Three weeks, people. Three weeks! We’re just three short, glorious, measly Saturdays away from the start of college football season. And as we get closer, FOXSports.com will continue to be your one-stop shop, for every piece of relevant preview content you need as we get ready for Week 1. We’ve already hit on a number of different topics, including look-backs for each conference and a preview of the 30 biggest games of the season. This week we begin breaking down the best players at each major position in the country. After hitting running backs on Tuesday and pass rushers Wednesday, it’s time to look at the best quarterbacks in college football. And man, what a list it is.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
10. Seth Russell, Senior, Baylor
Had Russell played the entire 2015 season, there’s a chance he would have ended up as one of the top two or three players on this list. Instead, he’ll have to settle for No. 10, and Baylor fans will have to wonder how differently last season might have ended if Russell had remained healthy throughout the year. Obviously, a lot has changed since the end of last season (most notably Art Briles’ firing), but that doesn’t change one simple fact: When Russell is healthy, few are better. Get this: Despite being injured in the Bears' seventh game and missing the end of the year, he still ranked in the top 15 nationally in passing TDs with 29. That means, even though he played in -- quite literally -- half the games that most of his competition did, he still put up better stats than most. Especially when you factor in that he also tossed for over 2,100 yards in those 6+ contests. And with Russell fully healthy, it will be interesting to see what he and the Bears’ offense are capable of doing. For all the talk about Briles departure, the rest of the staff -- including offensive coordinator Kendal Briles -- is still there, meaning Baylor shouldn’t take a major dip this season. That means another major year for Russell.
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY SportsRaymond Carlin III
9. Nick Mullens, Senior, Southern Miss
Haven’t heard of Mullens? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. But just trust me: You’re going to get to know him quickly, as he is arguably the most underrated quarterback in college football this season. The four-year starter enters his senior year after a monster 2015 campaign, when he ranked in the top 10 nationally in yards per game (ninth), total passing yards (sixth) and touchdown passes. His 38 total TD passes were tied for fourth-most in the country, and ahead of more notable names like Baker Mayfield, Trevone Boykin and Deshaun Watson. With another year under his belt, and most of Southern Miss’ offense returning, look for Mullens to continue to put up monster numbers. He won’t stay under the radar much longer.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY SportsChuck Cook
8. Greg Ward Jr., Senior, Houston
Ward was basically the Nick Mullens of last year, the non-Power 5 quarterback who no one knew much about entering the season but then burst on the scene once the games were played. Over the course of his junior year, he evolved into one of the sport’s best dual-threat QBs, throwing for 2,800 yards and 17 touchdowns, while adding another 21 scores on the ground. However, maybe the greatest compliment you can give Ward is this: The Cougars completely felt apart without him, losing to UConn in the only game of the season he didn’t play because of an injury. Of course, he came back in time for bowl season, and as you may remember things worked out well when Houston knocked off Florida State in the Peach Bowl. It’s hard (but not impossible) to see the Cougars topping their 13-win campaign from last year. But what isn’t hard to imagine is seeing Ward to put even bigger numbers in 2016.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY SportsBrett Davis
7. Josh Rosen, Sophomore, UCLA
So here’s the deal: We know about the hype with Rosen. We know that Jim Mora thinks he would have been the No. 1 pick in last year’s NFL Draft, and that some believe he could rank among the handful of best quarterback prospects the college game has seen in decades. But based on Rosen's actual college production, it’s hard to put him any higher on this list. Of course, that’s not to say he was ‘bad’ in 2015, especially when you consider that as a true freshman he threw for over 3,600 yards and 23 touchdowns. He could have finished better (throwing just five touchdowns with four picks in the Bruins' final four games of the season), but it’s easy to understand why he was worn down in his first year on campus. In year two, look for even bigger things from Rosen. UCLA might still be a year away from competing for a Pac-12 title, but Rosen could compete for a Heisman Trophy as early as this year.
