Ranking the Best Quarterbacks in College Football This Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistOctober 8, 2017

Ranking the Best Quarterbacks in College Football This Season

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    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    Quarterbacks can sometimes get too much credit or blame for a result, but it's because they're the most important players on the field.

    Through six weeks of the 2017 college football season, 10 signal-callers have established themselves as premier players. While most of the quarterbacks here are familiar names, a couple of under-the-radar gunslingers merited a place on the list.

    We judged the players based on their skill sets and rolesnot a standardized bar. For example, Josh Rosen doesn't run like McKenzie Milton, who doesn't compare to Lamar Jackson. That's neither fair nor makes sense, so we focused on what the quarterbacks can do and whether they're showing it.

    J.T. Barrett, Ryan Finley, Josh Jackson, Zach Abey and Will Grier were the best players just outside of the list. Exclusion might be taken as a slight, but top 15 is pretty darn good.

10. Jalen Hurts, Alabama

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    2017 highlights: Somewhat overshadowed by the wrecking crew that is Alabama's defense, Jalen Hurts has posted unsuspecting lines for much of the campaign. He's thrown for a modest 870 yards yet run for an impressive 517 yards and accounted for 12 touchdowns while tossing zero interceptions.

    Greatest strengthsHurts hasn't been asked to play outside himself. That can be taken as a criticism, but there's little sense in forcing the sophomore to try something new when the basic offense is working. At this point of his career, he's a dangerous runnerboth in designed plays and scramblingwho efficiently distributes quick-hitting throws.

    Rest-of-season outlook: Alabama finally looked mortal in a closer-than-expected victory at Texas A&M, but Hurts and the Tide should roll through four of their six remaining opponents. The exceptions are LSU and Auburn, who should force Hurts to attempt more passes in high-pressure situations.

9. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn

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    2017 highlights: Jarrett Stidham has picked apart defenses since shaking off the quarterbacking rust in a tight loss to Clemson. In each of the last four games, the Baylor transfer has posted a completion percentage of 66-plus percent. Stidham's 32-of-37 showing against Mercer was the second-most efficient day in SEC history.

    Greatest strengths: The gunslinger has the arm for every situation, and there isn't a window he's not capable of attacking. However, Stidham has wisely refrained from trying to be a hero. And his 71.2 completion percentage is a reflection of that sound decision-making.

    Rest-of-season outlook: Upcoming trips to Arkansas and Texas A&M are no pushover, but Auburn should notch a pair of wins. The big question is whether Stidham will be better prepared to handle the outstanding defenses of Georgia and Alabama over the final three weeks. Auburn ceded 11 sacks at Clemson, and Stidham could be under heavy pressure in both games.

8. McKenzie Milton, UCF

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    2017 highlights: Despite adverse weather shortening UCF's trip to Cincinnati, McKenzie Milton notched career-best marks of 374 yards and five touchdowns. He set a personal best with 94 rushing yards during an impressive road victory at Maryland, too.

    Greatest strengths: Milton snaps the ball with great velocity in what seems like effortless fashion. He drives the ball downfield and displays wonderful touch down the seams. Milton is an effective runner, and UCF is allowing him to create more often this season.

    Rest-of-season outlook: In leading the Knights to four straight wins of 27-plus points, Milton has propelled the program to an intriguing position. The final seven contests include Navy and South Florida, two of the AAC's best teams. If Milton is anywhere near as effective as he's been so far, UCF will complete a sensational two-year turnaroundgoing from 0-12 in 2015 to conference champion.

7. Jake Browning, Washington

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    2017 highlights: Thanks to a soft nonconference slate and favorable opening to Pac-12 play, Washington hasn't needed excellence from Jake Browning. But he's given the Huskies that anyway. While leading UW to a 6-0 record, the junior has completed 75-plus percent of his passes in three games and totaled four touchdowns twice.

    Greatest strengths: Browning doesn't have elite arm strength for distance purposes, but his combination of velocity and touch is superb. He also exhibits a good sense of timing in the pocket, knows when to extend his eyes downfield and when to safely get rid of the ball (an underrated trait).

    Rest-of-season outlook: Should the Huskies defeat Arizona State in Week 7, they'll have finished off an expected 7-0 start entering their bye. Then, things get interesting. Browning should be successful against mediocre UCLA and Oregon defenses, but a stretch of Stanford, Utah and Washington State to close the campaign is brutal.

6. Logan Woodside, Toledo

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    2017 highlights: In a 21-point comeback against Tulsa, Logan Woodside threw for 458 yards and a career-high six scores. He also played admirably on the road against a ranked Miami team, tallying 342 yards and three touchdowns in a competitive loss.

