Power Ranking College Football's 10 Best QB Depth Charts for 2014
Quarterback depth charts are a difficult thing to evaluate. Do you err toward the team with the best No. 1 option or the team with the safest amount of protection behind him?
The safest way, I think, is to use a healthy combination of the two. A team with one Heisman candidate but no other viable players under center cannot be considered to have one of the best depth charts in America. Likewise, a team with two viable players but no viable starter is discredited in a similar way.
Thus, in order for a team to make this list, a combination of two things was needed: (1) a quarterback who can be trusted to compete for a conference championship and (2) a backup who can be trusted not to let the season implode if the starter gets injured.
Oregon, for example, fulfills category (1) with Marcus Mariota but not category (2) with Jeff Lockie, which is why it has been excluded. On the other hand, Michigan fulfills category (2) with either Devin Gardner or Shane Morris, but neither of those quarterbacks fulfill category (1).
There is definitely some wiggle room for argument, especially in regard to the teams with blue-chip starters.
I prefer certain young high-upside backups to others, but there are arguments to be made both ways, so feel free to chime in below and let me know where you disagree.
Considered but Just Missed the Cut
Clemson: Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watston
Illinois: Wes Lunt and Aaron Bailey
Indiana: Nate Sudfield and Tre Roberson
LSU: Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings
Michigan State: Connor Cook and Tyler O'Connor
Oklahoma: Trevor Knight and…Blake Bell?
Oregon: Marcus Mariota and Jeff Lockie
Texas A&M: Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill
This one comes with an asterisk, as it is completely dependent on the return of Munchie Legaux.
After suffering one of the most gruesome injuries the sport has ever seen, Legaux earned an extra year of eligibility and should be set to back up Gunner Kiel if he is able to return this season.
That would give Cincinnati two intriguing options under center. Legaux is battle-tested, having thrown for almost 3,000 yards during his career, while Kiel has the upside to be the AAC's top quarterback.
Kiel was the No. 1 pro-style passer in the country in the class of 2012, per the 247Sports Composite, and he threw for 300 yards in the first half of Cincinnati's spring game. If Legaux is healthy enough to back him up—or, better yet, to push him for the job this fall—the Bearcats will have a rare blend of upside and experience at the position.
Tommy Armstrong played well in spots as a redshirt freshman in 2013. Those flashes were marked with sporadic playing time and bouts of inconsistency, but he ended the year on a high note by leading an upset over Georgia (despite ugly stats) in the Gator Bowl.
According to Bleacher Report's Erin Sorenson, Armstrong looked like a new man during spring practice, exuding confidence and claiming a solid hold on the starting job. In her eyes, he might be the Big Ten's most improved player next year.
Behind Armstrong, Johnny Stanton became something of a mythic figure during his redshirt season in 2013, and Ryker Fyfe was a coaches' favorite during spring camp. The Huskers don't have a bona fide all-conference option under center, but they go three deep with guys who seem ready to compete.
8. Ohio State
If this was 2013, Ohio State would have ranked No. 1.
But now Kenny Guiton is gone, which leaves some important questions behind Braxton Miller. And if the woeful offensive spring game is any indication, there is still some work left to do.
Still, assuming either J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones improves during fall camp, Ohio State has enough depth to survive a short-term injury to Miller. Barrett in particular showed some good things during spring drills. He was a top-150 player and the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback on the 247Sports Composite two cycles ago.
Miller is the two-time reigning offensive player of the year in the Big Ten, so having him at the top helps matters immensely. Depth behind him is more of a question than a concern, which is why the Buckeyes can still crack this list, albeit near the bottom.
Baylor will be in trouble if Bryce Petty gets hurt.
But it won't be in loads of trouble the same way, say, UCLA would be if Brett Hundley went down.
Art Briles does a masterful job of grooming backup quarterbacks, as Petty plied behind Robert Griffin III for a couple of seasons before emerging as one of the best players in the country.
This year's backup, Seth Russell, enters his redshirt sophomore season with little real-time experience but plenty of time to have learned Briles' system. Russell looked reliable in mop-up duty last season and should only get better with another year under his belt.
Petty is a Heisman favorite, and Russell provides a decent-enough safety net beneath him. That's a duo that Baylor can feel good about.
6. Mississippi State
Dak Prescott has been mentioned as a sneaky Heisman candidate this offseason, but he hasn't let the love get to his head.
"[Dak is] competing as if he's trying to win the starting job, which is always good," said Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen, according to Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report. "You want to have quarterback competitions and guys pushing for playing time."
