10 College Football QBs with Most to Prove in 2014 Season
Few spotlights are brighter in football than the one fixated on the quarterback. More often than not, the quarterback receives more praise than he deserves and more blame than is warranted.
In the offseason, the quarterback competition garners the most attention. In the fall, the position is one of the biggest storylines.
As such, plenty of quarterbacks have a lot to prove in 2014. Whether it's staying healthy, fending off competition or winning a first-ever conference championship, all of the following signal-callers have something to aim for this year.
Which quarterbacks have the most to prove?
David Ash, Texas
Coming off a season-ending concussion, Texas quarterback David Ash has some ground to make up.
For one, he has to shake off any leftover rust that accumulated from a lot of missed playing time. And often with the arrival of a new coaching staff, competition heats up, and jobs are up for grabs. Ash may have an early edge over sophomore Tyrone Swoopes, but nothing seems to be guaranteed at this point.
He has all the physical tools to be successful, but he's never quite put it all together because of injuries and consistency issues. New Longhorns quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson is credited with developing Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater into one of the best NFL draft prospects.
Could he do the same with Ash? Perhaps, but before going too far down the NFL road with him, Ash needs to put together a complete season with visible improvement.
C.J. Brown, Maryland
An oft-injured career will officially come to an end for Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown following the 2014 season.
As a sixth-year senior, he has basically been through it all. He had a season-ending shoulder injury in 2010 and a season-ending ACL injury in 2012. He's been a part of losing teams and bowl-eligible teams and has played for two head coaches (Ralph Friedgen and Randy Edsall).
When healthy, he is a legitimate dual-threat quarterback. In addition to his 2,242 passing yards last season, he was second on the team with 576 rushing yards and led all Terps with 12 rushing touchdowns.
If he can stay healthy in an offense that returns a ton of playmakers like receiver Stefon Diggs, he could make Maryland a dark-horse candidate to win the Big Ten.
Jeff Driskel, Florida
Like other quarterbacks on this list, Florida's Jeff Driskel enters this spring coming off a significant injury.
Three games into the 2013 season, he suffered a leg fracture and was forced to hang up the cleats for the rest of the year. In addition to getting back to form, he has to show he can make significant strides in his game.
That's hard to do when offensive coordinators have come and gone as frequently as they have at Florida. The Gators hope they can find more consistency and productivity with former Duke coordinator Kurt Roper.
Driskel wasn't that much better in 2012, even though Florida clawed its way to 11 wins and a Sugar Bowl berth. In his first year as a starter, he threw for just 1,646 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He is a former 5-star quarterback prospect, and Florida has stuck by him through good and bad. In 2014, Driskel needs to prove that the coaching staff made the right choice.
Devin Gardner, Michigan
The Devin Gardner era at Michigan has had its fair share of bumps in the road—not unlike Michigan's offense. In 2013, he passed for 2,960 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 picks.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges is out, and former Alabama coordinator Doug Nussmeier is in to try to fix the 86th-ranked offense. Michigan's coaches are claiming this spring is an open competition between Gardner and Shane Morris, who filled in for an injured Gardner in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Morris has an excellent arm and a ton of upside. With head coach Brady Hoke needing instant results, it's possible the Wolverines go in a new direction at quarterback. If Gardner does win the starting job, his proverbial leash may be a bit shorter than usual.
Jared Goff, Cal
There wasn't much to like about head coach Sonny Dykes' first season at Cal, as the Golden Bears gruesomely went 1-11. To Dykes' credit, though, he was willing to throw young players into the fire, regardless of the outcome.
There was no better example of that than true freshman Jared Goff, who started all 12 games for the Bears.
Statistically speaking, he had a big first year by setting school single-season records for passing yards (3,508), total offense (3,446), passes completed (320) and passes attempted (531). However, he needs to drastically improve his touchdown-to-interception ratio (18-10) and grow as a passer.
That comes with time and repetition. He has shown he has a lot of potential. As Cal looks for a better 2014-15, he simply needs to take the next steps in becoming a more efficient quarterback.
Also, can his numbers actually improve next season? Playing at that high of a level for two years in a row can be difficult for a young player who is still learning the game.
