At the Rose Bowl, C.J. Stroud -- playing without two future first-round NFL draft picks at receiver -- threw for 573 yards and six touchdowns, setting himself up as the presumptive favorite to knock Young off the Heisman throne.
In February, Caleb Williams announced that he'd follow his former Oklahoma coach, Lincoln Riley, to USC, giving the Pac-12 something to be excited about for the first time since the George W. Bush administration.
This year's quarterback class should be a deep, talented and ridiculously fun crop. But why stop at just the top tier of QBs? We're sifting through all 131 quarterback situations (plus a few more, for good measure) in what is the definitive, no doubt about it, inarguable ranking of talent that will undoubtedly prove 100% accurate at year's end.
Tier 1: Heisman or bust (three players)
Ohio State's C.J. Stroud
USC's Caleb Williams
Alabama's Bryce Young
Barring something catastrophic, it's fair to say these three can safely book their flights to New York for the Heisman ceremony now. Young could become just the second player in history to win a second Heisman after taking home the hardware last year. Stroud was a finalist in 2021, and had Williams been Oklahoma's starter from Week 1, he might have been there, too. Williams got his first start in Week 7, and from that point on, these three combined for an 89.3 Total QBR with 90 total touchdowns and just 15 turnovers.
Tier 2: The Heisman waiting room (three players)
College football's QB Mount Rushmore (Mount Pass-more?) for 2022 is still waiting on its fourth member, and these guys are best poised to earn the spot.
Van Dyke was forced into action after D'Eriq King went down with an injury, and it took him a few weeks to adjust. But in each of his final six games, Van Dyke threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns. The only other player to do that vs. six straight Power 5 foes in the playoff era was Joe Burrow in 2019. Solid company.
Like Van Dyke, Rising didn't open the year as Utah's starter, but once he took over, he was superb, finishing just shy of 3,000 total yards with 26 touchdowns while going 9-2 as the starter. The Utes scored 79 points in those two losses, by the way.
Does Leary belong here? Some numbers suggest he's way too high. He finished behind Max Duggan in passer rating (157) and Adrian Martinez in Total QBR (71.9). But look at a few other stats and the case seems solid. Leary finished 2021 with 35 passing touchdowns and just five picks, while racking up 3,433 yards through the air. Only three other QBs have done that in the playoff era: Mac Jones, Marcus Mariota and Cody Kessler. Whether Leary ultimately looks more like Jones and Mariota or Duggan and Martinez likely will depend on how well he handles the now lofty expectations facing NC State in 2022.
Tier 2a: What's a guy gotta do to get some Heisman love around here? (one player)
Georgia's Stetson Bennett
The discussion surrounding Bennett -- even after winning the national championship last year -- has grown more than tiresome. It's true that Bennett wasn't a star recruit and doesn't have an elite arm and probably doesn't have a serious NFL future. It's also true that he benefited from a genuinely great defense that routinely put him in position to succeed. But Georgia's offense was hardly laden with superstars last year, and Bennett's numbers -- 3,000 yards, 30 touchdowns -- speak for themselves. On paper, a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton, a TV show about a paper company in northeastern Pennsylvania and a tiered ranking of 131 QB situations shouldn't work either, yet here we are. Stop picking Bennett apart and just enjoy the ride.
Tier 3: Pretty ... pretty good (eight players)
Virginia's Brennan Armstrong
Louisville's Malik Cunningham
Wake Forest's Sam Hartman
Tennessee's Hendon Hooker
Coastal Carolina's Grayson McCall
Purdue's Aidan O'Connell
Mississippi State's Will Rogers
Arkansas' KJ Jefferson
If you're nitpicking these guys, you simply don't like fun, but for the sake of it, each of these guys comes with some sort of asterisk, be it lower-tier competition (McCall), passer-friendly systems (Rogers), a checkered history of success (Hooker) or struggles in big games (Hartman).
