10 Most Underrated Quarterbacks Heading into 2013 College Football Season
Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Georgia's Aaron Murray, Alabama's A.J. McCarron and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel are all receiving their fair share of column inches and television coverage in the lead up to the 2013 college football season. It's easy to sit back in the preseason and predict big seasons from the usual suspects. But they're not the only ones who will prove to be worth of recognition this year.
There are plenty of quarterbacks around the FBS who are poised to make a major impact in 2013, and—as typically happens—these performances will come from players the pundits least expect.
For one reason or another, the 10 quarterbacks we've included on this list aren't attracting the preseason praise of other big name gunslingers. That doesn't mean they don't, or won't deserve such respect.
Keep an eye on these 10 quarterbacks this season. While among the most underrated players in the nation and being relatively ignored by the national media, these quarterbacks will be making major impacts on their team's run to a conference or even national title.
Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
With all of the high-octane offenses and stellar freshmen play from the likes of Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley, it's easy to overlook Pac-12 signal callers that may not have had the same amount of team success as Mariota's Oregon Ducks or Hundley's UCLA Bruins.
Taylor Kelly, the starter for the Arizona State Sun Devils, is one of those quarterbacks that seems to get lost in the shuffle. But anyone who had the pleasure of watching him last season knows that Kelly is a potential star ready to burst onto the national scene at any moment.
You really can't blame people for not knowing who Kelly was last season. Before the year began, Kelly was buried on the depth chart at ASU. But by the season opener, he had taken his place as the starter and opened up the Pac-12 conference schedule with back-to-back three touchdown performances.
Finishing 2012 with over 3,000 yards passing and 29 touchdowns, Kelly also finished the season ninth in the FBS in passer rating (159.5). Kelly threw just nine picks all season, and was without an interception thrown in the final three games of 2012. If he improves only slightly before the 2013 season gets underway, he'll be in the midst of a battle for All-Pac-12 honors with Mariota and Hundley.
Rakeem Cato, Marshall
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Rakeem Cato won't be the only quarterback from a minor FBS program to appear on our list of underrated signal callers, but he's still one of the best QBs in the nation you've likely never heard of or seen take a snap.
Despite Marshall's lack of success in 2012, Cato had a career season. Over his 12 games as starter for the Thundering Herd, Cato averaged 350.1 passing yards per game—tops in the FBS—with a nearly 70 percent completion rate.
Marshall finished 5-7 in the pretty woeful Conference USA last season, just out of the bowl picture. Still, a 4-4 mark in conference play and Cato's return for his junior season in 2013 is more than enough to spark some hope for fans of the Herd.
Cato showed vast improvement over his 2011 freshman season, where he threw for just 15 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions. Last season, Cato more than doubled his touchdown output to 37 while holding steady with 11 picks.
If he can cut down on his turnovers in 2013, he could emerge as one of the nation's true unsung heroes.
James Franklin, Missouri
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Missouri's move to the SEC wasn't without it's bumps, and the Tigers were perfectly ordinary in their first season, finishing fifth in the east division with a 5-7 (2-6) record. But before you go and dismiss Missouri as having a roster full of mediocre players, take a glance at returning senior quarterback James Franklin.
This Texas product is a classic dual-threat signal caller who threw for nearly 3,000 yards while piling up nearly 1,000 rushing yards with 36 combined touchdowns in 2011.
His 2012 numbers were far less impressive (1,562 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air, 122 yards and no touchdowns on the ground). You could blame that all on the fact that the SEC is a far different beast than the defensively-challenged Big 12, or you could take into consideration that Franklin was recovering from a rather serious shoulder injury from the spring and hampered by a lingering knee issue.
Either way, Franklin is an incredibly talented quarterback playing at the right school with the perfect system to complement his abilities. If he can stay healthy in 2013—a mighty big if—Mizzou fans will be in for a treat when he trots out onto the field.
Casey Pachall, Texas Christian
Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
Texas Christian made the transition to the Big 12 last season, and while there weren't any BCS bids, the Horned Frogs did better in a "big boy" conference than many expected. That success was thanks in large part to then-junior quarterback Casey Pachall.
Pachall was a highly touted prospect out of Brownwood, Texas, and his dual-threat abilities have been on full display in Fort Worth since he took over for Andy Dalton in 2011.
