NCAA Football: Grading Each Starting Freshman Quarterback's 2010 Performance

Preston ParkerCorrespondent IMarch 29, 2011

NCAA Football: Grading Each Starting Freshman Quarterback's 2010 Performance

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    Every year, hundreds of high school quarterbacks sign with colleges around the country, hoping to become the next Chad Henne or Riley Skinner, a quarterback who finds immense success starting four years for his college program.

    For some, freshman year can be a sign of things to come, a precursor to a potentially legendary career. For others, it could be something to forget, a combination of getting used to the rigors of college life. However, for some, it can provide valuable experience and show off their immense potential.

    Here, we review and grade the first years of 21 quarterbacks who earned legitimate playing time for their university. While some impressed, others failed to make the grade.

Chase Rettig, Boston College

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    Ranked #10 overall as a Quarterback in 2010

    Boston College came into the season hoping that 26 year old sophomore Dave Shinskie would provide a bit of maturity on a young offense. After a 2-3 start in which Shinskie struggled, it was apparent he was not the answer. Boston College embraced the young offense and turned to highly recruited freshman Chase Rettig.

    Rettig's first start came against Florida State. The team leaned on star running back Montel Harris and his 191 yard performance, losing 24-19, almost pulling the upset in spite of Rettig's 9 of 24 performance. However, Rettig started to turn the corner against Maryland, getting into a rhythm and, while struggling, he made plays and played well.

    Although Rettig was improving after two starts, the Golden Eagles were still 2-5. At that point, Rettig was ready to lead the Eagles on a run. The Golden Eagles ripped off five straight wins, while Rettig completed 54 of his 94 passes while throwing for four touchdowns and five interceptions. 

    While Rettig had his ups and downs, he provided a steady hand for a young and growing offense at the end of the year for the Golden Eagles. If Montel Harris returns for his senior year, Boston College will have a very impressive young core on offense, including sophomore tight end Chris Pantale, and freshman wide receivers Bobby Swigert and Alex Amidon. Rettig's freshman season may not have been overly impressive, but there's a lot of potential here. 

    Grade: C

Danny O'Brien, Maryland

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    Ranked #109 overall as a Quarterback in 2009

    Danny O'Brien came into Maryland with very little fanfare. The 109th ranked quarterback prospect by ESPN, O'Brien wasn't even the top rated quarterback headed to Maryland. However, after a redshirting his freshman year, O'Brien impressed coaches with his ability to handle offensive coordinator James Franklin's offense. 

    So when starter Jamarr Robinson went down, O'Brien made his presence known. O'Brien went 6-3 as the starter for Maryland, and solidified himself as Maryland's quarterback of the future, bringing the ACC Rookie of the Year award to Maryland for the first time in program history, as well as being the first team All-American Freshman quarterback.

    O'Brien showed an excellent feel for the pass rush in his early playing time, and even more so displayed tremendous accuracy, as well as a live arm and veteran touch. The ball comes out of his hand so quick that he can really punish defenses with his tremendous knowledge of the position. 

    While he was rumored to transfer after head coach Ralph Friedgen was let go and offensive coordinator James Franklin went to Vanderbilt, he laughed off these rumors and said he's a Terrapin for life. Good thing for new head coach Randy Edsall, because he was arguably the best freshman quarterback in the nation. 

    Not only does O'Brien have the makings of a great college quarterback, but also under the tutelage of Edsall, he could become the first Terrapin quarterback drafted since Scott Zolak in 1991. 

    Grade: A

Tanner Price, Wake Forest

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    Ranked #27 overall as a Quarterback in 2010

    Tanner Price and Kellen Moore have a lot in common. They're both shorter, left armed spread quarterbacks wearing number 11. Unfortunately for Wake Forest, that's where most of the comparisons end. 

    Price stepped in as a true freshman against Duke and impressed, completing 63.2 percent of his passes and helping the team win a 54-48 shootout. However, the Demon Deacons proceeded to lose nine straight with Price taking snaps for the team.

    However, Price wasn't always the issue.

    Outside of a four interception outing against the ferocious Boston College defense, Price never lost games for the Deacs. However, his ability was never really let out of the bag. In five of his nine starts, Price didn't throw more than 20 times in a game. When he did, it often helped him get into a rhythm and show off some impressive accuracy. By far, his best game was against Navy, where he completed 37 of his 53 attempts for 326 yards and two touchdowns in a one point loss. 

