College Football 2011: Ranking the Quarterbacks from the Preseason Top 25
They are the generals. The field marshals of an army of 11.
For most teams, the on-field successes or failures of a team can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the quarterback.
Quarterbacks unquestionably hold the most important single position on a football team, much like a hockey goalie, or a baseball pitcher. Every position is part of the whole, but without a quality quarterback, a team will have problems finding success.
With the conclusion of spring practices, fans begin to look at how their team will stack up next season. Very early preseason Top 25 polls are released, and debated. Some teams have returning stars, some have to find replacements for stars moving on.
Here's our preseason ranking of quarterbacks from the Top 25.
No. 25: Jon Budmayr (Wisconsin)
Quarterbacking at Wisconsin isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Wisconsin is a run-first team that looks to beat their opponents in the trenches.
The Badgers use their quarterbacks primarily for keeping the defense honest, and occasionally bailing the offense out of a hole.
Incoming sophomore Jon Budmayr isn't flashy. He won't put up big numbers. But at Wisconsin, he doesn't have to. The only thing he'll be asked to be as a quarterback in Madison is serviceable.
And that is what he'll be: serviceable.
No. 24: Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech)
You don't just replace Tyrod Taylor. Toward the end of 2010, Taylor was unstoppable on the run, and his consistency with the pass was improving by leaps and bounds.
Incoming sophomore Logan Thomas has some big shoes to fill, and it's likely that there will be a slight alteration of play calling to fit the strengths of Thomas—which don't include Tyrod-esque runs of 50-plus yards.
No. 23: James Franklin (Missouri)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Missouri will also need to replace a budding quarterback star in Blaine Gabbert.
With a declared quarterback competition at Missouri, it appears that sophomore James Franklin will be stepping in to try and keep Missouri quarterbacking a strength of the Tigers.
Should he falter, freshman Tyler Gabbert, Blaine's little brother, will be there to try and live up to the expectations set by his big brother.
No. 22: EJ Manuel (Florida State)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The Seminoles have high hopes for 2011, and with many talented players returning, those hopes are probably rational.
One position where FSU doesn't have a returning star is at quarterback.
Christian Ponder is gone, and stepping into the role will be junior EJ Manuel.
Manuel received some decent game experience in 2010, and if Manuel can live up to expectations at Florida State, the Seminoles should be a favorite to win the ACC in 2011.
No. 21: Casey Pachall (TCU)
Eric Draper/Getty Images
Andy Dalton was easily one of the best quarterbacks in 2010, and will live forever as a legend at TCU.
Hopefully, TCU fans won't have to look back on the Dalton era as “the good old days.”
Incoming sophomore Casey Pachall will try to pick up where Dalton left off.
The Horned Frogs will obviously come into 2011 highly ranked and with high hopes and expectations.
Pachall saw limited action in 2010, and showed signs of being the “next big thing” at TCU. The Horned Frogs also have junior Yogi Gallagos available, should Pachall be less than stellar.
No. 20: Barrett Trotter (Auburn)
Who wants to be Barrett Trotter right now?
Trotter has the unenviable task of following the Cam Newton show.
It's almost like being the act that followed The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Tigers fans need to temper their expectations for Trotter. Newton was a once-in-a-generation quarterback.
It could be years, or decades, before Auburn sees another stud like Newton.
Auburn, however, doesn't attract mediocre athletes. Trotter will be a good quarterback, as long as everyone gives him the time he needs to find a rhythm while simultaneously not expecting him to be Cam Newton, Jr.
No. 19: Tyler Wilson (Arkansas)
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Tyler Wilson is another quarterback taking over for a departing star who brought the program back to success and respectability.
Wilson, a junior, is replacing Ryan Mallett at Arkansas. Mallett led the Razorbacks to successes the program hadn't seen in a while, and Wilson will be expected to take the baton and run with it.
Wilson probably won't be throwing any 75-yard bombs in week one, but he's good enough to ensure that Arkansas has a chance to win every game in which they play.
It depends on how good Wilson can be to determine how many of those games Arkansas will actually win.
No. 18: AJ McCarron (Alabama)
Alabama had a disappointing (by Tide standards) 2010 season. The Tide didn't repeat as BCS champions. They didn't even repeat as SEC champions.
But Alabama oozes talent. There isn't a single player on Alabama's 3-deep that other teams wouldn't love to have on their roster.
Because of that, incoming sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron will be as good as advertised.
He has to replace Greg McElroy who guided the Crimson Tide to win after win after win. McElroy may be gone, but the wins won't be in Tuscaloosa.
