College Football
College football QB stock watch: Heisman favorites, first-year starters, competitions
College Football

College football QB stock watch: Heisman favorites, first-year starters, competitions

Updated Jun. 6, 2024 6:19 p.m. ET

It's undeniably the most important position on the football field. All eyes center around the quarterback position in college football, as it's no surprise that seven of the last eight Heisman Trophy winners have played QB.

With the departure of Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, Michael Penix Jr., J.J. McCarthy, Bo Nix and more to the NFL, there will be a new crop of signal-callers who will be looked upon as the next stars in college football. Who is in that next group of stars? Will they live up to their preseason billing? And finally, who are the first-year starters under center who could make an impact this season?

FOX Sports college football experts Michael Cohen and RJ Young take a look at the quarterback position heading into the 2024 college football season and examine the next group of standout QBs, as well as some intriguing QB battles that could continue into the summer and fall.

Carson Beck, Quinn Ewers and Dillon Gabriel have the best Heisman odds heading into the 2024 season. Who is one player outside that trio that you could see taking home college football's most pretentious individual award this season?


Michael Cohen: Given that he was briefly benched early in the season, it's easy to forget that Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe finished sixth in last year's Heisman Trophy voting behind Daniels (LSU), Penix Jr. (Washington), Nix (Oregon), Marvin Harrison Jr. (Ohio State) and Jordan Travis (Florida State). He was 12 votes from catching Travis for fifth place and more than 40 votes ahead of Ollie Gordon (Oklahoma State) in seventh place. None of the players ahead of Milroe will be playing college football this fall.

As a first-year starter, Milroe completed 187 of 284 passes (65.8%) for 2,834 yards with 23 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran the ball 161 times for 531 yards and a team-high 12 rushing scores to entrench himself as the sport's second-best dual-threat quarterback behind Daniels. His average of 6.2 yards per carry on designed rushing attempts ranked tied for fourth nationally among quarterbacks from the Power 5 conferences. Milroe guided the Crimson Tide to an upset of Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and pushed eventual national champion Michigan to overtime in the College Football Playoff semifinals. 

The biggest question surrounding Milroe's potential Heisman Trophy candidacy is how well he meshes with the new offensive system installed by head coach Kalen DeBoer, who came from Washington to replace the legendary Nick Saban in January. DeBoer's longtime offensive coordinator, Ryan Grubb, bolted for a chance to run the Seattle Seahawks' offense rather than remain in the same role at Alabama. Former Washington tight ends coach Nick Sheridan, who previously worked with DeBoer at Indiana, has been elevated to offensive coordinator and will work closely with Milroe. 

RJ Young: Travis Hunter feels like a great candidate for the Heisman, especially if Colorado plays well this season. He enters this season as one of three players — along with Ewers — who are featured on the cover of EA Sports' "College Football 25." He is one of the most popular players in the sport and could be the first player selected in the NFL Draft next year.

His production last season was great — 57 catches for 721 yards along with three picks — but his stamina was incredible. Hunter played more than 100 snaps in most games last year for the Buffs. Toward the end of the season, that mileage began to show, especially against Stanford when he and the secondary allowed Elic Ayomanor to catch 13 passes for 294 yards in an overtime loss.

I realize Shedeur Sanders is likely to get as much, if not more, praise for his play if he plays to his potential in 2024, but I'm interested to find out if Heisman voters still respect a legitimate two-player the way they did Charles Woodson in the 20th century.

Expectations for Ohio State & Colorado this upcoming 2024 season

Conversely, who is one quarterback listed among the Heisman favorites that could struggle to live up to the preseason hype in 2024?

RJ: Gabriel feels like the player most likely to get off to a rough start of the three favorites. He is the only one of the three who doesn't return to a team, a staff and an offense he already knows and understands him as their leader. He will also lead Oregon into its first season of Big Ten competition with the expectation in Eugene that the Ducks will not only make the College Football Playoff, but be featured in the Big Ten title game.

I think offensive coordinator Will Stein will get Gabriel sorted with a talented tailback in Noah Whittington and a talented wide out in Evan Stewart. But it wouldn't shock me to see Gabriel spending September learning what he can and cannot do at Oregon this season.

Michael: It seems unlikely that any of the aforementioned candidates — Beck from Georgia, Ewers from Texas and Gabriel from Oregon — will endure significant struggles this season given their respective experience and the caliber of talent around them. All of them can, and probably should, be in contention for the Heisman Trophy as the calendar turns from October to November this fall. 

But if there's one player who might endure some growing pains before settling into a high-level groove, Ewers is probably that guy. The easiest place to start is by looking at the sheer volume of production the Longhorns lost at the skill positions from a team that reached the College Football Playoff last season. Ewers' top five receivers are all gone to the NFL: WR Xavier Worthy (1,014 yards, 5 TDs); WR Adonai Mitchell (845 yards, 11 TDs); TE Ja'Tavion Sanders (682 yards and 2 TDs); WR Jordan Whittington (505 yards and 1 TD) and RB Jonathon Brooks (286 yards and 1 TD), who was also the team's leading rusher with 1,139 yards and 10 scores. Head coach Steve Sarkisian filled some of those holes with highly talented players — namely former Alabama wideout Isaiah Bond and former Kentucky wideout Matthew Golden — but it could take time for Ewers and his new receiving corps to find a rhythm. 