    Much like Riley Skinner, Price won't wow you with his physical tools, but if Price wants to follow down the path of one of Wake Forest's greatest quarterbacks of all time, he'll have to be able to make more out of less. 

    Grade: C-

Stephen Morris, Miami

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    Ranked #48 overall as a QB in 2010

    The Miami Hurricanes had no intention of having Stephen Morris see the field for at least another two years. With Jacory Harris firmly entrenched as the starter and a top-20 preseason ranking, the Hurricanes looked to be set. However, Jacory Harris didn't show any sort of progress, still carelessly throwing interceptions and not coming up big in the clutch.

    Enter Stephen Morris.   

    Morris showed tremendous poise and knack for the position immediately, leading a game winning touchdown drive against Maryland in just his second start. Morris provided very much of what Jacory Harris did not for the Hurricanes, as he's mobile enough to make teams not only respect his legs but fear them, and has a great arm. However, unlike most young quarterbacks, Morris used his legs not to gain large chunks of yardage but to make plays in the passing game. 

    However, Morris often showed the propensity for turnovers that Jacory Harris had. Morris threw two or more interceptions in three of his six starts. But Morris has the upside of a potential game changer at the college level.

    Grade: B-

Taylor Martinez, Nebraska

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    Ranked #106 overall as an Athlete in 2009

    No freshman got off to a hotter start of 2010 than Martinez. The option quarterback ran for 737 yards and 12 touchdowns in the first five games of the year and was being called a Heisman front-runner. However, from there on out, the wheels started to fall off for Martinez. He struggled immensely against the Texas Longhorns in a 20-13 upset loss, as his receivers were able to actually hold onto only four of his twelve pass attempts. He was unable to garner much on the ground either.

    He rebounded extremely well the week after at Oklahoma State, throwing for 323 yards and 4 touchdowns, adding 112 yards on the ground. However, Martinez then struggled with injuries, missing two and a half of the last six games of the season and was unable to break off the huge games on the ground that he could early in the season.

    We're unable to know which quarterback was really Martinez, the playmaker we saw early on, or the quarterback who seemed unable to make something out of nothing. With Nebraska's move to the Big 10 next season, it will be interesting to see if the Cornhuskers' quarterback can take advantage of a conference with five teams in the bottom half of the country in rushing defense. 

    Grade: B

Jordan Webb, Kansas

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    Ranked #43 overall as a QB in 2009

    The nightmare season for Kansas quickly turned into a big chance for redshirt freshman Jordan Webb. He saw action in the final minutes of a 6-3 loss to North Dakota State, and was largely the starter from there on out. Webb started off his career with a brilliant three touchdown performance against then 15th ranked Georgia Tech. However, things went downhill from there.

    Webb threw for only four more touchdowns the entire season, as opposed to the seven interceptions from that first game on. However, Webb did miss a good portion of the final half of the season due to injury. 

    It'd be a stretch to say Webb had an impressive freshman campaign. However, he showed that he can be relied on as a starter in the future if he can simply make more plays. 

    Grade: D+

Chas Dodd, Rutgers

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    Ranked #56 overall as a QB in 2010

    Things looked to start off well for Chas Dodd. After taking over for the injured Tom Savage, Dodd engineered two straight comeback wins against eventual Big East champion Connecticut and Army. Dodd showed an excellent feel for the position, displaying impressive accuracy for a young player. He was unimpressive against Pittsburgh, but against South Florida, Dodd threw just three incompletions in a 28-27 affair.

    Alas, Dodd didn't do much to keep the Scarlet Knights from their six-game losing streak to end the season 4-8, but Dodd was very rarely the reason for the loss. While he was very hot and cold, sometimes being on fire and other times being unable to find a receiver for a long chunk of time, Dodd showed plenty of promise as a freshman.

    With sophomore Tom Savage looking to transfer, it looks like Dodd is entrenched at Rutgers as the starter for the next few years. 

    Grade: B-

Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois

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    Ranked #37 overall as a QB in 2009

    When Scheelhaase came to Champaign, fans immediately called him the next Michael Vick. While Scheelhaase wasn't quite Michael Vick quality, he did endear himself to the Fighting Illini faithful as a dual-threat weapon. 