McCarron will take a little time to find his groove as a starter, but once he does, Alabama will be a force with which everyone will have to reckon in the SEC in 2011.
No. 16 (Tie): Stephen Garcia (South Carolina)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The first returning starter on the list is senior Stephen Garcia from South Carolina.
Garcia has great talent, which makes him a great quarterback at South Carolina. But Garcia is ranked relatively low on this list because of his off-the-field issues.
Garcia is once again suspended (his second since the 2010 season ended, and fifth since 2007). It's even questionable at this point whether or not he returns to South Carolina for his senior campaign.
What works in his favor towards a return is that Garcia has been essential to the Gamecocks' success. However, Connor Shaw, a sophomore , is waiting in the wings, and ESPN has reported that Shaw has the support of many of his teammates.
Garcia's latest suspension comes just weeks after he guaranteed that he would stay out of trouble. Worse, it involved alcohol-induced outbursts at an SEC-mandated violence prevention seminar—a seminar that Garcia was asked to leave because of his behavior.
It's possible Garcia is done at South Carolina. Head coach Steve Spurrier has said that decision will be made after the spring semester.
If he returns, and stays out of trouble, Garcia could be a key element in USC's very talented returning offense.
No. 16 (Tie): Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Another returning senior star quarterback is on the list tied at No. 16 with Stephen Garcia for much the same reason.
Were it not for the fact that Terrelle Pryor will miss nearly the first half of 2011 because of a suspension, he'd be ranked much higher.
Anyone who has seen an in-depth interview with Terrelle Pryor knows that the guy isn't the brightest bulb in the box, but he should have been smart enough to know that you can't get free tattoos, especially tattoos that cost as much as his did.
The question for Pryor isn't whether or not he returns. The questions are what shape will he be in when he returns, and can he be effective for the Buckeyes in week six having not played up to that point.
Only time will tell.
No. 15: Aaron Murray (Georgia)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Aaron Murray and the Bulldogs got off to a rough start in 2010.
Murray was definitely one of the bright spots in a campaign that Georgia hopes will soon be nothing but a repressed memory.
Murray threw for 2,851 yards as a freshman, including 24 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions. His QB rating for the 2010 season was an impressive 162.7.
With numbers like those, it's no wonder Murray is ranked among the top quarterbacks in the nation.
If he improved during his sophomore season, Georgia could have something very, very special on their hands.
Murray and the Bulldogs have an early test, playing at Boise State in week one. How Murray handles one of the toughest opposing stadiums in which to play will speak volumes on the rest of 2011.
No. 14: John Brantley (Florida)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
This returning senior quarterback is gearing up for a changing of the guard in terms of coaching and offensive play calling.
Brantley was certainly above average in 2010's lackluster season in Gainesville. With new head coach Will Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, Brantley will be called upon to be the star for 2011.
But before we get to 2011, Brantley must recover from a downright horrible spring game.
So far, no other quarterback on Florida's roster can command the offense the way Brantley does. Brantley also has the experience.
Hopefully for Gators fans, the spring game will be his worst game of 2011.
No. 13: Taylor Martinez (Nebraska)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Taylor Martinez had an up-and-down freshman season in 2010.
Despite being the first freshman ever to start a season opener at quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, winning the Big 12's Offensive Freshman of the Year award, and being named a candidate for the O'Brien Trophy, Martinez had his share of difficulties during the 2010 campaign.
But those who detract from Martinez must bear in mind that he was a freshman. As he grows and matures as a football player, Martinez has the potential to be a great quarterback in the Big Ten, and possibly even compete for a Heisman in 2012 or 2013.
His quickness and field vision will win games for Nebraska, and keep the score close in the few games they lose.
No. 12: Eugene Smith (West Virginia)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Geno Smith enters his junior year, he's looking to improve on some pretty impressive numbers from 2010.
Smith completed nearly 65 percent of his passes, en route to 2,763 yards through the air. He also amassed 25 touchdowns in the Mountaineers' thirteen games.
Smith is the undisputed starter for WVU, and come the fall, he'll show the nation that the Mountaineers are back, and should be a favorite to win the Big East in 2011.
No. 11: Chris Relf (Mississippi State)
Rick Dole/Getty Images
Chris Relf's senior season at Mississippi State will be his third year with substantial playing time.
After playing in 10 games as a sophomore, Relf was the starter for the Bulldogs in 2010.
While Relf doesn't set the stat sheet on fire (1,789 yards and 13 passing touchdowns in 2010), he does add the threat of a quarterback that can beat you through the air or on the ground. Relf had 732 rushing yards in 2010, including 5 rushing touchdowns.
His dual threat ability gives the Bulldogs chances to win games in the SEC in which no one event expected them to be competitive.
