Quarterbacks are a major storyline before every college football season, but the interest level will be especially high when games kick off later this month.
The combination of a lukewarm 2022 NFL quarterback draft class, many prominent returning starters and a vibrant transfer market has left a fascinating QB group in terms of both depth and league distribution. Alabama’s Bryce Young will try to become the first back-to-back Heisman Trophy winner since Archie Griffin in 1975, but other quarterbacks might be generating more preseason buzz, such as Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and USC’s Caleb Williams, the Oklahoma transfer who joined coach Lincoln Riley with the Trojans.
The ACC has one of its deepest quarterback groups in years, as 10 teams return players with starting experience. Stroud headlines a Big Ten group with returning starters for all of the projected contenders. The SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 have an interesting mix of returnees and transfers, including potential new starters at Oregon, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas, South Carolina and Washington. Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall and Fresno State’s Jake Haener headline the Group of 5 quarterbacks.
I spoke with more than 15 coaches and defensive coordinators — from every Power 5 league and several in the Group of 5 — to break down this year’s group of quarterbacks and what to expect from them this fall. Proven players such as Young and Stroud are covered here, as are those who could rise up to join them in national awards races by November.
Let’s get started with a league-by-league breakdown.
The ACC produced the only quarterback selected in the first two rounds of the 2022 NFL draft — Pitt’s Kenny Pickett went No. 20 overall to the Steelers — but returns a group loaded with experience and production. Three of the league’s top four passers are back in Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong (4,449 yards, 31 touchdowns), Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman (4,228 yards, 39 touchdowns) and NC State’s Devin Leary (3,433 pass yards, 33 touchdowns).
Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke, who passed for nearly 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in only 10 games, could become a national star under coach Mario Cristobal. Louisville’s Malik Cunningham cut his interceptions total in half from 2020, and also nearly hit the 3,000-yard passing mark. There are also familiar names such as Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei, Florida State’s Jordan Travis and Boston College’s Phil Jurkovec, an NFL draft prospect.
Here’s what insiders had to say about several of them:
Brennan Armstrong, Virginia: One of the nation’s most productive quarterbacks during the past two seasons, Armstrong earned high marks from opposing coaches. The big question is how he’ll fare under a new coaching staff led by Tony Elliott, the longtime Clemson offensive coordinator.
“He’s a playmaker, he’s accurate, I think he’ll be fine,” an ACC coach said. “Armstrong had some weapons last year, big tight ends, they lined up in weird formations and did crazy stuff, not an easy team to defend. Now they’re going to be easier to defend, I would guess, but Armstrong is a dude. He can really throw it.”
Sam Hartman, Wake Forest: He’s out indefinitely for a non-football-related medical condition, but he already holds the team record for touchdown passes (72) and, barring further injury, should eclipse 10,000 career passing yards this fall. An ACC coach praised Hartman’s intelligence and production; another called him a “game manager.”
Several coaches noted Wake Forest’s distinct scheme, built on run-pass options after a delayed mesh between the quarterback and running back, sets the offense apart.
“He’s going to be pretty effective when the game is close, they can ride up the line of scrimmage,” a coach said. “But as soon as they get down 14-0 and he’s got to be a dropback thrower, he gets in trouble.”
Devin Leary, NC State: He’s generating the most national attention in the league, as NC State aims for its first ACC title since 1979. Limited by injury in 2020, Leary broke Philip Rivers’ single-season team touchdown passes record with 35 last fall, while posting the second-best passing efficiency rating (157.1) in team history.
An ACC coach said of Leary, “He’s an NFL player,” but a defensive coordinator attributed NC State’s success to the overall talent on offense.
“He’s a good player, but the pieces combined with who he is makes it good, which is most quarterbacks,” the coordinator said of Leary.
Malik Cunningham, Louisville: Coaches were very bullish on Cunningham, who ranked seventh in the league in passing but fifth in rushing, finishing 14th nationally in total offense.
“I’m sure if you take a poll of all of the ACC and you say, ‘Who don’t you want to play against?’ He’s pretty high on the list,” a defensive coordinator said of Cunningham.
