SQ's College Football Top 5: Quarterback
As winter turns to spring, college football starts a new chapter. A new season approaches, but it is still too far off for our liking. Therefore, we will fill these agonizing weeks with our position-by-position rankings of the top five players entering the 2015 season; this week we will name our top five signal callers. The only thing we are certain of about next season is that these rankings are sure to be wrong, so let us know why we are full of it in the comments below. Enjoy!
No. 5: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
2014 Stats: Passing - 244/396 (61.6%), 3,449 yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 interceptions
Rushing - 210 attempts, 986 yards, 4.7 yards per carry, 14 touchdowns
During the first half of the 2014 season, it appeared as though Dak Prescott would run away with the Heisman Trophy. His Bulldogs were in the midst of an undefeated season, and the junior quarterback was making plays with both his arm and legs. Playing like former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, Prescott’s childhood role model, the quarterback had 19 total touchdowns and only two interceptions through his first five games. Although he eventually fell out of the Heisman race, Prescott did not falter down the stretch by any means. He still needs to prove that he has the ability to play well in the biggest games, but the Bulldogs’ quarterback should only improve with another year under his belt. This isn’t a quarterback crop at the same level as in recent years, so Prescott has a chance to stand out among his peers.
Erik - The comparison to Tim Tebow is seamlessly perfect. Prescott was one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation last season. Nobody was able to find an answer for him early on, as even LSU’s stout defense was shredded to pieces, and Prescott continued to produce solid numbers all year. In my opinion, the only reason he fell out of the Heisman rankings was because the hype finally caught up to him (that and the team started losing). Prescott was easily one of, if not, the best quarterbacks in the SEC in 2014. Of course, it helps that his number 1 target is 6’5", 220-lbs. Other than Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson, I believe he’ll remain atop the conference in 2015 and reassert himself into the Heisman talks.
William - I agree with Erik, in that the Tebow comparison is definitely spot-on. I think it is interesting however, that Tebow was almost bigger than his team, while Prescott seemed to fall from the spotlight after Mississippi State lost their first game. When he is on, Prescott is one of the toughest players for opposing defenses to contain, and he was on his game a lot in 2014. I doubt that the hype will escalate as quickly as it did last season, but the substance should still be there. It is difficult for an early-season Heisman front-runner to close the deal, because of the hype that builds around that player. This seems to have been the case with Prescott last season, but the Bulldogs’ quarterback is for real and should have a great campaign in 2015.
David - Dak Prescott had a breakout campaign last year and, at one point, it seemed that he was the likely Heisman winner. Like Will and Erik mentioned, Mississippi State’s losing streak toward the end was a big reason why he fell out of the race, but make no mistake, Prescott is the real deal. Other than being able to throw the ball, he can run as well. With his big frame, he is very difficult to take down in the pocket - something that is often overlooked. Prescott enters the 2015 season as the top quarterback in the SEC.
No. 4: Deshaun Watson, Clemson
2014 Stats: Passing - 93/137 (67.9%), 1,466 yards, 14 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
Rushing - 63 attempts, 200 yards, 3.2 yards per carry, 5 touchdowns
During his freshman season, Watson played through injuries and was unable to start consistently. Much to the ire of the Clemson faithful, the coaching staff split time between senior Cole Stoudt and their highly-touted freshman. Although he saw the field sparingly, Watson was extremely effective when he did. Against North Carolina, he threw for 435 yards and six touchdowns, while completing 75% of his passes and tossing only one interception. The Georgia-native has a strong arm and the mobility to elude defenders in the pocket. Coming out of high school, Watson was considered by many to be the top dual-threat quarterback in his class, and was coveted by the nation’s top schools. While his sample size may be small, there is no doubt that Watson has the tools to succeed and become the ACC’s next top quarterback.
Erik - When healthy, Deshaun Watson is a superstar. 2015 will hopefully be Watson’s coming out party, given that Cole Stoudt is no longer there, and he’s had an entire off-season to recover and improve. Although he has not participated in spring practices, Clemson says that he will be perfectly fine for the start of fall camp. Watson is an athletic player with a cannon for an arm. All of his attributes fit perfectly into Clemson’s up-tempo, spread offense. There’s no reason as to why he does not come flying out of the gate and contend for Tajh Boyd’s school passing records.