    Like many freshman quarterbacks, Scheelhaase came into the season relying mostly on his legs. But he definitely progressed as the season went on, passing for over 120 yards for six straight weeks in the meat of conference play. Scheelhaase isn't the most accurate quarterback, but he's got a live release and, as previously mentioned, is a fast player.

    The most impressive thing about Scheelhaase, however, was probably his penchant for avoiding interceptions. Despite sometimes struggling with balls getting away from him, Scheelhaase threw eight interceptions this season, a pretty average number for a quarterback doing a lot of his damage with his legs. However, Scheelhaase threw these eight picks in just four games. While you hate to see him bottom out against Missouri, his first career start, and Michigan State (he threw three interceptions in each game), for the most part, Scheelhaase did a good job of delivering the ball in places where only his receivers could make a play.

    While he's still developing as a passer, Scheelhaase will gain plenty from a full off-season of starting reps in a familiar offense under Paul Petrino. While he may never be the next Michael Vick, Scheelhaase could be the next Illini quarterback to lead them to a Rose Bowl.

    Grade: B+

Rob Henry, Purdue

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    Ranked #111 overall as a QB in 2009

    Purdue fans were excited for what their team had in store for 2010, mainly because of transfer quarterback Robert Marve, a former highly thought of recruit. However, Marve tore his ACL early in the season, and freshman Rob Henry stepped in.

    At a university known for prolific passers like Drew Brees and Curtis Painter, Henry provided an interesting alternative, running like he was a bruising running back. Henry proved himself not only to be a reliable backup but also a legitimate starter in the Big Ten. 

    Things couldn't have gone better for Henry early on. Despite an ugly loss to Toledo, he led the Boilermakers to a 2-0 conference start, driving the team down the field for a close win against Northwestern and accounting for four touchdowns against Minnesota.

    However, that's when Henry's tough running eventually caught up to him. In his third conference start, Henry's right index finger was injured and he proceeded to only carry the ball twice against Illinois the next week before staying out of the next game against Wisconsin. After limited playing time, Henry came back at near full strength in the final two weeks.

    It was apparent he was a large part of Purdue's early success. While Purdue ended the game on a six game losing streak, they came extremely close to closing the season on a two-game winning streak and a 7-5 season. If not for a defensive collapse, Henry would've led a shocking upset at Michigan State (the Purdue defense gave up two touchdowns in the final eight minutes) and it took overtime for Indiana to overcome the Boilermakers despite a three touchdown performance from Henry.

    While Robert Marve will start next season, Henry will be back on the field by his junior season, in which he should be a much more polished passer, and potentially the next #15 to lead Purdue to the Rose Bowl.

    Grade: B

Robert Bolden, Penn State

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    Ranked #4 overall as a Quarterback in 2010

    Bolden was an unpolished recruit, and to be honest, probably would have been better served redshirting this year, or at least sitting on the bench and seeing spot action.

    Bolden entered the season as the starter for the Nittany Lions. His career got off to a promising start against Youngstown State, completing 69% of his passes for 239 yards and 2 touchdowns and a pick. However, he struggled at Alabama in the second week of the season, and was never quite the player we saw week one.

    His worst performance by far came against at home against Illinois, where he went 8 of 21 against a Fighting Illini defense that had struggled prior to the game, throwing an interception and struggling to handle the pressure the Illinois defense brought onto him.

    Bolden actually looked to be turning the corner against Minnesota, starting 11 of 13 for 130 yards, but he suffered a concussion. His situation got even worse when his replacement, Matt McGloin, added a spark to the offense and led the team to a 4-3 finish. 

    Bolden's high recruit status will likely earn him the chance to slug it out with Matt McGloin to start for Penn State next year. However, you can't help but to be disappointed in Bolden's freshman year.

    Grade: D+

Tommy Rees, Notre Dame

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    Ranked #19 overall as a QB in 2010

    Much like many other freshman quarterbacks, Rees had no expectations of ending the season as the prestigious Notre Dame starting quarterback position. With Dayne Crist expected to flourish in Brian Kelly's explosive offense, Rees was set to compete with junior Nate Montana, and freshmen Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa to back him up. 

