Projecting College Football QBs Who'll Make a Name for Themselves This Fall

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2014

Projecting College Football QBs Who'll Make a Name for Themselves This Fall

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    Quarterbacks come from relative anonymity—and sometimes absolutely nowhere—to become household names each year.

    At this time last season, Bryce Petty was scant-known outside of Waco, Texas, and two years before that, we didn't know the first thing about a redshirt freshman named Johnny Manziel.

    By definition, though, predicting which QBs will make a name for themselves is a difficult endeavor. Even deciding what "make a name for themselves" means is tricky. So let's go through some parameters.

    What we're looking for are quarterbacks who (1) haven't seen much meaningful playing time or (2) have seen meaningful playing time but haven't had enough individual or team success (or both) to have established a positive name nationally already.

    For the purposes of this list, that means certain types of quarterbacks were not considered. Those types include the following:

    1. Any quarterback who has started a full season (more or less) and led his team to a bowl game—even if he did so in relative obscurity. That includes players such as C.J. Brown at Maryland, Garrett Grayson at Colorado State and Cody Fajardo at Nevada.
    2. Blue-chip incoming freshmen. Kyle Allen and Brandon Harris might have big roles to play this season, but because of what recruiting has become nowadays, neither has to "make" a name for himself so soon after this cycle. Their names are already fresh in our minds.
    3. More subjective omissions such as Maty Mauk at Missouri, Dylan Thompson at South Carolina, Davis Webb at Texas Tech and Marquise Williams at North Carolina—quarterbacks who have never started a full season but have already had enough success in meaningful games to become fairly well-known.

    I imagine that is a little confusing in the abstract. Hopefully, it will all make sense when you see the 12 listed players.

    Sound off below and let me know whom I missed.

Jacoby Brissett, North Carolina State

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    Projected starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett—known in certain Florida circles as "the guy who couldn't beat out Jeff Driskel"—transferred to North Carolina State last January and has spent more than a year learning Dave Doeren's offense.

    With size and arm strength that drew JaMarcus Russell comparisons (subscription required) in high school, Brissett has the physical attributes of a successful quarterback. He doesn't lack for contextual factors, either. Doeren knows how to structure an offense around a star QB (see: Jordan Lynch at Northern Illinois), and the Wolfpack have a quietly decent group of pass-catchers.

    "To be honest, I think we can be great," Brissett told Heather Dinich of ESPN.com about the Wolfpack offense in Doeren's second season. "With the weapons around, and with another year in the offense, it gives us an opportunity to improve on where we are and expand on the foundation we already laid last year."

    Brissett completed 24 of 37 passes for 365 yards and a couple of long touchdowns in the spring game. Granted, that is only an exhibition, but it was definitely cause for mild optimism.

Jacob Coker, Alabama

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    Everything we've heard about Jacob Coker is fantastic, but everything we actually know about him is conjecture.

    Former coaches have compared his arm favorably to that of Jameis Winston (whom Coker backed up at Florida State) and called him the most talented Alabama quarterback of the Nick Saban era, but until we see him play a meaningful snap, all of that praise is speculative.

    Still, it is difficult to ignore everything Coker has going for him. He is a legitimate 6'5", and receivers spoke about being alarmed by his arm strength at SEC media days.

    Speaking of receivers, Alabama's group, which is led by Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White, Chris Black, Christion Jones, Robert Foster and tight end O.J. Howard, might very well be the best in America.

    With that and what should be a dominant running game behind him, Coker is well-supported to become a breakout star of the season. Even half-decent play would lead to impressive numbers.

    Coker has a name already, but it's a name that's been made through the media. This fall, he should finally get to make one for himself.

Will Gardner, Louisville

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    Will Gardner will almost definitely not be as good as Teddy Bridgewater, but he might put up better raw passing numbers.

    That is the benefit of playing for Bobby Petrino.

    Gardner has a smooth downfield arm that he put on display in the Louisville spring game, completing 32 of 37 passes for 542 yards. Of course, that came against a second-team (and Todd Grantham-coached) defense, but the numbers are eye-popping nonetheless.

    Like Jacob Coker at Alabama, Gardner is 6'5" and aided by what should be a very good running game and a deep group of receivers.

    Almost everything around him points toward a big season.

Matt Joeckel, TCU

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    Matt Joeckel is used to being "the other guy." He was the other Joeckel behind big brother Luke, an offensive lineman who was selected No. 2 overall in the 2013 NFL draft, and he was the other quarterback behind Johnny Manziel, who...well, you know the rest.

    But now, Joeckel should go from being "the other guy" to simply being "the guy" at TCU, where he transferred this offseason and is immediately eligible to play. His presence should move Trevone Boykin, last year's primary quarterback, back to wide receiver and make him one of the most reliable underneath weapons on the team.

    More than that, Joeckel will be playing in an offense that is new to TCU fans but familiar after his time in College Station: the Air Raid system favored by new co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie (via Texas Tech) and Doug Meachem (via Houston and Oklahoma State).

    Not a bad scheme to land in.

Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati

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    Gunner Kiel has already made a name for himself.

    But that was way back in high school, and, for many parties, it's a name that has already been forgotten.

    The one-time blue-chip recruit has taken a long road to Cincinnati, committing to LSU and Indiana before enrolling at Notre Dame and transferring after the 2012 season. He sat out last year and learned the offense under Tommy Tuberville and now appears ready to play.

    In the first half of the spring game this April, Kiel completed 17 of 22 passes for 300 yards, leading the first-team offense to three touchdowns. He showed much of what made him such a highly rated prospect in the first place: the smooth, efficient release, the velocity on intermediate throws, the deceptive athleticism and footwork.

    On his early big board for the 2015 NFL draft, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked Kiel No. 7 among draft-eligible quarterbacks and called him the biggest sleeper in the class.