Added an ACC coach: “He’s the most dynamic guy in our league. Super athletic, throws a good deep ball, understands their offense.”
At only 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Cunningham’s NFL outlook isn’t as promising as that of several other ACC quarterbacks. But he’s a true dual threat who can gash defenses on just about any play.
“He’s scary athletically like [former Louisville star Lamar Jackson], but he can’t throw it like Lamar,” an ACC coach said. “But he’s an athlete. He can beat your ass by himself.”
Tyler Van Dyke, Miami: Similar to Cunningham, coaches are high on Van Dyke. He had a 25-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and won ACC Rookie of the Year honors in 2021. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Van Dyke’s size and arm strength have stood out to coaches.
“He’ll play in the NFL,” one said.
D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson: There’s a drop-off after the top five, but Uiagalelei will try to revive his stock after a poor 2021 season in which he threw more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (11) and finished 97th in total QBR. The 6-foot-4 Uiagalelei lost about 30 pounds, and has drawn good reviews in practice.
An ACC coach said Uiagalelei likely was “humbled” last season, noting the “unrealistic expectations” placed on him.
“He’s a big, strong runner, but wasn’t really like [Cunningham], who can make anybody miss at any time, so I don’t know if the weight loss will help him with his agility,” the coach said. “But any time your quarterback has a year under his belt, he’s going to be better.”
Kedon Slovis, Pitt: A multiyear starter at USC, Slovis will replace Pickett as Pitt defends its ACC title. After operating a spread offense under coordinator Graham Harrell, Slovis now will work under playcaller Frank Cignetti Jr., who uses a more traditional pro-style system.
“He throws the ball really, really well,” said a coach set to face Slovis, “but it’s a totally different style of offense, so how well is he going to adjust?”
Jordan Travis, Florida State: Travis has started 14 games under coach Mike Norvell and settled in as the leader of FSU’s offense. A legitimate dual threat, the 6-foot-1, 212-pound junior holds team records for quarterback rushing (1,317 yards) and quarterback rushing touchdowns (17). An ACC coach praised Travis’ “straight-ahead fast” speed.
He had by far his most accurate year in 2021, completing 62.9% of his passes for 15 touchdowns against six interceptions.
“Fast as f—,” an ACC defensive coordinator said. “He’s a good player, but he’s not an NFL quarterback.”
Mel Kiper Jr. breaks down Alabama quarterback Bryce Young’s talent and why he has him as the top quarterback on the board for the 2023 draft.
The SEC might not be as deep at quarterback as the ACC, but the league returns a strong group. It includes the reigning Heisman winner in Young, the quarterback of the defending national champions in Stetson Bennett, several notable returning starters and key transfers at LSU (Jayden Daniels, Arizona State), Ole Miss (Jaxson Dart, USC), Texas A&M (Max Johnson, LSU) and South Carolina (Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma).
Here’s what insiders had to say about several of them:
Bryce Young, Alabama: The SEC quarterback conversation begins with Young, who shined during his first season as the starter for Alabama and won the Heisman after a late surge. Young had multiple touchdown passes in every regular-season game and threw just four interceptions during his first 13 starts, eclipsing 300 yards nine times.
“Bryce stands out in a big way,” an SEC coach said. “He just knows how to play the game at a high level, very accurate.”
Young is the first quarterback on Mel Kiper’s Big Board for the 2023 NFL draft, going at No. 2 overall, one spot ahead of Stroud.
Stetson Bennett, Georgia: Bennett is back after helping the team to its first national championship since 1980. He’s almost reflexively overlooked by fans and some media, while continuing to gain strong reviews from opposing coaches.
“Disrespected,” one SEC coach said of Bennett.
“Is he Bryce Young? No. But the dude is good enough with his feet, smart enough to extend plays,” an SEC defensive coordinator added. “He plays within himself.”
Will Levis, Kentucky: The second quarterback on Kiper’s board behind Young is Levis at No. 22 overall. At 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, Levis brings an interesting combination of size, skill and athletic ability to UK’s offense. He had 24 touchdown passes and tied for the team lead in rushing touchdowns (9) last fall.
