the starting job after Jacob Park left the team in early October and made his first start on the road at Oklahoma. The big moment didn’t rattle Kempt, as he connected on 18 of 24 throws for 343 yards and three touchdowns in an upset over the Sooners. Kempt finished 2017 with 1,787 yards and 15 passing scores and completed 66.3 percent of his passes. He also tossed only three picks on 243 attempts. Kempt won't have standout receiver Allen Lazard to throw to, but Hakeem Butler is poised to emerge as one of the Big 12's top targets in 2018.
4. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
Murray ranks as the No. 4 Big 12 quarterback on this list, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Texas A&M transfer finish 2018 among the top three signal-callers in the conference. Coach Lincoln Riley has insisted the job is open in fall practice, allowing Austin Kendall an opportunity to push Murray for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. While Kendall is talented, it's hard to see him unseating Murray. The former five-star recruit started three games with the Aggies in 2015, completing 59.5 percent of his throws for 686 yards and five scores. He also added 335 yards on the ground. Murray played in seven games (with one start) as Baker Mayfield’s backup last year and connected on 18 of 21 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns. The Texas native is a dynamic runner but is far from a finished product as a passer. The upside is there for a monster season under coach Lincoln Riley. How quickly will Murray settle into the starting job? This will be Murray's only year as a starter in Norman. He was drafted by the Oakland A's in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft and will pursue a baseball career following this season.
3. Sam Ehlinger, Texas
Just like Kyler Murray, don’t be surprised if Ehlinger climbs this list by the end of the 2018 season. All signs point to Ehlinger holding off Shane Buechele for the starting job, and coach Tom Herman is counting on the sophomore to jumpstart an offense that averaged only 25.4 points a game in Big 12 contests last year. As a true freshman last fall, Ehlinger led the team with 1,915 passing yards and tossed 11 scores. He also paced the team in rushing yards (381) and scored twice on the ground. With a full offseason to work as the starter and develop under Herman’s watch, Ehlinger is poised for a big jump in his second year in Austin.
2. Charlie Brewer, Baylor
Baylor should show significant improvement in coach Matt Rhule’s second year. Brewer is one of the main reasons for optimism in Waco, as the Texas native appears poised to build off a promising 2017 season. As a true freshman, Brewer completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 1,562 yards and 11 touchdowns to just four picks. He also added 166 yards on the ground, including 49 against TCU in the season finale. With a loaded receiving corps in place, Brewer is likely to push for All-Big 12 honors in 2018.
Related: Big 12 Football Predictions for 2018
1. Will Grier, West Virginia
The Big 12’s unquestioned No. 1 quarterback resides in Morgantown this season. Grier – a Heisman candidate and a first-team Athlon Sports All-America pick – is at the controls of one of the nation’s top offenses. After sitting out 2016 due to transfer rules, Grier threw for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns in 11 appearances for West Virginia last fall. Additionally, the North Carolina native’s eight completions of 60 yards or more ranked third nationally among all FBS quarterbacks. Grier missed two full games due to a finger injury suffered against Texas on Nov. 18 but will be back at full strength for 2018. He also has one of the nation's top receiving corps at his disposal, along with four returning starters on the offensive line.