Forget the old adage about quarterbacks getting too much credit and blame in today’s college football.
If programs want to win, they are best advised to field dynamic playmakers and fantastic decision-makers at the sport’s most important position.
Case in point: 2014 Florida State.
The Seminoles graduated first-round draft pick E.J. Manuel but upgraded with redshirt freshman Jameis Winston.
Fourteen games later, Winston and his teammates lifted the BCS National Championship trophy.
The team across the field—Auburn—had suffered through a 0-8 SEC campaign in 2012. Junior college transfer quarterback Nick Marshall can’t take all the credit, but he played no small role in turning the Tigers around to within mere seconds of a national title.
Backup quarterbacks have long been the biggest fan favorites on rosters because they, like the start of a new season, represent the unknown and—more importantly—hope.
Today we examine 12 starting quarterbacks who could lose their jobs during the 2014 season.
To be considered for the list, the quarterback in question must have started at least half the 2013 season, or there has to be reason to believe he will be the starter in 2014.
Reasons to believe someone has a chance to start include participation as a starter in past seasons or games started during injury situations.
Fill-in moments—such as when Texas A&M quarterback hopeful Matt Joeckel stepped in for Johnny Manziel—are not considered.
Many quarterbacks on the list will have either endured struggles or injuries at times during their careers. Having former highly rated prospects as backups can also impact a player’s spot on the list.
Here is our list of quarterbacks on the hot seat.
Brandon Allen, Arkansas
Arkansas rarely threw the ball efficiently in 2013, allowing opponents to focus in on stopping tailbacks Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.
Coach Bret Bielema prefers an offense that is predicated on establishing a powerful, dominating run game and a deadly accurate play-action passing game.
Of course, such an offense only hits on all cylinders when the quarterback connects on his passes.
Brandon Allen suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder early in the third game of the season.
He only missed one game, but he was never especially effective during the conference season, at times missing wide-open receivers. In five of eight games against SEC opponents, he failed to complete 50 percent of his passes.
Bielema told WholeHogSports that Allen “looks different physically” after a recent scrimmage.
However, if Arkansas struggles again early in the season, Allen could be a sacrificial lamb for a hungry fanbase that wants to contend in perhaps the nation’s toughest division.
Allen’s younger brother, Austin Allen, drew a 4-star rating from 247Sports as a part of the class of 2013.
Rafe Peavey, one of the top signings this year, also rated as a 4-star recruit and the No. 10 pro-style quarterback prospect overall, according to 247Sports.
Allen will get a chance to continue as QB1 in Fayetteville, but a brutal schedule might make it impossible for him to keep the spot.
The Razorbacks, coming off a 3-9 season that included a 0-8 record against conference teams, open at Auburn and end September with games against Texas Tech, Northern Illinois and Texas A&M.
Bielema could face pressure early if Arkansas gets out of the gates slow, which could mean he needs to show signs that better days are ahead.
David Ash, Texas
A year ago, everything seemed headed in the right direction for Texas and quarterback David Ash.
The defense returned plenty of talent, and Ash rode a strong finish to the 2012 season into greater expectations.
Now former coach Mack Brown is gone, having resigned under pressure in December, and Ash must fend off talented newcomers to remain as the Longhorns starter.
Oh, and he must shake off the ugly memories of a lost 2013 season.
Concussions limited him to seeing action in just three games last year and threatened his career. Now he is a senior who will play for a first-year coach—Charlie Strong—with no real connection to him.
Texas also finds a number of new, talented entrants in the quarterback derby.
Tyrone Swoopes, a 4-star recruit per 247Sports who played as a true freshman in 2013, brings great athleticism to the table.
So, too, does incoming freshman Jerrod Heard—rated by 247Sports as the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback prospect.
A player not yet on campus might pose the biggest threat.
Inside USC reported that Texas is the front-runner to land the services of USC transfer Max Wittek, who is still debating which school to attend. He will have immediate eligibility to play because of the graduate-school clause.
