The Big 12 has been home to some of the top quarterbacks in college football during the BCS Era. The conference isn’t at an elite level under center in 2014, but the talent is clearly on the rise.
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty should be a candidate for All-America honors after throwing for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns last season. As if those numbers aren’t enough to consider Petty among the best in the country, consider he tossed only three interceptions on 403 attempts and completed 62 percent of his throws.
Kansas State’s Jake Waters takes the No. 2 spot in Athlon’s Big 12 quarterback rankings, while Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight and Texas Tech’s Davis Webb are close behind.
There’s plenty of uncertainty after the top four, as Texas’ David Ash, TCU’s Trevone Boykin, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach and Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh all have upside in 2014. However, each of the quarterbacks also has question marks, and some are still competing for a starting job.
Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the rankings that will shape preseason predictions for this year.
Ranking the Big 12 Starting Quarterbacks for 2014
1. Bryce Petty, Baylor (SR)
From a statistical standpoint, Petty — not Manziel, Murray, Miller, Mariota or McCarron — could have been the best quarterback in the nation last year. The Baylor quarterback posted 4,409 total yards of offense at 8.9 yards per play, scored 46 touchdowns and threw just three interceptions (read that sentence again, please, so that it sinks in). He won 11 games, a Big 12 championship and embarrassed defenses along the way. Is it reasonable to expect a repeat performance in 2014? Probably not, especially with the losses on both sides of the ball. The Bears are replacing several key defenders, and guard Cyril Richardson, running back Lache Seastrunk and receiver Tevin Reese have departed from the offense. But Petty is the complete package at the quarterback position and is in one of the best offensive systems in the nation. Heisman Trophy conversation isn't a stretch at all for the Bears QB.
2. Jake Waters, Kansas State (SR)
After a successful two-year stint at Iowa Western Community College, Waters continued to perform at a high level in his first season as Kansas State’s starter. Waters started all 13 games for the Wildcats, throwing for 2,469 yards and 18 touchdowns. He completed 61.2 percent of his throws and tossed only nine interceptions on 260 attempts. Waters’ success wasn’t just limited to the air, as he added 312 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 118 attempts. Daniel Sams received some time under center last year, but he is expected to lineup at receiver in 2014. With Sams, Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton and junior college recruit Andre Davis returning as pass catchers, Waters will be throwing to one of the Big 12’s top receiving groups. And with another offseason to work with co-coordinators Dana Dimel and Del Miller, Waters is primed for a solid year in Manhattan.
3. Trevor Knight, Oklahoma (SO)
A bowl game isn’t the best judge of a player or team, but Knight’s performance in the Sugar Bowl could be a sign of major progress in his development. Against Alabama – one of the nation’s top defenses – Knight threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns on 32 completions. The Texas native’s four passing touchdowns against the Crimson Tide nearly equaled his total from the regular season (five). The Sugar Bowl wasn’t the only standout performance for Knight, as he totaled 253 yards and two touchdowns in a huge road win over Kansas State. Injuries limited Knight’s snaps at times last year, as he finished with only 819 passing yards and nine touchdowns, while rushing for 445 yards and two scores. Knight is still developing, so there will be a few ups and downs in 2014. However, there’s a lot of upside, and Knight is ready to build off a strong finish to last season.
4. Davis Webb, Texas Tech (SO)
Unlike in his first season as the head coach, Kliff Kingsbury and the Red Raiders enter 2014 with zero questions about the quarterback position. Webb, a sophomore from Prosper, Texas, entered the starting lineup midway through the season as a freshman and posted four 400-yard games. Among them was a Holiday Bowl Offensive MVP performance in an upset win over Arizona State. And if his excellent play in the second half a year ago wasn't enough to prove he was fully capable of grabbing the reigns to the Tech offense, his top two competitors for playing time — Baker Mayfield and Michael Brewer — have left the program. The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder did miss two games last year and his wiry, beanpole frame is in desperate need of added bulk and strength, but otherwise, Texas Tech is potentially poised for yet another 5,000-yard passer.
Listen to our staff discuss every team in the Big 12 as they start to look to 2014.
