Sports

Ranking all 134 FBS QB situations into tiers ahead of the 2024 season

This is a strange year for quarterbacks in college football.

In 2023, Caleb Williams and Drake Maye headlined our annual tiered rankings, which came as no surprise. One had a Heisman Trophy. The other projected as a top-five NFL draft pick. They were established stars with real cache, even among casual college football fans.

Before Williams and Maye there was Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud; before them Stetson Bennett; before them Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence; before them Tua Tagovailoa and Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield and Deshaun Watson and Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel.

Since 2012, there has been only one other season that didn’t open with at least two QBs who finished in the top 10 in Heisman balloting or won a national championship the previous season — and that was the COVID year of 2020 (which was followed by a season of big-time recruits with serious name recognition like Young and DJ Uiagalelei taking over as starting QBs and, because of new NIL rules, doing national ad campaigns). In 2013, 2014, 2017, 2022 and 2023, the defending Heisman winner returned. In 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019 and 2022, the QB of the defending champ returned.

In 2024, we have Jalen Milroe. That’s it. He’s the only QB to finish in the top 10 in Heisman voting (sixth) and return for 2024, the most accomplished of a QB class the year after six quarterbacks were selected among the first 12 picks of the NFL draft.

That’s not to say there aren’t some big names. Quinn Ewers graces the cover of the new EA Sports College Football 25 game, but perhaps ironically, he garnered more attention during his recruitment and early struggles than when he finally moved into the upper echelon of QBs last season. Shedeur Sanders is a genuine star, but in a unique twist, he may be more famous among people with only a casual appreciation of college football. He is as much a brand as he is a talent (though he has got plenty of both). Carson Beck is widely projected to be the top NFL prospect in this group, and yet ask the average fan of a team not named Georgia what they most remember about Beck and odds are it’ll be the photo of him buying a Lamborghini with his NIL money.

Going through our rankings, you’ll find some genuine talent and a ton of potential. And yet, as the kids say, the vibes are all wrong. There’s steak, but is there sizzle?

Go back in time to 2012 when we last faced something akin to this quandary. From the ashes emerged Manziel, arguably the most famous — or infamous — QB of the social media era of college football.

This is our Tier 1 for now, but where a fame vacuum exists in college football, it stands to reason someone — perhaps someone entirely unexpected — will step up to fill it. Nonetheless, let’s break down all 134 FBS programs’ QB situations by tiers.

Jump to:
Best of the best | Transfer market
Where is the ’22 QB class? | Looking for a reboot
Not too shabby

TIER 1: Cream of a questionable crop (nine players)

Alabama‘s Jalen Milroe, Ty Simpson
Georgia‘s Carson Beck, Jaden Rashada, Gunner Stockton
Oregon‘s Dillon Gabriel, Dante Moore
Texas‘s Quinn Ewers, Arch Manning

You’re probably not alone if you’re looking at this group and asking yourself a simple question: Really? These guys?

Beck might be next year’s No. 1 overall pick, but he certainly wasn’t the biggest talent on his own offense last year. Milroe was benched at one point. After Week 3, Ewers had just three games with multiple touchdown passes. Gabriel has been prolific for years, but has he ever really been great?

Look around the country and you’ll find your share of other quality QBs, but none quite so accomplished as this tier. Ewers and Milroe have started playoff games, something only one other QB in the country can say (Cade McNamara, believe it or not). Gabriel has thrown for nearly 15,000 career yards — 2,550 more than any other returning QB. Beck threw for nearly 4,000 yards and completed 72% of his passes last season, and he’ll helm what might be the country’s best team in 2024.

So yeah, this is the top tier. In another season, the bar might be set a little higher, but it’s also likely these guys are a good bit better than you’re thinking.

What you need to know:

  • Milroe led the country with 26 scrambles for a first down, including four that led to touchdowns last season.

  • No QB had a higher percentage of his dropbacks come vs. zone last season than Milroe (70.2%). Interestingly, Milroe actually thrived vs. zone coverage (11.2 yards-per-pass, 64.9 raw QBR, 16 TD, four INT) and struggled more vs. man coverage (8.3 yards-per-pass, 55.4 raw QBR, five TDs and two picks).

  • Beck vs. ranked (at game time) opponents last season: 92.0 Total QBR, 74% completions, 13 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 10.02 yards/att.

  • Ewers when Texas was trailing at any point last season: 72.7% completions, five touchdowns, one interception, 10.3 yards/attempt and 15% of his throws went for at least 20 yards.

  • Last year at Oregon, Bo Nix averaged 6.24 air yards per throw, 121st nationally. At Oklahoma last season, Gabriel averaged 9.2, and he’s averaged 9.9 over his career. How much will Oregon’s offense evolve to fit Gabriel’s skill set?

  • No returning QB in 2024 provided more value per dropback to his team last year than Gabriel, who added 0.47 expected points-per-dropback. Next: Liberty’s Kaidon Salter (0.45), Beck (0.45) and Milroe (0.41).


TIER 2: It’s Tier 1 with an asterisk (six players)

Arizona‘s Noah Fifita
Colorado‘s Shedeur Sanders
Kansas‘s Jalon Daniels
Miami‘s Cam Ward
Utah‘s Cam Rising, Sam Huard

Numbers-wise, you could make a compelling case for any of these starting QBs to reside in our top tier. Frankly, you could flip this group with the one above, and it would only garner a few ugly looks. But if we’re jotting down our list of pros and cons, this group has perhaps one or two extra lines on the negative side of the ledger — items, it should be noted, almost entirely out of their control — that we can’t overlook.

Fifita and Ward have new head coaches. Daniels and Rising are coming off serious injuries. Sanders played behind an offensive line that often resembled a subway turnstile than an effective pass-blocking unit.

And yet, the pros column is plenty long, too, so we won’t be at all surprised if someone from this tier is holding up a Heisman Trophy at season’s end. They’ll just need a few things to go their way in 2024 beyond what they do with the ball in their hand.

What you need to know:

  • Over his final eight games of the season, Fifita threw for 22 touchdowns, five INTs and completed 72% of his throws, averaging 8.6 yards-per-attempt. The only Power 5 QBs with more pass TDs in that span were Oregon’s Nix and LSU’s Daniels, who both finished top three in Heisman voting.

  • Sanders faced six teams that were ranked at game time last year and played spectacularly in those games: 68% completions, 14 touchdown passes and one interception. But Colorado was 1-5 in those games, and he was sacked 28 times.

  • As much was made of Sanders’ lack of protection up front — and it was bad — he was sacked less often, pressured about as often and blitzed far less often than Alabama’s Milroe. That said, when Sanders wasn’t pressured, he was borderline unstoppable: 76% completions, 16 TD, 0 INT and 25 completions of 20 yards or more.

  • A comparison:
    QB A: 14 starts, 84.0 Total QBR, 67.8% completions, 8.4 yards/attempt, 38 TDs and nine turnovers
    QB B: 15 starts, 84.1 Total QBR, 65.4% completions, 8.8 yards/attempt, 39 TDs and 12 turnovers

    Both QBs are clearly elite, and you might not be surprised to learn that QB B was Heisman finalist and top-10 NFL draft pick Michael Penix Jr. in 2023. QB A, though? That’d be Kansas’ Daniels, but due to injury issues, those stats reflect all his starts vs. FBS teams since 2021.