    Greatest strengths: Woodside is a hyper efficient short-yardage passer, but he's also an excellent deep-ball thrower. The senior's command of the offense is apparent as he goes through a progression and rarely misses an opportunity to take a shot downfield.

    Rest-of-season outlook: Toledo edged Eastern Michigan to open MAC play and has seven straight weeks of conference action on the way. November will bring a gauntlet for Woodside and the Rockets, who will battle Northern Illinois, Ohio and Western Michiganarguably the three biggest challengers to Toledo's pursuit of the MAC crown.

5. Josh Rosen, UCLA

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    2017 highlights: Josh Rosen pulled off one of the season's most memorable plays during the opening weekend. His fake spike helped UCLA finish a 34-point comeback against Texas A&M. Rosen also threw a career-best five touchdowns against Hawaii.

    Greatest strengths: NFL teams have flocked to watch the draft-eligible prospect because of his ideal mechanics, from his footwork to his motion to his release. Those fundamentals are a major reason Rosen's ball placement can be so impressive. He also doesn't lack confidence, though that can lead to occasional high-risk, unnecessary throws.

    Rest-of-season outlook: UCLA's defense hasn't offered Rosen much assistance during the program's 3-2 start to the season, and that's not going to change. The burden of carrying the team means he'll continue to make a few mistakes. But Rosen's best throws will serve as reminders of his elite talent.

4. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

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    2017 highlights: Oklahoma State's first three opponents had no answer for Mason Rudolph. He accounted for at least four scores against Tulsa, South Alabama and Pitt. And after a loss to TCU, the senior responded with 426 total yards and five touchdowns at Texas Tech.

    Greatest strengths: Rudolph is comfortable and efficient throwing in rhythm. He also has a thorough grasp of the offensive system and shows it going through a progression. Although Rudolph has a habit of finessing throws, that touch is a real asset on downfield attempts.

    Rest-of-season outlook: Rudolph and Co. are set for a decisive four-game stretch. Oklahoma State hosts Baylor, travels to Texas and West Virginia, then meets Oklahoma for Bedlam. Unless the Pokes sweep those opponents, Rudolph will likely remain a highly productive quarterback who is just on the outside of national award races.

3. Lamar Jackson, Louisville

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    2017 highlights: The human highlight reel is tearing up the stat sheet once again. Lamar Jackson has exactly 2,500 yards of total offense and 21 touchdowns through six games. He's been responsible for at least three scores in five contests, highlighted by a six-touchdown effort at North Carolina.

    Greatest strengths: Jackson is absolutely electric as a runner. But the junior doesn't get enough credit for his ability to go through a progression. Jackson oversees a pro-style offense and has an improved understanding of when to fire a ball and when to place one.

    Rest-of-season outlook: Jackson hasn't been blameless in Louisville's two losses, but it's hard to stay balanced when the best running back is a converted receiver who lost his starting quarterback job. The next three games—Boston College, Florida State and Wake Forest, all tough defenseswill have a sizable impact in determining whether Jackson is a Heisman finalist once again.

2. Luke Falk, Washington State

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    2017 highlights: Luke Falk responded to being benched against Boise State with a six-touchdown outburst on Oregon State and hasn't slowed down since then. He also torched Nevada for five scores and guided Washington State to an upset of then-No. 5 USC with a 340-yard, two-score day.

    Greatest strengths: The jury remains out on whether Falk has a promising professional future, but he's an ideal quarterback for Mike Leach's pass-happy attack. Falk's clear understanding of the offensive philosophy shows in his high completion percentage (71.8). He atones for an average arm by getting the ball out quickly and efficiently.

    Rest-of-season outlook: Wazzu has dreams of a Pac-12 title, but that aspiration will only be reached if Falk avoids a letdownespecially in November, when the Cougs take on Stanford, Utah and Washington. Though  his history suggests at least one more rough outing is coming, Falk should be safely in the discussion for national recognition.

1. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

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    2017 highlights: Baker Mayfield has recorded at least 283 yards and accounted for three touchdowns in five straight games. The senior's brightest moment was leading the Sooners to a convincing victory at Ohio State, when he threw for a season-high 386 yards and three scores. Mayfield currently leads the nation with 12.2 yards per attempt and a 214.1 rating.

    Greatest strengths: Mayfield is lethal in Oklahoma's system. He patiently lets the play develop and typically makes the right choice in run-pass options, displaying both the arm strength and accuracy to attack the seams. Mayfield rarely turns it over yet isn't afraid to push the ball downfield. That's a great combination.

    Rest-of-season outlook: Given the Week 6 loss to Iowa State, it might a surprise to see Mayfield at No. 1. However, the defense let down the Sooners. Mayfield is a frontrunner in the chase for the Heisman Trophy and should earn another invitation to the ceremony in New York.