Competing as if he's trying to win the job, even though the job is clearly his, has been made easier with great depth behind him.
Prescott's presumed backup Damian Williams had a stellar spring game with 327 passing yards and four touchdowns, while freshman Nick Fitzgerald has emerged as a quality (if not awesome) third option.
Mississippi State will be mentioned quite often as an SEC and nationwide sleeper in the run-up to next season.
Quarterback depth will be a big reason why.
5. North Carolina
At the end of last season, after he usurped the starting job from Bryn Renner, Marquise Williams was playing like one of the 20 best quarterbacks in the country. No doubt about it.
And yet, because of the spring performance by redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky, Williams is not even guaranteed to start in 2014.
Here's what head coach Larry Fedora had to say of the competition, per Matt Oakes of Chapelboro.com:
Both guys have competed really well. That’s brought out the best in both of them. I think they’ll continue to do that through the summer and through fall camp. I wish that we could have that type of competition at each and every position on our team. When we do have that, then we’re going to be a really good football team. I’m pleased where both guys are.
Whoever wins the job—and even if there's some sort of timeshare—North Carolina fans can take solace in having a great QB under center. They can take even more solace in having a reliable fallback option should either Williams or Trubisky get hurt.
That's something most teams would kill for.
4. Florida State
I expect this one might be contentious.
The presence of Jameis Winston has scared off much of Florida State's quarterback depth. Last summer, Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia, and the following winter, Jacob Coker moved on to Alabama.
That leaves Sean Maguire as the only capable backup behind the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. But per Jared Shanker of ESPN.com, Maguire proved himself as a reliable second option this spring:
The disclaimer certainly is that it came against the No. 2 defense in the spring game, but Maguire showed the type of tools to be an efficient quarterback should he be called upon this fall. As the unquestioned No. 2 quarterback for the first time in his college career, Maguire said he made his biggest strides to date this spring.
Winston is the best quarterback (and arguably best player) in college football, so Maguire only needs to be serviceable for FSU to crack the top five on this list. He gets a slight nod over guys such as Jeff Lockie (Oregon), J.T. Barrett (Ohio State), Jerry Neuheisel (UCLA) and Seth Russell (Baylor) who back up other top-flight starters.
Cody Kessler grew an enormous amount during the course of last season; by the end of a wild, up-and-down campaign, he was playing like one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country.
He did a good job of seizing that momentum this spring, earning the starting nod from new head coach Steve Sarkisian despite quality competition from Max Browne. After a yearlong battle with Max Wittek (who transferred this offseason) before the start of 2013, Kessler now knows where he stands throughout the summer.
Also, Browne assured Rich Hammond of the Orange County Register that losing the battle will not lead to his transfer, which means USC will still have one of the highest-upside backups in the country.
He is now in his second year with the Trojans and was the top-ranked quarterback in the 2013 class, per the 247Sports Composite.
It's hard to ask for more in a second option.
2. Notre Dame
Everett Golson or Malik Zaire? Malik Zaire or Everett Golson?
Does it matter?
Notre Dame has found the perfect tonic for last year's Tommy Rees-led season: a quarterback battle between two very qualified options.
Golson returns from academic suspension and is still 12-0 as a starter in the regular season, while Zaire dominated the spring game and looks like one of the most athletic QBs in Notre Dame history.
Public sentiment seems to be with Zaire—the younger, faster, sexier option. But pragmatism seems to point toward Golson, who is battle-tested after leading Notre Dame to the national title game in his redshirt freshman season two years ago.
Either way, though, it seems that the Irish cannot make a bad choice.
Oh, how a year can change things. At this time last season, Auburn was steeling itself for a four-way quarterback competition between two returning players and two mysterious newcomers.
Those two then-newbies—JUCO transfer Nick Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson—are now the No. 1 and 2 quarterbacks for the team with the best depth chart at the position in the country.
Marshall grew as a passer throughout last season, and the former Georgia defensive back is predictably special with his legs. His arm looked even better during Auburn's spring game too, when he finished 13-of-22 passing with 236 yards and four touchdowns and was named the offensive MVP.
Johnson, meanwhile, is a 6'6" pocket passer who might be the best backup quarterback in America. According to Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN (via Drew Champlin of AL.com), head coach Gus Malzahn even said before the BCS National Championship Game that Johnson would be given a chance to start in 2014.
That's the kind of impression he has made on the coaching staff.
From the looks of it, that statement was not entirely true. Marshall will of course be the starter next year. But the sentiment behind what Malzahn (allegedly) said remains consistent: Johnson can really play.
And Auburn is stacked under center.