McCall completed 72% of his throws last year and averaged an astonishing 11.76 yards per attempt. That's the highest average of any QB in the playoff era. ... At times, Cunningham has looked like the second coming of Lamar Jackson, the only genuine star on a frustrating Louisville offense. He finished one passing TD shy of becoming the first player in FBS history with 20 rushing TDs and 20 passing TDs in the same year. ... Hooker was all but pushed out the door at Virginia Tech after a disappointing 2020, only to find the ideal fit in Josh Heupel's offense at Tennessee. Hooker, Cunningham and Stroud were the only Power 5 QBs last year to total 3,500 yards and 35 TDs with fewer than 10 turnovers. ... Hartman had 50 touchdowns last season. That's the same total Young had, and he won the Heisman. It's the same total Deshaun Watson had while leading Clemson to the 2016 national title and three more than the ACC's 2021 Heisman finalist, Kenny Pickett. ... In his first three games vs. Power 5 foes in 2021, Jefferson completed a grand total of 29 passes, just two of which went for touchdowns. After that, however, he exploded. From Week 6 on, Jefferson caught fire, completing 71% of his throws with 15 TD passes and just two picks.
Only two Power 5 players accounted for 75% or more of their team's total offense last season -- Rogers and Armstrong. Armstrong did it despite missing 1.5 games. For the year, he totaled 4,700 yards and 40 touchdowns. In the playoff era, 14 other Power 5 QBs have done that, and only Anthony Gordon and Young haven't gone on to start an NFL game. Rogers, meanwhile, looks to be a perfect fit for Mike Leach's offense. Last year, he threw for 300 yards, completed 70% of his throws and had three passing TDs in eight games -- three more than any other Power 5 player. There were 35 400-yard passing games by Power 5 QBs last season, and Armstrong and Rogers accounted for nearly one-third of them.
But the most interesting name in this tier might be O'Connell. There were just five players to post a Total QBR of 85 or better last year. Three are in our top tier. Another won the national championship. The fifth player is O'Connell. O'Connell finished with 3,708 passing yards and 28 touchdowns and completed nearly 72% of his passes. Only four other Power 5 QBs who didn't play for Leach hit those marks in a season during the playoff era: Burrow, Jones, Stroud and Baker Mayfield.
Tier 4: Definitely. Probably. Maybe. (four players)
The previous tier was named after Larry David's famous catchphrase from "Curb Your Enthusiasm"; this one is more reflective of the popular GIF from that show, in which David is visibly debating the pros and cons of a decision. Are these guys underrated? Overrated? Future NFL stars? Future XFL stars? Honestly, we're still trying to decide.
Rattler was benched at Oklahoma, but there's a reason he was projected as the best QB in college football before last season began, and a fresh start could rejuvenate his career. ... Levis' overall numbers were strong (24 TD passes, 13 interceptions, 7.1 yards/dropback), but against teams that finished the year in the FPI top 40, he fared far worse (7 TDs, 6 INTs, 5.4 yards/dropback). ... Thompson-Robinson finally seemed to blossom into a borderline star last season (Total QBR of 79.0, 30 touchdowns), but he played just two games against FPI top-40 teams, so it's fair to wonder whether the numbers were more indicative of real progress or a soft schedule. ... With Jeff Lebby as his OC in 2019, Gabriel racked up 33 touchdowns and more than 3,700 yards as a freshman. He's reuniting with Lebby at Oklahoma this year.
Tier 5: So hot right now (six players, five jobs)
Ward will be a fascinating case. Last year at FCS Incarnate Word, he threw for 47 touchdowns and nearly 4,700 yards. Could he be 2022's Bailey Zappe after transferring to Washington State? The level of competition will be far tougher (OK, fine, insert your Pac-12 joke here), and the Cougars didn't exactly look as if they were still running a Leach offense a year ago, so there are questions. But the upside is high.
Dart, Richardson and Shapen all offered glimpses of their potential last season. Dart threw for 391 yards and four TDs filling in for Kedon Slovis against Washington State; Richardson had Florida fans begging for Emory Jones to be benched after a handful of early-season heroics; Shapen helped Baylor win the Big 12 with three TD passes against Oklahoma State filling in for injured Gerry Bohanon. The question facing all three is whether they can produce over the course of a full season.