  • It’s pretty easy to quantify just how much Rising means to Utah statistically. Over the past three years with Rising at QB, the Utes averaged 6.6 yards-per-play, 7.6 yards-per-dropback, posted an 83.9 raw QBR and scored 39.1 points-per-game in his starts. With anyone else at QB, 5.3 yards-per-play, 5.7 yards-per-dropback, a 51.3 QBR and they averaged 24.2 points-per-game. How many other QBs in the country are worth 15 points-per-game to their teams?


TIER 3: Checking the upside meter (nine players)

MemphisSeth Henigan, Cade Cunningham
Missouri‘s Brady Cook, Drew Pyne
Ohio State‘s Will Howard, Devin Brown, Julian Sayin
Ole Miss‘s Jaxson Dart, Walker Howard

The four QB1s in this group have — combined — started 119 games (at least 27 each) and thrown 217 passing touchdowns in their careers. They have the one trait no one can teach: Experience. They’re savvy. They’re veterans. They’re leaders. That’s the good news.

The question is, do we already know everything about these QBs? Or are they capable of surprising us in 2024? When we’ve seen Dart, Henigan, Howard and Cook start games for top-10 teams over the course of years, it’s easy to feel like we’ve got a good handle on just how good they are because, frankly, they’ve been pretty consistent in their performances.

And, if we’re being honest, that consistency puts them squarely in the “pretty darned good” group, which is a compliment, but for QBs hoping to win some hardware, might actually feel like an insult.

Among returning qualified quarterbacks, they finished eighth (Dart), 11th (Cook), 13th (Howard) and 19th (Henigan) in Total QBR last season, which puts them pretty squarely in the B+ category. Again, that’s great unless you really want that A.

It’s certainly possible — likely, maybe — that at least one or two from this group will take another step forward. There are Joe Burrow stories every year (though perhaps not quite to the degree that Burrow did it). But if your goal is to get rich quickly in the QB stock market, these wouldn’t be where you’d invest. They’re the blue chips with a long history of marching forward in steady fashion.

Again, that’s meant to be a compliment.

What you need to know:

  • Henigan over the last seven games of the year: 6-1 record, 67.4% completions, 8.5 yards-per-attempt, 21 touchdowns and two picks. He averaged 333 yards of offense per game. In his bowl game, he completed 70% of his throws with four TD passes against an Iowa State defense that was allowing less than 55% completions and had given up just 17 passing touchdowns in 12 games previously.

  • Henigan has 79 career TD passes in three seasons at Memphis. If he just hits his career average this season, he’d finish with 105, putting him into the top 25 all time, tied with Mariota. He’d also be just the second QB since 2013 to post four straight seasons with at least 25 total touchdowns. (Tulane‘s Michael Pratt did it from 2020 through 2023.)

  • Percentage of throws to wide-open receivers beyond the line of scrimmage last year:
    Will Howard, soon to be Ohio State’s QB, 12.5% (112th out of 126 qualified QBs)
    Kyle McCord, last year’s Ohio State QB, 19.6% (33rd)

    Since he became Kansas State‘s starter in 2022, 19.3% of Howard’s throws were to wide-open receivers, while Ohio State QBs have averaged 25.4%. Life should be easier for Howard in Columbus.

  • Since Week 11 of 2022, Missouri’s Cook has completed 65.3% of his passes, averaged 7.7 yards-per-dropback and posted a 4.83 pass TD-to-INT rate. The full list of others (minimum eight starts) to do that: LSU’s Daniels, Oregon’s Nix, Oklahoma’s Gabriel and USC’s Williams. Elite company.

  • Against Georgia and Alabama last season, Dart completed 58% of his throws, averaged 6.8 yards-per-pass, failed to throw a TD and tossed two picks. Against everyone else, he completed 66% of his passes, averaged 9.3 yards-per-attempt, tossed 23 touchdowns and just three interceptions.


TIER 4: The young and the restless (nine players)

Kansas State‘s Avery Johnson
Nebraska‘s Dylan Raiola, Heinrich Haarberg
Oklahoma‘s Jackson Arnold, Casey Thompson
Tennessee‘s Nico Iamaleava, Gaston Moore
USC‘s Miller Moss, Jayden Maiava

That QB stock market we mentioned in Tier 3? Yeah, these are the guys who are either going to make you a ridiculous return on investment or force you to pick up some side hustles just to make rent.

Someone in this group is going to make an enormous mark on the 2024 season. There’s just too much talent. But Johnson, Raiola, Arnold, Iamaleava and Moss combine for 23 stars on the recruiting trail and four starts on the actual field. By year’s end, we won’t be surprised if there are a couple Tier 1 QBs in this group and, perhaps, a couple Tier 18 guys, too.

What you need to know:

  • Bowl opt-outs stink, but if there’s a silver lining to last year’s postseason exodus, it was that we got a sneak peek at this group. Johnson, Arnold, Iamaleava and Moss all got a start in their respective bowl games, and the performances offered ample reason for optimism. The trio combined for 83.7 Total QBR, 1,211 total yards, 15 touchdowns and five turnovers. And they all played against top-20 opponents.

  • Since Chris Klieman took over at Kansas State in 2019, Wildcats QBs have 54 rushing TDs, trailing only Oklahoma among Power 5 schools. Johnson rushed for 71 yards and a score in last year’s bowl game.

  • Nebraska has not finished in the top 25 nationally in Total QBR in any season since 2012. The Huskers haven’t had a QB throw 20 TDs and 10 or fewer interceptions in a season since Zac Taylor did it in 2006. (Of note: Forty different FBS QBs did that just last year.) Tanner Lee (pick No. 203 in 2017) is the only Nebraska QB drafted in the past 30 years. All of this is to say that, while Raiola is a tremendous prospect, he’s up against a lot of history in Lincoln.

  • On the flip side, whoever ends up the full-time starter at Southern California will have history on his side. In Lincoln Riley’s nine years as a Power 5 coordinator or head coach, his QB has never finished worse than 11th in Total QBR. He had three QBs win the Heisman (and all three were later selected No. 1 overall in the NFL draft), and has a second-, third- and fourth-place finish on his résumé, too.

  • Riley can take ample credit for Oklahoma’s run of elite QB play, but it’s worth noting this comparison:
    Oklahoma 2020-21: 80.8 Total QBR with 62 TD passes and 17 INTs
    Oklahoma 2022-23: 79.7 Total QBR with 61 TD passes and 17 INTs

  • As an FBS offensive coordinator or head coach (since 2011), Josh Heupel’s offenses have averaged 3,551 passing yards and 29 passing touchdowns a year. In his six seasons as a head coach at UCF and Tennessee, his QBs have thrown a total of 30 interceptions. For comparison, Georgia Southern threw 20 last year. Overall as a head coach, his QBs have a 6.3-to-1 TD:INT rate. That’s three times better than the FBS average, and only Alabama as a team has posted a better rate over that span (6.44).


TIER 5a: The Transfer Market II: Endgame (eight players)

Florida‘s Graham Mertz, D.J. Lagway
Georgia Tech‘s Haynes King, Zach Pyron
Virginia Tech‘s Kyron Drones, Collin Schlee
Oklahoma State‘s Alan Bowman, Garret Rangel

We’re still in the very early stages of properly evaluating the impact of the transfer portal on QB play around the country, but last year’s numbers tell a pretty clear story. There were 113 FBS QBs who started at least eight games. That group can be separated into three distinct categories: homegrown talent, first-year transfers and transfers who had been on campus for more than one season.

