Ranking the Top 25 quarterbacks in college football this fall
Editor’s note: Saturday Down South’s annual Top 25 week continues with the ranking of the best quarterbacks in the country. This story has been updated to reflect Jamie Newman’s decision to opt out of the 2020 season. Newman originally was the No. 3 QB on the list.
No Justin Fields. No Kedon Slovis. No Tanner Morgan, Sean Clifford or the next big breakout Big Ten or Pac-12 quarterback.
The most spotlit position in college football surely looks different this fall with those conferences sitting out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the position is still ripe with talent as possibly the whackiest season in the sports’ 151-year history approaches.
With that in mind, we’ve attempted to rank the Top 25 quarterbacks who are scheduled to take snaps this fall. That means Fields, who easily would have been in the top 5, isn’t eligible because he plays for Ohio State.
To concoct this list, we started with a formula that prioritized completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating from the player’s last full season (in most cases, 2019). Bonus points were awarded for mixing in some rushing yards and playing in a tougher conference.
Then we matched that up against the eye and context tests. Is a player poised to take a big leap this season? Has he transferred to a better situation? What’s his NFL stock look like?
The assumption to this logic, of course, is that QBs who performed well last season will again this year. The rankings are who’s best today, not who will be at the end of the season. Most of the guys on this list have proven it, and if they haven’t, it’s because they’re expected to step out from the shadow of whomever started over them last year.
The list will surely change by season’s end. But as of fall camp, here’s what we’ve got:
25. Zac Thomas, Appalachian State
Thomas put up video-game numbers in 2019 — 7.6 yards per attempt, 28 touchdown passes, 62.7 percent completion rate and 546 rushing yards. It’s almost a pity we don’t get to see what he might have done against a vaunted Wisconsin defense thanks to COVID-19.
24. Layne Hatcher, Arkansas State
The 2019 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year ranked 8th nationally in passing yards per game with 294.6. A year spent behind Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama in 2018 surely benefited Hatcher from a learning perspective.
23. Zach Wilson, BYU
Wilson didn’t necessarily put up eye-popping numbers — 2,382 yards, 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions — as a sophomore, but folks inside and outside of Provo have surmised BYU could do special things on offense this season.
22. KJ Costello, Mississippi State
The last time he suited up, Costello tied for 11th in yards per attempt as Stanford’s starting quarterback. He’ll ring in the Mike Leach Air Raid era as a grad transfer.
21. D’Eriq King, Miami
King is an intriguing storyline for Manny Diaz in his second year in Miami. King was one of the Houston players who made headlines by choosing to redshirt after the Cougars’ 1-3 start last season. He later entered the transfer portal and gives Diaz a dual threat to keep defenses guessing.
20. Asher O’Hara, Middle Tennessee State
O’Hara went somewhat viral last season when he tried to hurdle a North Texas defender but clocked him with his knee instead. But O’Hara might be known for something else by season’s end — a heck of an arm that’s drawn attention from pro scouts.
19. Feleipe Franks, Arkansas
Franks caught an awful break with his leg injury at Florida last season, and if it weren’t for the severity of it he’d be higher on this list. Can he recover after transferring and partner with the Razorbacks’ skill guys to provide some glimpses of fun in Fayetteville this year?
18. Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
They’re excited in Norman about the 5-star 2019 recruit who appeared in 3 games last year and is the heir apparent to Hurts. Rattler oozes talent and could put up huge numbers in Lincoln Riley’s offense.
17. Myles Brennan, LSU
There’s taking over for a legend, then there’s what Brennan’s trying to do for the Tigers this fall. There’s no replacing Joe Burrow, but Brennan’s no slouch — he appeared in 10 games last year and has drawn rave reviews from coaches and teammates in fall camp so far in 2020. It doesn’t help that he just lost the best receiver in America in Ja’Marr Chase, who opted out.
16. Brady White, Memphis
The “this guy’s been around forever” joke can get overplayed in college football circles, but with White it’s just a fact. He has been in college since 2015 and is pursuing a doctorate degree after coming from Arizona State as a grad transfer in 2018. Last year, White threw for more than 4,000 yards to rank 4th in NCAA Division I.
