People are tired of hearing about the SEC, but it was a truly remarkable season for quarterbacks in the nation’s toughest conference.
And the roster of SEC signal-callers in 2014 could be as bad as '13 was good.
Mike Slive will say goodbye to half of his starting quarterbacks this offseason, including the SEC’s all-time leading passer (Aaron Murray), a Heisman Trophy winner (Johnny Manziel), the most decorated QB in league history (AJ McCarron), the winningest signal-caller in South Carolina history (Connor Shaw) as well as a guy who played for two SEC teams (Zach Mettenberger).
While defense and running the ball figures to be back en vogue down South next year, that isn’t the case with the rest of the nation. The ACC returns the reigning Heisman and national title winner. The Big Ten has its top three talents back under center — all of which could press for All-American honors. And the Pac-12, in particular, will return a deep collection of elite passers with more than one eyeing a trip to New York in December.
A playmaking, game-changing super-quarterback isn’t a must to win a division, conference or national crown. But it sure does help. It’s the most important position on the field and, frankly, a great signal-caller can be plucked from any state in the nation.
So where do the best programs in college football find their on-field leaders?
Athlon has projected the starting quarterbacks for 66 of the biggest programs in the nation, a list that includes the big five conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC) as well as Notre Dame and BYU.
Note: This isn’t meant to be a knock on “small school” players like Navy’s Keenan Reynolds or Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton. It’s merely focused on the biggest programs in the nation and where they find their quarterback.
Some liberties had to be taken. For example, two true freshmen are projected at Alabama (David Cornwell) and Texas A&M (Kyle Allen). Marquise Williams is given the nod over highly-touted Mitch Trubinsky at North Carolina. Talented up-and-comers (Anu Solomon, Johnny McCrary) and guys with some experience (Cyler Miles, Anthony Jennings) were given the benefit of the doubt and awarded a starting spot.
Another note: I acknowledge many of these names won’t start but it is the best possible educated guess at this time.
Here is what I learned about what the state of quarterback play will be in ’14:
There’s stability out West… but not from California
Texas (8), Georgia (6) and Florida (6) are the only states with more starting quarterbacks than California’s five. And the Pac-12 has easily the deepest and most talented roster of quarterbacks of any conference in the nation. However, the league out West hasn’t found a lot of talent in the Golden State’s ranks. Of the 12 Pac-12 starters, only three come from California (Cody Kessler, Sean Mannion, Jared Goff) and only three stayed home to play their college ball (Kessler, Goff, Connor Halliday). Heisman candidates Marcus Mariota (Hawaii), Brett Hundley (Ariz.), Taylor Kelly (Idaho) and Kevin Hogan (Va.) all hail from out-of-state high schools and none are from California. Even rising stars Cyler Miles and Sefo Liufau swapped states, as Miles is from Colorado and playing at Washington while Liufau is from Washington and playing at Colorado. There are great QBs out West but very few of them come from California.
SEC looks to the Peach State
Georgia has established itself as the fourth-most talent-rich state in the country behind the big three (Texas, California, Florida). And the SEC will have a distinct Peach State flavor under center in 2014. Five of the 14 starters — including a new starter at LSU, Georgia and potentially Vanderbilt — will hail from the state of Georgia. Hutson Mason and Anthony Jennings both got their feet wet at the end of ’13 and will be better off for it next fall in their first full season for two conference contenders. Johnny McCrary is the most talented signal-caller Vandy has ever signed (sorry, Jay Cutler) and has a chance to be special for the Dores. Joshua Dobbs has the inside track at Tennessee if he can hold off redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson. And then there is Nick Marshall. Auburn’s zone-read master is likely the preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback and is the defending SEC champ. He is from Pineview, Ga. Additionally, another Southeastern school, Louisville, will likely start a Georgia-based quarterback in Will Gardner. In all, Georgia is second nationally with six projected starters among the top 66 teams.