Dig into those three camps and you’ll see a stark difference between them:

Homegrown talent (48 QBs): 60.0 Total QBR, 61.9% completions, 2.2-to-1 TD:TO ratio, 6.8 yards-per-dropback
First-year transfers (36 QBs): 58.1 Total QBR, 62.1% completions, 1.9-to-1 TD:TO ratio, 6.4 yards-per-dropback
Multiyear transfers (29 QBs): 70.0 Total QBR, 65% completions, 3-to-1 TD:TO ratio, 7.4 yards-per-dropback

What does this mean exactly? Could be nothing. After all, it’s a one-year sample set, and some of those multiyear QBs were established successes even in 2022 (Penix, Nix, Gabriel, Williams).

But it could also be that success is correlated with familiarity of a system and comfort in an offense, and so Year 2 (or beyond) starters are simply better. This makes some intuitive sense, which leads to a better question: Who might be best primed to take a leap in Year 2 after a transfer in 2024?

Mertz, King, Drones and Bowman look like the obvious choices. All had some degree of success in Year 1 at their new schools, but all should be well positioned to take another step in Year 2, with some pretty clear areas in need of improvement.

What you need to know:

  • A comparison:
    QB A: 18 starts, 59.9% completions, 6.92 yards/dropback, 44 total TDs, 23 turnovers, 4,819 total yards
    QB B: 17 starts, 60.1% completions, 6.92 yards/dropback, 46 total TDs, 15 turnovers, 4,192 total yards

    Aside from those pesky turnovers, you’d certainly say they’re incredibly similar in their production, right? QB A shouldered a bigger load for his offense, so perhaps the turnovers aren’t a surprise.

    Who are they? QB A is the career starts for Georgia Tech’s King, who flourished after escaping Jimbo Fisher’s offense at Texas A&M but clearly has some room to cut back on the mistakes. QB B is the career starting stats for Ohio State’s Howard, who figures to be the most important transfer QB of the 2024 season. We’d wager few Ohio State fans are excited about their QB looking a lot like King, but it might actually be a credit to what King could do in 2024 instead.

  • Playoff-era ACC QBs to throw for 2,800 yards and 25 touchdowns and rush for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns: Lamar Jackson (twice), Deshaun Watson, Jerod Evans and King.

  • SEC quarterbacks to complete 70% of their throws, have 20 pass touchdowns and no more than six turnovers in a season over the past 20 years: LSU’s Daniels, Alabama’s Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa and … Florida’s Mertz.

  • An odd split for Oklahoma State’s Bowman in 2024: When pressured, he was relatively smart with the football, tossing five TDs and just two interceptions. When not pressured, though? Ten TD passes and 12 picks.

  • Virginia Tech’s Drones looks like an emerging star after the way the Hokies finished the 2023 season, but it’s worth noting his emergence also came with a pretty light schedule. And when things got tougher, he struggled. In three games vs. top-40 (by efficiency), he posted a 46.4 Total QBR, 55.1% completions, 5.1 yards-per-pass, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Virginia Tech lost all three games.

  • No Power 5 QB had a higher percentage of his pass attempts come from outside the pocket in 2023 than Drones. He actually completed a higher percentage of his throws (60.2%) outside the pocket than inside (57.4%).


TIER 5b: The Transfer Market: Origins (seven players)

Florida State‘s DJ Uiagalelei, Brock Glenn
NC State‘s Grayson McCall
Notre Dame‘s Riley Leonard, Steve Angeli
Syracuse‘s Kyle McCord, Carlos Del Rio-Wilson

So yes, the transfer market, like “Godfather II,” “Empire Strikes Back” and “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,” is the rare moment when the sequel is better than the original. On the other hand, transfers in their first year with their new team aren’t devoid of quality — heck, Uiagalelei had a nice Year 1 just last year — and this group represents the cream of the crop of the 2024 portal movers.

What you need to know:

  • FSU’s Jordan Travis was off target with just 11.4% of his throws last year. His replacement for 2024, Uiagalelei, was off target with 19.4% of his, the second-highest rate among Power 5 passers.

  • No first-year transfer finished last season with a better Total QBR than Uiagalelei (81.0). Uiagalelei improved his Total QBR by 21.6 from 2021 to 2022 and by 16.2 from 2022 to 2023.

  • A quick comparison:
    QB A: 61% completions, 27 total TDs, six INTs
    QB B: 57% completions, 24 total TDs, seven INTs

    Neither looks spectacular just from those numbers, but you’d probably give an edge to QB A, right? Well, good. That’s Uiagalelei’s numbers against FBS opponents … in 2022. QB B is him vs. FBS in 2023. So what gives? Didn’t he improve last year? It depends a bit on what stats you look at. His completion percentage was down and his TD:INT was about the same. But he averaged nearly two more yards-per-pass than he had in 2022 despite throwing deeper more often. He had 13 more completions of 20 yards or more. He was pressured more often but hit and sacked less often.

  • One more on Uiagalelei, pointed out by FSU coach Mike Norvell: In 2021, Clemson called a designed run for Uiagalelei on first down 28 times. In 2022, it ran him on first down 36 times (third most of any FBS QB). Last year at Oregon State, he had just nine first-down designed runs. Expect Florida State to use him far more like Oregon State did.

  • NC State receivers and tight ends made just 17 contested catches last season (127th nationally). Transfer additions Justin Joly and Wesley Grimes combined for 15 by themselves. The Wolfpack have also added talented receiver Noah Rogers from Ohio State and tight end Dante Daniels via the portal. Life should be a good bit easier for McCall than NC State QBs had it last season.

  • Another comparison:
    QB A: 17 starts, 60.1% completions, 6.92 yards/dropback, 75.7 Total QBR, 15 turnovers, 247 yards/game
    QB B: 20 starts, 62.1% completions, 6.87 yards/dropback, 73.2 Total QBR, 10 turnovers, 256 yards/game

    You should be familiar with QB A by now. That, once again, is the career stat line for Ohio State’s Howard. QB B, however, is Notre Dame’s Leonard, who starred at Duke for two seasons. Given the enthusiasm for Ohio State’s offense this season, it’s fair to wonder if we’re sleeping a bit on what Leonard could do at Notre Dame, too.

  • OK, one last comparison:
    QB A: 84.1 Total QBR, 65.4% completions, 8.8 yards-per-attempt, 3.3 TD-to-INT rate, played with a first-round draft pick at receiver.
    QB B: 83.8 Total QBR, 65.8% completions, 9.1 yards-per-attempt, 4.0 TD-to-INT rate, played with a first-round draft pick at receiver.

    Tough call, right? If anything, perhaps a slight edge to QB B, but both were excellent.

    And you’d be right to praise QB A. That was Washington’s Penix, who played for a national title and was taken with the eighth pick in the NFL draft. The other guy? That’s McCord, who was largely seen as a disappointment in his lone year as the starter at Ohio State. He transferred this offseason to Syracuse where, it should be noted, he’ll have a solid receiving corps again with Oronde Gadsden II, Jackson Meeks and Zeed Haynes, playing his home games on the turf indoors and doing it without the massive expectations that come with being QB1 in Columbus.


