Coastal Carolina's Grayson McCall returns as the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback in the Sun Belt Conference for the 2022 college football season. However, the rest of the conference is full of uncertainty and wild-card situations under center. Appalachian State's Chase Brice and Georgia State's Darren Grainger round out the top three, but Marshall, Louisiana, South Alabama, Troy and Old Dominion - likely five bowl teams this fall - all enter the year with a question mark at the game's most important position.
Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2022. 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, 2022 projection, and scheme changes (just to name a few) — were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the Sun Belt Conference for 2022.
Ranking the Sun Belt Quarterbacks for 2022
14. Chandler Fields, Louisiana
Replacing three-year starter Levi Lewis tops the list of priorities for new coach Michael Desormeaux this fall. In addition to guiding the Ragin' Cajuns to four straight Sun Belt West Division titles (and a conference title in '21), Lewis finished his career with more than 10,000 total yards of offense. Fields has played in 13 games over the last three seasons and connected on nine of 13 throws for 106 yards and a score in limited snaps last fall. He will battle Ben Wooldridge and Lance LeGendre for the starting nod.
13. Chandler Rogers, ULM
Rogers started his collegiate career at Southern Miss, followed by a stop at Blinn (Texas) College before his arrival in Monroe. The Texas native started six games (and recorded 12 overall appearances), throwing for 1,311 yards and nine touchdowns to just three picks. Rogers also boasted a solid completion percentage (62.6) and showcased his dangerous running ability with 363 yards and a touchdown. With a full offseason to work as the starter, along with intriguing upside, Rogers has the potential to climb this list by December.
12. Kyle Vantrease, Georgia Southern
Vantrease is an experienced arm to help Georgia Southern in its offensive transition under new coach Clay Helton. The Ohio native arrives in Statesboro after throwing for 4,755 yards and 25 touchdowns to 13 picks in 35 games at Buffalo from 2017-21. Vantrease never tossed more than 10 scores in a season but was relatively efficient (59.2 percent) and averaged 7.3 yards per attempt. Vantrease may not post huge passing totals this year, but his experience is key for an offense looking to find its footing under the new staff.
11. Ty Keyes, Southern Miss
Keyes isn't as proven as some of the names behind him on this list, but we think the redshirt freshman is poised to break out in 2022. A rash of injuries forced coach Will Hall to play six different quarterbacks with running back Frank Gore starting the final three games of '21 under center as a Wildcat option. Keyes - a three-star prospect in the '21 signing class - accounted for 355 passing yards and three scores and added 55 yards on the ground. Hall's offense should be in better shape going into his second year in Hattiesburg, with Keyes expected to provide a spark for this unit as he continues to develop.
10. Hayden Wolff, Old Dominion
Wolff's emergence as the starter also coincided with Old Dominion's run to a bowl game last year. In Wolff's seven starts, the Monarchs went 5-2, including a key five-game winning streak to reach bowl eligibility. However, that late-season surge won't guarantee Wolff the job. Notre Dame transfer Brendon Clark and D.J. Mack are expected to push Wolff for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart this fall. Wolff started three games for ODU in '19 and recorded 10 appearances overall last year. During that stint, the Florida native completed 62.8 percent of his passes for 1,933 yards and 10 touchdowns to seven picks. If Wolff holds onto the job and develops under coach Ricky Rahne, having weapons like tight end Zack Kuntz and receiver Ali Jennings III will give him a shot to easily outperform this spot.
9. Carter Bradley, South Alabama
The Jaguars enter fall practice with a wide-open battle between Bradley and Desmond Trotter to replace Jake Bentley under center. Bradley transferred to Mobile after spending the last four seasons a Toledo, recording snaps in 22 games and throwing for 2,377 yards and 14 touchdowns to eight picks in that span. Trotter has started 16 games over the last three years for the Jaguars and passed for 3,333 yards and 24 touchdowns to just nine picks. He's also added 254 yards and three scores on the ground. Spring practice didn't provide much separation between the two, but South Alabama's offense should be in good hands regardless of which one wins the job.
8. Henry Colombi, Marshall
Grant Wells' decision to transfer to Virginia Tech left a void under center for second-year coach Charles Huff. The Thundering Herd landed Colombi through the transfer portal, which ensures the offense has a veteran to bridge the gap with a promising group of young signal-callers. Colombi is on his third FBS team after beginning his career at Utah State and a two-year stop at Texas Tech. He threw for 460 yards and two touchdowns during 11 appearances with the Aggies and added 2,356 yards and 13 scores through the air during his stint with the Red Raiders. Colombi has averaged 7.3 yards per attempt throughout his career and also has rushed for 308 yards over the last two years. Complicating Colombi's transition into the starting role will be four new starters along the offensive line.
