USC's Matt Barkley isn't the only potential franchise quarterback in college football
Just like his former conference counterparts Andrew Luck and Jake Locker, this summer, USC quarterback Matt Barkley has had the chance to experience what it’s like to be the most talked about player in college football.
Barkley will enter his senior season as the favorite to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy as well as the front-runner to be the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft.
While Barkley may be the most hyped-up quarterback in college football, he’s certainly not the only signal-caller who pro scouts will be paying close attention to this season.
Here’s a look at 10 college quarterbacks who have the potential to eventually develop into first-round NFL draft picks.
Matt Barkley would have likely been the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft if he had decided to leave USC after his junior season. However, Barkley felt that he had some unfinished business to attend to back in Los Angeles, which is why he chose to stay in school for one more year.
Now, the 6'2'', 230-pound senior will lead a Trojans team that will start off the season as one of the top-two ranked national title contenders in the country, and he'll obviously have some sky high expectations to live up to in 2012.
Barkley may not be the awe-inspiring "slam dunk" prospect that this year's No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck was considered to be, but he does offer up a very appetizing skill set.
The savvy and cerebral senior isn't the biggest quarterback and he doesn't possess the strongest arm, but he does have the passing ability, intangibles and the overall leadership qualities to be a franchise NFL quarterback.
Last year, Barkley threw for over 3,500 yards and 39 touchdowns, and finished with a 161 passer rating, as he led USC to a 10-2 campaign.
It's clear that Barkley has all of the tools that teams are looking for in a potential No. 1-pick type of quarterback. Now, he just has to go out and prove that he can handle the pressure and fight off the many challengers that will be looking to overtake him this season.
Tyler Wilson may not possess the same kind of remarkable cannon for an arm that his predecessor at Arkansas Ryan Mallett had, but that didn't prevent him from shining in his first season as a starter in Bobby Petrino's system in 2011.
Last year, Wilson stepped into the lineup and proved that he's one of college football's most efficient passers, as he completed 63 percent of his passes for over 3,600 yards and threw 24 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions.
The 6'3'', 220-pound senior signal-caller helped lead Arkansas to an 11-win season and a top-5 national ranking, and his only two losses came against the two top-ranked teams in the country, Alabama and LSU.
Wilson has a very similar physical makeup to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, and he has the arm strength, accuracy, instincts and coverage recognition skills to develop into an upper echelon passer at the pro level.
After choosing to pass up the chance to be a first-round pick in this year's draft, Wilson will now have the opportunity to prove to scouts that he deserves to be a top-10 pick in 2013.
Although Arkansas has faced plenty of adversity this offseason with the firing of disgraced coach Bobby Petrino, Wilson is the type of strong-willed veteran who should be able to rally the Razorbacks and lead them into contention for both a conference championship as well as a national title in 2012.
When I watched Aaron Murray play last year, I saw a quarterback who played like Eli Manning in Drew Brees' body.
At 6'1'', 211-pounds, Murray certainly doesn't have the prototypical size that scouts are looking for in a franchise quarterback prospect. Nevertheless, the junior signal-caller makes up for his lack of height by offering up every other possible trait that you could look for.
Murray arguably has the best overall mechanics of any quarterback in college football, and other coaches should use his game film to show their own quarterbacks what a flawless throwing motion looks like.
The former 4-star recruit out of Tampa's Plant High School also has impeccable intangibles and he's the type of leader and offensive linchpin that an NFL team could build around.
Last year, Murray really made some great strides toward becoming an elite quarterback, as he threw for over 3,100 yards and 35 touchdowns and led Georgia to a 10-win season and an SEC East division title.
If Murray keeps progressing in 2012, he could emerge as a serious Heisman contender and a potential top-15 pick in next year's NFL draft.
As far as natural physical ability is concerned, there may not be another quarterback in college football that can compare to Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas.
Thomas has the same type of elite physical skills and size-athleticism combo that 2010 Heisman Trophy winner and current Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had to offer.
While the 6'6'', 262-pound junior may lack the same type of charisma and flair for the dramatic that we saw from Newton during his one season at Auburn, he still has the chance to become a true national star in 2012.
In his first season as a starter last year, Thomas threw for over 3,000 yards and accounted for 30 total touchdowns as he led the Hokies to an 11-win campaign and a Sugar Bowl berth.
The big, mobile signal-caller proved to be a dynamic dual-threat quarterback, who was capable of punishing a defense with both his arm and his legs.
If Thomas can work on his decision-making as a passer, improve his accuracy and take the next step in his overall development this season, he should put together a truly special year and become one of college football's most talked-about players of 2012.
E.J. Manuel arrived at Florida State back in 2008 as a highly touted 5-star recruit out of Virginia's Bayside High School.
After sitting on the bench behind Christian Ponder for three years, Manuel finally got his shot to be the full-time starter in Tallahassee last year.
Although they entered the season as a top-5 ranked national title contender, the Seminoles failed to live up to their preseason hype in 2011, and they ultimately ended up just 9-4.
Still, Manuel managed to show plenty of intriguing flashes of his elite physical skills during his first year as a starter, completing 65 percent of his passes for over 2,600 yards and finishing with a 151 passer rating.