Pachall had some issues last season, including an arrest for drunk driving and a failed drug test. He was suspended and eventually found his way into a drug rehab program. But after finding himself back on the depth chart for 2013, his top-flight abilities have some asking if it's possible he can lead TCU up the standings to a possible Big 12 title.
Pachall hasn't come close to his potential yet at TCU, and with the cloud of his previous suspension still hanging over Fort Worth, it's easy to see why many still have reservations about him. But if he can stay out of trouble and pick things up where he left off on the field, he could soon emerge as one of the nation's top quarterbacks.
Michael Brewer, Texas Tech
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Texas Tech has a new head coach, and he's a guy most Texas Tech fans will recognize. Kliff Kingsbury is back in Lubbock after guiding the Texas A&M offense last season. A Kevin Sumlin assistant since 2008, Kingsbury is no stranger to high-octane, record-setting offenses, and he's going to attempt to revitalize the Red Raiders team in 2013.
Michael Brewer steps into the starting role at Texas Tech in 2013 after backing up Seth Doege last season. Brewer, a sophomore, is no stranger to the spread attack that Kingsbury will amp up in Lubbock. Brewer played high school football under current Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris in Lake Travis, Texas.
While Brewer is a little wet behind the ears, he easily has the talent and the smarts to be a major success at Texas Tech. Combined with the tutelage of Kingsbury, a former Texas Tech quarterback himself, we're confident Red Raiders fans will be pleasantly surprised with Brewer's play—which should be easily good enough to win eight games again in 2013.
David Fales, San Jose State
Rob Carr/Getty Images
It's rare that programs like San Jose State get much national recognition, so it's probably easy to figure out why the casual college football fan has no idea who David Fales is. Before you go thinking he's just another BCS conference-caliber quarterback stuck on a non-AQ team, take a look at what he did in 2012 alone.
He guided San Jose State to it's best finish ever, 11-2. He led the Spartans to their first-ever ranking in the BCS system. He finished tied for ninth in the FBS with 33 touchdown passes, sixth in the FBS is passing yards (4,193) and led the nation in completion percentage (72.5). He also finished the season ranked third in the FBS in passer rating (170.76) behind Alabama's A.J. McCarron and Georgia's Aaron Murray while completing nearly as many passes as either of his two SEC counterparts attempted.
Fales and San Jose State will begin 2013 with a matchup against FCS Sacramento State before a rematch with Stanford. Last season, Fales nearly pulled off the unthinkable, guiding San Jose State back from a 17-3 halftime deficit to tie the game at 17 before surrendering the game-winning field goal to the Cardinal in the fourth quarter.
While we might not be expecting the defending Military Bowl champions to upset the defending Rose Bowl champions in Week 2 this season, we are expecting big things again from Fales.
Bryn Renner, North Carolina
USA TODAY Sports
With a national focus on quarterbacks that can seemingly play every position at once, some of the truly great traditional pocket passer quarterbacks are being overlooked. North Carolina's Bryn Renner is one such quarterback, and he's closing in on a slew of UNC passing records.
Renner finished 2012 with 279.7 passing yards per game, third in the ACC, but his 28-to-7 touchdowns to interceptions ratio was the best in the conference.
Renner, who passed for 3,356 yards last season, also missed out on his fair share of recognition at least in part because of North Carolina's lingering NCAA sanctions. The Tar Heels finished in a tie for first place in the ACC-Coastal, and had the best record (8-4) of the three co-champions. But a post-season ban prevented ACC Championship Game consideration, or any bowl trip.
If Renner repeats 2012, a season in which he improved dramatically with reduced interceptions and increased touchdown production, he could emerge as one of the nation's elite passers. With a bowl game on the horizon for the Tar Heels in 2013, not to mention a possible repeat as Coastal Division champions, there will be more focus on the Tar Heels this time around. Maybe with the added national attention, Renner will finally be the recipient of accolades he probably deserved last season.
Connor Shaw, South Carolina
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
South Carolina fans have often wondered why Connor Shaw doesn't get the same kind of attention the press showers on Alabama's A.J. McCarron and Georgia's Aaron Murray.
Okay, so maybe he hasn't been leading his team to championships, maybe his 1,956 passing yards was 10th in a conference that didn't have a single passer in the nation's top 10. But Shaw brings so much to the table, it's hard to figure out why he doesn't get more attention.