7. Gunnar Watson, Troy
Watson is listed here, but the junior will be pushed this fall by Quayde Hawkins and Utah transfer Peter Costelli. After recording snaps in eight games as a backup from 2018-19, Watson earned the starting role in '20 and threw for 2,141 yards and 16 touchdowns, while also leading the Sun Belt in passing yards per game (237.9). Watson ranked third in the conference in quarterback rating and also connected on 27 throws of 20-plus yards that year. However, the Georgia native fell behind Taylor Powell (now at Eastern Michigan) on the depth chart, before regaining the starting nod in Troy's sixth game. Watson went on to throw for 1,613 yards and eight scores last year but his completion percentage was under 57 percent in four of the team's final seven contests. Troy returns a solid supporting cast around the quarterback, so if Watson (or Costelli or Hawkins) emerges as a clear answer under center, the offense should show marked improvement after recording 22.8 points a game in '21.
6. Todd Centeio, James Madison
Considering James Madison's track record in the FCS division, it won't take long for this program to win at a high level at the FBS level. Also, navigating a 2022 transition year was made a little easier with Centeio's arrival as a transfer from Colorado State to replace Cole Jonson under center. Centeio played 26 games at Temple and Colorado State from 2017-20, but the Florida native is coming off his best year in '21 when he threw for 2,958 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Rams. Centeio also added 439 yards and two scores on the ground last fall. Expect coach Curt Cignetti to get the most out of his talents in '22.
5. James Blackman, Arkansas State
Blackman started five of Arkansas State's first six games last year and threw for 1,344 yards and eight touchdowns to only four picks in that span. However, he suffered an injury against Coastal Carolina and did not record another snap the rest of the season. Prior to Arkansas State, Blackman spent four years at Florida State and recorded 5,445 yards and 43 scores through the air over 32 appearances. The Florida native has showcased plenty of potential through his five seasons on campus. With a little better luck in the health department and some stability around him from the supporting cast, Blackman should be a solid quarterback in the Sun Belt.
4. Layne Hatcher, Texas State
Hatcher has to hold off Ty Evans and CJ Rogers to start in San Marcos this year, but the Arkansas State transfer has displayed plenty of potential (and production) over the last three years. In 32 games with the Red Wolves, Hatcher passed for 7,427 yards and 65 touchdowns to 25 picks. Also, his completion percentage was a solid 61.7. Hatcher has averaged 8.8 yards per pass attempt over his career and his ability to stretch the field has been on display with 33 completions of 40-plus yards over the last three years. If Hatcher can adapt to a new offense and quickly settle in, Texas State's offense should show marked improvement after averaging only 23.1 points a game last fall.
3. Darren Grainger, Georgia State
Grainger's insertion into the starting lineup sparked Georgia State down the stretch, as the Panthers won seven out of their last eight games. The South Carolina native averaged only 17.5 pass attempts a contest, but he made the most of those opportunities, throwing for 1,715 yards and 19 touchdowns to only four picks. Grainger was just as productive on the ground, running for 646 yards and three scores on 134 rushing attempts. The Furman transfer ran for 122 yards in the bowl win over Ball State and posted 91 in a victory against Texas State. Grainger won't make many mistakes (just four picks last year) and should be poised to take another step forward in his development after a full offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback.
2. Chase Brice, Appalachian State
After a season of inconsistent play at Duke in 2020, Brice rebounded in a big way to emerge as one of the top quarterbacks in the Sun Belt last fall. The Georgia native tied for the Sun Belt lead in touchdown passes (27) and connected on 62.1 percent of his throws for 3,337 yards. He also ranked second in the Sun Belt in yards per attempt (8.6) and quarterback rating (151.1) among qualified signal-callers. Brice needs to cut down on the interceptions (11 over 390 attempts) and has to adapt to a new group of receivers after the departure of three key targets. However, with a strong running game and offensive line in place, Brice won't have to shoulder all of the offensive workload this fall.
1. Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina
Coastal Carolina brings back the fewest starters (six) of any team in the Sun Belt this year. However, any concerns about the Chanticleers' ability to reload and push for the conference title are eased by McCall's return. The North Carolina native directed Coastal Carolina's offense to an average of more than 40 points a game in 2021 and he has passed for 5,386 yards and 54 touchdowns since '19. McCall's rushing yardage dipped from 569 in '20 to 290 last year, but his dual-threat ability makes him one of the nation's top all-around signal-callers. Also, his quarterback rating (207.7) and yards per attempt (11.9) led the nation in '21.