“That kid, he just jumps off the tape,” an SEC defensive coordinator said. “I think he’s going to be an elite NFL quarterback.”
Another coach wasn’t as sold on Levis, calling him “solid” but doubting his first-round forecast.
Anthony Richardson, Florida: Coaches are similarly split on Richardson, whose size (6-foot-4, 232 pounds) is similar to Levis’. Richardson saw limited time in 2021, flashing big-play potential, especially as a runner, but also struggling with accuracy at times. He threw two interceptions in two of his last three appearances.
Richardson is set to be Florida’s full-time starter under new coach Billy Napier.
“He looks like Cam Newton, he’s that impressive,” an SEC defensive coordinator said.
“He’s got a pretty strong arm,” added a Power 5 defensive coordinator. “When he runs, he looks to run you over. He’s got a dog mentality, pretty confident. The inaccuracy on the deep ball is where he’s seen most of his problems, but he still can throw a good ball.”
Will Rogers, Mississippi State: There are no accuracy questions about Rogers, who last fall quietly turned in one of the best quarterback seasons in SEC history. He led the league and ranked fourth nationally in pass yards per game (364.5), and joined former Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow as the only FBS quarterbacks in the past 20 seasons to eclipse 4,700 pass yards and 35 touchdown passes, while completing at least 73% of their attempts.
“He understands [Mike] Leach’s system well, he’s very accurate, throws a very catchable ball,” said a coach who faced Rogers in 2021. “Nothing really jumps out at you, other than, statistically, he does what that offense does. He’s not a runner or a giant big kid. There’s nothing imposing about him, other than he can run their offense well with a great arm.”
Hendon Hooker, Tennessee: Hooker had an impressive first season under coach Josh Heupel, but coaches also apply the system tag to him. Hooker, who was solid but never quite broke through at Virginia Tech, tossed 31 touchdown passes and only three interceptions last fall, while completing 68.2% of his attempts.
“He wasn’t very good at Virginia Tech, and yet he’s really good [at Tennessee],” an SEC coach said. “So it makes you wonder if it is a system thing.”
An SEC coordinator added: “That offense is really creative and really simple, in a unique way. It makes it very quarterback friendly. So he gets the benefit of having a lot of catch-and-throws that go for a lot of yards.”
Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss: After Matt Corral’s departure to the NFL, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin went to the transfer portal for Dart, who, as a true freshman at USC, showcased arm strength and accuracy in limited work last season. Dart came to USC as ESPN’s No. 19 recruit in the 2021 class, and enrolled early.
“He was the most talented quarterback we played against last year,” a Pac-12 defensive coordinator said. “He was inexperienced, but he threw the ball well and he had enough movement. Projecting him moving forward, he was going to be the most talented guy in the conference.”
Like the ACC, the Big Ten returns most of its quarterback production from 2021. Defending league champion Michigan brings back both starter Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy, who some coaches expect to take on a bigger role as a sophomore. Penn State’s Sean Clifford and Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan, who both started their careers in 2017, begin their final seasons in college.
Michigan State’s Payton Thorne comes off a record-setting first season as the team’s starter, and Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa aims to build off a strong 2021 season. The top four teams in the West Division — Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Purdue — all return multiyear starters.
Here’s what insiders had to say about several of them:
Cade McNamara/J.J. McCarthy, Michigan: Michigan beat Ohio State with McNamara, who had solid numbers (2,576 pass yards, 15 touchdowns, six interceptions, 64.2% completions) in his first full season as the starter. To keep his job, though, he must fight off McCarthy, an ESPN Top 25 recruit in 2021 who was used situationally as a true freshman.
“He’s kind of sitting there on [McNamara’s shoulder],” a coach said of McCarthy. “It’ll be an interesting dynamic, because [McCarthy] is definitely the more talented one. But the other kid, Cade, just gritty, tough, hard to beat out.”