William - I don’t know what took Clemson so long to install Watson as the team’s starter, and it is unfortunate that Watson got hurt when he did. Regardless, he should excel in 2015. Watson has the arm strength and mobility to give defenses fits, and has shown the ability to lead an offense. His performance against North Carolina was one of the top individual performances that stood out to me last season, and should give us a hint as to what he is capable of. At this point, injury is the only thing that seems capable of holding Watson back *knocks on wood.*
Da vid - Watson was on point when he was Clemson’s starter, completing 68 percent of his passes, while accumulating 14 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. I completely agree with Erik in the fact that he has a very good chance of breaking former Clemson QB Tajh Boyd’s school passing records. As long as he stays healthy, Watson makes Clemson a legitimate championship contender.
Barrett's 2014 Stats:
Passing - 203/314 (64.6%), 2,834 yards, 34 touchdowns, 10 interceptions
Rushing - 171 attempts, 938 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 11 touchdowns
Jones’ 2014 Stats:
Passing - 56/92 (60.9%), 860 yards, 7 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
Rushing - 72 attempts, 296 yards, 4.1 yards per carry, 1 touchdown
While it remains unclear how the Buckeyes plan on using their extreme depth at quarterback, both Barrett and Jones have the ability to mark their mark on 2015. After Braxton Miller, who still remains on Ohio State’s roster, and who could have an impact as well, went down prior to the season, Barrett stepped in and put together a Heisman-worthy campaign. Many pointed to Barrett’s play as a reason why the Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech in their home-opener, but the freshman quarterback was flawless in every other start. Following his start against the Hokies, Barrett scored 41 total touchdowns while turning the ball over six times. Entering the team’s rivalry game against Michigan, Barrett was very much in the Heisman conversation. Unfortunately, he broke his ankle against the Wolverines which cost him the remainder of the season. Losing two potential Heisman-caliber quarterbacks would be damning for almost any team, but fortunately for the Buckeyes, they had three on the roster. In the team’s final three games - the Big Ten Championship, and two playoff games - Cardale Jones put on a show. The sophomore threw for three touchdowns against Wisconsin, his first start, and impacted each of the Buckeye’s playoff games. We still don’t know how Urban Meyer will use his quarterbacks, but based on their play last season, there is reason to believe that Jones and Barrett will be even better this year.
Erik - It’s a game of “pick your poison” for Ohio State opponents. Personally, I believe that Jones will be better than Barrett in 2015, but regardless of who plays, OSU is bound to shred defenses. First, let’s start with Jones. If you can throw a ball 70 yards with pure arm strength, you deserve to be a superstar. There’s no question that Cardale has the arm and physical tools to be great. If he is able to improve his decision-making and consistency, he will easily contend (and probably win) the Heisman. Barrett, on the other hand, is a unique story. Up until his injury, he too was contending for the Heisman. Barrett has a quick release and good athleticism, but his best quality is his decision making. He knows when to deliver the football or when to tuck and run better than any other quarterback in the nation. It will be interesting to see which of these two stars shines the brightest next season.
William - I have to disagree with Erik on this one. I think that Barrett has proven himself, and will be the better player in 2015. There is a reason why Barrett earned the second string spot over Jones, but there is no question that both players are extremely talented. I don’t think that we got a chance to see Jones play to his capabilities, which is understandable given the circumstances, but we know that Barrett can play as well as anyone. This seems to be the classic case of polish vs. potential. Although he only has one season under his belt, Barrett has proven that he can succeed over the course of the year. Jones on the other hand, wows anyone who watches, with his incredibly strong arm and large frame. Urban Meyer needs to figure out a way to use these players, but it certainly a good problem to have.
David - No team has a stiffer quarterback competition than Ohio State. Both Barrett and Jones are legitimate starters, and while Jones did lead the Buckeyes to the national championship, Barrett carried the team when Braxton Miller went down. In my opinion, Barrett gets the nod over Jones simply because he played more games, and was very solid in those games. However, I would not mind seeing Jones start either. As I said, they are both legitimate starters.
No. 2: Cody Kessler, USC
2014 Stats: 315/452 (69.7%), 3,826 yards, 39 touchdowns, 5 interceptions
If Kessler finds a way to perform more consistently in 2015, he could be the best quarterback in the nation. As a junior, Kessler threw for four or more touchdowns in six games; he also only threw for zero or one touchdown in four of USC’s games. At his best, there are few who can march an offense down the field the way that Kessler can. He improved in nearly every aspect in his second full season as the Trojan’s starting quarterback, but will need to make another step forward to become truly elite. His performance in USC’s big games will need the most improvement. Against Stanford, Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA, Kessler completed 65% of his passes with three total touchdowns. For the Trojans to take the next step and return to national prominence, they are going to need their senior quarterback to thrive in the national spotlight. Kessler has all of the right tools to become one of the nation’s best players, but he will have to prove it when the lights are on.
