The 2013 crop of college football quarterbacks is headlined by more than a small handful of potential future NFL stars. College QBs like Tajh Boyd, Braxton Miller and Teddy Bridgewater are all making an impact on the game before even turning pro.
While the focus for now is winning conference title, earning a BCS invitation and chasing down that elusive national championship, many of the quarterbacks on our list will be headlining the 2014 NFL draft just 12 short months from now.
Here's a quick look at those QBs and a comparison to an NFL quarterback currently showcasing his skills on Sundays.
NFL Counterpart: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
David Fales racked up an impressive 4,193 passing yards last season, sixth in the FBS and second among all returning QBs for 2013. Drew Brees led the NFL in passing yards during the regular season with 5,177. Brees also led the NFL in passing touchdowns with 43 while Fales contributed 33 passing TDs.
If you want big numbers, Fales and Brees were at or near the top in most statistical categories in 2012 and likely will be again in 2013.
NFL Counterpart: Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
Bo Wallace and Christian Ponder may be two different types of quarterbacks, but the results are surprisingly similar. Both Wallace and Ponder have put together solid seasons with their respective teams, but the result wasn't exactly spectacular, and there weren't too many eyebrows raised.
Wallace was 39th in the FBS in 2012 with 2,994 passing yards—a so-so performance for any SEC quarterback. Ponder was 25th in the NFL last season with 2,935 passing yards. Both quarterbacks completed just over 60 percent of their passes, and their teams both finished just a hair over .500 (10-7 for Minnesota and 7-6 for Ole Miss).
NFL Counterpart: Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals
If you make a list of the top 100 quarterbacks by passing yards from the 2012 college football season, Florida's Jeff Driskel would be at No. 99 on that last.
A first-year freshman from UMass, Mike Wegzyn, who played in just 11 games had over 150 more yards than Driskel, as did QBs from such powerhouses as Western Michigan, UTEP, Texas-San Antonio, South Alabama and Rice.
Part of the problem at Florida was Driskel didn't make that many attempts, and Florida's defense was so sound, it wasn't really all that necessary to throw the ball very often. We had the same thought about Arizona early in 2012, too.
The Cardinals got off to a 4-0 start before losing nine straight, finishing 5-11 (1-5 in the NFC West). Quarterback Kevin Kolb wasn't really the major problem for the Cardinals either. A lack of consistency on offense killed any rhythm in the passing game, and the Cardinals suffered for it.
Florida finished with a much better record, but after being exposed by Louisville in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, maybe there are more comparisons to be made between the desert and swamp than we realize.
NFL Counterpart: Mark Sanchez, New York Jets
Boise State quietly put together an 11-2 season in 2012, winning a share of its first Mountain West title.
The reason the Broncos were so unappreciated last season was the way those 11 wins were achieved. We didn't see the high-flying, fast-paced, trick-play offense to which we've become accustomed. Instead, Boise State's offense ranked just 54th in the nation last season—far off the typical top-10 offenses the Broncos put on the field.
It's probably unfair to heap all of the blame, if you really want to blame someone for “only” 11 wins, on quarterback Joe Southwick.
After all, following in the footsteps off someone like Kellen Moore—the all-time FBS leader in wins as a starting quarterback—can't be easy. So, too, is it probably a bit unfair to heap all of the New York Jets' problems onto the shoulders of quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Sanchez had a solid—yet unimpressive—2,883 passing yards last season. The biggest downfall for Sanchez was his 18 interceptions to just 13 touchdowns.
Southwick didn't have that problem last season, finding the end zone 19 times while finding a member of the opposing defense just seven times. Still, there's a lot of correlation between the two, both statistically and in the way they're viewed by their respective fanbases.
NFL Counterpart: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Apart from playing for teams in the south, there's a lot that connects LSU's Zach Mettenberger with Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons.
First, both players guide a pretty successful team. Second, both of these teams have fallen just short of preseason goals over the past couple of seasons. Finally, the success of both players has been overshadowed by things outside of their control.
In Mettenberger's case, the national media frequently turns its attention to the SEC. Whichever team manages to climb atop the conference in any given season is almost assured of a BCS National Championship Game berth.
This season, that decidedly wasn't LSU. While the Tigers certainly weren't terrible by any measure, the lack of resounding national success by LSU added to the seemingly unstoppable momentum of the Nick Saban-built machine at Alabama drew the attention of the media away from LSU and Mettenberger.