Of course, he also needs help from his defense. Giving up 46 points a game, the defense was one of the worst in the country last year.
Brett Hundley, UCLA
There's no denying that UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is one of the best in the Pac-12, if not all of college football.
In two seasons as a starter, he has thrown for 6,816 yards and 53 touchdowns. If he had declared for the NFL draft this year, he could have been one of the first quarterbacks taken.
However, Hundley hasn't performed to his usual standard against Oregon and Stanford, two of the Pac-12's best teams. In four games against the two—three against Stanford, one against Oregon—he has thrown three touchdowns to six interceptions.
Hundley and the Bruins will get an opportunity to atone for those past struggles against the Ducks on Oct. 11 and the Cardinal on Nov. 28—both of which are home games.
Cody Kessler, USC
Despite a disappointing 3-2 start in 2013 that got head coach Lane Kiffin fired, USC rebounded to a 10-win season. Similarly, first-year starting quarterback Cody Kessler started slow but eventually put together a solid second half of the season.
In all, he threw for 2,968 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions—only three picks came after the 62-41 loss to Arizona State in September. In a Las Vegas Bowl win over Fresno State, he had four touchdowns and completed 73 percent of his passes.
With a new coach in Steve Sarkisian and higher expectations, Kessler has to show he can pick up where he left off. That effort won't come without a fight, however. He'll be pushed this spring by backup Max Browne, who is vying for the starting quarterback job.
Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati
In many ways, Cincinnati's Munchie Legaux could also be seen as a quarterback with a lot to prove. He has had consistency issues throwing the football and is coming off a major, season-ending knee injury.
As he rehabs, though, the spotlight is turning to his potential replacement, Gunner Kiel.
The former 5-star prospect has bounced around—initially verbally committing to Indiana, before flipping to LSU, before signing with Notre Dame, before transferring after one year to Cincinnati.
As the 2014 season inches closer, he could finally be in a position to start. Fueled by doubters, he told Kevin Goheen of Fox Sports Ohio that he's ready to live up to the expectations:
To sit out for three years and not get under center and touch a ball in a game is a terrible feeling. I'm a competitor. People don't see that in me right now. They see me as a cocky kid who just wants attention but those people just get me fired up. The more people underestimate me, go ahead. That's fine. I'm going to prove them wrong and come out here and be a competitor. I'm going to work hard and I'm going to be the guy for my teammates.
Whether that translates into a solid year with the Bearcats remains to be seen, but there's mounting pressure for him to show why he was highly recruited.
Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
More than anything else, Trevor Knight is out to prove that the 2014 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama wasn't a fluke.
He was named Oklahoma's starter heading into Week 1 of last season. However, in a Week 2 win over West Virginia, he was benched in part because of injury and in part because of ineffectiveness. He re-emerged a couple of months later against Iowa State and finished out the year strong with four passing touchdowns against the Tide.
Knight also needs to stay healthy. Though he appeared in eight games and started five, he missed a good portion of the middle of the season because of his knee injury. He was also knocked out of the season-ending game against Oklahoma State.
He has the chance to be the best dual-threat quarterback in the Big 12. He just needs to be more consistent and stay upright.
Dylan Thompson, South Carolina
Quietly, former South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw put together an outstanding 27-5 record as a starter. That made him the all-time winningest quarterback in the program's history.
Congratulations, Dylan Thompson. You get to follow that.
Thompson has always played well in conjunction with, or in relief of, Shaw. Additionally, Thompson was considered the better pure passer of the two. However, this will be the first year he takes over as the Gamecocks' full-time starter.
He has had good games (310 yards, three touchdowns in a 2012 win over Clemson) and mediocre ones (222 yards and a pick in a win over Mizzou last year) during extensive playing time. Obviously, he has to stabilize.
Head coach Steve Spurrier didn't make any secret about the decision, either, naming Thompson the starter early on during the offseason. Spurrier demands a lot from his quarterbacks. Will Thompson be able to live up to the lofty standards that have been set by both his predecessor and the program?
That's the biggest question facing him in 2014.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report.