The 6'5'', 240-pound senior certainly hasn't come close to reaching his full potential yet, but he's the type of big, athletic, strong-armed signal-caller who has all of the measurables to be a top quarterback prospect for the 2013 NFL draft.
If the supremely athletic senior can show that he can handle the pressure and lead the Seminoles to an ACC championship in 2012, there's no telling how high Manuel's stock could ultimately climb.
Last year, Geno Smith proved to be a perfect fit for new head coach Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid-style offensive system.
Smith made a seamless transition to the pass-heavy attack in 2011, and he became one of college football's most productive passers, throwing for over 4,300 yards and hitting 31 touchdown strikes compared to just seven interceptions.
The 6'3'', 214-pound displayed the type of elite arm strength, pinpoint accuracy (65 percent completion percentage), pocket awareness and decision-making skills that you look for in a potential starting NFL signal-caller.
The scary part is now that Smith will have another offseason to learn more of the nuances and finer points of Holgorsen's offensive scheme, he should feel even more comfortable in 2012.
As a West Virginia graduate, I'll admit, it's been fun to watch Geno grow over these last two years, and it should be exciting to see how he handles the tougher Big 12 defenses that he's about to square off with this season.
With explosive receivers such as Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, J.D. Woods and Ivan McCartney all returning, Smith will have plenty of dangerous weapons at his disposal in 2012, and he should be ready to really carve out a name for himself in the new league.
Tyler Bray has only started 12 games in his college career, but he's still managed to show off his outstanding passing skills and potential during that short amount of time.
Bray has already thrown for over 3,800 yards and 35 touchdowns during his time in a Vols uniform, and he now looks poised to have a true breakout season in 2012.
The 6'6'', 215-pound junior is a prototypical pro-style pocket-passer, who is capable of shredding secondaries with his powerful rocket-like arm strength.
Over these last few years, Tennessee has become an afterthought in the SEC East, but with Bray leading the way this season, the Vols could finally become a factor in the division again this year.
With Bray and two of the most talented receivers in the country—Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter—all returning, Tennessee should have one of college football's most powerful passing attacks in 2012 .
TCU's Casey Pachall had some big shoes to fill last season when he assumed the starting quarterback job from Andy Dalton, who was one of the most successful and consistent quarterbacks in college football history.
If Pachall was stressed out, however, he surely didn't show it, as the tall Texas native helped lead the Horned Frogs to an 11-win season, which included an exciting 36-35 upset of then No. 5-ranked Boise State on the blue turf.
The 6'5'', 216-pound junior managed to put up impressive numbers in his first season as a starter, as he completed 66 percent of his passes for over 2,900 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2011.
Pachall is the type of big, strong-armed pocket-passer that NFL scouts are looking for, and he may just be a better pure passer than his predecessor Dalton.
If he can build off his success from this past season and put together a solid campaign against Big 12 competition this year, Pachall's name should really start climbing up draft boards in 2012.
Landry Jones entered the 2011 season as the face of the consensus No. 1-ranked team in the country and he was on the short list of Heisman favorites.
All seemed to be going according to plan until a stormy night in mid-October when Jones and Oklahoma were shocked by 29-point underdog Texas Tech at home.
After that, it seemed that onlookers began to look at Jones in a different light, especially after his poor performances in the team's final few regular season games.
Although he ended up throwing for over 4,400 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2011, the Sooner signal-caller ultimately made the right decision to return for another season, given that his pro stock took a big hit last year.
Now, the 6'4'', 229-pound senior will be looking to redeem himself and show scouts that he really is an starting-caliber quarterback prospect.
Physically, Jones is a bit of a mix between Matt Schaub and Matt Cassel.
While he has the arm strength and arm endurance to flourish in a wide-open passing attack like the one the Texans run, he doesn't seem to have the all-important clutch trait that scouts are looking for.
At this time last year, Robert Griffin III wasn't being talked about as a potential elite caliber NFL quarterback prospect. Griffin was simply considered an intriguing athletic dual-threat signal-caller.
Missouri's James Franklin will have that same label bestowed upon him going into the upcoming 2012 season. However, don't be surprised if Franklin turns out to be one of college football's biggest breakout stars this season, just as RG3 was last year.
In his first season as a starter in 2011, Franklin completed 63 percent of his passes for over 2,800 yards and 21 touchdowns, while adding 981 yards and 15 scores on the ground.
Although he may not be an NFL level passer at this point in his development, the 6'2'', 225-pound junior is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in college football, and he possesses the potential to grow into a versatile and dynamic all-around offensive playmaker this season.
If Franklin can show that he has the arm strength to push the ball down the field more often in 2012, he could really cause quite a buzz around the scouting community.
Now that Missouri has moved to the SEC, the speedy signal-caller will have the chance to really prove himself against some of the top defenses in the country such as Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida.
If he steps up and performs at a high level in those marquess matchups, James Franklin could become one of the hottest names of the 2012 season.
A.J. McCarron, Alabama
Bryn Renner, North Carolina
Collin Klein, Kansas State
Denard Robinson, Michigan
Jeff Tuel, Washington State
Keith Price, Washington
Matt Scott, Arizona
Mike Glennon, N.C. State
Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State
Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Zach Mettenberger, LSU