The 2020 college football season marked the end of amateur careers for some of the most talented quarterbacks of the past decade. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and his college resume solidifies him as one of the most accomplished players in NCAA history.
Heading into the 2021 season, Clemson is not the only big program to lose a top-end college football quarterback. Ohio State lost Justin Fields, BYU and Florida seek replacements for Zach Wilson and Kyle Trask respectively. Even Texas A&M four-year starter Kellen Mond is now on the Minnesota Vikings.
The 2021 college football season will feature new faces on some big-time programs, but there are some returning starters who figure to shine, too.
Here are the top 10 college football quarterbacks heading into this next year.
10. D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson
- 2020 stats: 78-of-117, 914 passing yards, nine total touchdowns (five passing, four rushing), zero interceptions
D.J. Uiagalelei was thrust into the spotlight after Trevor Lawrence tested positive for COVID-19. In just two starts as a true freshman, he threw for over 700 yards with four touchdowns. Despite losing to Notre Dame in overtime, Uiagalelei proved he’ll be ready to fill Lawrence’s shoes.
It’s a small sample size, yet what Uiagalelei has shown is so impressive. Also, he won’t have the luxury of starting 2021 off easy. Clemson has a huge test Week 1 versus Georgia. That will quickly determine how worthy Uiagalelei is of being considered a top-10 QB.
9. Kedon Slovis, USC
- 2020 stats: 177-of-264, 1,921 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, seven interceptions
The Pac-12 had the strangest season of any Power Five conference, so it’s worth giving Kedon Slovis a bit of a pass for his uneven, underwhelming 2020 showing. Slovis was excellent as a freshman with a 71.9% completion rate, and 30 touchdowns to only nine interceptions.
Many outsiders are selling their Slovis stock, but they shouldn’t. It’s always fun to bash Trojans quarterbacks because of their repeated flops in the pros. Slovis has the tools to break that streak.
8. Michael Penix Jr., Indiana
- 2020 stats: 124-of-220, 1,645 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, four interceptions
Michael Penix Jr. suffered a torn ACL last year, but before then, he absolutely torched Ohio State’s secondary for 491 yards passing and five touchdowns in a 42-35 loss. And it’s not like that yardage came in garbage time, either — Penix balled out.
Thanks to his downfield passing prowess and calm under pressure, Penix is well worthy of a spot on this top-10 list despite his injury setback. Don’t be surprised if the Hoosiers beat the Buckeyes in 2021 thanks to their edge at QB with Justin Fields gone.
7. Carson Strong, Nevada
- 2020 stats: 249-of-355, 2,858 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, four interceptions
Cannon-armed Carson Strong is one of the most underrated passers in the collegiate game. He was dominant throughout last season and led the nation’s No. 12 passing offense.
Strong averaged over 300 yards per game, leading Nevada to a 7-2 record and a bowl victory. He threw for five touchdowns in a 38-27 postseason triumph over Tulane.
If he pulls off road wins over California and Kansas State in 2021, Strong will be more on the national radar.
6. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
- 2020 stats: 186-of-281, 2,296 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, six interceptions; 592 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns
While some of this list is projection and based on smaller sample sizes, Desmond Ridder has earned his spot with a lengthy tenure, excellent ability as a runner and steady throwing progress.
Ridder has guided the Bearcats to three straight double-digit win seasons, and nearly helped Cincinnati pull an upset over Georgia in the Peach Bowl.
5. Malik Willis, Liberty
- 2020 stats: 170-of-265, 2,250 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, six interceptions; 944 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns
You’re going to want to get ahead of the crowd on the Malik Willis bandwagon, because this man can absolutely sling it and run the ball with authority. Willis may not go to the biggest school, and still has bouts of passing inconsistency, yet the upside is absolutely undeniable.
Willis was a transfer from Auburn, and despite his roundabout college career to date, has the potential to be a high first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Flames just went 10-1 last season under Willis’ leadership, and if he continues to make strides this coming year, he’ll be a legitimate household name before long.
4. D’Eriq King, Miami
- 2020 college football stats: 211-of-329, 2,686 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, five interceptions; 538 yards rushing, four touchdowns
D’Eriq King was a raging success for Miami after transferring from Houston. In addition to changing scenery and upping his competition level, he played behind a porous offensive line and had a lackluster receiving corps. He still produced in a big way.
King will be in the Heisman Trophy conversation, provided he’s healthy after a knee injury in the Hurricanes’ bowl game.
3. Matt Corral, Ole Miss
- 2020 college football stats: 231-of-326, 3,337 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, 14 interceptions; 506 yards rushing, four touchdowns
Rebels head coach Lane Kiffin absolutely let Corral loose in 2020 — sometimes too much so, but it often led to excellent results. Look no further than Corral’s bonkers outing against Alabama, where in a 63-48 loss, he threw for 365 yards and two scores on 21-of-28 passing.
Eleven of Corral’s 14 interceptions happened in two starts against Arkansas and LSU. Overall, he completed over 70% of his throws and flashed plenty of running ability, too. Should Corral cut some of those errors out, he’ll prove to be among the elite QBs this fall.
2. Sam Howell, North Carolina
2020 college football stats: 236-of-348, 3,586 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, seven interceptions
Some project Howell as the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, he just lost all his top targets. Wideouts Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome, and tailbacks Javonte Williams and Michael Carter are all in the NFL.
Overcoming all those losses would cast Howell in a more favorable light among NFL talent evaluators. If he mimics or even beats out his 2020 numbers, Howell will be considered a surefire franchise quarterback.
1. Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
2020 college football stats: 214-of-317, 3,031 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, seven interceptions
However, the Sooners rallied behind Rattler and won eight straight games, won the Big 12 title, and demolished Florida in the Cotton Bowl. Now, Rattler is the front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy in 2021, and could best Howell to be the No. 1 overall pick.