5. J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State (JR)
Developing quarterbacks has been pretty routine for Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, so Walsh could be in for a big season as the starter in a potent offense. However, the Texas native isn’t completely secure as the No. 1 option in Stillwater, as true freshman Mason Rudolph and junior Daxx Garman are pushing for time. Walsh started five games in 2013 and finished with 1,333 passing yards and nine touchdowns. He also added 294 yards and three scores on the ground. Walsh spent the spring trying to become a better passer, as he finished 2013 by completing 59.5 percent of his throws and averaged 11.8 yards per completion last year. With Oklahoma State losing seven starters and a handful of backups on defense, the Cowboys will need their offense to carry this team early in 2014. Walsh has room to improve as a passer, but with Gundy and coordinator Mike Yurcich in control, Oklahoma State’s offense shouldn’t be much of a concern.
6. David Ash, Texas (JR)
After showing marked improvement from his freshman season (1,068 yds, 4 TD, 8 INT) to his sophomore season (2,699 yds, 19 TD, 8 INT), the question of Ash's ability to make plays and win games was answered pretty clearly. However, he missed 10 games due to ongoing concussion issues a year ago and broke his foot late in spring practice. He is expected to be healthy for the start of fall camp and is clearly the best option to run Charlie Strong's new offense. But Ash is also one big hit away from being in the hospital and questions about his ability to stay healthy loom large in Austin. There is little experienced depth behind Ash on the roster and Strong desperately needs his junior quarterback to stay healthy. Should Ash prove capable of staying on the field, this Texas team has the roster and coaching staff to compete for a Big 12 title.
7. Trevone Boykin, TCU (JR)
Boykin is far from a polished passer but he may be Gary Patterson's best bet at the quarterback position. The junior from Mesquite, Texas has the most experience of any passer on the roster by a wide margin and is the best athlete of the bunch as well. That said, the Frogs staff would like to see more balance and stability from the quarterback position, and Boykin needs to improve from within the pocket as a passer. Coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie likely won't be afraid to give chances to the rest of the depth chart if Boykin — who can be used all over the offense — can't develop as a passer. Tyler Matthews and two freshmen, Grayson Muehlstein and Foster Sawyer, should all see plenty of snaps in the summer and both Meacham and Cumbie have started freshmen under center at previous jobs.
Related Content: Is TCU a sleeper team to watch in the Big 12 in 2014?
8. Grant Rohach, Iowa State (SO)
Rohach seized control of the starting job for Iowa State late last season, and all signs point to improvement in 2014. In the final two games of 2013, Rohach threw for 631 yards and six touchdowns, while tossing only two picks on 59 attempts. Yes, those statistics came against Kansas and West Virginia, but it represented a step forward for Iowa State’s offense. Rohach is surrounded by a solid cast of weapons at receiver and running back, and the offensive line will quietly be one of the best in the Big 12. New coordinator Mark Mangino is a good hire for Iowa State, and he should help mold Rohach into a much-improved quarterback in 2014.
9. Clint Trickett, West Virginia (SR)
Uncertainty surrounds West Virginia’s quarterback situation headed into the summer. Trickett missed spring practice due to shoulder surgery, which left Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and Logan Moore to compete for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Millard seems to be the best out of the trio from the spring, but Trickett should get the nod in the fall. After transferring from Florida State last year, Trickett finished the year with 1,605 yards and seven touchdowns in eight appearances. He was the Mountaineers’ No. 1 quarterback when they upset Oklahoma State early in the year and threw for 356 yards against Iowa State in the season finale. If Trickett’s shoulder is 100 percent and he has no ill-effects from last year’s injury, he should reclaim the starting job in the fall.
10. Jake Heaps, Kansas (SR)
Heaps gets the nod here, but Montell Cozart had a solid spring and could get the nod over Heaps for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. And for Heaps, it has been an interesting journey in his college career. He was No. 1 quarterback prospect in the nation and is now battling for starting time on the worst team in the Big 12. It's not what Heaps expected when he signed with BYU out of high school but that is exactly where the senior from famed Skyline High in Seattle finds himself entering his final collegiate season. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound signal caller threw for just 1,414 yards and eight touchdowns last year (11 games) and he didn't play in the lone bright spot — an upset win over West Virginia. This is why Heaps will have to hold off Cozart and sophomore T.J. Millweard if he wants to acquire the keys to the new no-huddle offense. Charlie Weis brought in coordinator John Reagan to install the spread offense and that is music to Heaps' ears as the senior ran a similar system both in high school and at BYU. Heaps has the knowledge and experience to lock down the starting spot in Lawrence early in the process. Should that happen, it would likely yield his best season to date.