In Atlanta, Matt Ryan was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in 2012, amassing 4,719 passing yards in the regular season alone. Add in another 646 yards in two playoff games and Ryan was easily one of the top five quarterbacks in the league. So why didn't we hear the media gush over him?
With the Falcons losing out to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game and the exploits of Colin Kaepernick taking center stage, it's not hard to imagine why Ryan lost center stage last season. Add in the post-Super Bowl hoopla about Baltimore's Joe Flacco and his ridiculous contract and Ryan fades from view pretty quickly.
Now, replace Ryan's name with Mettenberger and Flacco and Kaepernick with those of A.J. McCarron and Johnny Manziel and you can see why we've paired Ryan and Mettenberger together.
NFL Counterpart: Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
The Texas Longhorns are a once-great college football power desperately trying to claw their way back to the top of the mountain. The Chicago Bears are the same, only in the NFL.
Despite starting 7-1, the Bears missed the playoffs for the second straight season in 2012. Likewise, the Longhorns got off to a decent start, bringing a 4-0 record and top-10 ranking in the USA Today coaches' poll to their Week 6 game against West Virginia.
A close loss to the Mountaineers followed by an embarrassing dismantling at the hands of arch rival Oklahoma, and the Longhorns again failed to seriously compete for a Big 12 title and resulting BCS berth.
David Ash, while certainly a decent quarterback, has struggled at times against some of the better defenses in a defensively weak Big 12. Ash was fifth in the conference last season with 2,699 passing yards, but it's his nine interceptions on just 18 touchdowns that has fans restless.
Up in Chicago, Jay Cutler also struggled a bit with finding the correctly colored jerseys. Cutler had 3,033 passing yards with just 19 touchdowns with 14 interceptions.
Two historically great teams with decent—but not great—quarterbacks. Is it a coincidence that both teams had decent—but not great—seasons?
NFL Counterpart: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Jordan Lynch, the standout quarterback from Northern Illinois, was one of the great stories of last season. His amazing playmaking abilities made him a fan favorite while guiding the Huskies to not only a MAC title but the first-ever BCS appearance for a team from the conference.
We've pared Lynch with Andrew Luck, the rookie quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. The season prior to Luck's arrival, the Colts stumbled through a 2-14 season.
With the addition of one dynamic player to replace Peyton Manning, the Colts won 11 games in 2012. Similarly, a Northern Illinois team to which no one paid much attention was instantly catapulted onto the national scene by the exploits of one great quarterback in Lynch.
NFL Counterpart: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Bryn Renner, the returning senior quarterback for North Carolina, guided the Tar Heels to a respectable 8-4 record last season, good enough for a share of the ACC's Coastal Division title with a 5-3 conference mark (UNC missed the postseason due to NCAA sanctions).
Renner completed just over 65 percent of his passes for 3,356 passing yards and 28 touchdowns on the season, setting UNC up for a solid run at the Coastal Division again in 2013.
Similarly, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers completed just over 67 percent of his passes for 4,295 yards and 39 touchdowns while guiding the Packers to solid 11-5 regular-season mark, finishing atop the NFC's North Division.
While Packers fans are used to seeing their team making championship runs, UNC fans aren't. But with Renner heading back to Chapel Hill for his senior year, he'll have one more season of wowing fans with his Rodgers-esque ability to keep the play alive long enough to find the yards and points needed to keep UNC in the ACC title race.
NFL Counterpart: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
We're pairing the young Kevin Hogan, the soon-to-be junior quarterback for the Stanford Cardinal with rookie sensation and former Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III from the Washington Redskins.
Both players made unexpectedly large contributions to their teams' success last season, and both did it with a combination of aerial accuracy and some fancy footwork. The scrambling done by both quarterbacks last season was impressive, but led to two different results.
For Hogan and the Cardinal, the Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl Game championship were the conclusion to an historic season. In Washington, Griffin battled injuries that eventually sidelined him, but not before leading the Redskins to a 10-6 mark in the regular season before coming up short to Seattle in the NFC Wild Card Game.
NFL Counterpart: Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
Texas Christian made the move to the Big 12 last season, and the Frogs' 7-6 finish went a long way toward building future success in a “power conference.” Quarterbacks are obviously a key ingredient for football success, and Trevone Boykin had the kind of freshman season that has us believing TCU won't have too many worries at the position for a while.
Before the season, few had ever heard of Boykin, yet he was able to guide the Horned Frogs to wins over Baylor, then-No. 19 West Virginia and then-No. 17 Texas. His sudden and unexpected rise to prominence parallels that of San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick.
