College Football Quarterbacks with the Best Supporting Casts in 2017
A great quarterback can make his offensive teammates look far better, but many quarterbacks' numbers are enhanced because of a great supporting cast.
That's why you see NFL signal-callers buying their offensive lines Rolex watches and vacations. It's also why they heap praise on the running backs and wide receivers who are in the right places at the right times.
It's no different in college.
For players like Washington's Jake Browning and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, their stardom is enhanced by the studs around them. For others who inherited a group of elite playmakers like Alabama's Jalen Hurts and Clemson's Kelly Bryant, the onus is on them to produce on teams with elements in place for big years.
Those are just a few of the collegiate signal-callers who will enjoy an embarrassment of riches around them. Let's take a look at the quarterbacks with the best supporting casts in 2017.
Jake Browning, Washington
The players: Jake Browning has potential stars all around him, and the guys in the backfield will make things that much easier for Washington. The running back tandem of Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman will be one of the best duos in the country. Throw in receivers like Dante Pettis, Chico McClatcher, Aaron Fuller and Ty Jones, and Washington has the makings of an elite offense. Four returning offensive line starters help, too.
The roles: Coleman is an NFL-caliber running back with home run potential, and Gaskin is another all-conference-caliber player whose glue-guy abilities should help bring the whole offense together. He can run between or outside the tackles and can catch the ball out of the backfield. With John Ross gone to the NFL, Pettis will break out and be one of the nation's top targets.
2017 projection: If McClatcher and Fuller break out, this team could be even more explosive despite losing Ross. The belief here is the Huskies have more than enough talent to make Chris Petersen's offense tick. Browning is the ideal quarterback to bring it all together and possibly get them back to the College Football Playoff. There's too much talent in this unit for them to take a step backward in 2017. Expect big things.
Kelly Bryant, Clemson
The players: Running back Tavien Feaster is going to have a big year with Wayne Gallman out of the picture, and he isn't even currently the starter, as C.J. Fuller held that role in the spring. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will also have a talented corps of receivers, led by redshirt junior Hunter Renfrow, Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud. An offensive line led by surefire NFL left tackle Mitch Hyatt is strong again.
The roles: How do you lose so much production and still be this prolific? Swinney's recruiting is getting to the point where it instantly reloads the roster. Gone are Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett and Artavis Scott, but that doesn't matter. Cain is as talented as anybody in the nation, and most of the top teams coveted Feaster, too. The Tigers will defend their national championship with a group of former elite prospects. Renfrow will lead the team in catches, and Hyatt and Co. will pave the way for it all.
2017 projection: It all depends on Kelly Bryant, or Hunter Johnson if Bryant can't cut it. All the elements are there to compete for the ACC championship again with Florida State, Virginia Tech, Miami and others. Star freshmen like receiver Tee Higgins will be nice additions, too. They just need to have somebody get them the football. If Swinney finds a player who can give Clemson half of what Deshaun Watson did, it'll be another strong year.
Luke Falk, Washington State
The players: When quarterback Luke Falk came back for his senior season in Pullman, he did so knowing he'd be in good hands because he'd have more than a little help from his friends. The running back trio of James Williams, Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks all had at least 88 carries and 25 catches in 2016. Though the Cougars will miss a couple of departed receivers, they have a bunch of talented pass-catchers like Robert Lewis and Tavares Martin Jr.
The roles: Head coach Mike Leach's team returns a veteran offensive line led by All-American Cody O'Connell, and though the "Air Raid" offense puts up massive passing numbers, you may see the Cougs run more this year. That would take some of the pressure off Falk, who'll be replacing River Cracraft and Gabe Marks. There are still a lot of players who can post big numbers in a Leach-led offense.
2017 projection: Balance in the "Air Raid?" Look for more of it in 2017. That's big news for a WSU team that wants to take the same step forward this year that hated rival Washington did a season ago. Falk is as good a quarterback as there is in the country, and if the Cougars can stay healthy, it may be Leach's best year yet in Pullman. This team is capable of being the surprise program in the nation, a la Colorado a season ago.
Riley Ferguson, Memphis
The players: Tennessee transfer quarterback Riley Ferguson was a breakout star a season ago for first-year coach Mike Norvell, and he has the opportunity to post bigger numbers this year. Fifth-year senior receiver Anthony Miller is the best player you've never heard of. Like Washington State, Memphis has a trio of capable running backs in Doroland Dorceus, Patrick Taylor Jr. and Darrell Henderson.
The roles: "The most excited I've been for a season," Miller told the Commercial-Appeal's Tom Schad. There's good reason. Norvell is one of the best offensive minds in all of college football, and he knows how to put all his chess pieces in place to post big numbers. Miller can do it all, and he's a potential All-American, even in the little-known American Athletic Conference. Dorceus is quietly a strong back, and the three runners all have different skill sets. Perhaps best of all, Memphis returns four starting offensive linemen.
2017 projection: Talent, depth and experience everywhere; that's what Norvell has to look forward to this year. Ferguson is a gunslinging rising senior who is making the most of his second chance. Though they lost five games a year ago, the Tigers will be this year's Western Michigan. They'll outscore everyone and work their way into a New Year's Six bowl. They're that good on offense.