Trevone Boykin, TCU
All the pieces seem to be in place for Trevone Boykin to open the season as the starter and keep the seat warm for someone later in 2014.
Coach Gary Patterson brought in Doug Meacham and Sonny Combie as co-offensive coordinators to run a dynamic passing attack.
Boykin, an athletic option, doesn’t seem like the prototypical passer in such an offense.
Heck, TCU didn’t even seem high on him as a quarterback. The program moved him to receiver last year when Casey Pachall returned from injury.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Stefan Stevenson wrote last November that Boykin made the move in part because of “deficiencies at finding receivers quickly.”
That’s hardly a good sign for a quarterback in a big passing attack.
Tyler Matthews hasn’t made a real push on the position during the spring, but incoming freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein could.
Remember, Combie comes from Texas Tech, where Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield shined as true freshmen in 2013.
Jeff Driskel, Florida
Jeff Driskel’s breakout season that wasn't ended prematurely when he suffered a gruesome leg injury during the third game of the season.
That injury served as one in a long line for the Gators, who were decimated in 2013. As a result, Florida suffered through a miserable 4-8 season that included a loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern.
Fast-forward a few months to find coach Will Muschamp, on the hottest of seats, turning to a new offensive coordinator in hopes of breathing life into a stale, predictable offense. Kurt Roper comes from Duke, where he learned under David Cutcliffe—among the game’s great quarterback-whisperers.
Roper has his work cut out for him with Driskel.
Yes, he has athleticism and helped lead the Gators to an 11-2 season in 2012.
He also has yet to show any ability to help Florida win games behind his arm. When the Gators have won with Driskel, it was largely because the defense and run game have carried the team.
With Muschamp facing so much pressure, there could be cause for incoming freshman Will Grier to get a look. 247Sports rated him as the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the nation in the class of 2014.
Driskel will open the season with every chance to keep the starting job.
He might also lose it with the type of mistake-prone play that he exhibited last year against Miami.
Devin Gardner, Michigan
Shane Morris, rated by 247Sports as the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in 2013, looks to give Gardner a significant push this spring, though the incumbent starter should probably be favored to win the position.
The question now is: Which Gardner will show up in 2014?
Last year he threw eight touchdown passes and zero interceptions over his final four regular-season games.
Still, the Wolverines lost three of the four.
Ironically, during Michigan’s 4-0 start, Gardner struggled badly with turnovers. He threw eight interceptions and lost a pair of fumbles during a stretch that featured three inferior opponents.
Morris started the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in place of Gardner, who suffered a toe injury against Ohio State. The southpaw connected on 24 of 38 passes for 196 yards. He also threw an interception.
He appeared comfortable in the pocket and showed signs of finding the right receivers in the game.
Don’t be surprised to see him again if Gardner struggles with consistency in 2014.
Connor Halliday, Washington State
Life under coach Mike Leach means always being one errant pass away from sitting on the bench indefinitely.
That’s a bad sign for a quarterback who threw 22 interceptions and took 31 sacks in 2013.
Yes, Halliday led the Cougars to their first bowl game since 2003. But he also exhibited a disturbing propensity for turnovers and poor decisions.
Opponents intercepted his passes in 12 of the 13 games, leaving Utah as the lone team to play against the Cougars that did not land an interception. In six—or half—of the team’s regular-season games, Halliday threw more than one interception.
At some point in 2014—when Washington State is struggling and Leach is unable to control himself—Halliday seems like a strong candidate to take a seat.
Jake Heaps, Kansas
Count Charlie Weis as another coach on a hot seat who needs to show that the future can be brighter.
And consider that a strike against Jake Heaps, who already has plenty thanks to consistently subpar play at Kansas.
He completed just 49 percent of his passes in 2013 and threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (eight).
