Six first-year starting quarterbacks have won national titles since 2009. Over the last seven seasons, nine have played in a national championship, and twice first-year starters have met in the final.
Although 2015 runner-up Clemson and third-year starting quarterback Deshaun Watson are the early favorites to win the national championship next season, history suggests at least one greenhorn signal-caller will have his team in position to contend.
Jake Coker's first start was the Alabama opener in 2015, and he finished the national title game with 335 yards and a win. Blake Sims of Alabama and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones were first-year starters who helped guide their teams to the first College Football Playoff in 2014. In 2010, Auburn first-year starter Cam Newton squared off with fellow first-year starter Darron Thomas of Oregon. Three seasons later, Jameis Winston (Florida State) and Nick Marshall (Auburn) met as first-year starters in the BCS final.
Quarterback competitions during the spring, summer and even into the fall will clear the picture some, but here are a handful of early candidates to be the next first-year starter to continue the trend. Three quarterbacks with light starting experience were also considered.
Coker is the latest to win a national title, making him the third Alabama quarterback since 2009 (Greg McElroy, AJ McCarron) to win a championship in his first year as the starting quarterback. In 2014, Sims helped the Tide to the College Football Playoff as the top seed, so we'd be remiss not to include Alabama's next potential starter. Technically, Bateman started against Ole Miss in September, but his fleeting moment atop Alabama's depth chart qualifies him for our purposes. If Bateman, a redshirt junior, does not win the job, it could be because of the emergence of Barnett, a 2015 five-star signee and the No. 1 pocket passer nationally in his class.
Auburn's John Franklin III
Gus Malzahn swapped Jeremy Johnson and Sean White during the season, but Franklin enters the competition for 2016. Franklin was a receiver for Florida State in 2014 before he left for junior college. Marshall, who took Auburn to the championship game in 2013 in his first year, was also a junior college transfer who played another position at his first stop.
Florida State's Deondre Francois
The Seminoles return starter Sean Maguire, but he'll miss the spring with a fractured ankle. Francois is a highly touted redshirt freshman who could take advantage of the extra reps. Could he emerge from a three-way competition with J.J. Cosentino and early enrollee Malik Henry this spring and win the job from Maguire in the summer?
Georgia's Jacob Eason
Greyson Lambert returns in 2016, but the Bulldogs' quarterback situation is very much unsettled. Brice Ramsey was a blue-chip recruit in 2013 but failed to beat out Lambert last season. Eason, a true freshman, is already on campus and is the top quarterback in his class, as was Matthew Stafford, who started for Georgia as a true freshman in 2006.
Like Bateman, O'Connor does have a start, though it came in relief of the injured Connor Cook. He and fellow junior quarterback Terry split time in that game against then-No. 2 Ohio State, combining to upset the Buckeyes 17-14. Could coach Mark Dantonio could use that platoon again in 2016, or might redshirt freshman Lewerke, a 2015 ESPN 300 product, win the job over the upperclassmen?
North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky
Over the last two seasons, Trubisky has been solid when replacing Marquise Williams and as a platoon quarterback. With much of the offense returning around the redshirt junior, the pieces are in place for the Tar Heels to make another run.
Notre Dame's Malik Zaire
Zaire opened 2015 as the starter but suffered a season-ending injury in Notre Dame's second game. In his first career start, against Texas, he was 19-of-22 passing for 313 yards and three touchdowns. He will have to earn the job again this offseason after backup DeShone Kizer took the Irish to the Fiesta Bowl.
Oregon's Dakota Prukop
Well, he's a first-year FBS starter. The Ducks are going the FCS route again, signing Prukop from the lower division as a graduate transfer. Prukop is already on campus, unlike previous FCS transfer Vernon Adams, who did not join Oregon until August practice had begun.
Stanford's Keller Chryst
Chryst, ESPN RecruitingNation's third-best pocket passer in the Class of 2014, is expected to take over for Kevin Hogan, who took Stanford to three Rose Bowls. After the Iowa demolition a few weeks ago, there was talk of the Cardinal being a playoff-caliber team in 2016. Can Chryst, if he beats out senior Ryan Burns, get them there this coming fall?
Fourth-year junior Browne said he is taking the mentality that the USC job is his to lose, but the younger Darnold has said he expects a fair chance to win the starting role. Browne was the No. 2-ranked quarterback in the 2013 class, but Darnold was a top-10 talent in 2015. There is no shortage of talent at Southern Cal, but can an inexperienced quarterback navigate a brutal schedule that begins with Alabama on Sept. 3?