Mississippi State has surprised a number of people with Relf taking the snaps. While they won't surprise anyone in 2011, they'll still impress.
No. 10: Dayne Crist (Notre Dame)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
After tearing his ACL, Dayne Crist has performed admirably for Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish.
Crist eclipsed the 2,000 yard mark in passing in 2010, while completing almost 60 percent of his passes.
His season ended early when he ruptured his ankle against Tulsa, but Crist is expected to lead the Irish in 2011.
Crist has been nothing if not solid as a quarterback. He's accurate, and fits the ball into incredibly small windows in the defense.
He also has the ability to read defenses effectively and check to an appropriate play.
If Crist gets some extra support on the defensive side of the ball in 2011, the Irish could be looking forward to some extra success in 2011.
The biggest question with Crist will be whether he falls into the trap of quarterbacks who have recovered from major injuries: will he become tentative? Will he avoid taking the risks to make the big plays for fear of reinjuring his knee or ankle?
No. 9: Kirk Cousins (Michigan State)
Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Kirk Cousins, the Spartans returning senior quarterback, is perhaps the most underrated quarterback in the nation.
Mark Dantonio recruited Cousins soon after being named head coach at Michigan State. Cousins, from Holland Christian in Holland, Michigan, spent his redshirt freshman year backing up Brian Hoyer before taking over as the starter in 2009 as a sophomore.
During his junior year, Cousins showed the nation he was deserving of notice as he picked apart opposing defenses in the Big Ten.
After leading MSU to an 11-2 record in 2010, the Spartans are hoping to ride that success and Cousins all the way to the 2011 Big Ten championship game.
Cousins also has the advantage of having a monster running back in Edwin Baker to keep the defenses from cheating on pass coverage.
No. 8: Darron Thomas (Oregon)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Darron Thomas enters his junior year after an impressive sophomore season with the Ducks.
The Ducks obviously had the best season in their history in 2010, ending the season 12-1 after a loss in the BCS title game.
With a running back like LaMichael James in the backfield, it might be easy to lose sight of a great quarterback like Thomas.
Thomas had nearly 2,900 yards passing in 2010, and amassed 30 touchdowns.
It's also easy to forget that Thomas wasn't the Ducks' first option at quarterback. Thomas was named the starter after Jeremiah Masoli was suspended, and eventually dismissed, from the team after pleading guilty to felony second-degree burglary.
It seems that worked out for Thomas and the Ducks in the end.
No. 7: Jordan Jefferson (LSU)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
In 2010, Jefferson shared quarterbacking duties with Jarrett Lee. Still, Jefferson managed to throw for 1,253 yards.
In 2011, Jefferson will have the starting job all to himself, and his overall performance through spring practice this year has some LSU watchers singing his praises.
Although Jefferson struggled a bit the spring game, he has still made giant strides, and with Les Miles' stated goal of improving the passing game at LSU, Jefferson should have plenty of opportunities to be quite the phenom in the SEC in 2011.
No. 6: Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ryan Tannehill returns for his senior season at A&M. In 2010, he started six games for the Aggies at quarterback, spending time at receiver before that.
In his first career start as a quarterback, he set a Texas A&M record with 449 passing yards.
With just six starts under his belt, he threw for 1,306 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Tannehill enters 2011 as the undisputed starter for the Aggies. He had an encouraging spring, including going 9-of-14 for 162 yards in A&M's spring game.
Tannehill will be competing for All-Big-12 honors in 2011, and with solid play, he could lead A&M back to wins over Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, and Oklahoma.
No. 5: Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
This 2002 second-round draft pick of the New York Yankees (the Yankees' first pick in the draft) led the Cowboys' prolific offense in 2010, and returns for his senior season.
If you look at his passing stats for 2010, you have to think it's a typo.
Weeden threw for 4,277 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Sure, Oklahoma State is a little pass happy, but it can afford to be when you have a quarterback like Weeden.
Weeden, who was drafted as a pitcher because of his arm strength, can throw the ball a mile, and just as impressively, land it on a dime.
Behind the play of Weeden, Oklahoma State will be one of the early favorites in the Big 12 in 2011.
No. 4: Landry Jones (Oklahoma)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The only Big 12 player (and one of only two in the nation) to throw for more yards than Weeden is Oklahoma's returning junior starter, Landry Jones.
Jones chucked up an impressive 4,718 yards worth of passing in 2011.
Just so everyone's clear, that's more than two and a half miles.
Only Hawai'i's Bryant Moniz had more yardage.