TIER 6: You might not know us yet, but … (eight players)

Iowa State‘s Rocco Becht, J.J. Kohl
SMU‘s Preston Stone
TCU‘s Josh Hoover, Ken Seals, Hauss Hejny
West Virginia‘s Garrett Greene, Nicco Marchiol

It’s entirely possible you’re a relatively invested fan of college football and you had absolutely no idea these guys were good. Chalk it up to the old real estate maxim — location, location, location. Stone played on a Group of 5 team that opened last year by losing twice in September. Greene’s team was 4-3 by mid-October last year. Becht lost three of his first four starts against FBS foes, with seven TDs and five picks, after Iowa State was rocked by gambling accusations that sidelined former starter Hunter Dekkers. Hoover didn’t even start until mid-October, when TCU was 3-3.

And yet, from Week 8 on last year, the foursome combined for an 81.2 Total QBR, 9.7 yards-per-pass, 40 touchdown throws and 10 picks.

In other words, if we extrapolate that trend line out into 2024 … look out.

What you need to know:

  • A comparison:
    QB A: 66.7% completions, 13 total TDs, 6 turnovers, 8.02 yards/attempt, 6.53 yards/dropback
    QB B: 65.1% completions, 12 total TDs, 4 turnovers 8.54 yards/attempt, 7.93 yards/dropback

    Pretty similar, eh? Well, QB A was defending Heisman winner and No. 1 overall draft pick Williams in six games vs. ranked opponents last year. QB B was Iowa State’s Becht in the same situations.

  • SMU’s Stone on first down dropbacks last year: 64% completions, 11.1 yards/pass, 10.1 yards/dropback, 11 TDs and one INT.

  • Only two quarterbacks posted a raw QBR better than 50 and didn’t throw a pick when under pressure last season: LSU’s Daniels and … Stone.

  • No QB averaged more air yards-per-pass last season than West Virginia’s Greene. Forty-five percent of West Virginia’s dropbacks last season ended with a throw beyond the sticks, easily the highest rate among Power 5 schools.

  • Another comparison:
    QB A: 70.7 Total QBR, 1,512 total yards, 63.6% completions, 7.5 yards/dropback, 13 touchdowns and three turnovers
    QB B: 81.2 Total QBR, 2,064 total yards, 62.3% completions, 7.1 yards/dropback, 15 touchdowns and seven turnovers

    QB A was former TCU star Max Duggan, over the final six games of his 2022 season in which he led the Horned Frogs to the national championship game. QB B was TCU’s Hoover over his final six games in 2023.

  • By the way, only two quarterbacks in the country accounted for more yards per game over their final six games than Hoover: LSU’s Daniels and Oregon’s Nix.

  • No returning QB converted a higher rate of third- and fourth-down plays for a touchdown or first down than Gabriel (50%). No. 2 though? That’d be TCU’s Hoover (46.7%).


TIER 7: The Curse of ’22 (eight players)

Clemson‘s Cade Klubnik, Christopher Vizzina
Duke‘s Maalik Murphy, Grayson Loftis, Henry Belin IV
Penn State‘s Drew Allar
Texas A&M‘s Conner Weigman, Jaylen Henderson

The 2022 recruiting class could go down as one of the all-time biggest disappointments for quarterbacks. Per ESPN’s rankings, there were 31 quarterbacks rated as a four- or five-star recruit for 2022. They’ve so far combined for just 68 starts, a 53.8 Total QBR, 58.5% completions and 6.5 yards-per-pass. Just 14 have started a game, just 12 have thrown more than 50 college passes and eight have yet to attempt a pass. Ten have transferred already.

The most accomplished of the class so far are Allar (No. 2 pocket passer) and Klubnik (No. 1 dual threat), though both spent the bulk of their first full year as the starter dealing with outraged fans and dismal performances in their biggest games. In truth, we should probably have Allar and Weigman (No. 1 pocket passer) both ranked a bit higher and, perhaps, Klubnik and Murphy (No. 12 pocket passer) ranked a bit lower, but we’re lumping them together because they’ve all been afflicted by this same curse.

Oddly, the stars of the class weren’t highly recruited. Arizona’s Fifita (No. 29 dual threat), Iowa State’s Becht (No. 36 pocket passer), TCU’s Hoover (No. 24 pocket passer), Maiava (No. 23 pocket passer) who signed with UNLV, USF’s Brown (No. 74 pocket passer) and Warner (No. 43 pocket passer) who signed with Temple have been the breakout performers thus far.

There’s still time, of course. Alex Orji or Jayden Denegal could take over at Michigan this year, MJ Morris is in the mix at Maryland, Walker Howard could still be the future at Ole Miss and Nick Evers, AJ Duffy and Katin Houser are all getting fresh starts this season. But the big names still need to produce, and this tier marks the best chance for growth in 2024.

What you need to know:

  • A comparison:
    QB A: 78.2 Total QBR, 62.6% completions, 1,878 yards, 18 total TDs, three turnovers
    QB B: 78.1 Total QBR, 69.5% completions, 1,815 yards, 15 total TDs, three turnovers

    QB B here is Ole Miss’s Dart, over his final seven starts last season — his third as a starter and second with the Rebels. We’ve got him in Tier 3 (and he has a good case to be higher).

    QB A in this case is Texas A&M’s Weigman over his seven career starts. Fisher was the fall guy for offensive woes, but the missing ingredient was always the QB, and the truth is, the Aggies may have had one the whole time. It’s just that he couldn’t stay on the field. He was third-string to open the 2022 season, worked his way into the starting job, battled injuries, won the job in 2023, then got hurt again in Week 4. If Weigman can play all season, there’s ample reason to think he could be a star in 2024. That “if” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here though.

  • Lowest percentage of throws that traveled at least 20 yards downfield in the air among returning QBs:
    Klubnik, 8.2%
    Allar, 8.0%

    Allar had just eight completions all season on throws of 20-plus yards downfield. He had five games in which he attempted one or zero such throws. Three of those completions came in the final two games of the year after former OC Mike Yurcich was fired. As a point of comparison, Washington’s Penix completed 46 balls on throws of 20-plus last year. Whether Allar’s lack of aggressiveness downfield was a matter of game plan or ability will be one of the biggest factors in Penn State’s push for a playoff berth this year.

  • In five games against top-40 defenses last year, Allar threw 13 touchdowns and just one interception. Penn State was also 2-3 in those games, and he averaged just 5.5 yards-per-attempt, 65th lowest among 74 QBs with at least three such starts.

  • Klubnik when targeting freshman Tyler Brown last season: 72.2% completions, 7.4 yards/attempt, four TDs, no picks, 85.5 QBR; when targeting any other wide receiver or tight end: 62.7% completions, 6.6 yards/attempt, 13 TDs, six INTs, 62.2 QBR.

  • No Power 5 QB targeted running backs or tight ends more often last season than Klubnik (164 attempts).

  • From 2015 through 2020, Clemson QBs posted an 82.4 Total QBR vs. FBS opponents — third best nationally and top in the ACC. From 2021 through 2023, Clemson QBs posted a 54.8 Total QBR — 78th in FBS and worst in the ACC.


TIER 8: Shoes to fill (15 players)

Kentucky‘s Brock Vandagriff, Beau Allen, Gavin Wimsatt
LSU‘s Garrett Nussmeier, AJ Swann, Rickie Collins
Michigan’s Alex Orji, Jayden Denegal, Jack Tuttle
Maryland‘s Billy Edwards, MJ Morris, Cameron Edge
North Carolina‘s Conner Harrell, Max Johnson, Jacolby Criswell

OK, when we say “shoes to fill,” it’s worth noting that a few are Size 25 Jordans and others are a comfortable pair of Sketchers. Regardless, these are five programs which have gotten solid — and in some cases, spectacular — QB play in recent years, who now need to replace veteran starters with younger alternatives. In most cases, the QB stepping into those shoes is still yet to be determined. What’s clear though is that expectations will be high, but success is far from guaranteed.

