Few things are prettier than a football caught in a well-placed downfield throw. Since there are still five months before the start of the season, all anyone can do is look back at highlights from last year.
You know, to bide the time and all.
Inching toward the 2014 season, it's time to examine which returning quarterbacks throw the best deep ball. Obviously, this is a matter of opinion based on what your eyes tell you. Stats and completion percentages don't tell the whole story here. In some instances, they may not even tell part of it.
Rather, this is based on things like arm strength and accuracy. In other words, if you had to get down the field in a hurry, who would you want throwing the ball?
Which returning quarterbacks throw the best deep ball? Prepare yourself for a montage of quarterback porn.
Which quarterback throws the best long ball?
Bryce Petty, Baylor
Unquestionably, Petty threw the prettiest long ball in the Big 12—not that he had a ton of competition. Still, his arm strength is perfectly suited for Baylor's ability to stretch the field.
Petty had help from two wide receivers who specialized in yards after the catch: Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese. Not only could both receivers pick up big yardage on short-to-intermediate routes, but they could simply run by defenders.
All Petty had to do was put it where Goodley and Reese could catch it in stride on their way to a touchdown. And Petty did so quite often as part of 4,200 passing yards last season. And even if Petty missed the first time, head coach Art Briles had enough faith in his quarterback to try again. Petty's second-highest passer rating (235.5, per ESPN) came in 2nd-and-long situations (eight to 10 yards).
Baylor's vertical passing game suffered a bit when Reese was sidelined for the last month of the season with a wrist injury. But even on a so-so day, Baylor's downfield passing game was better than most teams on a good day.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Mariota is a quarterback who doesn't get to throw downfield nearly enough given his arm strength. When he does, though, it can be a thing of a beauty. With 3,665 passing yards last season, Mariota has shown he can sling it around.
Mariota's two favorite targets, Josh Huff and Bralon Addison, were excellent deep-ball targets in 2013. How Mariota fares without Huff will be interesting to watch. Still, he was remarkably efficient on 4th-and-long situations (more than 10 yards), completing all three passes for two touchdowns.
If there's one thing Mariota needs to work on, it's his downfield accuracy. He tends to throw high or behind, and there are a few big pickups that could have been touchdowns had he hit his receivers in stride. As long as he keeps improving, though, his passing numbers should border on absurd in 2014.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Though Miller is known for his legs, the guy has an absolute howitzer of an arm. Wisconsin—very, very sadly, mind you—will agree to this. Miller has burned the Badgers twice on late-half touchdown throws (2011, '13).
Like Mariota, Miller isn't the most accurate vertical passer, but he can get the ball down the field in a hurry. Here's what quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. said about Miller last year via Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch: "Braxton has one of the biggest arms in college football. I know people see his speed and his playmaking ability. But I am talking about, he’s got rare, rare arm talent."
If you're running a two-minute drill, Miller is probably the guy you'd want leading the offense.
Jameis Winston, Florida State
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner may have the prettiest release in the game. He makes it look utterly effortless.
Winston isn't just dangerously throwing from the pocket. One of the best parts of his game is his ball placement on downfield throws while on the run. Winston's vertical passing game still looks great even when he doesn't plant his feet. Frankly, it could be confused for sorcery.
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According to ESPN Stats and Info, Winston is absurd on down-and-distances longer than 10 yards, averaging about a 78 percent completion rate. On 3rd-and-long situations (eight to 10 yards), Winston completes about 72 percent of his passes.
Again, this doesn't account for yards after catch, but it does provide a glimpse into scenarios that call for longer passes—and how well Winston performs.
Coming back for another, and likely a final, season should have defensive coordinators shaking their heads in disgust.
Honorable Mention: Connor Cook, Michigan State
Cook really didn't take over until the third game of the '13 season against Youngstown State. By the end of the season, though, he turned into one of the best pure passers in the Big Ten with back-to-back 300-yard games against Ohio State and Stanford.
Cook doesn't always set his feet when throwing the long ball, but it gets there all the same. His ball placement on some of his deep throws is astounding.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of ESPN.