A great quarterback can make all the difference for a college football team and the elite ones can literally propel a team into College Football Playoff Contention.
Just look at what Deshaun Watson meant for Clemson over the past few seasons, and even though Nick Saban’s Alabama squads have always been ground-and-pound heavy, quarterbacks have played important roles in all of his championship runs.
A great, Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback isn’t easy to come by, but if your school has one, you’ll likely be in the title conversation at the end of the day.
Speaking of conversation, the players mentioned below are all in the conversation for best quarterback heading into college football’s 2017 season:
5. Trace McSorley, Penn State
McSorley propelled himself into the college football spotlight last season by coming up big in a must-succeed season for James Franklin and the Nittany Lions.
He was tough, gritty and fun to watch all season, leading PSU to an 11-3 campaign, including a Big Ten Championship win over No. 6 Wisconsin and an appearance in the Rose Bowl against USC.
Over the course of the season, McSorely threw for 3,614 yards and 29 touchdowns compared to just eight interceptions. He also used his athleticism to put up 365 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground as a runner.
In the 38-31 Big Ten title game win over the Badgers, McSorely completed 22-of-31 passes for 384 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. He did throw three interceptions in the Rose Bowl against a very good USC team, but that’s not mentioning the total of five touchdowns he put on the board for Penn State — four through the air and one on the ground.
Entering his second full season as a starter for Penn State, look for McSorely to be among the best of the best not just in the Big Ten, but nationally.
4. Jalen Hurts, Alabama
Jalen Hurts isn’t your traditional Nick Saban quarterback — Alabama has been known to roll with the pocket-passer, game manager type — but that’s what makes him such an awesome player for the Crimson Tide.
Hurts, who’s only going to be a sophomore in 2017, is a dual-threat quarterback who’s just as comfortable running Alabama’s offense as he is taking off and improvising with his legs when a play breaks down.
As a true freshman, Hurts led Alabama to the CFP National Championship game, and though the Tide ultimately lost to Clemson, he’ll have them in contention again in 2017.
He was a borderline Heisman Trophy candidate last season and could find himself in New York at the end of 2017.
3. Sam Darnold, USC
Sam Darnold showed us only a flash of what he’s capable of in 2016. He started the year as a backup, but once he got his shot in Week 4, he never looked back. In fact, USC only lost one game for the rest of the season once the Trojans put him under center, and that was his first start. After the 31-27 loss to Utah, Darnold went on to lead USC to nine wins in a row, including the Rose Bowl.
Darnold finished the 2016 season with 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns to his name, compared to just nine interceptions thrown.
He’s already a Heisman Trophy contender, and by the end of 2017, there’s a great chance he’ll go down in USC history with names like Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer.
2. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Mayfield has everything going for him heading into 2017, and that’s despite the fact that Bob Stoops is no longer head coach at Oklahoma. Now former offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will be taking over for Stoops, which means that Mayfield will once again likely be the focus of this Sooner squad, and for good reason.
He was a huge part in leading Oklahoma to last season’s College Football Playoffs, throwing for 3,965 yards and 40 touchdowns (eight interceptions) while rushing for six touchdowns on the ground.
Oklahoma is expected to be explosive on offense once again, and everything runs in and around Mayfield. He’ll be gunning for his third near-4,000 yard season (he threw for 3,700 yards in 2015), and when all is said and done he should find himself as one of the top Heisman Trophy contenders.
He may even get his squad back into the playoffs. He’s that good.
1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
It would be silly to top this list off with anybody but Jackson, 2016’s Heisman Trophy winner. Jackson was basically playing a video game in 2016, throwing for 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns (nine interceptions) while rushing for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground.
For those keeping track, Jackson put up over 5,000 yards of total offense and over 50 touchdowns for the Cardinals, and he’s expected to repeat his performance in 2017 — if not improve on it.
Jackson is an athletic superstar with a big arm and the dynamic speed and explosion as a runner that makes him impossible to tackle.
It’s very possible he wins the Heisman Trophy again in 2107.
Players To Watch:
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
Running Urban Meyer’s offense has led to some explosive seasons for many a quarterback, and Barrett is no exception. He’s a dual-threat quarterback who fits Ohio State’s scheme perfectly, so look for him to really shine in his senior season for the Buckeyes.
In 2016, Barrett threw for 2,555 yards and 24 touchdowns (seven interceptions), while rushing for 845 yards and nine touchdowns.
He’s explosive, he has experience, and he very well could lead OSU to the CFP in 2017.
Jake Browning, Washington
Browning is expected to put up some major stats for Washington in 2017, if only because that’s all he’s done over the past two seasons.
Last season for the Huskies, Browning completed 243-of-391 passes for 3,430 yards and a whopping 43 touchdowns. He threw only nine interceptions and led Washington to the College Football Playoffs.
He’ll be down speedy wideout John Ross this season and star running back Myles Gaskin may steal a bit of his spotlight, but when push comes to shove Browning should still be one of the top quarterbacks in college football.
Deondre Francois, Florida State
In his first season of action for the Seminoles after a redshirt year in 2015, Deondre Francois lived up to the hype and then some.
He’s not Jameis Winston, but the comparison in talent is there. Francois was the 2016 ACC Rookie of the Year after throwing for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions. He also rushed for five touchdowns and 198 yards on the ground, proving to be one of the best freshmen in college football.
With yet another offseason under his belt, look for Francois to take another step towards superstardom for the Seminoles.
Honorable Mentions: Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State; Quinton Flowers, South Florida; Josh Rosen, UCLA; Jacob Eason, Georgia