What you need to know:

  • In the 10 years of the College Football Playoff, LSU has had two seasons with a player posting a Total QBR better than 90 — 2019 Burrow and 2023 Daniels, both Heisman winners and No. 1 overall picks. Who put up the next best single-season Total QBR for the Tigers? Danny Etling in 2017 (80.8). The gap between Nos. 2 and 3, in other words, is sizable. So, what does that mean for Nussmeier? Well, in 2020, after Burrow’s departure, Max Johnson started the bulk of LSU’s games and posted a woeful 59.1 Total QBR. So, the bar for an encore performance is set pretty low.

  • The sample sizes are small, of course, but in his three years at LSU, Nussmeier has thrown at least 10 passes in 10 games. In the first five of those games — two of which came against FCS foes — he completed 58%, averaged 7.2 yards-per-pass and had three TDs and four interceptions. In the last five — a slate that includes Alabama and Georgia — he completed 63%, averaged 9.2 yards-per-pass and threw eight touchdowns with three picks.

  • It was rare for a casual fan to watch a game and think, “That J.J. McCarthy is the straw that stirs this drink.” For one, that’s a pretty weird thing to think in general. But more specifically, McCarthy’s magic almost never showed up in obvious ways. For example, McCarthy had just eight career games against Power 5 opponents where he threw multiple TDs and no interceptions. Six of them came against Michigan State, Indiana, Nebraska (twice), Rutgers and Maryland. Not exactly a murderer’s row. But the other two? Ohio State and Alabama. In fact, McCarthy made eight career starts against top-10 teams. He posted a Total QBR better than 90 in half of them.

  • Since the start of 2020, North Carolina ranks eighth in FBS (and first in the ACC) in Total QBR, seven in FBS (and first in the ACC) in touchdown passes and third in FBS in passing yards.

  • A comparison:
    QB A: 12-13 as a starter, 61.8 Total QBR, 7.1 yards-per-pass, 48 pass TD, 61 total TD, 26 turnovers
    QB B: 12-10 as a starter, 61.1 Total QBR, 7.5 yards-per-pass, 47 pass TD, 52 total TD, 18 turnovers

    QB A is a guy we have ranked in Tier 2 — Miami’s Ward. He has a boatload of talent that attracted coaches this offseason when he entered the portal. QB B also went into the portal this offseason. It’s UNC’s Johnson who no one seems to be overly excited about. Perhaps it’s that he’s been stuck on two different SEC teams whose coaches ultimately got fired. Regardless, he’s been pretty solid, if never entirely thrilling. He’s basically the Big Boi of college football — around forever, part of some big brands, always overshadowed and undervalued.

  • Since 2011, Kentucky hasn’t had a single season of 20 TD passes and had just one season with 2,700 or more passing yards. The Wildcats have now hit those marks in three straight years.

  • In the past 20 years, Maryland had QB seasons with 100 pass attempts. Just four resulted in a Total QBR better than 62 — all four belong to Taulia Tagovailoa. In other words, belief in what the Terps’ 2024 QB can do comes down to whether you believe Tagovailoa set a new standard or was an island in a sea of below-average quarterback play.

  • In the past two seasons, 108 quarterbacks have started at least six Power 5 games. Kentucky transfers Wimsatt and Morris rank 97th and 104th, respectively, in Total QBR.


TIER 9: Best of the Group of Five (seven players)

App State‘s Joey Aguilar
Liberty‘s Kaidon Salter
Miami (OH)‘s Brett Gabbert
Texas State‘s Jordan McCloud
USF‘s Byrum Brown
Western Kentucky‘s TJ Finley, Caden Veltkamp

Last season, 28 quarterbacks from Group of 5 schools posted a raw QBR of at least 60. Of that group, eight exhausted their eligibility and 11 transferred (although only two transferred to other G5s) — meaning just nine (32%) returned to the same school a year later. (Well, technically eight. SMU’s Stone is officially a power conference QB now, due to SMU’s move to the ACC.) That said, the cream of this crop is still pretty good, and a clear advantage for their schools amid a sea change elsewhere.

What you need to know:

  • No QB in the country threw more TD passes to tie the game or give his team a lead than App State’s Aguilar (15).

  • The average Total QBR in 2023 was 62.3. Oregon’s Nix was the lone QB to exceed that average in every game he played last year. Five others topped it 12 times, however, including obvious options — Michigan’s McCarthy, LSU’s Daniels, Washington’s Penix and Georgia’s Beck. The other one to do it 12 times? Aguilar.

  • Gabbert’s first start for Miami came in 2019. He has since started 39 games across five seasons, tossing 59 touchdowns — at least four in each season. If he throws four again this year, he’ll join Troy’s Jarret Doege, former San José State’s Chevan Cordiero and Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman as the only modern QBs to do that in six different seasons, and he’d be the only one to do it all at the same school.

  • Brown’s 58.4 Total QBR was the best by a USF QB since 2017. His 26 touchdown passes were the most by a USF QB ever.

  • Only two QBs last season threw for 3,000 yards and ran for 1,000 (not counting sacks): Daniels and USF’s Brown. Brown was just the 11th QB of the playoff era to do it. Six were NFL starters last year.

  • Fifteen QBs last season averaged at least 10 air yards per throw. That group combined completed just 58% of their throws. Alabama’s Milroe had the highest completion percentage of the group at 65.8%. No. 2? USF’s Brown at 64.8%.

  • Over the past three seasons, Western Kentucky has thrown for 2,192 more yards and 30 more touchdowns than any other FBS program. For comparison, Iowa has just 28 passing touchdowns total in that span.

  • Among returning QBs, Oregon’s Gabriel had the best EPA-per-dropback last season. No. 2? Liberty’s Salter.

  • No returning FBS QB scrambled for more yards in 2023 than Salter (530).

  • Salter threw 32 touchdown passes last year; 21 of them came on throws of 15 yards or more downfield.

  • Four quarterbacks threw for 35 touchdowns and 3,500 yards last year: Daniels, Penix, Nix and McCloud.

  • Daniels, Penix and McCloud led the nation with eight games in which they threw for at least 240 yards and three touchdowns. McCloud was the only one to do it in 13 games or less.


TIER 10: Looking for a reboot (11 players)

Louisville‘s Tyler Shough, Brady Allen, Pierce Clarkson
Mississippi State‘s Blake Shapen, Michael Van Buren
UCF‘s KJ Jefferson, Jacurri Brown
Washington‘s Will Rogers, Demond Williams Jr.
Wisconsin‘s Tyler Van Dyke, Braedyn Locke

There’s a pretty simple formula for success in Hollywood these days: Take existing intellectual property and reboot it with some minor changes to give it a fresh look.

Can the same formula work in college football? A few schools are going to try in 2024, with QBs who’ve tasted success and started a bunch of games getting a fresh start after a rough and rocky 2023.

Odds are there’s at least one “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” here… and probably at least one of the Mark Wahlberg reboot, too.