One of the big storylines of the playoff run to Super Bowl XLVII was the sudden rise of previously unknown Kaepernick. Like TCU, we're confident that San Francisco's quarterbacking responsibilities will be well taken care of with Kaepernick taking the snaps for the foreseeable future.
NFL Counterpart: Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Andrew Maxwell inherited the quarterback job when Kirk Cousins left Michigan State for the NFL after 2011. Maxwell stepped into the job, but couldn't quite manage to guide his team to victories in tight games, finishing 7-6 in 2012 with five losses coming by a combined 13 points.
Maxwell was actually a fairly successful quarterback last season, finishing fourth in the Big Ten in terms of passing yards with 2,606. The biggest downside to Maxwell's game was his ability to complete passes to the wrong team. Maxwell threw 13 touchdowns, but also had nine interceptions on the season.
That's pretty close to the ratio seen last season from Dallas' Tony Romo. Like MSU, the Cowboys had a tough time winning some of those close games, finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the third straight season. Romo threw for an impressive 4,903 yards last season, but completed 19 passes to the opposition with only 28 touchdowns passes on the year.
NFL Counterpart: Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Trevor Siemian was one-half of the Northwestern quarterbacking duo last season, joining Kain Colter under center. Siemian actually had fewer attempts and completions than Colter and had a lower completion percentage, but he outpaced Colter in both yards and touchdowns in 2012. Colter also spent some time as a deep back, as well as occasionally as a receiver.
Siemian filled in when necessary and did an admirable job of keeping the Wildcats in a position to earn their school-record fifth straight bowl invitation and the Wildcats' first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl Game.
Cousins, now with the Washington Redskins, also found himself called upon more often than expected this season, when starting quarterback Robert Griffin III went down to injury.
Both Cousins and Siemian are more comfortable in the pocket than the two quarterbacks they filled in for during the season, and the focus on the passing game became evident when these two guys took snaps.
Both Cousins and Siemian found success in such a way that we'll likely be seeing much more of them both in 2013.
NFL Counterpart: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Blake Bell was one of the biggest, strongest guys Oklahoma put on the field last season, which is saying something, considering he's a quarterback—sort of.
Bell is a run-first kind of guy, as his nearly non-existent passing stats show. Bell had just 107 passing yards on 16 attempts while also piling up 182 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 59 carries.
While Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is much more adept at throwing the football, Bell's running style is remarkably similar to that of “Big Ben.”
Neither player shies away from lowering the shoulder to gain an extra yard or two, and that kind of moxie—not often seen in today's NFL “prima donna” quarterbacks—will go a long way toward Bell's future—both at Oklahoma and at the next level.
NFL Counterpart: Tom Brady, New England Patriots
It might be a little premature to compare a college quarterback who just completed his freshman season to one of the NFL's all-time greats, but if you scratch beneath the surface, you can see how similar UCLA's Brett Hundley is to Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.
Last season, Hundley completed 66.5 percent of his 478 pass attempts for 3,740 yards and 29 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Brady completed 63 percent of his 637 attempts for 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns. That gives Brady an average of 301.7 yards per game and 7.6 yards per attempt while Hundley posted averages of 267.1 yards per game and 7.8 yards per game.
Hundley led the Bruins to a Pac-12 South Division title last season before losing to Stanford while Brady's Patriots posted a perfect 6-0 record against AFC East foes en route to the AFC Championship Game before losing to Baltimore.
To be clear, we're not calling Hundley the next Tom Brady, but one should also remember no one was calling Brady the next Joe Montana when he was drafted by New England out of Michigan.
NFL Counterpart: Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
Devin Gardner has the unenviable task of trying to follow up the all-purpose offensive performance put on by now-former Michigan Wolverine Denard Robinson. Interestingly, even though Robinson may be the better overall athlete, Michigan might be better off as Gardner looks to be a better quarterback.
Gardner's abilities more closely resemble those of St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford than they match Robinson's. Bradford is fairly accurate (59.5 percent completion rating last season), but isn't afraid to run when necessary (127 yards on 37 carries).
St. Louis fans aren't really being wowed by Bradford's performances (although the Rams improved from 2-14 in 2011 to 7-8-1 last season), and likewise, Michigan fans may see less overall production from the quarterback position next season, but as has been proven over the past several seasons in Ann Arbor, flash doesn't always win the big games.
