A quarterback is only as good as the players around him. Some excel without the help of elite teammates, but top-tier offenses are built around the weapons a quarterback has at his disposal.
AJ McCarron wouldn't be winning national championships without the help of a power running game and an All-SEC wide receiver. Tajh Boyd wouldn't be as successful if he didn't have the help of wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. Just like a great running back needs the help of the offensive line, a quarterback needs playmakers he can rely on.
The more help for a quarterback, the better. There are only a few quarterbacks who have what seem like limitless help around them.
Note: The list of teams are in no particular order.
Aaron Murray, Georgia
Key Weapons: Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Malcolm Mitchell
It's tough to blame Murray for wanting to return his senior season. Georgia returns 10 starters from an offense that averaged 467 yards and 37.8 points. The offense was efficient, scoring touchdowns on 76 percent of its trips into the red zone and topping 40 points eight times in 14 games.
Running backs Gurley and Marshall are the main weapons. They combined for 2,144 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. They also averaged more than six yards a carry and produced 22 plays of more than 25 yards.
Marshall and Gurley had more rushing yards by themselves than many prestigious programs had as a team.
Those numbers don't include 272 rushing yards from Ken Malcome that helped the rushing total top out at 2,556 yards. Both Marshall and Gurley project to have successful NFL careers. This two-headed monster helps ease the pressure on Murray.
As a wide receiver, Mitchell puts extreme pressure on opposing defenses. He has elite speed and is capable of beating single-coverage in seconds. His ability to get downfield and create the big play forces secondaries to keep a single-high safety on the field. Mitchell also plays a key role on special teams that usually gives Murray great field position.
Georgia is a national championship contender due in large part to these guys.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Key Weapons: De'Anthony Thomas, Colt Lyerla and Josh Huff
Thomas may be the fastest player in college football. If not, he is the most exciting and certainly the most dangerous (Sorry, Johnny Manziel). He only ran the ball 92 times last season but scored 11 touchdowns and averaged 7.62 yards a carry. He scored five touchdowns on 45 receptions and two touchdowns on special teams. Nobody in college football is a bigger threat to score at any time.
His Black Mamba nickname is well-deserved.
Lyerla is also a nice piece to have. Unfortunately, playing in a primarily run-first offense, he isn't used that much as a receiver. He is extremely athletic and has the potential to be a big-play tight end. Most of the time, however, he'll slip out for a two-yard pass and pick up a chunk of yardage after the catch.
Lyerla could have played linebacker, as Scout mentioned on his recruiting profile in 2011. Although he isn't used much, he still has 11 touchdowns on 32 career receptions.
At wide receiver, Huff continues to fly under the radar, but he has been productive the last three seasons. He has 82 receptions and has scored 12 touchdowns, including setting a career high last season with seven. He's only 5'11", but he plays much bigger than that and does a great job of securing the catch and turning up field.
Oregon will once again have an elite offense that creates headaches for Pac-12 defenses.
AJ McCarron, Alabama
Key Weapons: T.J. Yeldon, Amari Cooper and Cyrus Kouandjio
Alabama once again finds a way to make the list. This happens when you have more players with NFL potential than some NFL teams.
Yeldon proved that he is the next great Alabama running back. He finished sixth in the SEC last season with 1,108 rushing yards, but his 175 rushing attempts was ninth in the conference. Yeldon could have easily produced Gurley-type numbers if he had the same amount of carries (222). A bigger workload is expected this season, and that's scary to imagine with his skill set.
Yeldon is an explosive runner who bursts through the hole and doesn't lose much speed in and out of his cuts. His 11 receptions also indicate he is a solid receiver.
Cooper had 1,000 receiving yards on 59 receptions. He had five touchdown receptions in his final three games and topped 100 receiving yards in four of the final five games. His size at 6'1", 202 pounds isn't terrific, but his speed and ability to create separation is remarkable. Cooper loves the deep ball, and a telling sign is his 14 receptions of 25 or more yards.
The Crimson Tide wouldn't win national championships without great offensive line play. That's why it's a must to include Kouandjio as an offensive weapon. No, he isn't catching touchdown passes or having plays designed for him, but he is a top-rated offensive tackle.
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report has Kouandjio listed as the 11th selection in his latest 2014 NFL mock draft. Kouandjio anchors the offensive line and is a big reason the running backs, wide receivers and McCarron can be productive. Many mention defense when referring to Alabama football, but the offense is just as good.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Key Weapons: Mike Evans, Ben Malena and Jake Matthews
Texas A&M finished last season ranked first in the SEC and third in the country in yards per game, averaging 558. Yes, much of that was Manziel making jaw-dropping plays, but several other talented players contributed.
Evans proved to be one of the best receivers in the country, hauling in 82 passes for 1,105 yards. He's an inviting target at 6'5", 218 pounds and runs well for his build. He does a nice job of catching the ball away from his body and is nearly impossible to defend in single coverage.
Evans caught at least five passes in 12 games, and 52 of his receptions picked up a first down.
Although Manziel led A&M in rushing with 1,410 yards, Malena also held his own, averaging 5.9 yards on 138 carries and scoring nine touchdowns. He isn't the fastest running back or the most explosive, but he does hit the hole hard and packs a punch. Melena had 21 runs of more than 10 yards and will likely be involved more in the playbook this season.
Like Alabama, Texas A&M also has a potential first-round offensive lineman in Jake Matthews. He is quick off the ball, athletic and does a great job of driving a defensive end backward. Matthews will move from right tackle to left tackle to replace former teammate Luke Joeckel. He will be a top selection in next year's NFL draft, barring any surprises.
Texas A&M is more than the reigning Heisman winner.
Max Wittek/Cody Kessler and Max Browne, USC
Key Weapons: Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor and Silas Redd
USC hasn't announced its starting quarterback, but the chosen one will walk into a nice situation.
Lee is the best wide receiver in the country. There are no questions, debates or arguments about it. He is absolutely unstoppable. Defenses give him a comfortable cushion, and he still blows by defenders. He consistently wins jump balls and is as sure-handed as it gets. Lee is also terrific at making plays after the catch. His speed and field vision are traits that have enabled him to make 30 receptions of more than 25 yards in his career.
Agholor was the third wheel at wide receiver last season, but he showed more than enough potential. He had 19 receptions for 340 yards and two touchdowns. His nearly 18 yards a catch screams big-play ability. Agholor is a quick receiver who works best in space where he can make defenders miss. He will be given plenty of opportunities to make plays now that Robert Woods is in the NFL.
This wide receiver tandem is simply unfair.
At running back, Redd is a workhorse running back who wasn't used properly last season. Giving Redd only 167 carries is like giving an elephant an apple and expecting it to be full. Redd is a bell-cow runner who gets better the more you feed him the ball. He packs a punch and wears down defenses with his aggressiveness. He rarely goes down on initial contact and always falls forward.
USC has the offensive weapons in place to make the Pac-12 interesting.