A Big Ten defensive coordinator noted Michigan’s quarterback strategy last season worked — McNamara operated a run-centric offense and took almost all of the snaps, while McCarthy played in 11 games but attempted more than six passes in just two. The result was Michigan’s first win over Ohio State since 2011, and its first outright Big Ten title since 2003.
But maintaining the same plan this season will be tougher, especially with Michigan losing several defensive standouts and desiring a more dynamic pass game with great depth at both wide receiver and tight end.
“You just wonder: How are they going to get that thing to work?” a Big Ten coach said. “You’ve got two quarterbacks, and McCarthy is actually more talented than McNamara. But what they’re asking McNamara to do, they’ve got a good run game going with good backs, so they don’t necessarily need McCarthy. But you can’t keep doing this oddball stuff with McCarthy and let McNamara run the show and expect them to keep getting along, nobody’s going to rock the boat.”
C.J. Stroud, Ohio State: He’s undoubtedly the league’s headliner, after finishing 2021 with 4,435 pass yards and 44 touchdowns, while completing 71.9% of his attempts. Stroud set 17 Ohio State records last season, and ranked in the top three nationally in pass efficiency (186.6 rating), touchdown passes (44) and completion percentage (71.9).
“He’s pretty special,” a veteran Big Ten coach said. “He’s the best one they’ve had since I’ve been here. They’ll be hard to beat with him.”
Aidan O’Connell, Purdue: A former walk-on, he set Purdue’s single-season completion percentage record (71.8%) last season, while finishing in the top five in passing yards, touchdowns and total completions.
“A real good football player,” a Big Ten defensive coordinator said. “He’s a product of what they do. I don’t think they ask him to do a ton. They ask their receivers to make plays. Somebody’s still got to put the ball in the vicinity, and he does a real good job of that. He’s certainly found his home, and I don’t know if anybody would have predicted the success he’s had.”
A Big Ten coach added: “You can tell he understands what coach [Jeff] Brohm wants to do every single day. He makes really good decisions with the football. He’s incredibly accurate. He has an almost efficient ability to get the ball out of his hands before he gets hit. He doesn’t get sacked a lot.”
Payton Thorne, Michigan State: Thorne was an ESPN three-star recruit who had mostly Group of 5 offers. He set a team single-season record with 27 touchdown passes last season, while ranking third in both passing yards (3,233) and passing average (248.7 yards per game).
Thorne will no longer share a backfield with running back Kenneth Walker, the 2021 Doak Walker Award winner, but still has his top target and longtime friend Jayden Reed, a 1,000-yard receiver in 2021.
“As Thorne goes, Michigan State goes,” a Big Ten coach said. “They were so efficient running the ball, and when he played All-Big Ten-level football, they were tough to beat. You can tell he’s a coach’s kid. He’s a leader. He’s got all the necessary arm talent. He’s athletic and can keep plays alive, and for the most part, he’s taken care of the ball. Where they got in trouble in some games is turning the ball over.”
Added a Big Ten defensive coordinator: “He had two really good receivers last year [Reed and Jalen Nailor]. If he could put it up there, those guys could go get it. Now you’ve got one of those guys back, so it will be interesting.”
Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland: The Big Ten quarterback with the most upside might be Tagovailoa, who made significant improvements in his overall production (3,860 pass yards) and accuracy (69.2% completions). He also will be throwing to one of the Big Ten’s best receiver groups, led by Rakim Jarrett but also bringing back Dontay Demus Jr. from injury and adding Florida transfer Jacob Copeland. Maryland’s offense under Mike Locksley is very quarterback friendly.
Several Big Ten coaches described Tagovailoa as a “gunslinger,” as one defensive coordinator added, “He believes in himself. Like, a lot.”
“If he wants to be considered really good, he’s got to take that next step,” a Big Ten coach said. “He’s got good arm talent, he’s quick, he’s elusive. He’s not very big. If he gets pressure on him, he’ll throw it to you.”
