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Ranking top 25 college football quarterbacks heading into 2018 season

Matt Fitzgerald
College Football Quarterbacks Will Grier and WVU should dominate this week
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 season figures to be fantastic given the caliber of college football quarterbacks quarterbacks across the country. Although stars cycle out of the game every year, there’s always a few waiting in the wings for their shot at the big stage.

Whether it’s shining in bowl season, starring in the College Football Playoff, improving their program’s trajectory or bolstering their NFL draft stock, there’s a lot at stake for the top quarterbacks in the country.

In this list, we’ll limit our picks to the FBS, but fans should also keep an eye out for FCS powerhouse North Dakota State and its field general, Easton Stick. The Bison program produced Philadelphia Eagles star Carson Wentz and hopes to see Stick lead a second straight national-championship campaign.

Note: Stats and measurements courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

25. Justice Hansen, Arkansas State

A dual threat whose competition level won’t help his cause, Hanson had an undeniably impressive two seasons as the Red Wolves’ starter. Hansen ran for 417 yards and seven scores last year and came up just 33 yards shy of 4,000 yards through the air while tossing 37 touchdowns. He needs to cut down on his gunslinger tendencies (16 picks in 2017) to gain further notice in the college football world.

24. Nathan Rourke, Ohio 

Hailing from Canada, Rourke has been a great find for the Bobcats and sneaks his way onto this list thanks to a strong first crack at the starting job. As a sophomore, he ran for 907 yards and 21 touchdowns (!!). Although his passing and precise ball placement leaves something to be desired (55.1 completion percentage), there’s more than enough upside and production as a dual threat to slot Rourke among the best 25 signal-callers at the moment.

23. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

The only reason Lawrence isn’t higher is that he’s yet to play a down of college football. However, buzz has followed him after an impressive performance in the spring game, and he figures to push incumbent starter Kelly Bryant for the top job. There’s a reason 247Sports had the true frosh ranked as the No. 1 player in the 2018 class.

22. Malik Rosier, Miami (FL) 

In his first season running the offense for coach Mark Richt’s team, Rosier had the Hurricanes in the playoff mix, starting the year 10-0. Although things fell apart down the stretch, that experience ought to make Rosier even hungrier to prove himself in 2018. With sharpened fundamentals and more consistent accuracy, the mobile, strong-armed QB could be in for a big redshirt junior year.

21. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State

Fitzgerald displays poor accuracy, but he is a great dual-threat QB in the SEC. He’s coming off a dislocated ankle in the Egg Bowl, but that shouldn’t prevent him from starting the season and helping the Bulldogs compete in SEC. He ran for 30 touchdowns over the past two years and would be higher on this list if not for underwhelming completion percentages over his career.

20. Jalen Hurts, Alabama

A two-year starter at the nation’s preeminent program, Hurts may be forced to transfer after being benched in last year’s national title game. Despite Hurts’ outstanding show of sportsmanship in that moment, he’s a complete product of the system around him and, quite simply, he can’t throw the football well, which is important for a quarterback and why he’s still a backup to Tua Tagovailoa. Coach Nick Saban criticized Hurts for scrambling at this year’s spring game, implying the Tide’s third-string QB was a superior passer.

19. Kelly Bryant, Clemson

He should be driven by the CFP loss to Alabama. Bryant did well to get there with immense pressure as the successor to national champion Deshaun Watson. Now Bryant has the aforementioned Lawrence hot on his heels, though. How he responds to that heat will ultimately determine where Bryant falls on this list as the season progresses. If he’s not careful, he may slide off completely should Lawrence supplant him on the depth chart.

18. Shea Patterson, Michigan

Despite transferring from Ole Miss after the 2017 season, Patterson was ruled eligible to play right away for the Wolverines. That’s good news for Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who’s struggled to find stability at the game’s most important position during his tenure. Should Patterson play near the level he did in 2017 — he completed 63.8 percent of passes for 2,259 yards, 17 TDs and nine picks in seven games — the Wolverines could take a huge step forward this coming year. Patterson would be higher if not for the quick turnaround to a new program and need to grasp a pro-style system on the fly while dealing with playoff expectations.

17. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern

Thorson suffered a torn ACL in 2017, but a quietly solid Wildcats program under coach Pat Fitzgerald is due for a breakout year and a continued rise after finishing No. 17 last season in both the AP and Coaches polls. He lost top running back Justin Jackson to the NFL, so more burden is on Thorson this season to raise the level of the players around him. He needs to improve on last year’s 15:12 TD-INT ratio to take the next step forward.

16. Brett Rypien, Boise State

The Broncos are perpetually under the radar despite their steady success at the highest level, and Rypien appears on this list in an appropriate slot to reflect that phenomenon. A three-year starter at Boise State, Rypien lacks the dual-threat ability of many top quarterbacks but has amassed 9,873 yards passing on 8.4 yards per attempt in his career. His exceptional level of play ultimately led to Ryan Finley transferring to N.C. State, which seems to have worked out the best for all parties involved.

15. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State

Like a later pick on this list, Haskins is in a projection-based slot that some may argue is too high. However, witnessing the second half of the Michigan game last year, when Haskins was 6-of-7 for 94 yards passing and had a 22-yard run in relief of J.T. Barrett, it was so clear he was an upgrade as a pure passer. With a rocket right arm and deceptive athleticism, Haskins brings to mind a slightly smaller version of Cardale Jones. Don’t be surprised if Haskins leads the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff after recently besting two other contenders in a quarterback competition.

14. Brian Lewerke, Michigan State

He had a bomb game against Ohio State but earned Offensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl. Needs to work on efficiency (YPA). Lewerke is a good, underrated runner (559 yards rushing last year), and can lean on tenured back LJ Scott. It remains to be seen if he gets the chance to show his arm more, and it’s clear he has room to improve on his downfield throwing.

13. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn

The question is: how much will Stidham be able to show it in such a run-heavy Tigers offense? The scheme may actually be to his benefit, considering the open throwing lanes to be generated by play-action passes after Auburn grounds-and-pounds their adversaries. Stidham managed over 3,000 yards passing in his first year under center for the Tigers, so it stands to reason he’ll improve and justify a high slot on this list with another year in the system.

12. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma

Kyler Murray

This is largely a projection-based ranking, but Murray was a Texas high school legend who accounted for 79 touchdowns as a senior (h/t 247Sports). He left a turbulent program at Texas A&M to sit behind Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Baker Mayfield. Even though Murray himself was drafted — in baseball, ninth overall to the Oakland Athletics — the dual-threat dynamo is slated to start for the Sooners in 2018. Expect him to make good on his last opportunity at football, since he’s unlikely to garner NFL interest due to his baseball prowess and slight stature.

11. Ryan Finley, N.C. State

Likely to be near the top of the conversation when it comes to pro prospects, Finley lacks top-flight athleticism but has experience on his side as a two-year Wolfpack starter. If he has another strong year, expect his name to be called in the opening two rounds of the 2019 NFL draft. He completed 65.1 percent of his passes in 2017 for 3,514 yards, 17 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Protecting the ball will be paramount as N.C. State tries to close the gap with Clemson in the ACC Atlantic.

10. Jake Bentley, South Carolina

As Bleacher Report noted in a profile on Bentley from last year, he graduated high school a year early and went straight to college to avoid another year of punishment on his body. That provides an idea of Bentley’s smarts, which translate to the gridiron extremely well. Oh, and he’s resilient, having rehabbed from two ACL surgeries in his young life already. Bentley has intangibles for days to go with uncanny accuracy and a thick build (6’3”, 220 pounds). This young man will position himself for a high draft slot with a strong SEC campaign.