Jones has amazing talent and a wealth of experience. The Sooners come into the season ranked at or near the top over everyone's Top 25. If Jones performs “as expected,” expect big things from the Sooners.
If he performs better than expected, every other team in the nation could be ducking for cover.
No. 3: Denard Robinson (Michigan)
Rick Dole/Getty Images
Denard “Shoelace” Robinson returns for his junior year in Ann Arbor.
This five-star recruit from Florida absolutely amazes everyone with his unparalleled speed and agility.
After beating out a quarterback who was not quite as advertised (Tate Forcier, who true to family form, pouted, took his ball, and went home, transferring to Miami) for the starting position at Michigan, Denard quickly set about shattering quarterback records at Michigan—not an easy task to do at Quarterback U.
In his first start against Connecticut, Robinson broke the Michigan total offense record by rushing for 197 yards on 29 carries, and adding 186 passing yards.
His rushing total was the most ever by a Michigan quarterback, and his 383 total yards was the most ever by a single player.
If that wasn't impressive enough, Robinson rattled off an unbelievable 502 yards of total offense against Notre Dame the very next week. The rest of the entire Wolverine squad contributed just an additional 30 yards.
Robinson's 87-yard touchdown run also set a Notre Dame stadium record for longest run from scrimmage.
After the Notre Dame game, it was clear that Robinson would win the Heisman Trophy. The trouble is, there aren't many quarterbacks in the Big Ten who could carry the ball as much as Shoelace did, and not miss at least some time with injuries.
Robinson suffered through minor injuries the rest of the season, and some guy named Cam Newton came along and ended up winning the 2010 Heisman.
Still, by the time 2010 was over, Denard Robinson held six of the top seven spots on Michigan's all-time single game total offense leader board. He also blew away Michigan's single-season mark by over 1,000 yards.
And this is a program with over 130 years of history.
He also ended the season ranked fifth in nation in rushing yards. By comparison, Newton ranked 15th.
If Robinson can stay healthy in 2011, and if Michigan can win a few more games, Robinson could be a favorite to win the 2011 Heisman Trophy.
No. 2: Andrew Luck (Stanford)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
There was quite a lot of talk about whether Andrew Luck would return to Stanford after his wildly successful sophomore season in 2010.
Luck put those questions to rest when he announced in January that he intended to earn his degree from Stanford.
Luck was projected as the top selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, had he entered.
Luck is an incredibly accurate passer (70.7 percent), and he rode that accuracy to the tune of 32 touchdowns to only 8 interceptions.
Luck also isn't afraid to carry the ball, with 453 yards on just 55 carries in 2010.
Luck was also a Heisman finalist in 2010, and enters the 2011 season as an early favorite for the award.
In the season where he led Stanford to an Orange Bowl victory, Luck also broke touchdown records held by the likes of greats like John Elway and Steve Stenstrom.
Stanford will need to adjust to new head coach David Shaw, but with a calm, smart, talented leader like Andrew Luck, the transition will appear seamless. It also helps that Shaw was the offensive coordinator under Harbaugh, and is perfectly aware of Luck's abilities.
A record of 12-1 is pretty tough to improve upon, but with the Luck at the helm, anything is possible.
As good as Luck is, Shaw has said Luck has taken the “next step.” Pac-12 opponents fret over what that next step is.
No. 1: Kellen Moore (Boise State)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Our top quarterback from the Top 25 is returning senior quarterback for the Boise State Broncos, Kellen Moore.
Moore was also named by the Sporting News as the top player (not just quarterback) entering the 2011 season.
Moore finished 2010 ranked sixth in the nation in passing yards with 3,845 and 35 touchdowns against a scant six interceptions.
Moore was also one of the most accurate passers, completing 71.3 percent of his passes. He led the nation with a QB rating of 182.6.
Were it not for an unfortunate loss to Nevada, Boise State was poised for a run at the BCS, possibly even the BCS title game.
That didn't happen in 2010 for the Broncos, but with Moore, a Heisman finalist, returning, anything is possible in 2011.
The Broncos move to the Mountain West will provide more of a challenge to Boise State. With Moore's command of the offense, Boise State's season will build to a November 12 showdown with TCU in Boise.
Moore has proven two things over his career at Boise State: He can win consistently, and win the big games.
Boise has several big games this season in addition to the conference match-up with TCU. Boise State starts the season by hosting Georgia, and has a much-anticipated rematch with Nevada in week five.
Spring ball in Boise hasn't focused so much of Moore, but rather his targets. If Boise State can develop a true go-to receiver for Moore, he'll be a shoe-in for the Heisman in 2011, and Boise State will return to their BCS-busting ways—possibly even crashing the party in New Orleans on January 9.