Sean Clifford, Penn State: He enters his final college season with 33 career starts and holds Penn State’s record for career completion percentage (60.2), while ranking second in passing touchdowns (62) and third in passing yards (7,839). Clifford has been through ups and downs at Penn State, which hasn’t helped him in the run game much, but he has an opportunity to cement his legacy this fall.
“I absolutely love him,” a Big Ten coach said. “He’s really talented. Looking at him this offseason, it’s like, ‘Wow, this kid’s legit.'”
Tanner Morgan, Minnesota: With coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca back as the playcaller, Morgan could continue to improve. In 2019, Morgan thrived in Ciarrocca’s offense, completing 66% of his passes for 3,253 yards and 30 touchdowns. He hasn’t come close to any of those numbers the past two seasons.
With 39 career starts and a team-record 27 wins, Morgan is among the nation’s most experienced quarterbacks. A Big Ten coach likened Morgan to “an assistant coach” because of his longevity.
“Familiarity, system knowledge, Tanner’s most proficient years were with Kirk,” another Big Ten coach added. “It’s one of those where I’m sure those guys have picked up their relationship where they left off. So it definitely helps.”
Among the power conferences, the Pac-12 might have the most interesting mix of transfers and holdovers at quarterback. Let’s begin with the transfers.
Caleb Williams’ move from Oklahoma to USC was a top offseason storyline, but the Pac-12 also added former Auburn starter Bo Nix at Oregon, former Florida starter Emory Jones at Arizona State, former Purdue starter Jack Plummer at Cal and Cam Ward, the FCS All-American from Incarnate Word who joined Washington State along with his head coach, Eric Morris, who will serve as the Cougars’ offensive coordinator. There’s also a key intraleague transfer in Jayden de Laura, who will lead Arizona’s offense after an impressive 2021 season at Washington State.
Here’s what insiders had to say about several of them:
Caleb Williams, USC: After rallying Oklahoma past Texas, Williams shined during most of Big 12 play, before following Riley to USC. He finished fourth nationally in total QBR (86.5).
“He’s really special,” a Big 12 coach said. “He’s got elite-elite talent, man. He can run, he can throw. He’s got elite leadership skills, too. That’s the thing that’s different. Is he going to grow from where he was?”
Jayden de Laura, Arizona: Coaches think de Laura can spark Arizona after winning Pac-12 Offensive Freshman Player of the Year honors in 2021.
“I like him, he’s so competitive,” a Pac-12 defensive coordinator said. “He can sling the ball. For the most part, he’s a good decision-maker. He’s going to bring a lot to Arizona. I don’t say he has an NFL arm, but he has a pretty strong arm. He’s mobile. It’s just the durability because he’s not that big.”
At 6 feet tall and 186 pounds, de Laura is undersized, but he makes up for it in guile and creativity, coaches said.
“That kid throws places where he shouldn’t throw it, and completes it,” a Pac-12 defensive coordinator said. “He does some unorthodox things, some things that I would imagine the coaches are like, ‘What the hell are you doing? No, no, no no … great job.’ With him, he seems hot or cold, so the consistency is something he would probably need to work on.”
Cam Ward, Washington State: Ward, an unrated recruit out of Texas, passed for 4,648 yards and 47 touchdowns last year at Incarnate Word. Washington State is hoping to replicate the success of Western Kentucky last season, which added Bailey Zappe of Houston Baptist (and his playcaller Zach Kittley) and led the FBS in passing (433.7 YPG).
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Ward will try to spark an offense that ranked in the middle of the league in most categories last fall.
“He can make all the throws, he’s very mobile, he’s very accurate,” said a coach who faced Ward in 2021. “The familiarity of the system with Eric Morris, he just knows how to do it. And he’s a big kid. He looks the part when you see him.”
Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA: He enters his fifth season coming off his best year, as he led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency (153.94), yards per completion (13.7), total offense (274.4 YPG) and other categories.
“DTR, if everything is going good, he’s a winner,” a Pac-12 defensive coordinator said. “I don’t know that he’s great [when] facing adversity, but he is a threat. He can bolt and run, he’s a good enough thrower. I’ve always liked his game.”
