2011 College Football Predictions: Who Are the Top QBs Who Could Return?

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IJanuary 4, 2011

2011 College Football Predictions: Who Are the Top QBs Who Could Return?

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    The 2011 college football predictions are going to start with much fervor (if they haven't already) a week from now once Oregon and Auburn are finished in Glendale. 

    The coaching carousel has already kicked into full swing and will continue to do so until every spot is filled and every job is safe (for at least another year).

    But with several juniors and sophomore quarterbacks having outstanding seasons in 2011, their future is also up for debate: Will they head to the NFL?

    Yes, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, and Ryan Mallett could return to their respective teams, but that doesn't seem a safe bet. 

    We've chosen the top 15 signal callers who are likely to be back in 2011.

No. 15: Bryant Moniz, Hawaii

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    Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 65-percent completion, 5,040 yards, 39 TD, 15 INT

    Class: Junior

    The native Hawaiian had a great season in 2010. A Hawaii quarterback leading the nation in passing yards and touchdowns isn't really news: Colt Brennan and Timmy Chang come to mind. 

    And Moniz's stats are a bit inflated, since six of his touchdowns came in a blowout of Charleston Southern. Still, he did well against USC and was the main reason why the Rainbow Warriors dealt Nevada its only loss of the 2010 season. 

No. 14: Russell Wilson, NC State

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 58-percent completion, 3,563 yards, 28 TD, 14 INT

    Class: Junior

    A few different bounces of the ball and the Wolfpack could have won the Atlantic Division of the ACC: They fell to Clemson by just a point and they had a shot at the title in their finale against Maryland.

    Wilson was a big part of the reason why. 

    In nine of their 13 games, Wilson threw at least two touchdowns and his athleticism added another nine touchdowns on the ground.

    And in their surprising 23-7 win over West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl, he was magnificent, throwing for 275 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks. 

No. 13: Nick Foles, Arizona

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 67.1-percent completion, 20 TD, 10 INT

    Class: Junior

    A knee injury kept Foles out of the essential three games this season, but he finished the regular season strong, even if the Wildcats didn't.

    He had great games against USC (353 yards, three TD) and Oregon (448 yards, three TD), but was not particularly good in the crushing loss to Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl. 

    Still, with another year under his belt in the Pac-10 and a slightly more favorable schedule next year (they played both Stanford and Oregon on the road this year), 2011 could be a great season for Foles. 

No. 12: Ryan Lindley, San Diego State

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 57.7-percent completion, 3,830 yards, 28 TD, 14 INT

    Class: Junior

    The three-year starter has improved significantly every season and in 2010 he finished the year in fine form.

    His two fourth-quarter touchdowns against third-ranked TCU nearly led the Aztecs to a remarkable upset, and in their surprising beat-down of Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl, he was almost perfect: 18-for-23 with 276 yards and three touchdowns. Lindley and SDSU defeated the Midshipmen 36-14. 

    The 6'4", 215-pounder could be attractive to NFL teams in 2012. 

No. 11: Geno Smith, West Virginia

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 64.8-percent completion, 2,763 yards, 24 TD, seven INT

    Class: Sophomore

    His Champs Sports Bowl counterpart, NC State's Russell Wilson, outplayed Smith (in their bowl matchup), but Smith had a fine 2010.

    The large, mobile sophomore was outstanding in the Mountaineers four-game winning streak to close out the regular season (eight TD, one INT) and played great in the team's 31-17 victory over Maryland.

    Another year in that offense will have Smith ready to lead WVU to another shot at the Big East title and a BCS bowl. 

No. 10: Kyle Padron, SMU

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 59.4-percent completion, 3,828 yards, 31 TD, 14 INT

    Class: Sophomore

    The young quarterback didn't get off to a great start, throwing three costly interceptions in the Mustangs opener against Texas Tech.

    But as the season progressed, he was a key contributor to the team's Conference USA championship game berth. 

    In their must-win game at East Carolina, he was 21-for-34 with 331 yards and three touchdowns and he was even better in the win over the Pac-10's Washington State, throwing four touchdowns.

    In that June Jones' offense, he should have a fantastic junior season. 

No. 9: Dominique Davis

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    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 64.5-percent completion, 3,967 yards, 37 TD, 16 INT

    Class: Junior

    Davis actually threw more touchdown passes in 2010 than Andrew Luck, Ryan Mallett, Cam Newton, and Kellen Moore.

    And although he is a fine scrambler (he ran for nine touchdowns this year), Davis was a better passer. Seven times this season he completed 30 passes or more. 

    The stats were a bit inflated, considering that the Pirates were behind by large margins at times during the season, but twice in back-and-forth Conference USA contests, he was at his best.

    In the 51-49 win over eventual conference-champion Tulsa, he threw for 383 yards and five touchdowns. Later in the season, on the road at UAB, his third, fourth, and fifth touchdowns of the game keyed the Pirates fourth quarter comeback. 