Which brings us to the next factor that could influence Ewers' start to the season: the difficulty of Texas' schedule. Not only do the Longhorns have an early non-conference trip to Michigan, which should lay claim to one of the best defenses in the country, but they also face Oklahoma and Georgia within the first seven weeks as new members of the SEC. That's a lot for a retooled offense to handle.

There are several high-profile QBs from the 2023 class who are expected to be first-year starters this season. Which of those prospects do you expect to shine the brightest in 2024??

Michael: The two players who jump out as potential stars are Oklahoma's Jackson Arnold (No. 8 overall, No. 4 QB in 2023) and Kansas State's Avery Johnson (No. 99 overall, No. 9 QB in 2023) given their respective pedigrees and the flashes they showed in smaller roles last season. 

Arnold committed to Oklahoma on Jan. 24, 2022, roughly seven weeks after new head coach Brent Venables arrived from Clemson, where he served as associate head coach and defensive coordinator. It was a major recruiting win for Venables, who plucked Arnold from a Dallas suburb and identified him as the heir to Gabriel's starting spot. Arnold completed 44 of 69 passes (63.8%) for 563 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions behind Gabriel last season, but most of his production boils down to two games: He was 11 of 11 for 114 yards and one touchdown in the season opener against Arkansas State to wow an already expectant fan base, and then he threw for 362 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions while starting for Gabriel in OU's bowl game. 

Johnson, meanwhile, is an in-state product from Maize High School in Maize, Kansas, and gave head coach Chris Klieman one of the biggest recruiting wins in program history when he committed on July 5, 2022. He's the 10th-best prospect the Wildcats have signed in the recruiting rankings era, according to 247Sports, trailing only Josh Freeman (2006) at the quarterback position. Klieman worked Johnson into eight games as a true freshman with two starts against TCU and N.C. State. Johnson is a bonafide dual-threat quarterback who threw for 479 yards and five touchdowns while also running for 296 yards and seven touchdowns. He has the potential to be a must-watch player in 2024. 

RJ: I think Michael is onto something here with both Johnson and Arnold. Each has the tools to not just make a splash as a starter, but to lead their respective programs to conference titles. What each lacks in experience, they've made up for with maturity and athleticism. Johnson is one of the most talented runners the sport boasts this season with two tailbacks in Dylan Edwards and DJ Giddens who will force teams to choose Johnson to beat them through the air – and he can.

Arnold has one of the sport's most talented arms and he's no slowpoke in a scramble drill either. Between those two, the future of the sport — let alone among new starters at QB — is exciting.

Ohio State, Michigan and USC all have ongoing QB battles heading into the summer. Which one of those QB battles are you most intrigued by?

RJ: Ohio State's QB derby is interesting to me because Ryan Day is going to let someone make that call for the first time as a head coach. So the starter won't be a reflection of Day so much as it will be offensive coordinator Chip Kelly. Whether that's Will Howard, Devin Brown, Julian Sayin or Air Noland, will speak first to what Kelly values and then what we can expect the Ohio State offense to value. Two of those players — Howard and Brown — are particularly good on the ground, while the other two, both underclassmen, earned acclaim with accuracy and arm strength as their calling cards. This is the most pivotal year of Day's career at Ohio State, and this is the most pivotal position on the field.

Is 2024 Ohio State's year to win the National Championship?

Michael: The quarterback competition at Michigan is particularly intriguing given the differences in skill set among the candidates most likely to win the job — junior Alex Orji (6-3, 236 pounds); graduate student Jack Tuttle (6-4, 210 pounds) and senior Davis Warren (6-2, 195 pounds) — and what those differences might mean for an offensive overseen by head coach Sherrone Moore and first-year offensive coordinator Kirk Campbell as they navigate life without Jim Harbaugh. 

Orji is a bruising, dual-threat quarterback who is viewed as the best athlete on the team based on the Key Performance Indicators designed by former director of strength and conditioning Ben Herbert, who followed Harbaugh to the NFL. He ran for nearly 1,200 yards and 24 rushing touchdowns during his senior season at Sachse High School in Sachse, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, and has seen the field in run-first packages since arriving at Michigan. An offense built around Orji would likely include an array of quarterback runs and a passing attack focused on short and intermediate routes. 

Tuttle is a seventh-year senior who was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. He transferred from Indiana to Michigan ahead of the 2023 campaign and has fluctuated between No. 2 and No. 4 on the depth chart ever since. The combination of age and legitimate starting experience with the Hoosiers, for whom he threw five touchdowns and six interceptions from 2019-22, makes Tuttle the most accomplished option Moore and Campbell have at their disposal. He missed significant portions of the spring while recovering from a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Warren is a cancer survivor and former walk-on who was placed on scholarship following the 2022 season. He starred in Michigan's spring game by completing 6 of 9 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns, drawing lofty praise from Campbell in a post-game interview. Warren played sparingly as a reserve in 2023 but failed to complete a pass on five attempts. 

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Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The Number One College Football Show." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to "The RJ Young Show" on YouTube.


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