Predicting Which QBs Will Lead College Football in Passing for 2015 Season

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistJuly 28, 2015

Predicting Which QBs Will Lead College Football in Passing for 2015 Season

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Can you name the quarterback who finished 2014 ranked No. 1 in yards per game?

    Washington State’s Connor Halliday earned that accolade with a whopping 430.3 yards per game. It was the first time anyone has crested the 400-yard mark since Houston’s Case Keenum posted a 402.2-yard average in 2011.

    While yards per game isn’t the only way or even the best way to rate quarterbacks, it’s not a bad place to start.

    Don’t think so?

    The top 10 finishers last season included such luminaries as Baylor’s Bryce Petty (No. 6), Florida State’s Jameis Winston (No. 8) and TCU’s Trevone Boykin (No. 9).  The Heisman winner, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, finished out of the running at No. 11, just 1.7 yards off the pace.

    The 10 quarterbacks highlighted here, ranked by potential, are best positioned to finish 2015 at the top of the charts in a 13-game season. 

    Factors taken into consideration include 2014 individual and team production, returning offensive experience (both skill positions and linemen) and coaching philosophy. 

    Though each signal-caller is a legitimate statistical weapon, they are not necessarily the guys who might win the most games or the most individual accolades.

10. Marquise Williams, North Carolina

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    2014 Stats: 270-of-428 (63.1 percent) for 3,073 yards (236.4 per game), 21 touchdowns, nine interceptions

    2015 Projected Stats: 293-of-450 (65.1 percent) for 3,500 yards (269.2 per game), 28 touchdowns, seven interceptions

    Though North Carolina’s Marquise Williams has fewer proven intangibles than other guys on this list, he has an absolute ideal situation for a yard-fest in 2015.

    The Tar Heels return a starter at every position on offense (except for tight end) in a unit that finished last season ranked No. 36 in scoring and No. 27 in passing yards. That includes the top four receivers, the entire offensive line and all six rushers.

    Williams improved from completing 58.1 percent of his passes in 2013 to 63.1 percent last season, so it’s reasonable to think he’ll take another step forward this year, especially since he’ll be throwing to all the same guys. This number should drive the others up.

    What will hurt his passing totals is his rushing ability. He racked up 800 ground yards in 2014, and with the experience at O-line coming in to 2015, he could hit 1,000 this season.

9. Zach Terrell, Western Michigan

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    Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

    2014 Stats: 250-of-368 (67.9 percent) for 3,443 yards (264.8 per game), 26 touchdowns, 10 interceptions

    2015 Projected Stats: 278-of-400 (69.5 percent) for 3,840 yards (295.4 per game), 30 touchdowns, seven interceptions

    Not only did Western Michigan’s Zach Terrell quietly finish No. 6 in the nation in passer rating in 2014 (164.4), but his top-receiving target, Corey Davis, earned a No. 30 rank in yards per reception (18.1).

    With both guys back in 2015, along with three members of the O-line and No. 2 receiver Daniel Braverman (997 yards), the sky is the limit.

    What will hurt Terrell’s stats is that he’s paired with one of the most productive running backs of the quarterbacks on our list—Jarvion Franklin racked up 1,551 yards last season. This means fewer opportunities to throw the ball and earn yards.

    The Broncos ran the ball 503 times in 2014 versus their 370 pass attempts, which means that Terrell’s numbers won’t be gaudy, no matter how accurate he is.

    Also worth noting were his 9.4 yards per attempt, the third-highest last year behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (10.0) and Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson (9.5). Even the slightest increase there would mean big things for Terrell’s stat line.

8. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    2014 Stats: 203-of-314 (64.6 percent) for 2,834 yards (236.2 per game), 34 touchdowns, 10 interceptions

    2015 Projected Stats: 268-of-400 (67 percent) for 3,680 yards (283.1 per game), 40 touchdowns, seven interceptions

    Though it's still up in the air as to whether J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones will lead the Buckeyes offense onto the field this year, either option will be set-up for success in 2015.

    We'll highlight Barrett here because he's got the strongest statistical resume. According to Dan Murphy of, Barrett "ended up having a hand in 45 touchdowns during his first 12 collegiate games and was still getting better when he broke his ankle in the regular-season finale." 

    While that's impressive, Barrett's freshman season can't be defined by a No. 6 finish in touchdowns, even more significant was how accurately and efficiently he played, despite his youth. This is illustrated by his mind-blowing 169.8 mark in passer rating, the second best in the entire nation after the Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

    That makes him difficult to ignore, no matter how good Jones looks.