Jalen Hurts, Alabama
The players: It's become ridiculous how many toys Alabama head coach Nick Saban has to play with every year. In 2017, the Crimson Tide have almost too many running backs, led by Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, Joshua Jacobs and B.J. Emmons. That's not even to mention one of the jewels of the '16 running back class, Najee Harris. At receiver, Calvin Ridley is a future first-round pick, and Robert Foster has plenty of potential. Freshman Jerry Jeudy will try to follow up his brilliant spring game when it matters.
The roles: New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll's biggest concern has to be improving Jalen Hurts' downfield passing game. He must find ways to get Ridley and Foster the ball beyond the first-down markers. But Alabama's ability to send star runners in waves at the rest of the SEC will help. When those guys are finding lanes behind the likes of star sophomore tackle Jonah Williams, it should lead to big-time numbers. Georgia's Nick Chubb and Sony Michel get a lot of headlines as running back duos, but Scarbrough and Harris are better.
2017 projection: It's safe to assume the Crimson Tide are going to be in the College Football Playoff, right? They are pretty much every year. Hurts holds the key, and though it's easy to anoint Tua Tagovailoa as the next big thing, people forget what kind of missing element he added to Alabama's offense with his feet a year ago. If he can progress to the point of loosening defenses up a little, the Tide will be the best offense in the SEC. If he doesn't, Saban has already proven he isn't scared to play a freshman under center.
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
The players: Running backs Rodney Anderson and Abdul Adams are next in line to fill the roles as Oklahoma's workload carriers, and freshman Trey Sermon will help, too. At receiver, OU is loaded again with Jeffery Mead, Kentucky transfer Jeff Badet, Marquise Brown, A.D. Miller and Nick Basquine. The Sooners also may have the best tight end/receiver in the nation in Mark Andrews. Additionally, their veteran O-line led by hulking Orlando Brown Jr. is the best in the Big 12.
The roles: Everybody is excited about seeing a healthy Anderson break free and run in the open field, and the Adams-Sermon duo can do the work between the tackles. Andrews is as good of a possession receiver as there is in college football, and Oklahoma has a perfect blend of big-bodied targets and speedsters like JUCO transfer Brown. Badet may be the best of the bunch, and he just fell into new head coach Lincoln Riley's lap. There are so many options for Baker Mayfield to orchestrate.
2017 projection: How can a team lose Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon and Heisman Trophy finalist receiver Dede Westbrook and still be this loaded on offense? That's thanks largely in part to the stockpiling efforts of former head coach Bob Stoops and Riley. This is the perfect team to run Riley's system, and the Sooners are going to be stout once again this year. "Bedlam" may reach 140 total points. If OU can improve its defense, Mayfield could lead the Sooners to the big prize.
Trace McSorley, Penn State
The players: The best running back in the country and a strong pick to win the Heisman Trophy in Saquon Barkley will line up behind Trace McSorley, which never hurts. Head coach James Franklin has a nice supporting cast of pass-catchers, too, led by Saeed Blacknall. Juwan Johnson has the potential for a memorable year, and DaeSean Hamilton is steady, too. Tight end Mike Gesicki is one of the best in football. Ryan Bates, Brendan Mahon and Connor McGovern return on the O-line.
The roles: With Chris Godwin gone, the Nittany Lions must replace 982 receiving yards. That can be distributed among Blacknall and Johnson, who haven't reached their massive potential yet. Gesicki is going to be a safety valve for McSorley, and it'll all revolve around Barkley, who'd be the centerpiece on any team. With him behind McSorley, PSU can beat any team it plays.
2017 projection: A season ago, McSorley went from unknown quarterback to throwing out lottery numbers with his accurate right arm. By the end of the year, the Lions were scoring with anybody. They'll do that again in 2017. Though McSorley doesn't have a big arm, he's efficient, and he has the knack for big plays. That's a deadly combination, and it will lead to another Big Ten title for PSU. The Lions will be one of the top two offensive teams in the conference along with new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson's Ohio State.
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
The players: The best receiver in the country returns, as James Washington can catch balls at all levels of the field, including deep. Jalen McCleskey is the ideal yards-after-the-catch receiver, and Marcell Ateman will be a big factor after a redshirt campaign, too. Justice Hill is the perfect running back for head coach Mike Gundy's offense, and all of them are ideal for Mason Rudolph, who is poised for a monster year. The transfer of Cal offensive tackle Aaron Cochran bolsters an already strong line.
The roles: Washington is going to produce big plays, and McCleskey is one of the most underrated players in the entire country. Hill had a terrific season as a freshman, and those numbers should only improve in 2017 as the Cowboys offense continues to progress. Ateman is a guy who can catch passes all over the field as well, and OSU has every type of weapon you can imagine in its arsenal. It has all of the trappings for a huge year in Stillwater.
2017 projection: With all due respect to Oklahoma and Baker Mayfield, the hated Cowboys will boast the best and most versatile offense in the country. This is the kind of Big 12 offense that can flat-out embarrass the already struggling defenses in that league. If the defense can improve, Gundy and Rudolph will spearhead an offense that is capable of taking Oklahoma State to the College Football Playoff. Yes, it's that good.