Quarterback/Wide Receiver Combos That Are Bound to Break Out This Season
With quarterbacks regularly eclipsing 5,000 passing yards, and with wide receivers inching toward 2,000 yards, quarterback/wide receiver combos are trending in college football. They're combos that are fun to watch—unless you're an opposing defense, that is.
Last year, it was Oregon State's Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks. Two years before that, it was Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon.
With the departures of duos like Fresno State's Derek Carr and Davante Adams, or Clemson's Tajh Boyd Sammy Watkins, there's a new crop of quarterback/receiver combos bound to break out in 2014.
The only rule here is the quarterbacks on this list must have thrown for fewer than 3,000 yards last year. Similarly, the receivers must have had fewer than 1,000 receiving yards last year.
Who are some players to watch? The answers are in the following slides.
Will Gardner and DeVante Parker
Louisville loses quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, which is no small thing. Bridgewater was easily the best player to pass through the program in a decade.
The Cardinals have a likely successor, though: Will Gardner, a 6'5", 230-pound redshirt sophomore. Gardner has only attempted 12 passes, but head coach Bobby Petrino seems awfully confident in his young quarterback.
"He’s a young man who is extremely coachable, very intelligent and really into it," Petrino told Jeff Greer of USA Today. "When you talk about dedication and commitment, Will has done all of that."
Petrino is known as an offensive guru, and he's coached up some solid college quarterbacks in his days, from Brian Brohm to Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson. However, his last 1,000-yard receiver was Jarius Wright in 2011.
DeVante Parker came close for the Cardinals last year, leading the team with 55 receptions for 885 yards. With an experienced offensive line and a defense that could take a step back, there should be more than enough opportunities for Gardner and Parker to connect.
Davis Webb and Jakeem Grant
It's no secret that Texas Tech is going to sling it around. At least now the Red Raiders know who their quarterback is going to be.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury won with two freshmen last year: Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb. But after Mayfield transferred from the program, Webb was put in the driver's seat. There's a lot of confidence in the sophomore after he threw for 2,718 yards and 20 touchdowns, but he loses his top two receiving weapons: Jace Amaro and Eric Ward.
No matter; just insert Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez.
Grant may lack size at 5'6" and 160 pounds, but he's a dynamic playmaker who can hurt defenses with his quickness. Kingsbury is creative enough to figure out ways to get Grant the ball, too. Now that there's a consistent quarterback situation—or, one with limited options—Tech may have found its next great quarterback/receiver combo.
Jacob Coker and Amari Cooper
(Note: The look on Auburn coach Gus Malzahn's face in the photo above is perfect. As you were.)
Like Louisville, Alabama is replacing a prolific quarterback in AJ McCarron. Florida State transfer Jacob Coker should be in line to start for the Tide this season and he has one of the best receivers in college football to throw to in junior Amari Cooper.
Cooper still had a solid year in 2013 with 45 receptions for 736 yards, but he caught just four touchdowns while being hampered by a nagging toe injury. Back up to full health, Cooper could eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in first-year coordinator Lane Kiffin's offense.
With T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry providing a one-two punch in the backfield, the passing game should be open for deep passes down the field. Coker and Cooper may not rack up the most passing/receiving yards this season, but there's a ton of big-play potential between the two.
Cody Kessler and Nelson Agholor
This quarterback/receiver combo for USC nearly eclipsed 3,000 passing yards/1,000 receiving yards last season with mostly an interim head coach.
With new beginnings under first-year coach Steve Sarkisian, quarterback Cody Kessler and receiver Nelson Agholor are primed for an even bigger year.
And credit to Sarkisian for announcing his verdict when he did. Forced to share the quarterback job with Wittek through the Trojans’ first two games in 2013 under the previous coaching regime, Kessler admitted to having been rattled by the constant state of uncertainty. By announcing Kessler as the starter in the spring this time around, Sarkisian has allowed his veteran passer to get a whole summer under his belt as the man in charge of what he can now safely call his team.
Agholor is an All-American that Bucky Brooks of NFL.com has on his list of wide receivers to watch this season. With less chaos surrounding the coaching staff, 2014 looks to be a big year for Kessler and Agholor.
Christian Hackenberg and Geno Lewis
As a freshman, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg nearly threw for 3,000 yards. About half of them went to receiver Allen Robinson, who piled up 1,432 yards.
Robinson is gone, however, and there's much less production returning. Geno Lewis is the leading returning wide receiver after reeling in 18 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns a year ago. There's a lot of young talent at wide receiver for the Nittany Lions, so it's possible receiving yards are spread around.
Or, the opposite could be true: Lewis might just take control as younger guys get up to speed. Simply as a result of being a go-to guy, Lewis' stats could skyrocket in '14. If nothing else, he has the most physically gifted passer in the Big Ten throwing the ball to him.
Nate Sudfeld and Shane Wynn
Indiana is still looking to get back to the postseason, but say this for the Hoosiers: They're entertaining. That should continue to be the case this season with quarterback Nate Sudfeld and receiver Shane Wynn.
Last season, Sudfeld split time with Tre Roberson. However, Roberson announced last month that he would be transferring from the program. That leaves Sudfeld as the main guy in head coach Kevin Wiilson's pass-happy offense.
And while the Hoosiers lose receivers Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes, Shane Wynn returns after catching a team-best 11 touchdowns last season.
If defense is a liability again for Indiana—the Hoosiers had the worst scoring defense in the Big Ten, per cfbstats.com—expect to see the offense put the ball in the air even more than it normally would. That could mean big numbers for Sudfeld and Wynn.
Grant Rohach and Quenton Bundrage
Consider this an off-the-radar prediction and perhaps a bit of a stretch, but that's what summer predictions are for.
Iowa State's offense easily could go from ninth in the Big 12 to serviceable with the addition of offensive coordinator Mark Mangino. And the former Kansas head coach has some pieces to work with.
It starts with quarterback Grant Rohach, who, as a freshman, showed promise in the final two games of the season—wins over Kansas and West Virginia. He should be the favorite to be named the starter. Receiver Quenton Bundrage, one of the more underrated pass-catchers in the Big 12, caught 48 passes for 676 yards and nine touchdowns.
"On paper, we've got guys that have had playing experience in this league and done some things with success," head coach Paul Rhoads said via Tommy Burch of the Des Moines Register. "I'll be anxious to have that with the new things that we're doing with the leadership of our coaches and see what can take place."
Cole Stoudt and Mike Williams
No Tajh Boyd? No Sammy Watkins? No problem for Clemson and offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
Arguably the brightest offensive mind in the college game, Morris has to replace two superstars, but he is more than capable with veteran quarterback Cole Stoudt and young receiver Mike Williams. The former 4-star pass-catcher had a decent freshman season with 20 receptions for 316 yards and three touchdowns, but he was also learning from Watkins and Martavis Bryant.
Coming into 2014, he's Stoudt's go-to target. Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier explains:
Cole Stoudt's now slinging it around as the first-teamer, and it was no accident Williams and tight end Jordan Leggett were the ones catching touchdown passes from Stoudt in the spring game. Those are Stoudt's preferred targets entering the season. Those are the fellas catching passes late into summer nights at the practice facility when no one's watching.
Morris' ability to plug players into his scheme with success bodes well for Stoudt, a big pure passer, and Williams, a tall No. 1 receiver.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.