    When Crist got injured against Tulsa, Rees stepped in and completed 33 of 54 passes, throwing four touchdowns but three interceptions as well, in a hard-fought 28-27 loss. However, with Crist out for the season, Rees stepped in and ended the season in triumphant fashion.

    Against Utah and Army, two bowl-bound teams, Rees completed 13 of 20 attempts, throwing three touchdowns in the huge upset of Utah and one against Army. After nine straight fruitless years in the USC Trojans-Notre Dame rivalry, Rees led the Fighting Irish to a 20-16 win which included a 2/2 drive by the calm and heady Rees. The resurgent Fighting Irish took down the Trojans.

    Rees has shown great touch and accuracy in his short stint, and after closing the season out on a 4-0 run, Rees will compete with established senior Dayne Crist for the starter in South Bend next year.

    Grade: B+

David Piland, Houston

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    Ranked #140 overall as a QB in 2010

    This was supposed to be the year Houston broke into the role of BCS buster. With senior quarterback Case Keenum ready to break the all-time career passing yardage mark, Houston's explosive offense was ready to lead them into a BCS bowl. Then, the unthinkable happened. Houston was brutally dealt blows to each of their top two quarterbacks. First Case Keenum tore his ACL. Then Cotton Turner, in the same game broke his collar bone. Third string freshman Terrance Broadway, meant to be redshirted, started the next game at Tulane, a 42-23 win, but was unimpressive, throwing no touchdowns. 

    In stepped David Piland. The two-star recruit from the powerhouse Southlake Carroll High School, which produced college football stars such as Greg McElroy and Chase Daniel, started the season as the fourth string quarterback, but ended up flourishing in Houston's Air Raid offense. Piland showed resiliency, often struggling at times throwing interceptions (he threw five against Tulsa, three against Texas Tech and two against Central Florida), but often bounced back, throwing at least two touchdowns in every game in which he threw two or more picks.

    Piland also displayed uncanny accuracy, which sets him up extremely well in Houston's spread offense. As well as being able to throw the ball exactly where he wants to, Piland showed an ability to keep plays alive. While he's no Vince Young, Piland can make a play with his feet if need be.  

    Because of the redshirts granted to Keenum (starter in 2011) and Turner (likely starter in 2012), we may not see Piland get the start at Houston until 2013. However, when 2013 rolls around, Cougar fans have a lot to be excited about. 

    Grade: B

Ryan Williams, Memphis

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    Ranked #100 overall as a QB in 2010

    Memphis is not a program known for high-profile college football stars. DeAngelo Williams in the only one that comes to mind, but outside of the running back, big-time Memphis players are few and far between. However, the Tigers may have their next hero in quarterback Ryan Williams. 

    While the Tigers had an awful 1-11 season, it was very rare that Williams was the reason. The team gave up over 30 points in nine of their games, losing all nine, despite sometimes brilliant performances by Williams. 

    The 6'5 freshman is an NFL quarterback in the making; a solid arm and a live release helps him make up for his lack of mobility. The heady starter never threw more than two interceptions in a game, and those games came against Mississippi State, Tennessee and UTEP, three bowl-bound programs. He's shown the ability to stand strong in the pocket and is one of the quarterbacks I watched for this article that didn't always look fantastic but has a lot of potential.  

    If Memphis improves on the defensive side of the ball, Williams could be the quarterback to lead the Tigers back into bowl contention. 

    Grade: B-

Jeffrey Godfrey, Central Florida

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    Ranked #55 overall as an ATH in 2010

    The diminutive Godfrey came into UCF classified as an athlete recruit at 5'11 and only 170 pounds with nice speed and a big arm. When junior Rob Calabrese was benched due to inefficiency against NC State, Godfrey stepped in, showing a natural feel for the position that Calabrese lacked. 

    Godfrey immediately became the Knights' hero, leading them to a 24-10 win over Buffalo in his first start before struggling at Kansas State the next week. From there on out, Godfrey and the Knights dominated Conference USA opponents, winning five straight games before falling to Southern Miss. 

    The Knights proceeded to end the season on a four game winning streak, including a win over a Georgia team with the potential number one overall pick AJ Green, mostly on the smart and efficient play of Godfrey. In the final three games of the regular season, Godfrey went 35 of 44 for five touchdowns and 452 yards. 