15. Charlie Brewer, Baylor
Remember last November when the Bears were undefeated heading into their final 3 games and garnering Playoff conversation? Brewer was a big reason, finishing the year with more than 3,100 yards through the air.
14. Skylar Thompson, Kansas State
The Little Apple has become a factory for hard-nosed, run-pass-option-happy signal-callers, and Thompson is no different. Heading into his senior season, he ranks 4th in school history in completion percentage (59.52) and 5th in rushing yards by a quarterback (1,045).
13. Terry Wilson, Kentucky
Wilson’s the lifeblood of a Wildcats squad that doesn’t get nearly enough respect. Before a torn patellar tendon cost him most of the 2019 season, Wilson completed 67.2% of his passes in 2018 to lead Kentucky to its first 10-win finish since 1977.
12. Bo Nix, Auburn
Nix earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors but still has some areas of his game to shore up. If the offseason has been good for his decision-making and accuracy, look out.
11. Mac Jones, Alabama
You get the benefit of the doubt when Nick Saban gives you the keys to the offense, and indications are that’s what’ll happen in Tuscaloosa. When Tua Tagovailoa went down with a season-ending injury last season, Jones stepped in and finished with 1,503 yards and 14 touchdown passes to just 3 interceptions.
10. Spencer Sanders, Oklahoma State
Sanders was brilliant during his redshirt freshman season, earning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year accolades. He’s set up well in Stillwater with a wealth of capable targets and a complementary ground game to boot.
9. Hendon Hooker, Virginia Tech
Too high, you say? Get this: Among returning quarterbacks whose conferences are planning to play this fall, Hooker’s 9.6 yards per attempt in 2019 are tied for 2nd. He’s an accomplished rusher, too, and will cause headaches for ACC defenses.
8. Sam Howell, North Carolina
Howell is the definition of a cool customer. How about an ACC-best 38 touchdown passes last year to just 7 interceptions as a true freshman? With a stout defense and a glut of skill talent around Howell, Mack Brown seems to be on to something at UNC.
7. Shane Buechele, SMU
He might not play against SEC or ACC defenses, but Buechele can throw it around with the best of ’em. He’s a prototypical passer (3,929 yads, 34 TDs last season) who could have a successful NFL career if he stays healthy.
6. Kyle Trask, Florida
Call Trask the Lou Gehrig in the SEC’s latest “he got Wally Pipped” story. The senior took over for Franks and led the Gators to the Orange Bowl, finishing 2nd in the SEC with a 156.09 passer rating. His 25 TD passes were the most by a Gator since … Tim Tebow.
5. Sam Ehlinger, Texas
Are you watching closely? Ehlinger’s one of those appointment-viewing QBs who can follow up a brilliant fade with a nifty zone read keep to paydirt. He’s the No. 1 reason for the Longhorns’ Big 12 title hopes.
4. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
You’re not gonna compete in the SEC West without a premier quarterback. A&M has been a great case study in that regard, and Mond — with his NFL-type arm — is poised for a fantastic season with weapons aplenty around him.
3. Brock Purdy, Iowa State
Drive down Interstate 35 past Ames and you’ll see about as nondescript of a locale for a top-5 QB as any in the country. But Purdy (3,982 yards, 27 TDs), is the real deal as one of the top returning passers in the land. The Cyclones will be a fun team to watch again this year.
2. Ian Book, Notre Dame
On average, the Fighting Irish are halfway to a first down every time Book touches the ball (7.6 yards per pass attempt, 4.9 yards per carry last season). He doesn’t get brought up as much outside of South Bend, but that could change this fall.
1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
The top returning quarterback — and probably player — in the land is also one of the sport’s greatest leaders. The Heisman favorite is hungry as ever, otherwise why would he have been one of the most vocal players pushing to play this season? He’ll also go down in history as a pioneer for player rights and advocacy. Not bad for a 20-year-old.