College Football Teams That Will Upgrade at Quarterback in 2014

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2014

College Football Teams That Will Upgrade at Quarterback in 2014

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    A great fuss has been made this offseason about the awesome class of quarterbacks that just left college football.

    Especially in the SEC, where future college football Hall of Famers such as AJ McCarron, Johnny Manziel and Aaron Murray all departed, regression is expected at the position.

    But some teams will not miss their former signal-callers as much as Alabama, Texas A&M and Georgia will. Whether because of injury, suspension or sheer lack of talent, they needed an upgrade at the position after what they put on the field in 2013.

    Not all of those teams in need got their wish, but a few of them did. We did not count teams that are expected to see improvement from their old starters—Connor Cook at Michigan State comes to mind—but rather teams that will be trotting out different players entirely.

    If everything breaks correctly, these guys could be hailed as saviors.

Florida

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    Jeff Driskel appeared in only three games last season, breaking his leg after six passes in a mid-September loss at Miami.

    He was replaced first by Tyler Murphy (who has since moved to Boston College) and later by Skyler Mornhinweg, but neither played particularly well. Driskel is one of the most criticized players in the sport—this tends to happen to blue-chip quarterback prospects if they don't pan out to perfection—but he is without a doubt better than the two aforementioned QBs.

    That holds doubly true now that Kurt Roper has taken over the offense. Coming to Gainesville from Duke, where he helped engineer a remarkable 2013 season, Roper spread out the Gators offense during spring camp, giving Driskel more chances to make plays with his legs.

    "He has everything physically," Roper told Bruce Feldman, formerly of CBS Sports. "He does have great size, but he can really run. He's a fast guy. He can start quickly. He can change direction. His top-end speed is really good for a quarterback."

    Roper also compared Driskel to Thad Lewis, who struggled before Roper arrived at Duke but eventually became an NFL prospect. With a big senior season, Driskel can alter his narrative in a similar way.

    He certainly has the tools to be that good.

Minnesota

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    Mitch Leidner sat most of last season behind Philip Nelson, subbing in often for designed running packages but only throwing 78 passes.

    Nelson transferred (and promptly went off the rails) this offseason, leaving Leidner in the spotlight. After his impressive relief outing in the Texas Bowl, though, that might have been the case regardless.

    He's been working on his mechanics this offseason, telling Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com that his hip movement was wrong and that he's now less of an over-the-top thrower. That should add more juice to his arm, but Leidner only completed 55.1 percent of his passes last year, so accuracy remains a question.

    Still, he has the potential to be far better than Nelson was last season. The Minnesota offense should open up a bit with the return of 1,000-yard rusher David Cobb, the arrival 4-star running back Jeff Jones and the development of a young but promising receiving corps.

    Expect Leidner to reap the benefits with a nice sophomore year.

North Carolina State

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    Pete Thomas and Brandon Mitchell were a mess for North Carolina State last year, combining for just 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in a bad first season for head coach Dave Doeren.

    That was an uncomfortable feeling for Wolfpack fans, who had previously enjoyed watching an NFL quarterback under center in every season since 2008 (Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon). To go from that to...well...that must have been jarring, to say the least.

    But things should get better in 2014, now that Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett is eligible to play. Brissett started two games as a freshman with the Gators in 2011 and starred in the Wolfpack's spring game.

    Doeren's pistol offense helped Jordan Lynch break records and become a household name at Northern Illinois, and Brissett has the dual-threat skills to enjoy similar success.

Notre Dame

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    Everett Golson will probably start the season opener against Rice—he's earned that right. Just don't tell that to Malik Zaire.

    Zaire told reporters earlier this offseason that he expected to win the job, and although Golson looked decent in his return from a season-long academic suspension, any neutral party who watched the Notre Dame spring game would concede that the redshirt freshman was the best quarterback on the field.

    However this plays out, though, is irrelevant to the topic of discussion. Either option is better than "Turnover" Tommy Rees, who started in Golson's stead while Zaire took a redshirt in 2013.

    Rees gets an unfair rap and was never a bad quarterback, per se. He just wasn't good one, either.

    Both Golson and Zaire most definitely are.

Texas

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    Anything is better than Case McCoy.

    Well, not anything, but close to it. Texas has questions at quarterback, but whoever wins the starting job between David Ash, Tyrone Swoopes and incoming freshman Jerrod Heard will have earned it by beating out two decent enough options. McCoy got the job last year because of injuries.

    "The quarterbacks that we have now have to be themselves, and we have to make sure that we develop them," said first-year head coach Charlie Strong, according to Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News. "We have what we have, so let’s make sure we continue to build on what we have and make it better."

    New quarterback coach Shawn Watson came to Texas with Strong after developing Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville. Under his tutelage, turning one (if not all) of these three into a better player than McCoy seems almost certain.

Virginia

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    Almost everything went wrong at Virginia last season, but the quarterback play was particularly egregious.

    Sophomore David Watford had 15 interceptions to eight touchdowns, a backward ratio that helps explain why he is no longer atop the depth chart. Instead, head coach Mike London, who is fighting to keep his job this season, announced Greyson Lambert as the 2014 starter.

    Lambert played a bit as a redshirt freshman, improving as the season went on. He struggled against a very good Virginia Tech secondary in the season finale, but the week before that, he completed 13 of 19 passes for 134 yards and no interceptions at Miami. Not half bad.

    "Greyson did a very good job with his on-the-field performance, his off-the-field performance, the things we've asked him to do," London said after naming him the starter this spring, per Jared Shanker of ESPN.com. "He's done them and he put himself in position to come out of the spring as the guy being named as the starter at this point."

    For the first time in a long time, UVA appears to have a quarterback.

Bonus: Utah State

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    Chuckie Keeton appeared in six games last season, which is more than the other injured quarterbacks on this list.

    It felt wrong, however, to not at least mention his return. When healthy, Keeton could make a case for being the best quarterback (or player) in college football. Seriously. He's that freakin' good.

    Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer wrote a good feature on Keeton earlier this month, calling him the sport's most exciting player. If he returns well from the torn ACL and MCL that ended his 2013 season, there is zero embellishment in that claim.

    "We’re trying to be smart about this," Keeton told Kramer of his playing status. "But I feel good about my knee and the doctors feel really good about where we are right now."

    Let the Keeton-for-Heisman hype begin!