Ohio could be in for a big year
The State of Ohio ranks fifth nationally in producing starting quarterbacks in 2014 with four potential starters. But what makes this collection of starters special is their massive upside. Connor Cook at Michigan State is already a Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion and has yet to lose a league game in his career. Braxton Miller has Ohio State thinking national championship again after going 24-0 in the regular season the last two years. Maty Mauk is the heir apparent to James Franklin at Missouri and already has shown he has big-time ability in spot duty in 2013. Mauk was a two-time Ohio Player of the Year and owns the national high school passing records for yards (18,932), touchdown passes (219), pass completions (1,353) and total offense (22,681). Finally, Clemson will likely feature an Ohio prospect as Cole Stoudt is in line to take over for the departed Tajh Boyd. All four Ohio quarterbacks will be leading ranked teams in the preseason with eyes on a conference championship.
Big 12 Locks up the Lone Star State
Seven of the 10 Big 12 teams, including 15 of the last 16 teams to win the Big 12 title, will claim a quarterback from the state of Texas in 2014. Lone Star product Bryce Petty is the star of the league and returns to Baylor while Trevor Knight at Oklahoma, J.W. Walsh at Oklahoma State, David Ash at Texas and Davis Webb at Texas Tech all hail form Texas as well. Additionally, Trevone Boykin and Paul Millard could begin the season as starters at TCU and West Virginia, respectively. Both played their high school football in Texas. Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State are the only teams in the league not projected to employ a starting quarterback from the state of Texas. Jake Heaps is from Washington, Jake Waters is from Iowa and Grant Rohach is from California respectively. In all, Texas leads the nation with eight starting quarterbacks — Tommy Armstrong Jr. at Nebraska is from Cibolo, Texas.
Out of state still rules
Of the 66 programs included in this exercise, only 22 teams will start a quarterback from within its state’s borders. Further, six of those 22 starters are the only player from their state pegged to start for the one of the 66 top programs. Devin Gardner at Michigan is the only projected starter from the state of Michigan. Brandon Allen is the only projected starter from the state of Arkansas. The same can be said for Terrel Hunt at Syracuse (New York), Wes Lunt at Illinois, Danny Etling at Purdue (Indiana) and Philip Nelson at Minnesota. Otherwise, of the very early preseason top 10 teams in 2014, only two boast an in-state quarterback.
• Pennsylvania used to be a hot bed for elite quarterbacks as a long list of NFL Hall of Famers hail from the Keystone State. Now, however, the talent appears to have dried up. Two years ago when I did this exercise, there were four starters at the major college programs — CJ Brown, Ryan Nassib, Tino Sunseri, Matt McGloin — but only Maryland’s Brown remains as a starting quarterback from Pennsylvania in big-time college football.
• A few years ago, the ACC was chalk full of quarterbacks from Virginia. Tajh Boyd, EJ Manuel, Bryn Renner, Mike Glennon and Logan Thomas have all moved on from the league and only David Watford at Virginia remains. That said, Christian Hackenberg (Penn State) and Kevin Hogan (Stanford) are excellent quarterbacks from the Commonwealth but the ACC let both of them get away.
• In general, Idaho doesn’t produce many big-time college football prospects. There were eight total players ranked by 247Sports in the entire 2013 signing class from Idaho and only one, Eric Cotton to Stanford, signed with a “Big 5” program. However, two potential Heisman candidates in ’14 hail from The Gem State. Arizona State’s third-year starter Taylor Kelly is one of the nation’s most effective players while BYU’s Taysom Hill is one of the best athletes in the country who showed marked improvement as a passer ball during his first full season as the starter in Provo.
• Florida is considered my many to be the most talented state in the country. But it could be severely lacking in talent under center. Jeff Driskel should be back at Florida and gets a bad rap for his play. Trevor Siemian is a solid player who splits time at Northwestern. Jake Rudock might be the best of the bunch as he helped turn Iowa around this fall. Jacoby Brissett, Tyler Cameron and Mark Leal should all step into starting roles in the ACC at NC State, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech respectively. The Sunshine State is second nationally with six starters but do any of them strike fear into opposing defenses?