Then there's the battle at Texas, which features one of the highest-profile recruits in recent years (Ewers) and the guy who started the Longhorns' opener last year before going down with an injury (Card). Both have tremendous upside, and both will surely be at the forefront of a truly astounding number of "Texas is back" jokes before the 2022 season ends (with a loss to Indiana in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl).
Tier 6: Just stay healthy (five players, four jobs)
Jurkovec looked like a future first-round pick, but a hand injury interrupted his 2021 season, and though he returned to action late, it was clear he wasn't 100%. ... Bachmeier missed all or part of 10 games in 2019 and 2020, but he finally had a full season last year and delivered on his immense potential (20 TD passes and 3,080 yards). One red flag, though: All five of Boise State's losses came by nine or fewer points. Six of Bachmeier's eight interceptions came in those games. ... Daniels was set to be the next great USC QB (2,672 yards and 14 TDs as a freshman in 2018) before losing his job, due to an injury, to Slovis (3,502 yards and 30 TDs in 2019) who then dealt with injuries in 2021 and lost his job to Dart. Daniels transferred to Georgia, appeared to have the starting job locked up entering last season, but lost it due to injury again, this time to Bennett. They're both in new homes for 2022, and they could finally fulfill their promise if they can stay on the field.
Tier 7: You might not have noticed, but they're pretty good (five players, four jobs)
Martinez ended up as the face for Nebraska's struggles, but it wasn't remotely fair. He was quite good in spite of adverse circumstances. Case in point: Martinez was pressured on 42% of his dropbacks last year (most in the country), but he still averaged 8.6 yards per dropback (fourth best in the country). ... In three seasons as Michigan State's starter, Kirk Cousins threw three touchdowns in a game nine times. Thorne has hit that mark in six of his past 14 games. ... Last season, Tagovailoa threw for 3,860 yards and 26 touchdowns, averaged 8 yards per pass and completed 69% of his throws. In the playoff era, the only other Big Ten QBs to hit those marks are Dwayne Haskins and Stroud.
What to make of the Michigan QB situation? McNamara led the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff last season and became the first Michigan QB to beat Ohio State since Denard Robinson, a decade earlier. That he struggled against Georgia's defense in the Orange Bowl simply puts McNamara in a long line of QBs who met their match against the Bulldogs. Yet, it's impossible to look at McCarthy's talent and not have visions of an even brighter future with a more dynamic QB -- one who might ultimately be good enough to test even the toughest of defenses. Still, Michigan went the better part of a decade trying to find just one decent option at QB, so perhaps Wolverines fans shouldn't be so quick to assume they have two capable starters now.
Tier 8: Best from outside the Power 5 (four players)
Haener was one of eight QBs to rack up more than 4,000 yards of offense last season, and one of just two outside the Power 5 (along with Zappe). ... McCall, Hall and Zappe were the only quarterbacks outside the Power 5 to post a higher Total QBR last season than Harris. ... Hall's Total QBR of 78.0 put him just a tick behind Zappe and ahead of Hooker, Levis and Armstrong. ... Tune is one of just six returning QBs to have posted 30 passing TDs, 3,500 passing yards and no more than 10 interceptions last season.
Tier 9: Veterans with moxie (seven players, six jobs)
Call them game managers if you must. Their stats -- and often simply watching them run an offense -- would support the theory. But last year's list of "game managers" might've also included guys like Hartman, Armstrong, Bennett and Hooker, and those players all blossomed into stars. Perhaps there are one or two breakout candidates, too.