9. Justin Herbert, Oregon

The strapping signal-caller (6’6”, 225 pounds) has all the physical tools to not only shine in Oregon’s high-octane offense, but also in the pros. He’s just not as proven as the other top players, but his talent level and upside get him this high on the list as it is. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller regards Herbert as the No. 1 QB prospect and fourth overall player in the projected 2019 NFL draft class.

8. Jake Browning, Washington

Washington quarterback Jake Browning

The seasoned quarterback doesn’t possess top-tier arm strength, but he is a solid, proficient distributor who could be a capable pilot for a CFP-caliber team. He’s taken the Huskies to that big stage before in 2016, when he threw for a whopping 43 touchdowns to only nine interceptions. The numbers were a little down this past year, yet Browning is as proven as anyone at his position in the nation, which should offer Washington fans hope.

7. Jake Fromm, Georgia 

Talk about an extremely bright future. After leading Bulldogs to national championship game as a true freshman and supplanting Jacob Eason as the starter, Fromm has already achieved a lot in Athens. Now what will he do for an encore? Well, he has some competition in 247Sports 5-star stud Justin Fields, who will make sure Fromm is held to a high standard before and throughout the season. Despite Fromm’s success, he knows it’s possible for a precocious first-year player to take his spot. More will likely be asked of Fromm after his two leading rushers from a season ago, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, went in the second and first rounds of the NFL draft, respectively.

6. Will Grier, West Virginia

The Florida transfer was strong for the Mountaineers last season after sitting out a year (3,490 yards passing, 9.0 YPA, 34:12 TD-INT ratio). Grier will get a chance to shine and is coming off a season where he had the highest Pro Football Focus grade among the site’s top five QB prospects to watch. It says a lot that Grier is getting NFL hype, considering the program’s busted second-round picks from recent years at the position in Pat White and Geno Smith.

5. McKenzie Milton, UCF

Milton had a rough bowl game in the first half, but he had the intangibles to bounce back. He posted ridiculous numbers overall in leading UCF to undefeated season, with 613 yards rushing and eight scores to go with over 4,000 yards passing on 67.1 completion percentage (10.2 YPA), 37 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Look out for another big year from the Knights field general, which may be enough to land them in the College Football Playoff conversation.

4. Khalil Tate, Arizona

As a true sophomore, Tate burst onto the scene despite starting the year behind Brandon Dawkins on the depth chart. In addition to throwing for five touchdowns in a 38-35 Foster Farms Bowl loss to Purdue, he led the team with 1,411 yards rushing and 12 scores. Tate completed 62 percent of passes (8.9 YPA) for 14 touchdowns and nine picks. With a full offseason as the “man,” one can only imagine how Tate will come into his own in 2018.

3. Drew Lock, Missouri

Lock has displayed spotty accuracy throughout his career, but he is extremely aggressive and tries to use the maximum of his considerable talents. Averaged 9.5 yards per attempt last year despite a 57.8 completion percentage; strong ratio of 44 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions, and he has running ability to boot. Sounds close to Andrew Luck, which is one of many factors that could portend an NFL future.

2. Trace McSorley, Penn State

Trace McSorley

McSorley lacks prototypical size but is extremely clutch, accurate and athletic. He can pick up plays with his legs, which will help compensate for the loss of stud running back Saquon Barkley. The New York Giants rookie’s departure will actually aid McSorley’s production, allowing him to prove he can carry the offense without an elite back to lean on.

1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

Tagovailoa is undersized, but is not lacking anything in terms of arm talent, downfield accuracy and is the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback. Coach Nick Saban has skated by during his dominant tenure in Tuscaloosa with pedestrian, game-managing signal-callers for the most part. That changes this year with Tagovailoa at the helm. He instantly proved worthy of promotion and showed he was an upgrade over Jalen Hurts when he replaced the prior starter at halftime of the national title game, and ultimately made the winning touchdowns throw in overtime.