The Sun Belt features two quarterbacks ranked among the best among Group of 5 conferences for 2020. Appalachian State's Zac Thomas and Louisiana's Levi Lewis lead the way atop the conference, as both players return after standout 2019 campaigns. Arkansas State will have a prolific offense, but there's an ongoing battle between Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher for the starting job. Georgia Southern's Shai Werts and South Alabama's Desmond Trotter round out the top five.
Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2020. 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, 2020 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) — were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the Sun Belt for 2020.
Ranking the Sun Belt's Quarterbacks for 2020
10. Colby Suits, ULM
Suits has big shoes to fill in replacing Caleb Evans this fall. The former ULM signal-caller ranked second in the Sun Belt by averaging 311.1 total yards of offense per game in 2019. Suits played in four games as the backup to Evans and connected on six of 19 throws for 69 yards and two picks last fall. The Texas native also played in one contest in 2018 and threw for 91 yards on six completions. Suits will be pushed for the starting job by junior college recruit Jeremy Hunt and freshmen Hayes Crockett and Garrett Kahmann.
9. Cornelious Brown, Georgia State
A late-season knee injury to starter Dan Ellington allowed Brown to gain valuable experience in 2019. The Alabama native played in four contests in his freshman campaign last year, connecting on 11 of 28 throws for 130 yards and adding 15 more yards on the ground. Vanderbilt transfer Jamil Muhammad and redshirt freshman Kierston Harvey will push Brown for the starting job this fall.
8. Brady McBride, Texas State
McBride sat out the 2019 season after transferring to Texas State from Memphis. The Texas native played in three games as a freshman with the Tigers in 2018, completing eight of 14 throws for 88 yards and a pick. McBride was a prolific passer in high school, as he threw for 6,516 yards and 86 touchdowns at Coppell (Texas). Entering his sophomore season, McBride could provide a needed spark to an offense that averaged only 18.4 points a game in 2019.
7. Fred Payton, Coastal Carolina
Payton and Bryce Carpenter each started six games for Coastal Carolina in 2019, so head coach Jamey Chadwell has two proven signal-callers to utilize this fall. Athlon gives the edge to Payton, but both quarterbacks are likely to see time in 2020. Payton started the first six games of 2019 before suffering an injury. Despite the injury, the Georgia native threw for 1,421 yards (63.3 percent) and 12 touchdowns to just seven picks. Payton also added 181 yards on the ground last fall.
6. Gunnar Watson, Troy
Watson was named Troy's starting quarterback in mid-August, winning a competition that also featured junior college recruit Parker McNeil and Jacob Free this offseason. Over the last two seasons, Watson has played in eight contests as a backup. He threw for 89 yards over 13 completions in six appearances last fall and connected on eight passes for 45 yards as a freshman in 2018. Kaleb Barker led the Sun Belt in total offense per game, so Watson has big shoes to fill this fall for the Trojans.
5. Desmond Trotter, South Alabama
Trotter is Athlon's pick to break out in the Sun Belt this year. After a redshirt season in 2018, Trotter received playing time in eight contests, including starts over South Alabama's final four games. The Jaguars had only one game of more than 27 points prior to that stretch but reached at least 27 points scored in three out of Trotter's four starts. Additionally, the Alabama native threw for 279 yards and four touchdowns in South Alabama's only win in Sun Belt play (Arkansas State). Trotter finished 2019 with 820 passing yards and eight touchdowns to two picks, while also adding 197 yards on the ground.
4. Shai Werts, Georgia Southern
Werts won't put up huge stats through the air, but the senior directs one of the nation's top rushing attacks. The Eagles finished seventh nationally in rushing offense in back-to-back years, with Werts collecting 560 carries since 2017. The South Carolina native has rushed for 2,363 yards and 23 touchdowns with the Eagles and tied for fifth in the conference last fall with 31 runs of 10 or more yards. In his career in Statesboro, Werts has thrown for 2,715 yards and 26 touchdowns to just six picks.
3. Logan Bonner, Arkansas State
Whether it's Bonner or Layne Hatcher under center, Arkansas State is poised to have one of the Sun Belt's top offenses once again in 2020. Hatcher — a transfer from Alabama — assumed the starting job after Bonner was lost for the year in September. He proceeded to throw for 2,946 yards and 27 touchdowns and connected on 65.8 percent of his passes over 10 games. Before a season-ending thumb injury, Bonner threw for 1,052 yards and 10 scores in his five appearances. Bonner gets the nod in this space, but the Arkansas State has to feel good about its quarterback room with two proven options.
2. Levi Lewis, Louisiana
Lewis delivered a breakout year in his first season as the starter for the Ragin' Cajuns. The Baton Rouge native played in four games in 2017 and received snaps in 14 contests in '18. Lewis assumed the full-time starting role last fall and proceeded to throw for 3,050 yards and 26 touchdowns to just four picks. Additionally, he averaged a healthy 8.1 yards per attempt and connected on 64.3 percent of his passes. Lewis also ran for 195 yards and three scores on the ground. The 2019 totals in yardage (3,050) and passing touchdowns (26) ranked as the best in a single season in Louisiana school history.
1. Zac Thomas, Appalachian State
Thomas has been a key cog in Appalachian State's 24-3 record over the last two seasons and ranks among the top Group of 5 quarterbacks for 2020. The Alabama native threw for 2,039 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2018 but improved upon those totals in head coach Eli Drinkwitz's one season in Boone. Thomas upped his passing yardage to 2,718 and tossed 28 overall scores in 14 games last fall. He also led all Sun Belt quarterbacks with six completions of 50 yards or more. Over the last two years, Thomas also has posted 904 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. While Thomas will be on his third play-caller in three years, don't expect the production or success to change in 2020.
Podcast: Breaking Down College Football's QB Rankings for 2020