Another defensive coordinator added that Thompson-Robinson’s elusiveness — he ran for 609 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021 — forces defenses to bring more rushers, even when they don’t want to, which makes them vulnerable against an ever-changing pass attack.
Tanner McKee, Stanford: There’s NFL draft buzz surrounding McKee, the only Pac-12 quarterback on Kiper’s initial rankings for 2023. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound McKee earned honorable mention all-league honors last fall after completing 65.4% of his passes. McKee finished with only 4 net rush yards.
“He’s a great-looking athlete, he throws a nice ball, but he doesn’t present the same issues that I see with other guys in our conference,” a Pac-12 coach said. “The lack of elusiveness in college football, it changes things. Tanner’s a good athlete, not a great athlete, a good thrower, not a great thrower. I hate to say that because everybody’s high on him, but he hasn’t blown me away.”
For years, the Big 12 was the epicenter of quarterback play in college football. But the rise of the transfer portal and coaching changes that skewed the league more toward defense have changed the landscape for QBs a bit.
Here’s what insiders had to say about several of them:
Spencer Sanders, Oklahoma State: Sanders is one of few notable holdovers from 2021. He earned first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2021 after leading the league in total offense (3,507 yards) and helping Oklahoma State to the Big 12 championship game.
“He wins,” a Big 12 coach said. “He used to really hurt himself with turnovers; he didn’t do that as much last year. But they won with defense and running the ball. If they’re good on defense, he’s going to be good. If he has to go win games, I don’t know.”
Max Duggan, TCU: He has started most of the past three seasons for TCU, and ranks fifth on the school’s all-time passing list with 5,920 yards. But he will have to beat out Oklahoma transfer Chandler Morris and impress a new coaching staff, led by Sonny Dykes.
Coaches who faced Duggan had mixed feedback. One defensive coordinator described him as “a gamer with some moxie, but didn’t really excel in any facet.” Another coach praised Duggan’s athleticism, saying, “He’s got a huge arm, he’s strong, he’s fast. He’s just been inconsistent throwing the ball.”
“I keep hearing [Morris] may win the job,” a Big 12 coach said.
Blake Shapen, Baylor: Defending Big 12 champion Baylor was one of few notable programs to settle on its quarterback after spring practice. Shapen played behind Gerry Bohanon for much of last season but surged down the stretch, delivering a near-flawless performance (three touchdowns, 82.1% completions) in the league title-game win over Oklahoma State.
“He played better at the end of the year than [Bohanon],” a Big 12 coach said. “The thing [Bohanon] did, he didn’t hardly make any mistakes. This guy probably has a higher ceiling, and [coach] Dave [Aranda] doesn’t make any rash decisions, so if this kid won the job, he clearly won it.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound Shapen remains a mystery to much of the league, although a coach set to face him said, “I’ve heard nothing but unreal things about him.”
Quinn Ewers/Hudson Card, Texas: Coaches are intrigued by what happens at Texas, as Ewers, a transfer from Ohio State, competes for the starting job with Card, who opened 2021 as QB1. Ewers, rated as ESPN’s No. 1 overall recruit for the 2022 class, reclassified but never threw a pass for Ohio State. Several coaches acknowledged the pressure to play Ewers but aren’t counting out Card, “an exceptional athlete,” one coach said.
Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma: Gabriel missed most of last season at UCF with a broken clavicle, and now reunites with coordinator Jeff Lebby at Oklahoma.
In 2019, Gabriel shined under Lebby, passing for 3,653 yards and 29 touchdowns as a true freshman.
“He’s really good, and he’s got a little magic about him, too,” said an AAC coach who faced Gabriel at UCF. “It will be interesting to see how he fits. The one thing I would be concerned about if I was an Oklahoma fan is, those guys like to run their quarterbacks. You look at Matt Corral and guys that typically play in their offense, they usually don’t make it through the season. Gabriel has kind of a history of getting banged up. He’s not very big.
“But he’s a winner and he’s a tough guy.”