Sefo Liufau, Colorado

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    It didn't result in a winning record or a bowl game, but Colorado took a big step forward in its second year under head coach Mike McIntyre.

    A big part of that improvement was the emergence of Sefo Liufau, then a freshman quarterback who relieved Connor Wood of his starting duties around the middle of the season.

    Liufau loses his best pass-catcher, Paul Richardson, from last year's team, but the next three leading receivers all return. Between that and another year of development and maturity, he should be able to improve on the already decent QB rating (128.31) he posted in 2013.

    Liufau is 6'4" and a pretty good athlete for his size, and according to his official team profile, he won the Iron Buffalo Award for QBs after a spring weight program that saw him gain 20 pounds.

    He is ready for the added responsibility.

Hutson Mason, Georgia

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    Hutson Mason doesn't need to be here right now.

    When it became clear that Aaron Murray would become Aaron Murray, Mason could have done as most college quarterbacks would have done and transferred. But he didn't.

    He stayed.

    "[Mason has] really sacrificed a lot for this team," said head coach Mark Richt at SEC media days, per the team's official Twitter account. "He knew this season was going to come."

    Perhaps he also knew whom he'd be playing with.

    Georgia has surrounded Mason with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall (along with a pair of incoming 5-star recruits) in the backfield and six proven receivers—Chris Conley, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley, Reggie Davis and Jonathon Rumph—who could all rightfully lead the team in receiving.

    As a fifth-year senior who has never had a different head coach than Richt or offensive coordinator than Mike Bobo, Mason has an expert grip on this offense. Learning under Murray didn't hurt, either.

    There's a reason he's been waiting so patiently.

Cole Stoudt, Clemson

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    Cole Stoudt was always the betting man's favorite to replace Tajh Boyd, and after Deshaun Watson broke his collarbone before the spring game, and Chad Kelly got dismissed from the team after the spring game, he was officially announced as the starter.

    There are still rumblings about Watson, a true freshman, getting snaps and maybe even starting at some point this season. I am guilty of helping to perpetuate them. But for now, assuming Stoudt holds onto the job, he is good enough to make a name for himself.

    Why? Two big reasons are experience and system. Stoudt is a senior who has spent three years learning Chad Morris' offense—which is not a bad scheme to learn. There's a reason Morris is the highest-paid assistant coach in the country. He gets the best out of his players.

    Stoudt is 6'4" and strong-armed and has always looked good (albeit in garbage time) when relieving Boyd the past few seasons.

    He should do fine with the starting job in 2014.

Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech

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    Justin Thomas is the perfect quarterback for Paul Johnson's triple-option offense—not just because of his physical skills, but because he is actually willing to play in Johnson's triple-option offense.

    That second part needs to be said after this offseason, when former starting QB Vad Lee transferred and said he was never a fan of the system. Which is funny because, according to Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitutionthe Jackets got away from the option and threw more last season than ever before under Johnson.

    "More option, more triple option," Johnson said of this year's strategy at ACC media days, per Sugiura. "We really got away from it a year ago. We ran very little triple option. We weren’t very good at it."

    Thomas was a 4-star athlete and the No. 147 overall prospect in the 2012 recruiting class, per the 247Sports composite rankings. He originally committed to Alabama before switching to Georgia Tech.

    Even though he appeared in 10 games last season, Thomas never saw enough real playing time to make a name for himself. In a wide-open ACC Coastal—and that might be putting it lightly—he has a chance to do some big things as a sophomore (and beyond).

Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh

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    Two constant themes on this list have been coaching and weapons. Each player included here is talented, but without a good mentor and someone reliable to throw to, it is hard to truly break out.

    Chad Voytik has all of those things.

    Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst groomed some solid QBs at Wisconsin, and his brother, Geep, is the QB coach of the San Francisco 49ers. At receiver, Voytik has fellow sophomore Tyler Boyd, who caught 85 passes for 1,174 yards as a true freshman.

    In his only extended action of last season, Voytik relieved an injured Tom Savage during the Little Caesar's Bowl and promptly hit Boyd with a beautiful downfield strike for 62 yards. He capped that drive with a five-yard rushing touchdown (his running is underrated) and eventually led Pitt to a 30-27 win over MAC champion Bowling Green.

    Not a bad way to end one's freshman year.

P.J. Walker, Temple

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    Temple's passing game was not excellent last season, but its freshman quarterback was. P.J. Walker looked great with his legs and his arm for a team that got (significantly) better as the year went on.

    Walker looks to have improved this offseason, too. He attended the Manning Passing Academy in July and caught the attention of some NFL scouts—one of whom compared him to former Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, per John N. Mitchell of Philly.com.

    "He shows anticipation, and he's got good accuracy," the scout (who works for an NFC South team) continued, per Mitchell. "He seems to be able to throw the long ball pretty well. I'm excited about him."

    Walker finished with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season for an offense that prefers to pass the football. With an offseason of growth behind him and a full season of starting ahead of him, it's exciting to think how those numbers might swell in 2013.

Travis Wilson, Utah

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    Travis Wilson wasn't the most consistent quarterback in the country, but he did play a couple of brilliant games before concussion issues forced him out the lineup (and threatened his career) last season.

    The interceptions (16 on 237 pass attempts) are a glaring problem, but before getting nicked up by Arizona, Wilson threw for more than 230 yards in each of his six games, most of which came against quality competition. He also rushed for 142 yards against Oregon State.

    At 6'7", Wilson has a rare frame for a mobile quarterback, and he's capable of making every conceivable throw. With the coaching of new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen, who comes over after five years as the head coach at Wyoming and more than a decade running the offense at Missouri, he will be put in a position to succeed.

    Getting 1,000-yard receiver Dres Anderson back doesn't hurt, either.