The Jayhawks managed to win just one Big 12 game last season—a victory over West Virginia in which Heaps didn’t play.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that Weis has already hinted at a two-quarterback system.
That’s not a good sign for Heaps starting every game in 2014.
Cody Kessler, USC
The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that first-year coach Steve Sarkisian will likely name Cody Kessler the first-team quarterback in the coming days.
Should he select Kessler over redshirt freshman Max Browne, it wouldn’t be a real surprise.
Kessler started last year but split time early in the season with now-departed Max Wittek.
Once former coach Lane Kiffin was fired and interim coach Ed Orgeron installed Kessler as the man, Kessler shined. Over the final nine games, he threw 14 touchdown passes against just three interceptions.
The Trojans went 7-2 over that stretch.
Sarkisian’s decision to host an open competition meant Browne, 247Sports' No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2013, got the chance to push Kessler during spring practice.
Browne has made the most of the additional reps in practice.
Kessler seems on track to start the season, but to keep the spot he must continue to play at the high level at which he finished in 2013.
Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
One game elevated Trevor Knight from part-time starter in 2013 to potential Heisman Trophy contender in the 2014 preseason.
Of course that game, a 348-yard, four-touchdown performance in an attention-grabbing Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, makes him difficult to overlook.
That last year’s quarterback competition is no longer in the picture—Blake Bell moved to tight end and Kendal Thompson transferred to Utah—seemingly makes it obvious Knight will open as the starter.
One game can springboard players and teams into outstanding seasons, but it can also prove to be an aberration.
It’s worth noting that Knight threw 20 passes in just three regular-season games and completed just 52 percent of his attempts before the Sugar Bowl.
Nobody questions his ability. He silenced those critics with his fantastic effort against the Crimson Tide.
However, he hasn’t proved he can sustain such a high level of play over the course of a season.
That Cody Thomas, 247Sports’ No. 6 pro-style QB in the class of 2013, is waiting in the wings means coach Bob Stoops has qualify options in the background if Knight struggles.
Don’t be surprised to see more than one signal-caller take snaps in 2014.
Hutson Mason, Georgia
Hutson Mason waited for his time to get his chance as Georgia’s starting quarterback.
Now he finds himself in a tough situation.
His high-wire act includes trying to live up to the standard of excellence set by record-breaking predecessor Aaron Murray while simultaneously fending off Georgia’s potential quarterback of the future.
The latter, Brice Ramsey, is making early waves during spring practice.
247Sports rated him as the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2013. Georgia also signed highly touted recruit Jacob Park—a true freshman who enrolled early.
If things go sideways though, as they did in 2013, don’t be surprised to see Richt favor developing younger quarterbacks as he did when Matthew Stafford was a freshman.
Gary Nova, Rutgers
A horrific five-game stretch in the middle of the 2013 season sent Gary Nova plummeting from potential breakout star to the Rutgers bench.
The man who replaced Nova, Chas Dodd, is now gone.
Whether Nova can put that tough experience in the past remains to be seen and will largely hinge on his ability to play mistake-free football.
He had opened the season with 13 touchdown passes against just four interceptions. However, Rutgers dropped four of its next five games. During those four losses, opposing defenses intercepted Nova 10 times, while he threw just two touchdown passes.
Dodd’s departure doesn’t mean Nova has a free ride. Philip Nelson transferred to Rutgers from Minnesota, where he started 16 games over the past two seasons.
Marquise Williams, North Carolina
North Carolina took significant steps forward once Marquise Williams took the helm on offense.
Now he must try to fend off redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback prospect in 2013, according to 247Sports.
As far as Trubisky is concerned, the QB1 race is wide open during spring practice.
That Williams enters as the odds-on favorite should come as no surprise, though. With him under center, the Tar Heels rattled off five wins in their final six games.
He threw for 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions in his six games as a starter. He also rushed for an additional five scores.
Still, Trubisky poses a significant threat to Williams as the starting quarterback—whether immediately or during the season.