What you need to know:

  • A comparison:
    QB A: 62.0 Total QBR, 64.3% completions, 7.93 yards-per-pass, 21 total TD, 14 turnovers
    QB B: 68.4 Total QBR, 63.8% completions, 7.97 yards-per-pass, 26 total TD, 12 turnovers

    QB A is Jack Plummer‘s 13 starts vs. FBS competition last season at Louisville. QB B is Shough in his 13 career starts, which span four previous seasons.

  • Louisville went 3-1 vs. top 40 defenses last season despite Plummer posting a woeful 39.6 Total QBR with just two TDs, three picks and averaging 5.9 yards-per-attempt in those games. If Shough can improve on those numbers in 2024, the Cardinals could be awfully dangerous.

  • Another comparison:
    QB A: 81.4 Total QBR, 68% completions, 7.82 yards/dropback, 33 TDs and eight turnovers
    QB B: 80.5 Total QBR, 66% completions, 7.87 yards/dropback, 35 TDs and eight turnovers

    Pretty similar, right? Well, QB B is Alabama’s Milroe last year, a guy who finished sixth in Heisman voting and has the Tide in our top tier this year. QB A posted his numbers in the SEC, too. That would be Jefferson’s stat line from 2022. A year later, he fell off a cliff, with his Total QBR dipping 30 points to 51.1. So, do we believe Milroe’s production could plummet this year? Or do we think Jefferson’s struggles were a product of a woeful Dan Enos-coached offense, and he’s poised for a big bounce back at UCF? We’ll go with the latter.

  • Returning Power 5 quarterbacks who recorded an explosive play on at least 15% of dropbacks and a successful play on at least 45%: Beck, Gabriel, Fifita, Ewers, McCord, Milroe, Dart, Ward, Mertz, Greene and … Van Dyke.

  • On the flip side, seven Power 5 QBs had less than 40% of throws go for successful plays and less than 12% go for explosives. Of that group, only one is guaranteed a starting job this year: Rogers.

  • In his first six games of the season last year, Van Dyke posted a 71.8 Total QBR, completed 70.5% of his passes, 9.4 yards-per-attempt, threw 16 TDs and six interceptions. Then he missed the Clemson game with an injury, which nagged at him the remainder of the season. His stat line the rest of the way: 58.1 Total QBR, 60% completions, 6.6 yards-per-pass, three touchdown passes and six picks.

  • In his first six years as a Power 5 offensive coordinator, Phil Longo’s teams averaged 3,847 passing yards and 31 touchdown throws per season. Last year — his first at Wisconsin — the Badgers had 2,862 passing yards and just 14 passing touchdowns.


TIER 11a: Movin’ on up (14 players)

ArkansasTaylen Green, Malachi Singleton
Baylor‘s Dequann Finn, Sawyer Robertson, RJ Martinez
Cal‘s Chandler Rogers, Fernando Mendoza
Indiana‘s Kurtis Rourke, Tayven Jackson
Vanderbilt‘s Diego Pavia, Nate Johnson
Wake Forest‘s Hank Bachmeier, Michael Kern, Jeremy Hecklinski

A year ago, just four QBs started seven games or more at the Power 5 level after playing the previous season at a lower level of college football — Colorado’s Sanders, BC’s Thomas Castellanos, Northwestern’s Ben Bryant and Wisconsin’s Tanner Mordecai. Sanders was a unique story who followed his dad from Jackson State to Colorado. Bryant and Castellanos were on Group of 5 teams — Cincinnati and UCF, respectively — that moved up to the Big 12 in 2024, so that only sort of counts. And Mordecai had originally been a four-star prospect who began his career at Oklahoma before transferring to SMU (another school moving up to the Power 5). The point is, there wasn’t a true Group of 5 veteran who made the leap to the big stage last year.

The odds are that will change in 2024, with at least a half-dozen teams likely to give some serious run to a QB who played at that level in 2023. All have had some measure of real success at a mid-major program, so there’s cause for optimism. But the deep end of the pool isn’t nearly so easy to swim.

What you need to know:

  • No Group of 5 QB has rushed for more touchdowns over the past two seasons than Green (19).

  • In his Week 8 loss to NIU, Rourke threw three interceptions without a touchdown. In his other 20 starts over the past two seasons, he had 36 touchdown passes and just six interceptions.

  • Rourke has started five games against Power 5 competition over four seasons at Ohio. He has two touchdowns and six turnovers in those games.

  • Bachmeier’s first start came Aug. 31, 2019 in a win against a Willie Taggart-coached Florida State. He threw 51 passes in that game. He has not thrown more than 47 in a contest since.

  • Bachmeier was 18-6 over his first 24 college starts, all at Boise State. He’s 4-10 since, with half those wins coming against FCS competition.

  • No returning QB had more games with multiple touchdowns and no turnovers last season than Pavia (nine).

  • Finn is just the 16th QB of the past 20 years to have three seasons with at least 2,000 pass yards and 500 rush yards. If he does it again this season, he’d join Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick as the only players to do it four times.

  • Cal has an interesting decision to make at QB between Rogers, who had a fine season at North Texas last year, and Mendoza, who showed flashes after landing the starting job. Mendoza threw an interception in seven of his eight starts last year. But six of his eight starts also came against top-40 defenses.


TIER 11b: Movin’ on … down (nine players)

Boise State‘s Malachi Nelson, Maddux Madsen
James Madison‘s Dylan Morris, Brett Griffis, Alonza Barnett III
North TexasChandler Morris, Stone Earle
Utah State‘s Spencer Petras, Bryson Barnes

The portal works both ways, and so a few teams outside the Power 5 have benefitted by adding some players who likely wouldn’t have even considered these locales coming out of high school, led by Nelson, USC’s former five-star gem.

What you need to know:

  • Petras and Barnes have combined to start 22 games at Iowa and Utah over the past two years. Their teams scored 21 or less in half of them and topped 30 just four times. They’ve thrown just 18 touchdowns with 15 picks.

  • A comparison:
    QB A: nine starts, 73.7 Total QBR, 66% completions, 16 pass TDs, five picks
    QB B: 12 starts, 73.7 Total QBR, 66% completions, 25 pass TDs, 11 picks

    The latter QB actually spent four years as his team’s starter, but those are Taulia Tagovailoa‘s numbers from 2023 alone. The former QB has started games over three separate seasons, but he lost the starting job in each of the past two. QB A would be Morris, who couldn’t seem to hang on to the gig at TCU and now has a chance to prove himself again at North Texas.


TIER 12: On the come up (11 players)

Boston College‘s Thomas Castellanos, Grayson James
Michigan State‘s Aidan Chiles, Tommy Schuster
Pitt‘s Nate Yarnell, Eli Holstein
Texas Tech‘s Behren Morton
Tulane’s Kai Horton, Ty Thompson
Virginia‘s Anthony Colandrea, Tony Muskett

None of these QBs have more than a season’s worth of starts under their belts, but all have shown signs of a bright future. They’re still a long ways from meeting their potential, but there’s a ton of upside here.

What you need to know:

  • Boston College’s Castellanos had at least one turnover in 11 of 13 games. Only Colorado State’s Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi had as many games with a turnover.

  • Castellanos’ 156 designed runs last season were the most by a Power 5 quarterback in a season since 2018.

  • Against FBS opponents, Virginia averaged nearly a yard more per play, nearly a yard and a half more per pass and more than double the offensive win probability added with Colandrea at QB than Muskett.