    In 2015, the starting quarterback will be joined by four out of five starters on the offensive line and the entire receiving corps minus the No. 1 option from last year, Devin Smith. Remember that at 931 yards, Smith’s loss won’t hurt as much as someone such as Alabama’s Amari Cooper, who contributed 1,727 yards.

    Also back is running back Ezekiel Elliott and his 1,878-yard potential from last season. Not only does this mean Ohio State won’t go pass-happy, but it protects Barrett from trying to do too much through the air.

    Like North Carolina’s Williams, Barrett’s passing totals will be somewhat diminished because of his dual-threat capabilities. With 938 rushing yards last season, look for a healthy Barrett to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this year.

7. Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati

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    Al Behrman/Associated Press

    2014 Stats: 233-of-390 (59.7 percent) for 3,254 yards (250.3 per game), 31 touchdowns, 13 interceptions

    2015 Projected Stats: 297-of-475 (62.5 percent) for 4,040 yards (310.8 per game), 38 touchdowns, 11 interceptions

    If Gunner Kiel stays healthy in 2015, he ought to throw the ball at least 450 times. In two seasons under Tommy Tuberville, the Bearcats went from a team that rushed 516 times in 2013 to 454 in 2014, while pass attempts rose from 469 to 491 during the same span.

    Insert an experienced, improving Kiel into the picture, and the trend should peak in 2015.

    What should help is the exit of Cincinnati’s top back from last season, Rod Moore, who led the team with 143 carries. Add in the return of the entire receiving corps from a passing attack that ranked No. 13, and things could get juicy.

    What will make or break Kiel’s passer rating, and perhaps his season, are interceptions. He threw multiple picks in four games last season, tossing three each against Miami (Fla.) and East Carolina. While maturity ought to drive the number down, adding nearly 100 attempts could highlight a weakness.

6. Trevone Boykin, TCU

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    2014 Stats: 301-of-492 (61.2 percent) for 3,901 yards (300.1 per game), 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

    2015 Projected Stats: 318-of-500 (63.6 percent) for 4,100 yards (315.4 per game), 35 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

    TCU’s Trevone Boykin surprised everyone last season by rising all the way up to a No. 9 finish in yards per game and a No. 25 rank in passer rating (145.9).

    In 2015, not only is he no longer a huge question mark, but he’ll be joined by all but one starter on the offensive line, the top three receivers and the top rusher. The mostly intact unit finished last year ranked No. 2 in scoring and No. 7 in passing yards.

    While Boykin showed huge improvement in every statistical category from 2013 to 2014, the jump won’t be as big in 2015 simply because he ascended so high, so quickly. His passing numbers will further suffer relative to other top candidates, because he can also run the ball.

    Boykin rushed for 707 yards on 152 carries last year, making him the team’s No. 2 rusher on a squad that passed 529 times versus 510 rushing plays. It’s an attack that is more balanced than it gets credit for.

5. Seth Russell, Baylor

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2014 Stats: 48-of-85 (56.5 percent) for 804 yards (100.5 per game), eight touchdowns, one interception

    2015 Projected Stats: 269-of-440 (61.1 percent) for 4,200 yards (323.1 per game), 30 touchdowns, five interceptions

    Baylor’s Seth Russell is the only first-year starter on our list. What gives him instant credibility is the fact that the Bears haven’t finished out of the top five teams nationally in passing yards since 2010.

    It’s key to remember that Baylor isn’t a pass-only offense, as the program has produced 1,000-yard rushers each of the last five seasons. The Bears finished No. 27 in rushing in 2014 and return their top back, Shock Linwood, this year. This all adds up to Russell’s numbers exploding, but not by Washington State or Cal standards.

    What will help Russell is the return of the top two receiving targets from last season, Corey Coleman and KD Cannon, who both racked up 1,000-plus yards in 2014. Beyond that, the entire starting offensive line is back, a unit that Phil Steelein his 2015 College Football Preview magazine, ranks No. 4 in experience with 106 starts.

4. Dane Evans, Tulsa

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    2014 Stats:  256-of-462 (55.4 percent) for 3,102 yards (258.5 per game), 23 touchdowns, 17 interceptions

    2015 Projected Stats:  295-of-500 (59 percent) for 4,220 yards (324.6 per game), 30 touchdowns, 15 interceptions

    There are two major reasons that Tulsa’s Dane Evans will blow his numbers from last season out of the water. First, Philip Montgomery is the new head coach and he's coming off a decade-long stretch under Art Briles, including serving as Baylor’s offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2014.