Clifford played in 12 full games last year. His six best performances were excellent (67% completions, 16 TDs and three picks). In his six worst, not so much (57% completions, five touchdowns and five picks). ... Sanders in two games vs. Baylor last season: one touchdown, seven interceptions. Sanders in his other 11 games: 25 TDs and five picks. ... Over the past two seasons, the Seminoles have averaged 6.5 yards per play with Travis on the field and 4.5 when he's off it. ... In Morgan's first 21 games at Minnesota, he threw for 39 touchdowns with 13 picks and averaged 9.9 yards per pass. In the 20 games since, he has thrown 17 TDs with 14 picks and averaged 7.9 yards per pass. ... McKee's first five starts showed serious promise (65% completions, 7.2 yards/attempt, 11 TDs, 0 INTs, 7 sacks, 80.3 TQBR), and his final five (with an injury mixed in) suggested Stanford's offense might be hopeless (5.8 yd/att, 4 TDs, 7 INTs, 17 sacks, 47.4 TQBR). In seven wins, Nolan threw 14 TDs and three picks with a 174 passer rating. In six losses, he had five TDs, seven interceptions and a 127 passer rating. Nolan only got the starting job when Gebbia went down with injury, and Beavers coach Jonathan Smith insists starting reps are still up for grabs.
Tier 10: Big-time QB battles (12 players, five jobs)
Notre Dame's Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne
LSU's Jayden Daniels and Myles Brennan
Texas A&M's Haynes King, Max Johnson and Conner Weigman
Washington's Michael Penix Jr., Dylan Morris and Sam Huard
North Carolina's Drake Maye and Jacolby Criswell
All five of these teams opened the season in the AP Top 25 last year. Only Notre Dame finished with fewer than four losses. The Irish and UNC both had solid -- if not always spectacular -- QB play, but Jack Coan and Sam Howell have moved on. LSU, Texas A&M and Washington were undone largely because they couldn't find anyone to generate some offense. All five teams have real potential for 2022 if they can identify a burgeoning star at QB. There are ample options, but it's impossible to say how many will ultimately find the right answer.
Tier 11: Maybe this is the year they put it all together (five players, four jobs)
Nix, Mertz, Sims and Uiagalelei were all blue-chip recruits and started games as freshmen. Nix knocked off Oregon in a marquee win to open his career. Sims staged a dramatic comeback over Florida State. Mertz was nearly perfect (20-of-21 passing) in his starting debut against Illinois. Uiagalelei threw for 342 yards filling in for Trevor Lawrence against Boston College. All four were supposed to become superstars. Instead, Nix transferred, Sims and Mertz have been mediocre at best, and Uiagalelei was one of the worst statistical QBs in the country last season, despite Clemson winning 10 games, and he could easily lose his job to Klubnik, another highly touted freshman, if he doesn't take a major step forward this season.
Tier 12: The best of the rest in the Group of 5 (10 players, eight jobs)
East Carolina's Holton Ahlers
Utah State's Logan Bonner
Miami (Ohio)'s Brett Gabbert
Central Michigan's Daniel Richardson
App State's Chase Brice
SMU's Tanner Mordecai and Preston Stone
Air Force's Haaziq Daniels
Cincinnati's Evan Prater and Ben Bryant
The other four teams in this tier face equally perplexing questions. Cincinnati must replace a star in Desmond Ridder, and while Bryant was a former ESPN300 recruit and threw for 3,100 yards at Eastern Michigan last season, Ridder's are huge shoes to fill. ... Mordecai's 41 total touchdowns were sixth best nationally, but he'll have a new coaching staff running the offense in 2022. ... Jarret Doege is the only active QB with more career passing yards than Ahlers' 8,434. ... Utah State's Bonner is one of just nine QBs returning who had at least 36 touchdowns and 3,600 yards last season. ... After returning from a midseason injury, Gabbert averaged 9.2 yards per pass with 19 TDs and just four picks over his final six games. ... Richardson threw for 2,633 yards and 24 TDs with six picks. Only eight other FBS quarterback hit those marks last season. ... After transferring from Clemson and struggling horribly at Duke, Brice found a home at App State, accounting for 30 touchdowns and just shy of 3,500 total yards.