Shaw is 17-3 as a starter at South Carolina, and brings a level of swagger to the position not often seen.
While not the most illustrous passer in the world, he was second in the SEC last season with a 67.5 percent completion rating. Combine that with his ability to extend the play with his feet and penchant for running the ball—even if it involves some punishing hits—and Shaw's leadership ability is unmatched by almost any quarterback anywhere in the nation.
Foot surgery earlier this year may have some lingering effects we've yet to see, and backup QB Dylan Thompson is sure to get some game time this fall. But we're still comfortable calling Shaw one of the nation's most underrated quarterbacks.
Devin Gardner, Michigan
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Outside of the Big Ten, the name Devin Gardner doesn't carry much weight. That may change in 2013.
Gardner has played off and on at quarterback, usually in relief for the now departed Denard Robinson. In other games, Gardner lined up as a wide receiver. But last season, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke made the switch late from Robinson to Gardner after Robinson suffered an elbow injury. Gardner started four of Michigan's final five games last season, and he'll be the full-time starter this fall.
Gardner has been solid in his starts for Michigan, never throwing more than one interception in a game, while racking up the touchdown tosses (including three against South Carolina in the 2013 Outback Bowl). Gardner finished 2012 with 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns—again with only a handful of starts (he also added 101 rushing yards and 266 receiving yards while adding another 11 touchdowns that didn't involve him throwing the ball).
This season, Gardner will be the full-time starter from day one while benefiting from the playmaking abilities of highly touted freshman running back Derrick Green. All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan also returns, providing much needed protection for Gardner.
While he doesn't possess the explosive running ability we saw from Robinson, Gardner is much more of a "true" quarterback than Robinson ever could have hoped to be. Michigan receivers won't be tracking down wounded duck passes with Gardner in the backfield, and if he can develop some chemistry with his receiving corps, the Wolverines will be an instant favorite to win the Legends Division this fall.
Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
We've come to our final selection of underrated quarterbacks, and we went with Clemson's Tajh Boyd.
But isn't Boyd generally touted as the ACC's top returning quarterback for 2013? Isn't he the heart and soul of an up-and-coming Clemson team thirsty for a conference title, and perhaps more? Isn't he being touted as an outside contender for the Heisman this season by some pundits?
All true. But we still think he's one of the most underrated quarterbacks int he nation.
The fact of the matter is that unless you live in the heart of the ACC's media footprint, Boyd isn't getting a ton of coverage this offseason. That's understandable in the south, where all anyone can do these days is preen the peacocks feathers of the SEC. The media types across Dixie can't seem to pull themselves away from the hypnotizing cult triumvirate of Saban, Miles and Spurrier.
The Big Ten is similarly single-minded when it comes to its media coverage; who is going to chase down that elusive BCS win over the SEC and why hasn't it happened yet?
Out west, the Pac-12 and Big 12 fans often forget that there's any football civilization left east of the Mississippi.
Boyd may be well covered around the ACC, but the lack of attention elsewhere has us believing he's still being underestimated by the rest of the nation.
With Clemson opening the season against Georgia, you can bet that the nation will quickly bring its attention to Clemson, South Carolina on August 31 when the Bulldogs come rolling in to Memorial Stadium to take on the Tigers—especially if the Tigers deliver a marquee win.
So what does Tajh Boyd have to do to finally see his name in the same sentences as A.J. McCarron, Johnny Manziel, Braxton Miller and Marcus Mariotta?
Step one: beat Georgia. A win over what is sure to be a preseason top 10 UGA team will go a long way towards earning some street cred—not to mention Heisman hype—for Boyd. As the season wears on, Boyd and the Tigers will also need to avoid the seemingly perennial mid-to-late-season letdowns they have subjected Clemson fans to year after year.
Finally, Boyd needs to close the distance between himself and the nation's top passers, statistically speaking. In 2012, Boyd was 10th in the FBS with 3,896 passing yards—over 400 yards behind the national leader. Cutting down his average of one interception per game wouldn't hurt, either.
If Boyd can do those three things in 2013, he'll not only have Clemson in the middle of a BCS National Championship chase, we guarantee he'll also have his name on the lips of every sports writer, from Florida to Michigan and New York to California—many of whom are Heisman voters.
Follow @davidrluther on Twitter!