NFL Counterpart: Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars
There's still one more season remaining before the final chapter of Taylor Martinez in Lincoln is written. But up until this point, it's probably safe to say that Martinez hasn't quite lived up to expectations.
Touted as one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten, Martinez has struggled with consistency and decision-making on the field, keeping Nebraska from really achieving all it could with him as quarterback.
The Huskers are still looking for their first Big Ten title, and unless Martinez makes a huge leap from 2012 to 2013, Nebraska may still be searching for that first conference championship at this time next year.
Martinez was third in the Big Ten last season in passing yards per game with 205.1, but he also had more interceptions (12) than any quarterback in the conference. He made up for some of that lost ground with 1,019 rushing yards, but that was only good enough for third among Big Ten quarterbacks in 2012.
Speaking of not quite living up to expectations, another Big Ten guy, Chad Henne of Jacksonville, has had a rough go of things in the NFL since arriving out of the University of Michigan.
Henne, who threw for 9,715 yards at Michigan has yet to equal that output in five years in the NFL with Miami (2008-11) and Jacksonville (2012). Last season, Henne was 29th in the league with 2,084 passing yards. He also threw 11 picks while matching that with just 11 touchdowns.
If either Henne or Martinez want to be remembered as anything but failing to live up to their potential, a turnaround in their output is going to be required in the very near future.
NFL Counterpart: Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
If there was one theme to Connor Shaw's 2012 season, it had to be accuracy. Shaw was second in the SEC with a 67.5 percent completion rate, behind only Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel's 68.0 percent.
That kind of completion rating makes NFL coaches drool, and there were only three NFL quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts that could top Shaw's completion percentage. Leading the way was Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers (recently traded to Kansas City).
Before San Francisco lost Smith to a finger injury, he completed 70.2 percent of his 218 throws. It's hard to argue that losing Smith was that big of a deal, considering Colin Kaepernick led the Niners all the way to the Super Bowl, but we still think a 70.2 percent completion rating, or even one at 67.5 is worthy of note.
NFL Counterpart: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Quarterback comparisons typically revolve around passing yards, touchdown throws, completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception ratios and the like. But if the two quarterbacks are Marcus Mariota of the Oregon Ducks and Cam newton of the Carolina Panthers, rushing yards and total offense might be better stats at which to look.
Mariota finished the 2012 season with just 205.9 passing yards per game, 10th in the Pac-12. Cam Newton finished the last season with 241.8 passing yards per game, 15th in the NFL.
But if you add in the rushing numbers for both quarterbacks, things look a lot better. Newton added 741 yards and eight touchdowns via the ground last season while Mariota added 752 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
Will Mariota be able to match Newton's feat of leading his college team to a national championship? Maybe, maybe not, but he has three more years to try.
NFL Counterpart: Eli Manning, New York Giants
Everett Golson, the young quarterback who led Notre Dame to the BCS National Championship Game as a sophomore last season, did a lot of growing up on national television. It was clear from the beginning that Brian Kelly wanted to develop this youngster into the future of Notre Dame football, and it darn near paid off early.
Golson, prone to the mistakes of youth early, settled into his role as offensive leader. By the time the season drew to a close, he was beginning to look like a veteran, capable of leading Notre Dame to win after win.
Of course, the Alabama Crimson Tide exposed some of Notre Dame's lingering weaknesses, but the loss can't be completely pinned on Golson.
We've also had the pleasure of watching the maturation of a young quarterback in the NFL. New York's Eli Manning, the younger brother of guaranteed future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, has grown from an overeager, brash young gunslinger in New York to a Super Bowl champion and potential franchise superstar.
With both Manning and Golson, we expect to see several more years of improving play—which could also lead to more title game appearances for both teams.
NFL Counterpart: Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
A.J. McCarron from Alabama and Joe Flacco from Baltimore are being paired together for one very simply reason: their ability to lead their respective teams to championships without becoming—or having the need to become—the center of attention.
Both Flacco and McCarron are expects at their craft, and both have reached the pinnacle of their careers (so far) following last season. Neither Flacco nor McCarron led their divisions or conferences in passing yards, but when it came to the only stat that mattered—points—both had their teams coming out ahead more often than not in 2012.
Result? A BCS National Championship for Alabama and a Super Bowl XLVII victory for Baltimore.