  • Morton vs. Texas: 52.8% completions, 2.4 yards-per-pass, no touchdowns and three picks. Morton in seven other starts: 68.6% completions, 6.95 yards-per-pass, 12 TD and four picks (and a 6-1 record)

  • Horton has been tasked with throwing more than 10 passes in five career games at Tulane. Four of them are against schools currently in the power conferences (Cincinnati, Houston, Ole Miss and Virginia Tech). Tulane is not in a power conference. In other words, Horton hasn’t had an easy road so far. A more pedestrian AAC slate in 2024 should equate to some better numbers overall.


TIER 13: Year II, Part II (11 players)

Auburn‘s Payton Thorne, Walker White, Holden Geriner
Houston‘s Donovan Smith, Zeon Chriss
IllinoisLuke Altmyer, Donovan Leary
Iowa‘s Cade McNamara, Brendan Sullivan
Purdue‘s Hudson Card, Marcos Davila

Remember that note in Tier 5 about the success of transfers after their first year in a new system? Well, each of these likely starters fits the bill, returning for Year 2 in a familiar place with a chance to take a big step forward. It’s just that step needs to be a bit bigger than other Year 2 transfers.

What you need to know:

  • Altmyer’s first three games in an Illinois uniform were disastrous: 6.96 yards-per-dropback, nine sacks and seven turnovers. He seemed to find his footing after that, however, throwing 10 TD passes and just three picks over his next six starts before an injury ended his season.

  • Iowa has not had a QB complete more than 60% of his throws since 2015.

  • Smith threw nine TDs and 10 picks over his final six games of the season.

  • Thorne vs. teams that finished with a winning record last year: six starts, 42.1 Total QBR, 54.3% completions, four TD, five picks, 5.05 yards-per-pass
    Thorne vs. teams that finished with a losing record: six starts, 73.0 Total QBR, 67.6% completions, 12 TDs, five picks, 8.12 yards-per-pass

  • In Hugh Freeze’s 11-year career as a head coach, last year marked the lowest total of passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards-per-dropback and completions of 20 yards or more by his QBs.

  • If White’s nickname isn’t “Heisenberg,” Auburn has a real problem.


TIER 14: The devils you know (15 players)

Cincinnati‘s Brendan Sorsby, Brady Lichtenberg
Minnesota‘s Max Brosmer, Drake Lindsey, Dylan Wittke
Oregon State‘s Ben Gulbranson, Gevani McCoy, Cooper Jensen
South Carolina‘s LaNorris Sellers, Robby Ashford, Davis Beville
UCLA‘s Ethan Garbers, Chase Griffin, Justyn Martin, Demaricus Davis

Here’s a scenario facing fans of these teams: Do you root for the guy who has played a few games and rarely looked good to win the job, or do you go for what’s behind Door No. 2?

On one hand, you could probably do worse than Sorsby or Ashford or Gulbranson.

On the other hand, you could do a whole lot better, too.

What you need to know:

  • Brosmer is an interesting case at Minnesota. He was basically ignored as a recruit, landed at New Hampshire, played well, then transferred to the Gophers. There’s upside and a reasonably good history of FCS QBs making the leap — from Bailey Zappe to Austin Reed to Ward. Last year, Virginia’s Tony Muskett did the same and, although he battled injuries, he completed 63% of hospital throws and averaged 7 yards-per-pass — numbers that would mark an improvement for Minnesota. But, odds are, the Gophers are looking for a bit better than that.

  • Sorsby’s last five starts of 2023: 61% completions, 7.9 yards-per-pass, 15 total touchdowns and five picks.

  • Garbers had a brutal opener last year against Coastal Carolina and was quickly benched. But when he returned to action in Week 8, he looked much improved. In the five games he started and finished, UCLA was 4-1 (the lone loss to No. 11 Arizona), throwing 10 TDs to just one pick.


TIER 15: Not too shabby (15 players)

Arkansas State‘s Jaylen Raynor, Will Prichard, Timmy McClain
FAU‘s Cam Fancher, Kasen Weisman
Fresno State‘s Mikey Keene
Rice‘s AJ Padgett, E.J. Warner
South Alabama‘s Gio Lopez, Jared Hollins
Tulsa‘s Cooper Legas, Cardell Williams, Kirk Francis
UAB‘s Jacob Zeno, Landry Lyddy
Colorado State‘s Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi

This is the tier of Group of 5 quarterbacks who aren’t quite good enough to gush over but haven’t totally failed either. They are fine.

What you need to know:

  • Remember those big-name Power 5 QBs — the former blue-chip recruits — who finally got their shot when the starter sat out a bowl game up in Tier 4? Well, here’s the Group of 5’s version in South Alabama’s Lopez, who completed 14-of-19 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns in a 59-10 win over Eastern Michigan in the 68 Ventures Bowl.

  • Best adjusted completion percentages (accounting for depth of throw, throw aways and drops) in 2023: Nix, Daniels, McCarthy, Beck, Milroe and … UAB’s Zeno (76.1%).

  • Fancher went through a three-game stretch midseason last year in which he completed just 55% of his throws with one TD and six picks. Marshall was 0-3 and scored a total of 24 points in those games, and Fancher was benched. In his past 10 starts before that, however, he completed 64% of his throws with 15 TD and just seven picks, and after being benched, he returned for one last start at Marshall against Arkansas State, completing 72% with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Working with Tom Herman at FAU could be the spark he needs to reestablish himself as a rising star.

  • At Temple last season, Warner converted 41.1%, tied for the third-best rate among returning Group of 5 QBs.

  • Fowler-Nicolosi threw 16 interceptions last season, second most among Group of Five QBs. Thirteen of them came against zone coverage.

  • Nine of Raynor’s 17 touchdown passes last year came against Stony Brook and UMass.

  • Kirk Francis had a higher off-target rate, a lower successful play rate and averaged eight-tenths of a yard less per pass than Cardell Williams. But Tulsa’s offense actually improved by nearly a half-yard per play overall because Francis took one-third as many sacks and was hit half as often as Williams.


TIER 16: Hello darkness, my old friend (14 players)

Arizona State‘s Jeff Sims, Trenton Bourguet, Sam Leavitt
BYU‘s Gerry Bohanon, Jake Retzlaff
Northwestern‘s Jack Lausch, Ryan Hilinski, Mike Wright
Rutgers‘s Athan Kaliakmanis
Stanford‘s Ashton Daniels, Justin Lamson, Elijah Brown
Washington State‘s John Mateer, Zevi Eckhaus

Last year, Iowa’s Total QBR was 19.4 — twice as bad as the next-worst Power 5 team. And yet, Iowa won 10 games. So even if the teams in this tier have some particularly concerning depth charts at the game’s most important position, there’s still a formula for success:

First down is a power run up the middle.
Every second down is also a power run up the middle.
Relax, third down is just a gateway to punting.
Expect your defense to score at least twice
Never stop punting
Tell your dad you’ve got the whole thing under control
Zebras will still work against you in Minnesota

Rinse, repeat.

What you need to know:

  • Sims threw 47 passes last year before being benched. Six of them were intercepted. He averaged just 4.8 yards per dropback. In fairness, he was better in past years at Georgia Tech. Also in fairness, that is a very low bar. Arizona State coach Kenny Dillingham worked wonders with Jordan Travis and Bo Nix earlier in his career, but if he can get Sims anywhere close to the potential folks saw when he was a blue-chip recruit, he should go directly to the Hall of Fame.

  • Only six QBs saw more dropbacks vs man coverage last year than Rutgers starter Gavin Wimsatt (37.8%). One of them was Minnesota’s Kaliakmanis (43.0%), who will now be the starter at Rutgers.