Adrian Martinez, Kansas State: A hard-luck four-year starter at Nebraska, Martinez gets a fresh start for his final college season. He started 38 games for the Huskers, and set team records for total offense (10,792 yards), completions (670), 300-yard total offense games (19) and 250-yard passing games (16).
“What he went through at Nebraska, you wouldn’t wish that on your worst enemy,” a Big Ten coach said. “To see the way he handled that was incredibly impressive. He’ll do a phenomenal job at K-State.”
Group of 5/Independents
The list of recognizable college quarterbacks isn’t confined to the Power 5. The Group of 5 leagues feature familiar names from coast to … Coastal.
Here’s what insiders had to say about several of them:
Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina: He enters his third season as a starter with a 22-3 record and incredible numbers — 5,361 pass yards, 53 touchdowns, only six interceptions — the past two seasons. After leading the FBS in pass efficiency (207.6), he should boost his NFL stock with another strong season operating coach Jamey Chadwell’s offense.
“He’s probably one of the most accurate kids in the country, just by his completion percentage and his efficiency,” a Sun Belt coach said. “It’s a unique system, a triple option, pop passes off of that. He’s athletic enough to run it. He’s very talented and his accuracy makes him lethal in that system.”
Jake Haener, Fresno State: He has thrived the past two seasons at Fresno State after transferring from Washington. In 2021, he finished ninth nationally in pass yards (4,096) and fired 33 touchdown passes as Fresno State beat UCLA and finished 10-3. Haener now must adjust to a new coaching staff as Jeff Tedford returns to Fresno State after coach Kalen DeBoer’s departure to Washington.
“He’s seen so much, he’s got experience, he’s got an accurate arm and he’s got some good people still around him,” a Mountain West defensive coordinator said. “I wouldn’t want to be one of the Power 5 [teams] that draw them. It’ll be interesting if anything looks different with a new head coach, a new OC, all that stuff, because what DeBoer and those guys did was pretty well maximize that kid.
“He would be your top pro prospect, quarterbackwise, in this league.”
Hank Bachmeier, Boise State: The same coach added that Bachmeier would be a close second in terms of pro potential in the Mountain West. Bachmeier enters his fourth season as the Broncos’ starter.
“The thing about Bachmeier that is really, really unique, is how tough he is,” the coordinator said. “The number of huge shots Bachmeier took last year, he’s really tough and really accurate. He’s got a good-enough release, a good-enough arm, to where if you give him a window, he’s a problem. I don’t think a lot of people league-wide felt good ever about playing man coverage against Boise.”
Logan Bonner, Utah State: Several coaches mentioned Bonner, who led the Aggies to their first Mountain West title. But Bonner was “made by the system,” one coach noted, and doesn’t handle pressure as well as Haener and Bachmeier.
Clayton Tune, Houston: He comes off by far his best season for UH, completing more than 68% of his attempts for 3,546 yards and 30 touchdowns.
“He’s a little inconsistent at times, got rattled a little bit, but he’s talented,” an AAC coach said. “If they can get him to play a little more consistent, the kid’s got a lot of upside. He’s good, but I didn’t think he was on [former Cincinnati quarterback Desmond] Ridder’s level.”
Chase Brice, Appalachian State: The Duke and Clemson transfer passed for 3,337 yards and a single-season team record of 27 touchdowns last season, helping Appalachian State to a 10-4 record. Named Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year, Brice has appeared in 50 career games.
“He’s a pocket passer,” a Sun Belt coach said. “He has very good control of the system. The ball goes where it’s supposed to go. He’s more wide zone, play-action, throw the deep comebacks, and RPO off of those things.”
Jaren Hall, BYU: He had an efficient first season as BYU’s starter, passing for 2,583 yards and finishing second on the team in rushing (307 yards). A key for Hall is health, as he has dealt with injuries the past three years.
“He can beat you running the ball, he can beat you throwing the ball,” said an opposing defensive coordinator. “He doesn’t have the NFL arm Zach [Wilson] had. That ball doesn’t get there as quickly on the deep outs, but he’s just a step down from that. And he’s more athletic than Zach.”