Which Returning College Football QBs Are Best in Red Zone?

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterMarch 28, 2014

AP Images

Few things in college football are more frustrating than when an offense stalls in the red zone.

Unless you're B/R's Michael Felder, the one true voice for defenses everywhere. Then it's a thing of beauty. 

For the sake of this post, though, touchdowns in the red zone are a good thing. It helps tremendously when a team's quarterback can get it done, whether with his arm and/or his legs, when the field condenses. 

Some of the best red-zone quarterbacks in the country have moved on to the NFL, like Fresno State's Derek Carr and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. Still, other top red-zone quarterbacks are returning for the 2014 season. 

Which ones are the best?

Jameis Winston, Florida State

Surprise! Last year's Heisman winner is lethal in the red zone. As a result, Florida State was one of the best red-zone offenses in the country, scoring touchdowns a little more than 79 percent of the time on 73 trips. That was third in the nation. 

Winston himself was incredibly efficient, throwing 21 touchdowns to, count 'em, zero interceptions. His 63 percent completion percentage is good, but his 312 passing yards put him sixth in the country. His passer rating of 239.83 was 13th nationally. 

While Winston didn't run often, he made it count when he did. He has an additional four rushing touchdowns on just 14 attempts, averaging just under five yards a carry. 

Winston's numbers are among the best for returning quarterbacks, but what really stands out is his decision-making—for a redshirt freshman, nonetheless. 

And, of course, who could forget his Heisman moment against Maryland?

Credit: Bleacher Report

Credit: Bleacher Report

Rakeem Cato, Marshall

From a Heisman winner to a dark-horse Heisman candidate, Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato is a name to watch in 2014

What helps Cato's Heisman push are his red-zone numbers. His 24 touchdown passes to just one interception are second-best among returning quarterbacks. The Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year also has six rushing touchdowns, giving him 30 of the Thundering Herd's 52 red-zone touchdowns. 

Like Winston, Cato looks to pass instead of run, but when he does use his legs, he does so efficiently to bide time in and around the pocket. When the field is shorter, extending a play as much as possible helps. 

Best Returning Red Zone QBs
Name (School)Passing TDsRushing TDsRating
Jameis Winston (Florida State)214239.83
Rakeem Cato (Marshall)246229.96
Shane Carden (East Carolina)2310192.35
San Mannion (Oregon State)280173.19

Shane Carden, East Carolina

East Carolina may be moving to the American Athletic Conference in 2014, but Shane Carden was one of the best quarterbacks in Conference USA last season along with Cato. 

Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

Conference USA's MVP threw 23 touchdowns to just two interceptions in the red zone. However, his completion percentage (68.2) and passing yards (400) were significantly better than Cato's numbers (58.6 completion percentage and 264 yards, respectively). 

Carden wasn't the most efficient runner, but he did add 10 rushing touchdowns. In all, Carden accounted for about 65 percent of the Pirates' red-zone touchdowns. 

Sean Mannion, Oregon State

Oregon State tied for 10th last season in red-zone trips (68). However, the Beavers weren't always the most efficient team in the red zone, scoring touchdowns about 63 percent of the time.

Still, it's hard to ignore the numbers quarterback Sean Mannion put up. His 28 red-zone passing touchdowns lead all returning quarterbacks, though he did have three interceptions. 

Mannion is a pure drop-back quarterback; he's not going to beat anyone with his legs. He didn't have any rushing touchdowns, but that shouldn't negate what he was able to do with his arm.

Without receiver Brandin Cooks, Mannion's favorite target inside and outside the red zone, it will be interesting to see if Mannion can keep up his red-zone numbers.

Honorable Mentions

Chuckie Keeton, Utah State: Before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in October, Keeton was an exciting red-zone weapon. He threw for 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions to go along with a pair of rushing touchdowns. 

Taysom Hill, BYU: Hill isn't known for his passing skills, but he's still a scoring threat inside the red zone. He's second among returning quarterbacks with six rushing touchdowns inside the 20-yard line. He also leads all quarterbacks with 4.77 yards per carry inside the red zone. 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com


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