    Since Tulsa logged 40.1 passing attempts per game last season versus Baylor’s 39.9, it’s unrealistic to think Evans will climb his way up the stat sheet by virtue of simply throwing more footballs. Instead, it will come down to improved approach and efficiency, as the Bears averaged 365.9 yards per game compared to the Golden Hurricane’s 264.7.

    What should give Evans’ stats an extra boost is the return of his top four targets from a year ago, including Keevan Lucas, who racked up 1,219 yards. Also back are the top three rushers, which means it’s illogical to predict an unbalanced, pass-only attack.

    What shouldn’t dramatically change is Evans’ propensity to throw interceptions. Though the number may well drop with increased experience, he might throw the ball enough times to offset the improvement.

3. Cody Kessler, USC

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    2014 Stats: 315-of-452 (69.7 percent) for 3,826 yards (294.3 per game), 39 touchdowns, five interceptions

    2015 Projected Stats: 344-of-485 (71 percent) for 4,220 yards (324.6 per game), 42 touchdowns, six interceptions

    Statistically speaking, Cody Kessler may be the top quarterback coming into 2015. What hurts his potential is the lack of experience returning in the receiving corps.

    Gone are top target Nelson Agholor and the third and fourth options, which leaves the pass catching to JuJu Smith—the second option last year with 724 yards—and Darreus Rogers (245 yards). On the plus side is another complete starting offensive line, a unit that should be one of the best in the entire nation.

    What could boost Kessler’s yardage is a bump in the number of attempts due to the exit of running back Javorius Allen and his 1,489 yards on 276 carries. USC ran the ball 522 times last season versus 460 passing attempts, a balance that could change according to the shift in experience.

    If he can be has accurate (he finished No. 3 in the FBS in completion rating) and as careful (he threw only one interception per 90.4 attempts) in 2015 as he was in 2014, Kessler could have a special senior season.

2. Jared Goff, Cal

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    2014 Stats: 316-of-509 (62.1 percent) for 3,973 yards (331.1 per game), 35 touchdowns, seven interceptions

    2015 Projected Stats: 336-of-525 (64 percent) for 4,460 yards (343.1 per game), 40 touchdowns, seven interceptions

    Another guy who is sitting on a gold mine in terms of situation is Cal’s Jared Goff, who finished last season ranked No. 5 in the FBS in yards per game.

    Coming into 2015, Goff—who ranked No. 23 in passer rating in 2014 (147.6)—is armed with four of his top five receiving targets including the top two, Kenny Lawler and Stephen Anderson. Also back are all but one member of the starting O-line from a unit that finished No. 6 in passing yards.

    With top rusher Daniel Lasco (210 carries for 1,115 yards) returning, Goff ought to stay close to the 500-plus attempts he’s had the last two seasons. What should go up are his completion percentage, yards per attempt and touchdowns, each of which rose from 2013 to 2014.

    Goff averaged 6.6 yards per attempt two seasons ago, but he improved to 7.8 last year. Another 1.2-yard increase could make a huge difference in his totals.

1. Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky

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    2014 Stats: 375-of-552 (67.9 percent) for 4,830 yards (371.5 per game), 49 touchdowns, 10 interceptions

    2015 Projected Stats: 385-of-550 (70 percent) for 4,840 yards (403.3 per game), 50 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

    No quarterback in college football passed for more total yards in 2014 than Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty. But make no mistake, he is more than just a gunslinger with lots of errors to go along with his sack full of yards.

    Doughty also finished No. 3 in the nation in passer rating (167.1), coming in just after Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (181.7) and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett (169.8).

    In 2015, Doughty and his bazillion yards are set to return, along with three of the top four receiving targets and the bulk of an offensive line that finished No. 25 in sacks allowed.

    Also back is leading rusher Leon Allen, who carried the ball 272 times for 1,542 yards. His presence means we shouldn’t see a huge bump in Doughty’s attempts, as he'll stay somewhere near last year’s number.

    What’s particularly outstanding about Doughty is his completion percentage—65.8 percent in 2013 and 67.9 in 2014. It means he’s been ranked in the top 23 in the FBS in completion percentage each of his two seasons as the starter.

    Also worth noting is that four of his 10 interceptions came in one game against Louisiana Tech, which finished No. 1 in takeaways last year. This makes it logical to think the number will drop this season.

    Statistics courtesy of