USC could have one of the most underrated passing attacks this fall.
Do most SEC fans know who Taylor Kelly is? That he is the only other player in the nation other than the great Johnny Manziel to throw for at least 3,000 yards and rush for at least 500 in each of the last two seasons?
Because if not, they should. Which is why Kelly is ranked by Athlon Sports as the No. 8 quarterback in college football heading into the 2014 campaign.
So using that list of the best quarterbacks in the nation to determine exactly what “underrated” is — for this exercise, anyone not ranked in the top 15 — here are the most underrated signal-callers in college football this fall.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (Jr.)
The Bulldogs are one of just three teams from the Big 5 conferences that have never had a QB drafted in the modern era (1977). But with great leadership, poise, toughness and a special blend of size (6-foot-2, 235 pounds) and athleticism (829 yards rushing last year), Prescott could be the first. He should also be the first 3,000-yard passer in school history. Dan Mullen has built a deep roster in Starkville and now he has the quarterback to go along with it. Look for Prescott and the Bulldogs to make plenty of noise this fall.
Davis Webb, Texas Tech (So.)
There are few players in the nation who are safer bets to reach 4,000 yards and/or 30 touchdown passes this year than Webb. He proved himself as a freshman last year, throwing for over 300 yards five times in just six starts — including his marquee, 385-yard performance in the upset of Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Look for monster numbers from Tech’s quarterback this fall.
Taylor Heinicke, Old Dominion (Sr.)
He’s started 33 straight games for ODU and is one of the most decorated and prolific passers in college football history. He is one of just 18 Division I quarterbacks to throw at least 100 touchdowns (102) and is 29th all-time in NCAA history with 11,483 yards entering his senior season. The Monarchs will have chances to showcase Heinicke against the ACC (NC State), the SEC (Vanderbilt) and Marshall.
Keenan Reynolds, Navy (Jr.)
The Navy quarterback won’t ever make headlines for passing the football but Reynolds certainly made a statement as a runner last fall. Reynolds set the single season TD record for a quarterback with 31 rushing scores. He finished with 1,346 yards on 300 carries. Few players are better suited to run the triple option than the Nashville native.
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana (Jr.)
In two seasons splitting time under center, Sudfeld has helped Indiana lead the Big Ten in passing offense twice. He posted numbers comparable to most Big Ten starters last fall (2,523 yards, 21 TDs, 9 INTs) despite sharing the field with Tre Roberson. He now has sole control of Kevin Wilson’s prolific offense and should flourish with huge numbers — and, who knows, maybe a bowl berth for the Hoosiers.
C.J. Brown, Maryland (Sr.)
If fans are looking for someone else who could join Kelly as a 3,000-500 guy, look no further than Maryland’s Brown. Finally healthy, the Terps' signal-caller threw for 2,242 yards, ran for 576 and accounted for 25 total touchdowns. All without two potential NFL wideouts in Deon Long and Stefon Diggs. Look for Brown (if healthy) to be one of the surprises in the Big Ten this fall.
Cody Kessler, USC (Jr.)
He isn’t a star like most of his Pac-12 brethren, but make no mistake, Kessler has plenty of talent. The Trojans' signal-caller finally grasped Clay Helton’s offense following Lane Kiffin’s firing. He threw 14 touchdown passes and just three interceptions while winning seven of nine games following the regime change. This includes a very impressive 288-yard, TD performance in the marquee win over Stanford. He threw just seven interceptions in 362 attempts and posted career highs (344 yds, 4 TDs) in the season finale bowl win over Fresno State.
Cole Stoudt, Clemson (Sr.)
His story isn’t told all that often any longer in college football. Most players don’t sit and wait their turn like Stoudt has done at Clemson. Now, he is given the reins to one of the most prolific offensive systems in the nation. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder completed 79.3 percent of his passes last year in mop-up duty but has the tempo and quick release coordinator Chad Morris is looking for in 2014.
Will Gardner, Louisville (So.)
The 6-foot-5 pocket passer from Douglas (Ga.) Coffee turned down a scholarship offer from Alabama to attend Louisville. Now, he falls into a Bobby Petrino offense in which his skill set should flourish. A great offensive line, a superstar wide receiver (DeVante Parker) and a talented running game could make this as potent a Petrino offense as any. And it all starts with the 230-pound sophomore.
Marquise Williams, North Carolina (Jr.)
Forced into action when Bryn Renner was injured, Williams acquitted himself admirably in his first chance as a starting college quarterback. Over the final seven games of the season, he rushed for 441 yards, threw for 1,308 yards, scored 17 total touchdowns and led the Tar Heels to a 6-1 record. The offense averaged over 40 points per game during that span and he should only continue to get better this fall.