NFL Counterpart: Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Despite being one of the top quarterbacks in the FBS last season, Clemson's Tajh Boyd failed to attract much national attention. Clemson finished 2012 with a share of the ACC Atlantic Division title, but lost an opportunity to play for the ACC championship because of a head-to-head tie-breaking loss to Florida State very early in the season.
Instead, Clemson had to settle for a meeting with LSU in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve—a game which Clemson won. Boyd finished with 3,896 passing yards, 10th in the FBS, and earned First-Team All-ACC honors as well as First-Team All-America honors by the AFCA.
Yet because of a loss to Florida State that seemed to happen eons ago, Boyd was left out of most media coverage as the season wore on.
Josh Freeman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can relate. Freeman finished ninth in the NFL last season with 4,065 passing yards, but Tampa Bay's woeful 7-9 season meant Freeman didn't get the accolades for his performance he probably deserved.
NFL Counterpart: Tim Tebow, Free Agent
It wasn't all that long ago that people were buying into the hype about Aaron Murray being the next great phenom to come out of the SEC. To be clear, Murray is not a bad quarterback, as his 3,893 passing yards and SEC-leading 36 touchdowns prove. But Murray hasn't truly become the superstar many of us expected him to become.
Perhaps, its because he has been surpassed by newcomers like Johnny Manziel or because he hasn't been able to guide Georgia to that one big signature win, but whatever the reason, we're reminded of Tim Tebow—that is, Tim Tebow in the NFL.
Coming out of college, Tebow was a Heisman winner with a pair of BCS National Championship rings. For one reason or another, that success hasn't translated to the NFL.
Wherever Tebow goes, the hype is infinitely more powerful than his actual on-field success. If Tebow were actually given a lasting spot on a roster and given time to develop as a pro, he may turn into a very good pro quarterback. It just hasn't happened yet.
Murray, on the other hand, has been given time—and still has one more season left—to develop into that truly great college quarterback. Will he be able to break through in his senior season, or will he begin to fade away, like the currently team-less Tebow?
NFL Counterpart: Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
Michael Vick was one of the first truly successful multifaceted quarterbacks in the NFL. He was—and is—a decently accurate passer (58.1 percent completion rate last season), but his real talent lies is being able to gain yards with his feet, complementing his throwing game.
Braxton Miller is cut from the same cloth as Vick. While his passing numbers don't leap off the page (58.3 percent completion rate, 2,039 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, six interceptions), his ability to rack up yards and points with his feet could have him in a Heisman race in 2013.
Last season, Miller accumulated 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground to go with his perfectly mediocre passing numbers. Put the two categories together and Ohio State has itself one heckuva football player.
Just like Michael Vick.
NFL Counterpart: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Last season, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater was one of the most exciting quarterbacks to watch.
For those who didn't pay close attention during the regular season, Bridgewater introduced himself to the nation during the 2013 Sugar Bowl. He picked apart the previously impenetrable Florida defense from the first offensive play to the last snap in the fourth quarter.
A vaunted SEC defense was no match for this little quarterback who came from the Big East. It seemed like the only thing that kept Louisville from competing for a national title last season—and likely this season—was the lack of a truly top-notch supporting cast.
Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions feels your pain, Mr. Bridgewater.
The Lions had one of the NFL's best quarterbacks last season, with Stafford posting 4,967 passing yards, second in the NFL. But the lack of any real rushing attack and absolutely no defense doomed the Lions to an NFC North Division-worst 4-12 record.
The addition of Reggie Bush as well as some noteworthy defensive pickups during the 2013 NFL draft should help the Lions' stock rise, but there's no question that Stafford was the true star in Detroit last season.
NFL Counterpart: None
Last, but not least on our list is the defending Heisman Trophy winner and sophomore quarterback for the Texas A&M Aggies, Johnny Manziel.
When trying to compare “Johnny Football” to any current NFL quarterback, we found ourselves trying make a square peg fit into a round hole. The truth of the matter is that Manziel doesn't quite fit into the NFL's typical quarterback stereotype; he's a little but of everything and a whole lot of nothing in particular.
There are flashes of Brett Farve, Doug Flutie, Drew Brees and Michael Vick all mixed in with Manziel's playing style. And when it comes to pure impact on an offense, no NFL quarterback today can beat Manziel's 70.4 percent of his team's total offensive output.
Trying to connect Manziel with a current NFL quarterback would be pointless, anyhow. The moment he steps foot onto an NFL field, he'll change the perceptions about what a quarterback can and cannot do. He'll become a category unto himself, and future generations will be comparing quarterbacks to him.
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