Erik - Cody Kessler has continued the long line of USC greats at the quarterback position. Although he may not be the best out of that group, he is one of the best in the country currently. Personally, I think number 2 is a little generous for Kessler. He has all of the tools to be great, but he has yet to prove himself. Kessler has a good arm and excellent ball placement, yet at times he seems to disappear. As stated before, he only threw for 3 touchdowns in the Trojans' big games. Right now, Cody Kessler is a very good quarterback. In order to jump to that elite status, he’s going to have to perform well in the big games. He showed a lot of progress last season, so hopefully he will continue that momentum into next year.
William - I am a big fan of Kessler. He has the ability to march teams down the field , and can be extremely efficient. With his big frame, he looks like he could be a more mobile runner like Big Ben or Andrew Luck, but that is not the case. I understand what Erik is saying about Kessler coming in at No. 2, but I think that is due to his performances in national games. The first time I watched Kessler was in his week 2 game against Stanford. The Trojans took their first possession and marched down the field, converting three third downs, and scored the first touchdown of the game. I had expected Kessler to be a more “dynamic” player, but I immediately appreciated his game for what it was. I think we have a preconceived notion of how top college quarterbacks are supposed to play, but what’s wrong with a player who operates efficiently and effectively in an up-tempo, pro-style offense?
David - Cody Kessler might have been the most underrated quarterback in the nation last season. He completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, while passing for 39 touchdowns and only throwing five interceptions. With Marcus Mariota heading to the NFL, Kessler will enter the 2015 season as the PAC-12’s top signal-caller. Given the talent that USC was able to acquire on National Signing Day, and the talent already there, Kessler should be able to enjoy his best season in 2015.
No. 1: Trevone Boykin, TCU
2014 Stats: Passing - 301/492 (61.2%), 3,901 yards, 33 touchdowns, 10 interceptions
Rushing - 152 attempts, 707 yards, 4.7 yards per carry, 8 touchdowns
TCU has been a consistently great program under head coach Gary Patterson, but struggled after moving to the Big 12. In their first two seasons as part of the new conference, the Horned Frogs went 7-6 and 4-8, respectively. It should not have come as a complete surprise that TCU has re-emerged in the national spotlight, but the way they dominated in 2014 was surprising. Much of that dominance was due to the play of junior quarterback Trevone Boykin. The Horned Frog quarterback tore defenses apart with both his arm and legs. Prone to big performances, none was bigger than TCU’s home game against Texas Tech, where Boykin threw for 433 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions. At times it appeared as though he was still learning, which he was after starting the season unsure of where on the team he would play, while at others it looked like he could become the next best dual-threat quarterback since RG3. The offense will be loaded once again in 2015, and with another offseason to become comfortable with the position, Boykin should be the position’s front-runner in the Heisman race.
William - If I had said a year ago that Trevone Boykin would be the No. 1 quarterback entering the 2015 season, I would probably have had my laptop thrown out a window. In 2013, Boykin split time with Casey Pachall, and never looked comfortable at the position. After working with co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, the redshirt junior flourished last season. It would be wrong to continue to think of Boykin as an athlete playing quarterback. He is now a proven quarterback, who also happens to be an incredible runner. The scary thing is that he should only continue to improve - something that is rarely said about a fifth-year player. TCU returns almost everyone from their offense last season, which should help Boykin put up massive numbers once again.
Erik - Trevone Boykin entered 2014 with a lot of question marks. For starters, nobody really knew what position he should play. He spent the 2013 season testing the waters at quarterback, running back, and receiver. Let’s just say he put all of those questions to rest. Last year, he played a big part in TCU’s rise to the top. Currently, he is almost unanimously the favorite to win the Heisman and lead the Horned Frogs to the playoffs. Much like Watson, Boykin has a strong arm and relies heavily on his athleticism. Now that everyone in the country knows what to expect from Trevone Boykin, it will be interesting to see if he can keep up this electric run.
David - Boykin surprised a lot of people last year with his stellar play at the quarterback position. Sometimes, there are one-year wonders, but Boykin seems poised to rise to an even higher level. He was a huge reason why TCU nearly made the playoffs last year, and will be determined to improve and lead his team all the way in 2015. He will enter the season as the much-deserved preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Like Will said, with much of TCU’s offense from last season returning, Boykin should put up big numbers once again.