Tier 13: So you're saying there's a chance (17 players, eight jobs)
Texas Tech's Donovan Smith and Tyler Shough
Syracuse's Garrett Shrader
Arizona State's Emory Jones, Paul Tyson and Trenton Bourguet
Indiana's Connor Bazelak, Jack Tuttle and Donoven McCulley
USF's Gerry Bohanon, Timmy McClain and Katravis Marsh
TCU's Max Duggan and Chandler Morris
Kansas' Jalon Daniels
Toledo's Dequan Finn and Tucker Gleason
Somewhere in this mix lies a breakout QB, but your guess is as good as ours. Zach Kittley helped Zappe rewrite the record book at Western Kentucky last season, and now he hopes to work his magic as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Texas Tech. ... Robert Anae turned Virginia into one of the most prolific offenses in the country last season, and now he's at Syracuse, where he hopes either Shrader can look as good as Armstrong did in 2021. ... Bohanon lost out on the starting job at Baylor, which is a boon for a USF team desperate for some QB stability. ... Sun Devils coach Herm Edwards needed Jones as much as Jones needed a fresh start. Neither is guaranteed to make it to midseason if they don't start hot. ... Indiana's offense took a nosedive after a Cinderella 2020 campaign. Can Bazelak or Tuttle help regain that magic? ... Daniels started the final four games of the season for Kansas last year and had the Jayhawks looking competitive. You might remember his four TDs in a win over Texas. Just in case Texas fans don't remember, you should probably remind them. ... Anae's offense turned Armstrong into one of the most prolific QBs in the country last year. Can he do the same thing at Syracuse? ... Finn finished last season with 27 TDs and just three turnovers.
Against Oklahoma last season, Duggan threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns without a pick. With Duggan out because of injury a month later, Morris stepped in and threw for 461 yards with three total touchdowns. So, clearly coach Sonny Dykes has some options in his first year at TCU, right? Well, in every other game vs. Power 5 opposition last season, the two QBs combined for just 10 TD passes and 1,894 yards.
Tier 14: Is there a diamond in the rough? (nine players, four jobs)
Dekkers was a four-star recruit, and he's stepping into a job where Brock Purdy found ample success. But has the window for Iowa State closed? ... Virginia Tech thinks it might have landed a portal steal in Wells, but it will start its 10th different QB of the playoff era when the season opens. ... Nebraska waved goodbye to Martinez, and while a change was needed, none of his potential replacements is a surefire improvement. ... Calzada struggled often at Texas A&M last year, and Finley appeared lost for long stretches in a backup role behind Nix. Both would need to take a huge step forward to dramatically alter Auburn's offensive futility.
Tier 15: This is fine dot gif (eight players, five jobs)
These teams combined to finish 49-19 last year, with all five winning at least nine games. Of those 19 losses, however, 11 came in games when they scored 21 or fewer. The QB play was something akin to driving a 2002 Honda Civic -- slow, unsexy, but usually reliable enough to get from Point A to Point B -- right up until the wheels fall off and the engine catches fire. Also, Lombardi looks just like Flash Gordon, so he should probably be ranked at least six tiers higher based exclusively on that.
Tier 16: A little change will do you good (11 players, six jobs)
Western Kentucky's Jarret Doege
Georgia Southern's Kyle Vantrease
Cal's Jack Plummer, Zach Johnson and Kai Millner
Marshall's Henry Colombi
Texas State's Layne Hatcher
Missouri's Jack Abraham, Brady Cook, Tyler Macon and Sam Horn
Perhaps this year's Lombardi or Brice is in this mix -- a veteran coming off a rough season who finds new life after a transfer. Or perhaps they're all ranked five tiers too high.
Tier 17: They've seen some things (six players, five jobs)
Brewer was Baylor's 2020 starter, and the Bears finished 2-7. He transferred, and Baylor went 12-2 in 2021. Brewer landed at Utah, where he opened the season as the starter, going 1-2. Then he left the program, and the Utes won nine of their next 10, won the Pac-12 and played in the Rose Bowl. Now the only question is, what new horrors he might bring with him to Liberty?
Tier 18: Technically, they're Power 5 QBs (six players, four jobs)
At some point, many of these players were considered future stars. A lot has happened since that point, and none of it was good.