No. 8: G.J. Kinne, Tulsa

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 59.8-percent completion, 31 TD, 10 INT

    Class: Junior

    Not enough people took notice of what the Golden Hurricane did in 2010: A 10-3 record ending with a crushing defeat of the Rainbow Warriors in the Hawaii Bowl. 

    Fewer people took enough notice of the Kinne did during the season. 

    Not only was he one of the top passers in the nation (eighth in touchdown passes), Kinne was the team's leading rusher and was outstanding during the team's end-of-the-season seven-game winning streak.

    Three touchdowns and 343-yards passing in the bowl game sends him and Tulsa into the offseason with great hopes of winning the 2011 Conference USA title.

No. 7: Denard Robinson, Michigan

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 62.5-percent completion, 2,570 yards, 18 TD, 11; 1,702 yards rushing, 14 rushing TD

    Class: Sophomore

    Say what you will about the future of Michigan and it's electrifying young quarterback: If Rich Rodriguez is canned, his spread offense will go with him and Robinson won't be the leading rusher in the nation. 

    And Robinson certainly struggled in the second half of the season: Throwing the ball, he was not consistent in the team's 2-5 finish.

    But his athleticism is remarkable and with the likely departure of Cam Newton and Terrelle Pryor, he could be the most prolific quarterback in the nation next season. 

No. 6: Robert Griffin III, Baylor

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 67-percent completion, 3,501 yards, 22 TD, eight INT; 635 yards rushing, eight TD

    Class: Sophomore

    The duel threat runner/passer led the Bears to a surprised 7-2 record and a spot in the Top 25. 

    Of course, three straight losses as well as a decisive defeat in the Texas Bowl rubbed off some of the luster of the team's 2010 season. 

    But Griffin was fairly consistent throughout and as a junior will be a dark horse to be the Big 12's Player of the Year in 2011. 

No. 5: Kirk Cousins, Michigan State

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    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 67-percent completion, 2,825 yards, 20 TD, 10 INT

    Class: Junior

    For a moment, try and forget what Michigan State did in the Capitol  One Bowl against Alabama. The rest of the Spartans' season was great. 

    And so was Cousins. In the upset over Wisconsin, his two fourth-quarter touchdown passes sealed the victory.

    And with the Spartans behind by 10 points on the road at Northwestern, he was remarkable, leading the team to three fourth-quarter touchdowns, including two lengthy drives that he capped with touchdown passes. 

    He made a few bad throws in the loss to Iowa, but when the Spartans needed him to make plays in close games, he rarely let them down. 

No. 4: Landry Jones, Oklahoma

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 65.6-percent completion, 4,718 yards, 38 TD, 12 INT

    Class: Sophomore

    Replacing a Heisman Trophy winner is never easy, but Jones filled Sam Bradford's shoes nicely in the second half of 2009 and more than did his job in his first full season as a starter.

    Only Bryant Moniz threw for more touchdowns and yards and Jones did it against a much more daunting schedule. 

    After a great finish to the regular season, a Big 12 Championship win and a Fiesta Bowl trouncing of Connecticut (in which Jones was the Offensive MVP), the Sooners will likely be a top five team in the preseason rankings. 

    Jones will be a major reason why as well. 

No. 3: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 66.9-percent completion, 4,277 yards, 34 TD, 13 INT

    Class: Junior

    Weeden will be 28 years old early in the 2011 season (he spent several seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system) so he should have a decisive advantage over his fellow quarterbacks: Remember Chris Weinke?

    His Big 12 South counterpart Landry Jones had better numbers and got the best of him in their showdown back in late November. But Weeden's done more with less overall talent. 

    And since the Cowboys had little trouble replacing Dez Bryant, the potential loss of Justin Blackmon in 2011 shouldn't be to traumatic for Weeden and the Cowboys.

No. 2: Kellen Moore, Boise State

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 71.3-percent completion, 3,845 yards, 35 TD, 6 INT

    Class: Junior

    Moore will want to return to the Broncos for two reasons: Take one more stab at an unbelievable national championship and improve his potential NFL Draft status.

    He has a good shot at both of those in the 2011 season.  And that was proven in the Broncos Las Vegas Bowl triumph over Utah, when Moore threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns.

    There wasn't a more efficient thrower of the ball last year and that includes Cam Newton and Andrew Luck.

No. 1: Matt Barkley, USC

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    2010 Stats: 62.6-percent completion, 2,791 yards, 26 TD, 12 INT

    Class: Sophomore

    Because of their postseason ban, the USC Trojans have been largely forgotten during the prolonged bowl season. So has their quarterback.

    But Matt Barkley had a fine year in 2010. And if their postseason ban is reduced to just one game, the Trojans could be a BCS contender once again. 

    Barkley struggled down the stretch with injuries and eight interceptions in his last five games. But another year in Kennedy Pola's offense will lead to a major boost.

    If he stays healthy and the Trojans win the Pac-10, Barkley could be in New York in December, bidding to become the third Trojan quarterback in a decade to claim the Heisman.