We’re wrapping up our positional rankings with the most important position in sports -- quarterbacks. It’s a mixed bag, where some teams have a great starter but huge unknowns right behind them, while others have two capable guys.
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Keep an eye out for a pretty crazy Kliff Kingsbury note in 2016. With Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech, former Tech QBs Baker Mayfield (OU) and Davis Webb (Cal) now at other schools and SMU’s Matt Davis, a former Texas A&M quarterback, the Red Raiders head coach has worked with four guys who all could end up in the nation’s Top 10 in total offense. As good as the other three are, Kingsbury raves about Mahomes’ potential. He has a cannon and an uncanny ability to throw accurately from different arm slots going against his body and do so with plenty of velocity. If Mahomes can overcome the temptation to just taking over running so much, he could rip up the hefty Red Raiders record book. Iowa transfer Nic Shimonek came into camp as the likely No. 2, but keep an eye on Jett Duffey, a former big recruit with a load of play-making ability that Tech probably would prefer to redshirt.
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Luke Falk came in as a walk-on, but he may leave Pullman as an All-American. In his first season as a starter, he threw for 4,561 yards, completed over 69 percent of his passes, threw 38 TDs and had only eight picks. In games away from Pullman, Falk had a 20-2 TD-INT ratio. Mike Leach quarterbacks often produce gaudy stats, but the most impressive one for Falk is a simple one. This team won three games before Falk took over and won nine with him last year, including two road games -- at Oregon and at UCLA -- as double-digit underdogs. "Leach gets a lot of credit (for the Cougars’ stunning turnaround last season) and he should because he’s Mike Leach, but Luke is the reason this started working,” said star WR Gabe Marks. Falk’s back-up from 2015, Peyton Bender, left for a JC due to academic issues. The likely No. 2 will be redshirt freshman Tyler Hilinski, who is heady and has decent feet. JC transfer Anthony Gordon is expected to push Hilinski for the back-up job.
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Mark Richt inherited a better quarterback than any he left behind in Athens. Brad Kaaya is poised, accurate and smart. He also has good size at 6-4, 220. In two seasons, he’s thrown 42 TDs and just 17 picks while throwing for almost 6,500 yards. Kaaya’s the best QB Miami’s had in 15 years. There is a four-way battle for the No. 2 spot between Malik Rosier, the most mobile of the group and a guy who did lead the Canes to a road win at Duke; 6-5, 210-pound redshirt freshman Evan Shirreffs; blue-chip recruit Jack Allison, another lanky QB; and Vinny Testaverde, a Texas Tech transfer.
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A program that had three QBs who had experienced high-level success is now down to one guy with Braxton Miller and Cardale Jones having moved on to the NFL. The one -- J.T. Barrett -- did finish fifth for the Heisman in 2014. Barrett (45 TDs, 14 INTs and 22 rushing TDs in 2014) is a good fit for Urban Meyer’s system, and he should be more comfortable knowing the job is all his. Joe Burrows and Dwayne Haskins both have more prototypical QB size at 6-3 and are working to get a better grasp of the scheme. The staff is high on both. Meyer gushed about Haskins last winter, calling him “the best QB recruit I’ve ever seen."
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No quarterback in college football has as much arm talent as Bruin sophomore Josh Rosen. His ability to make every type of throw -- showcasing his arm strength, touch, accuracy and vision to go with very nifty footwork -- has NFL personnel folks salivating. In his rookie season, he threw 23 TDs against 11 INT while passing for 3,670 yards. Rosen has added some bulk this offseason and is up to 225 pounds on his 6-3 frame. Behind him, though, there is a lot of uncertainty with senior Mike Fafaul, true freshman Matt Lynch and just-arrived freshman Devon Modster, a former four-star recruit.
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The Sooners are led by Baker Mayfield, who is a play-making whiz equally adept at burning defenses with his arm and his feet. He threw for 3,700 yards, completing over 68 percent of his passes, and had a 36-7 TD-INT clip to go with 400 rushing yards. Next year, the Sooners will have former five-star recruit Kyler Murray pushing for playing time, but the Texas A&M transfer has to sit out 2016, so the back-up is freshman Austin Kendall, who came in early to go through spring ball.
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The are a few teams with a more proven No. 1 guy, but only BYU has two guys as battle tested as the Irish. Malik Zaire beat LSU in the bowl game and looked impressive lighting up Texas in the opener before being lost for the season with a broken ankle. Then DeShone Kizer stepped in and shined, leading the Irish to a dramatic rally in the final seconds at UVA. On the season, Kizer helped ND to a 10-2 mark, completing 63 percent of his passes to go with 21 TD passes and just 10 INTs. Kizer also handled ND’s QB run game even better than Brian Kelly could’ve hoped. Behind them, ND also has Brandon Wimbush, who is probably the most talented of the group. He’s the fastest and has the strongest arm. Kelly is planning on redshirting him so Wimbush will have three seasons to play starting in 2017.
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Cougars legend Ty Detmer returns to Provo to take over the Cougars’ offense, which’ll mean less up-tempo stuff and bringing back more of a pro-style approach. Detmer has two compelling options in Taysom Hill, arguably the fastest guy on the team, and Tanner Mangum, the guy who jumped in and played extremely well after Hill went down with a season-ending foot injury last year. Detmer has said Hill (now playing in his third offensive system at BYU) can be a weapon like Steve Young. He has over 2,200 career rushing yards and accounted for 55 TDs (24 on the ground). Mangum, more of a pocket passer, completed 60 percent of his passes and threw for almost 3,400 yards last fall in relief.
No one ever doubted Chad Kelly’s talent. He’s got good athleticism and a big-time arm, but he really blossomed in the second half of last season. He had 17 TDs and one INT over the Rebels’ final four games. Folks inside the Ole Miss program really like how he’s handled coaching, dealt with adversity and embraced being a leader. Behind him the Rebels have two intriguing options: 6-4, 230-pound Jason Pellerin, a guy who excels at running the QB power and QB counter and has some Tim Tebow in his game; and Shea Patterson, a freshman many college coaches saw as the top QB prospect in the entire 2016 signing class. Patterson doesn’t have prototypical size at around 6-1, but he is extremely sharp and polished and has a very quick release and accurate arm.
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Deshaun Watson showed how special he was when he put the Tigers on his back and almost beat Alabama for the national title last season. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior is a true dual-threat QB who thrives in the spotlight. His completion percentage in the fourth quarter went up to 73 percent from 66 in first halves. The Tigers also rely heavily on Watson’s wheels in big games. He averaged 110 rushing yards against ranked teams on 20 carries a game as compared to 56 rushing yards on 11 carries vs. non-ranked. Watson’s bulked up 15 pounds this offseason, which should enable him to better handle the pounding. As a passer, he threw for over 4,100 yards to go with a 35-13 TD-INT ratio. Getting his best WR Mike Williams back (he missed almost all of 2015 with a neck injury) should make Watson and this offense even more explosive. Behind Watson, the Tigers have Kelly Bryant, a 6-3, 215-pound sophomore who has good wheels (156 rushing yards last season in limited action). He also went 7-of-9 passing. Also in the mix is senior Nick Schuessler.