  • This will be Bohanon’s seventh year in college football. He has thrown more than six touchdowns in just one of them.

  • Of the 69 Power 5 QBs who started at least six games last season, only one (Hudson Card) finished with a worse Total QBR than Daniels (46.6) and is in line to start again in 2024.

  • Beginning with Week 1 in 2015, Clayton Thorson started 53 straight games for Northwestern, posting a 61.2 Total QBR. In the 58 games since, nine different QBs have gotten a start, and none in more than seven straight. They’ve combined for a Total QBR of 45.1 in that span.


TIER 17: Known commodities (24 players)

Air Force‘s Zac Larrier, Jensen Jones
Army‘s Bryson Daily
Bowling Green‘s Connor Bazelak, Camden Orth
Hawai’i‘s Brayden Schager, Jake Farrell
Jacksonville State‘s Zion Turner, Logan Smothers
Louisiana‘s Ben Wooldridge, Chandler Fields
Marshall‘s Cole Pennington, Mitch Griffis, Braylon Braxton
Middle Tennessee‘s Nicholas Vattiato, Luther Richesson
Old Dominion‘s Grant Wilson, Emmett Morehead
Sam Houston‘s Jase Bauer, Grant Gunnell
Toledo‘s Tucker Gleason, John Alan Richter
Western Michigan‘s Hayden Wolff, Mark Konecny

Every team in this group returns an established starter — either its own or via the portal. A veteran QB at this level can be a huge asset, but each has their flaws, too. Consider this a high floor and midlevel ceiling group.

What you need to know:

  • Woolridge missed the final three games of 2022 and all but one pass at the final 11 games of 2023. When he has been on the field for Louisiana, he has been excellent, throwing for 20 touchdowns and just six picks.

  • Since Week 4 of 2022, Schager has thrown for 5,492 yards. Only Henigan, Ward, Gabriel, Dart and Warner have thrown for more among returning QBs.

  • No QB threw a higher percentage of passes behind the line than MTSU’s Nicholas Vattiato. Vattiato was also one of three QBs nationally — along with Daniels and Dart — to throw for 3,000 yards, rush for 500 (not counting sacks) and complete at least 65% of his passes.

  • Wilson was off target with 20.4% of his throws last season, 124th out of 125 QBs.

  • Pennington finished last season with six interceptions and zero TD passes. No FBS QB had more INTs without a touchdown since Tim Boyle had eight in 2013. The good news for Pennington is Boyle went on to a fine career and has actually started five NFL games (though three were with the 2021 Detroit Lions and two more with last year’s New York Jets, and he was 0-5 in those starts).


Tier 18: It’s a long way from the top (23 players)

Akron‘s Ben Finley, Tahj Bullock
Charlotte‘s Max Brown, Trexler Ivey
Coastal Carolina‘s Ethan Vasko, Noah Kim
East Carolina‘s Jake Garcia, Katin Houser
Georgia Southern‘s JC French, Dexter Williams II
Georgia State‘s Christian Veilleux, Kyle Lowe
Nevada‘s Brendon Lewis, Chubba Purdy, AJ Bianco
San Diego State‘s AJ Duffy, Kyle Crum
Southern MissTate Rodemaker, Ethan Crawford
UConn‘s Nick Evers, Joe Fagnano
UTSA‘s Owen McCown, Eddie Lee Marburger

Like our teams in Tier 11b, this group features former Power 5 quarterbacks now looking to star at the Group of 5 level. Unlike that earlier tier, these guys come with a lot more baggage. Veilleux also comes with a blue vase.

What you need to know:

  • To think, we were one ugly hit by a Florida defender away from having a QB start a playoff game one season and starting a game for Southern Miss the next. Well, probably not but it’s fun to imagine.

  • Speaking of Florida State’s ugly exclusion from the playoff, it’s fair to wonder what might’ve become of Brown had he not gotten his first start at Florida during a time when Jared Verse and Braden Fiske decided to go full Charles Jefferson in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Instead, he finished with 86 passing yards and an interception, was sacked six times and hit on 56% of his dropbacks. He wisely transferred to a place where he’ll never face the Seminoles again.

  • Another Noles note: Purdy has started five games at FSU and Nebraska, completing 56% of his throws with six touchdowns and a 67.9 Total QBR. That’s bad, but not horrendous. Perhaps he finds himself in his third act.


TIER 19: They can’t all be bad (16 players)

Central Michigan‘s Bert Emanuel, Tyler Pape, Tyler Jefferson
Eastern Michigan‘s Cole Snyder, Drew Viotto
Louisiana Tech‘s Jack Turner, Evan Bullock
Ohio‘s CJ Harris, Parker Navarro
San José State‘s Walker Eget, Emmett Brown
Troy‘s Goose Crowder
UTEP‘s Cade McConnell, Skyler Locklear
Wyoming‘s Evan Svoboda, Jayden Clemons

No, these don’t look like particularly good QB situations on paper as we close in on the 2024 season, but odds are at least a few from this group will catch lightning in a bottle, find a diamond in the rough or reenact the final game in “Necessary Roughness.”

What you need to know:

  • Just four QBs averaged 10 yards-per-dropback or better on first down plays last year: LSU’s Daniels, Kansas’ Jason Bean, Memphis’ Stone and UTEP’s McConnell. The only problem is McConnell averaged just 5.81 on second, third and fourth down.

  • If nothing else, with new helmet communication technology being used this year, Troy coach Gerad Parker can use the phrase, “Talk to me, Goose” before every offensive snap, thus making every play at least a little fun.


TIER 20: Hey, we could be wrong (28 players)

Ball State‘s Kadin Semonza
Buffalo‘s CJ Ogbonna, Gunnar Gray, Jack Shields
FIU‘s Keyone Jenkins, Haden Carlson
Kennesaw State‘s Davis Bryson, Braden Bohannon
Kent State‘s Tommy Ulatowski, Devin Kargman
Navy‘s Blake Horvath, Braxton Woodson
New Mexico‘s Devon Dampier, Justin Holaday, Elijah Brody, Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters
New Mexico State‘s Deuce Hogan, Jake McNamara
Northern Illinois‘s Ethan Hampton, Josh Holst, Jalen Macon
Temple‘s Evan Simon, Clifton McDowell
UL Monroe‘s Hunter Herring
UMassTaisun Phommachanh, Ahmad Haston
UNLV‘s Matthew Sluka, Hajj-Malik Williams

Here’s the good news for the folks in this tier: Last year, we had UNLV in Tier 20, but Jayden Maiava jumped up the depth chart by Week 3 and ended the year looking like a star. Of course, the bad news is he immediately transferred and is at USC now, but hey, all happiness is fleeting.

What you need to know:

  • A good news/bad news situation for UMass last year. Phommachanh threw just six TD passes, tying him for 139th nationally. But, it was still more than UMass managed as a team in two of the past three years. The goal for this year? Double figures. No UMass QB has done that since 2018.

  • No quarterback who started at least five games returns as the starter to the same school with a worse Total QBR than FIU’s Keyone Jenkins (33.4).

  • Poor New Mexico State saw all three QBs from last year’s 10-win team transfer out, including two to Vanderbilt. (Boy those guys have a thing for the traditional underdogs, eh?) On the plus side, Deuce Hogan and Jake McNamara sound like great character names for a buddy cop show on TNT.

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