    While Godfrey isn't the most physically endowed quarterback on this list, Godfrey was arguably the best. Coach George O'Leary has managed to put together a program on the rise. With an experienced offense coming back as well as a strong defensive recruiting class that adds plenty of 3-star talent in the linebacking corps and defensive line rotation, the Knights could be the BCS buster of 2011. 

    Grade: A

Keith Wenning, Ball State

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    Unranked overall as a QB in 2010

    While the Mid-American Conference isn't exactly the pinnacle of college football talent, it's still Division I talent, which makes it outrageous that Wenning came into Ball State and won the starting job during Week 3. 

    Wenning was probably one of the most fascinating quarterbacks I watched for this study. There were times where Wenning looked like one of the best quarterbacks I've watched in the MAC this year. Against Buffalo, he displayed excellent poise and fired lasers all over the field. However, against Kent State, the freshman looked, well, like a freshman. Wenning wildly tossed three interceptions and could have thrown about three more. 

    It's crazy to think that a quarterback that was completely unranked by almost every major recruiting outlet started for a Division I program and threw 14 touchdowns for Ball State, but that's just how football works. Wenning was wildly inconsistent this year, but vastly exceeded expectations, which is why he earns a bit of an inflated rating.

    Grade: C+

Jake Heaps, Brigham Young

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    Ranked #7 overall as a QB in 2010

    Heaps had one of the most anticipated arrivals at his school of any freshman on this list. A high-profile quarterback going to a quarterback factory? We all assumed we were looking at the next great quarterback to grace our television sets.

    Bad assumption.

    This was a tale of two seasons for the newest Cougar. Despite a promising start, upsetting Jake Locker and the Washington Huskies, Heaps couldn't get anything going consistently. In the first seven games, Heaps was arguably terrible. He completed about 51% of his passes, throwing just a single touchdown to six interceptions as the Cougars were 2-5. 

    At that point, something changed in Heaps. After a solid showing against Wyoming, completing 10 of his 18 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown and pick, he went out and dominated his next three underwhelming opponents. He threw two touchdowns in a 55-7 rout of UNLV, and traveled to Colorado State and threw a then-career-high four touchdowns. Against the New Mexico Lobos, Heaps shredded their poor secondary for 231 yards and two touchdowns. 

    After a near upset of #20 Utah, falling one point short in a 17-16 contest that ended on a blocked field goal, Brigham Young was still bowl eligible at 6-6 and opened the entire bowl season with a New Mexico Bowl test against UTEP. Heaps matched his career best with four touchdowns, and threw for 264 yards, showing poise against the Miners.

    Only time will tell if Heaps late season success was because of the caliber of opponents he played or rather because he had finally grasped BYU's offense. However, he showed enough flashes to warrant hope for the future.

    Grade: C+

Pete Thomas, Colorado State

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    Ranked #91 overall as a QB in 2010

    It's not often that a big time quarterback chooses to take his talents to Fort Collins. Ranked as high as four stars by Rivals, Thomas won the starting job and proceeded to finish the entire season with the moniker. However, it wasn't always pretty.

    Take the season opener for example. While Thomas showed flashes of the live arm and polished footwork that made him a four-star recruit, he also showed wild inaccuracy and a tendency to struggle under pressure, throwing three interceptions. The issues didn't exactly subside over the course of the first three weeks either. In his first three games, the Rams were outscored 106 to 19 while he threw one touchdown to six interceptions.

    However, Thomas showed the ability to absolutely take over a game. Against Idaho, he completed 29 of 36 passes along with 386 yards and three touchdowns. He replicated the feat against UNLV three weeks later, completing 10 of 14 attempts for three touchdowns. 

    Arguably the most impressive thing is that Thomas had a fantastic completion percentage. 64.1% for a freshman who threw more interceptions than touchdowns is a rare sight. It singles out the most important issue for Thomas: decision making. If he can improve as he adapts to the speed of college football, he could become extremely impressive.

    Much like Ryan Williams, if the Rams improve on defense and give the offense a chance, Thomas could be the one to lead the Rams to success.