Getty ImagesLeon Bennett
6. Patrick Mahomes, Junior, Texas Tech
Poor Patrick Mahomes doesn’t get the credit he deserves, for a reason that’s completely out of his control: His defense is dreadful. Understand that last season Mahomes was one of the single-most dynamic players in college football, tallying a staggering 46 touchdowns (rushing and passing combined) to go along with 4,600 passing yards, but still didn’t get the credit he deserved because of his defense. Don’t believe me? Check out this stat: Behind Mahomes, the Red Raiders scored 30 or more points in 10 regular-season games last year, and they put up 50 or more points six times. Yet the team only went 7-6 overall, and lost two games when it scored 50 or more points! That’s not Mahomes' fault, and hopefully in 2016 he can get the credit he deserves.
5. Luke Falk, Junior, Washington State
Yes, Falk has the benefit of playing in Mike Leach’s ‘Air Raid’ system. But that shouldn’t take away your appreciation for the amazing stats he put up last year. As a sophomore, he was fifth in college football with 4,561 passing yards, tossed 38 touchdowns and, incredibly, went nine straight games with at least 300+ yards. Unreal. As crazy as it sounds, with wide receivers Gabe Marks and River Cracraft -- who combined for over 150 catches last year -- back in Pullman, Falk’s numbers could actually get better this season.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsKirby Lee
4. Chad Kelly, Senior, Ole Miss
Kelly had a season to remember for Ole Miss last year, doing things that no Rebels quarterback -- and few in SEC history -- have ever accomplished. His 4,042 passing yards were third-most ever for a QB in conference history, not to mention that he added 500 yards rushing on the ground. His 41 overall touchdowns aren’t too shabby. The only question now: Can Kelly possibly match (let alone top) those numbers, without his two best receivers (Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core) and major holes along the offensive line? We’ll see.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY SportsChuck Cook
3. J.T. Barrett, Junior, Ohio State
For all the talk about Michigan and the ‘Summer of Harbaugh’ over the last eight months, remember that Ohio State has one thing that the Wolverines can really use: an experienced quarterback. So yeah, doubt J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes if you want. But don’t say you weren’t warned. That’s because while it’s easy to forget now, when Barrett was fully healthy two years -- and not competing with Cardale Jones for the starting job -- he was one of the single-most dynamic quarterbacks in the sport. During his redshirt freshman year in 2014, Barrett threw for 34 touchdowns, to go along with 2,800 yards, allowing him to finish fifth in Heisman voting. Even better is that Barrett seemed to be peaking that season, throwing 11 touchdowns in his final four games of the season. With Barrett fully healthy -- and with Jones in Buffalo -- look for him to fully break out and have that Heisman run that everyone has been waiting on.
Getty ImagesChristian Petersen
2. Baker Mayfield, Junior, Oklahoma
So here’s the thing: I don’t have a Heisman vote, but if I did, I would have given it to Mayfield last year. No one player was more ‘important’ to his team’s success -- and no one had a greater impact on the other 84+ guys on the roster -- than the Oklahoma quarterback did. Remember, the Sooners entered last year as a good-but-not great, fringe Big 12 title contender, and Mayfield completely flipped the entire program on its head from the moment he arrived. It started with a wild, 14-point fourth-quarter comeback against Tennessee and never really stopped, as the Sooners won the Big 12 and ended up in the college football playoff. Furthermore, Mayfield gave OU a swag it hasn’t had since the Sam Bradford era, the belief that it could win any game against any opponent it played on any night. That’s certainly something you could NEVER say about Oklahoma the past few years. Whether Mayfield can duplicate that magic in 2016 will be one of the pressing questions of the college football season. But based on what we’ve seen, it’s impossible to put him any lower than No. 2 on this list.
1. Deshaun Watson, Junior, Clemson
I mean, you knew this was coming right? How could we not have Watson No. 1, after a true sophomore year in which he threw for over 4,000 yards, finished third in the Heisman vote and played so well against Alabama in the title game, that Nick Saban said he was the best quarterback ‘Bama has faced since Cam Newton in 2010? And the scary thing is, Watson could be even better this year. Besides the natural progression from year to the next, he gets back wide receiver Mike Williams (who missed all but a couple games last season with injury). Oh, and get this: Watson also participated in spring practice this year, something he didn’t do last year while recovering from injury. So yeah, the sky’s the limit for Watson. And as things stand, he’s the No. 1 QB in college football entering the season.