Tier 19: Frantically refreshing the transfer-portal site hoping to find a miracle (six players, three jobs)
Seals finished last season with a 26.5 Total QBR, eight points behind the next-worst qualified Power 5 passer. That guy? His teammate, Wright. ... Over the past three years, Duke QBs have 38 touchdown passes and 42 interceptions.
Tier 20: Intriguing non-Power 5 QB battles (nine players, four jobs)
Gunnell is at his third school in as many years, and he'll compete with a couple of other once-highly touted prospects who got lost in the transfer portal. ... Fields and Wooldridge will battle to replace longtime starter Levi Lewis, and the winner will take over a team that has gone 34-5 over the past three seasons. ... Rodriguez has a ton of experience, but Rogers showed promise down the stretch last season at ULM. ... Cordeiro transferred from Hawai'i, and hopefully he either finds success or, at least, Dr Pepper while at San Jose State.
Tier 21: Former ACC QBs (eight players, four jobs)
Perhaps one of these QBs will be the next Brice. It could be Holmberg, who also escaped Duke to the Group of 5. ... Blackman started at Florida State in 2017 and is somehow still projected to start in 2022 at Arkansas State. ... Perry once looked like Miami's future. Now he's hoping to build on a mixed 2021 campaign at FAU. ... Yellen is in his third stop and hasn't thrown a pass since November 2020, when he was with Pitt.
Tier 22: It could be worse (nine players)
Troy's Gunnar Watson
Kent State's Collin Schlee
UTEP's Gavin Hardison
Akron's DJ Irons
Western Michigan's Jack Salopek
Tulane's Michael Pratt
Georgia State's Darren Grainger
Ohio's Kurtis Rourke
Colorado State's Clay Millen
If we told you we made up one of these names, you definitely couldn't identify which one without Googling. By year's end, however, you're bound to be familiar with at least two or three. (Note: If we were making up QB names, Gunnar Watson definitely would have been one we came up with.)
Tier 23: Will the real QBs please stand up? (18 players, seven jobs)
Old Dominion's Hayden Wolff, D.J. Mack Jr. and Brendon Clark
Temple's D'Wan Mathis, Mariano Valenti and Matt Duncan
Eastern Michigan's Taylor Powell, Austin Smith and Cam'Ron McCoy
Middle Tennessee's Chase Cunningham and Nicholas Vattiato
James Madison's Todd Centeio and Billy Atkins
Wyoming's Andrew Peasley and Evan Svoboda
Louisiana Tech's Landy Lyddy, Luke Anthony and Caleb Holstein
ODU turned in a surprisingly decent season in 2021, but Mack was arguably the least productive QB in the country. He averaged 4.48 yards per dropback -- 125th out of 125 qualified passers. ... Mathis was once seen as a better QB option than Bennett at Georgia. Now he's not guaranteed snaps at Temple.
Tier 24: See, we told you it could be worse (22 players, 13 jobs)
Navy's Tai Lavatai and Xavier Arline
South Alabama's Desmond Trotter, Tanner McGee and Carter Bradley
New Mexico's Miles Kendrick and Isaiah Chavez
New Mexico State's Diego Pavia, Dino Maldonado and Weston Eget
UMass' Brady Olson
UNLV's Cameron Friel
UConn's Ta'Quan Roberson and Tyler Phommachanh
Bowling Green's Matt McDonald
Ball State's John Paddock
Buffalo's Matt Myers and Cole Snyder
Nevada's Nate Cox and Shane Illingworth
Southern Miss' Ty Keyes and Zack Wilke
Rice's TJ McMahon and Wiley Green
Nevada's Cox (6-foot-9) and Illingworth (6-6) at least make for an intriguing frontcourt in any pickup games at the local YMCA. ... Nearly 25% of Olson's throws last year were off target, by far the worst among qualified FBS QBs. ... South Alabama is likely to miss Jake Bentley far more than South Carolina did.
Tier 25: The free agents (five players, no jobs)
This is an incomplete list of QBs still in the transfer portal, but somehow, we're not able to include Tate Martell. It's truly the end of an era, but we wish him well in all of his future endeavors, which we're guessing will be something with NFTs.