    Grade: C+

Aaron Murray, Georgia

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    Ranked #3 overall as a QB in 2009

    With Joe Cox graduating, the Georgia Bulldogs needed a new quarterback. It came down to two redshirt freshman: Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray. The competition was decided, but when Mettenberger continually got in legal trouble with alcohol related arrests and violating team rules, he eventually was kicked off the team, leaving Murray as the only real competitor. 

    While Georgia may have lost a talented quarterback and seven games this year, they also found a star. Murray became one of college football's breakout stars, throwing 24 touchdowns and showing immense moxie for a young quarterback. While the Bulldogs lost four straight early on in the season, his improved play helped spark a 5-4 finish to the season.  

    Murray's composure was impressive. While he did throw eight interceptions, five of them came in two games: three against Florida and two against Central Florida. But that wasn't the only thing he threw in bunches as he ended the regular season on a four game streak of throwing three touchdowns in each game.

    Murray's most impressive trait is arguably his accuracy. Murray completed 61.1% of his passes, often placing the ball exactly where it had to be to make his receiver's job easy. With the new group of receivers he'll have to break in (rising juniors Orson Charles at tight end and wide receiver Tavarres King are the only pass-catchers with legitimate experience), Murray's accuracy will be key. 

    While Murray was one of the best freshman players at any position in the country, his stats tended to shade upwards was A.J. Green returned to the lineup, which is to be expected. I will be interested to see if Green's departure for the NFL will affect Murray's play. 

    Grade: A-

Tyler Bray, Tennessee

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    Ranked #6 overall as a QB in 2010

    The Volunteers were in the middle of a nightmare season. They were 2-6, coming off a four game SEC losing streak, started by a puzzling loss to Louisiana State, where they had actually stopped the Tigers on the goal line, but were charged with too many men on the field. Tennessee needed a savior.

    They found one.

    Freshman Tyler Bray delivered the best performance by a freshman quarterback all year, throwing for 325 yards, completing 19 of 33 passes for a whopping five touchdowns against the Tigers of Memphis. The Bray-led Volunteers proceeded to end the regular season on a four-game winning streak, all of which at least by 10 points. The team won it's first in-conference games of the season, and finished 3-5 in the conference. 

    Despite struggling with interceptions in the last three games of the year (he threw seven against Vanderbilt, Kentucky and North Carolina), he never let it demoralize him, throwing for eight touchdowns in the same span. 

    The tall, strong-armed Bray brings to mind another Volunteer signal caller. While it's early to make such speculation, Bray showed immense talent his freshman year, causing me to make this bold prediction. The first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft... Tyler Bray, quarterback from Tennessee. 

    Grade: A

Corey Robinson, Troy

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    Unranked overall as a QB in 2008

    While he received the least fanfare, Corey Robinson may have had the most impressive freshman season of all. After redshirting and then grayshirting, the former Mr. Kentucky of football who threw a record 91 touchdowns his senior year in high school was the equivalent of a junior. However, in his first taste of college football action, he impressed.

    Troy tied for the Sun Belt championship in Robinson's first season, wherein he led them to a near win at Oklahoma State (the Trojans lost 41-38) and in the process passed for 28 touchdowns, the most of any freshman. 

    It will be interesting to see if Robinson can handle losing his top three receivers who accounted for over half of his yardage and 17 of his 28 touchdowns. While we won't know if he's truly a transcendent talent that can carry a team on his back next year, there's no denying that his freshman year was one of the most impressive.  

    Grade: A

Kolton Browning, Louisiana-Monroe

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    Unranked overall as a QB in 2009

    It's rare to find a quarterback turn down the chance to play at Big XII schools like Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Nebraska and Iowa State to play at a small school such as Louisiana-Monroe. However, the Warhawks have to be glad he did. 

    One would be hard pressed to find a freshman quarterback who did more for his team than Browning did. With his passing totals and rushing totals, he accounted for 70.5% of the Warhawks offense, making plays on the ground, and accounting for 70.9% of the touchdowns scored by ULM. 

    Browning showed quick feet and a talent to find open receivers once the play breaks down. While the Warhawks only finished 5-7, Browning continually impressed. While he might not be a high profile quarterback at any point, he could potentially be one of the greatest quarterback Louisiana-Monroe has ever seen. 

    Grade: B