College Football Teams Whose Next QB Will Be Better Than Their Current Starter
Jameis Winston took a redshirt in 2012.
In hindsight, such an action seems ridiculous. He won the Heisman Trophy in his first active year last season, leading Florida State to a 14-0 record and national championship and finishing with by far the best QB rating in the country. How could a team—any team, no matter how good—opt to wait on him?
The answer is simple: Florida State had EJ Manuel. And no matter how good one thought or knew Winston could become, it would have been absurd to say a future top-20 NFL draft pick was not the best quarterback on his own roster.
Absurd to say the future was brighter than the present.
I refuse to be so absurd. Even after watching what Winston did, I refuse to say, for example, that Josh Rosen will for sure be better than UCLA's current quarterback. Not because I don't think Rosen—the No. 1 quarterback on the 247Sports composite for 2015—will be good, but because the Bruins have Brett Hundley on their active roster. And he, like Manuel, might one day be a top-20 NFL draft pick.
Also not included were teams with QB battles that don't have a clear leader. For example, I think Jerrod Heard at Texas will be better than David Ash ever was. However, who's to say if Ash will even start this season, and how do we know Max Wittek won't somehow be involved? It felt safer to just stay away.
Hope you all enjoy!
Current Starter: Nick Marshall
Projected Future QB: Jeremy Johnson
This is no slight at Nick Marshall.
He is good—very good. Good enough to bring AU to the national title game last season. Good enough to have it expecting a repeat trip in 2014. Good enough to be rightfully listed as a Heisman candidate.
But not good enough to stay off this list.
That is through no fault of his own, however; it's a product of how good Jeremy Johnson has been behind him. In the run-up to the national title game, Kirk Herbstreit even reported on ESPN's College GameDay that head coach Gus Malzahn was hinting at a potential QB battle this offseason, according to Drew Champlin of AL.com.
Will that actually happen? No. But Malzahn made those claims for a reason. Johnson is 6'5'', long and lean, and he has done nothing but please coaches since arriving on campus last May.
As a passer, he can make throws that Marshall is simply incapable of, and he's no slouch moving around the pocket as well.
Current Starter: Jeff Driskel
Projected Future QB: Will Grier
I am not a Jeff Driskel troll.
Do I think he's been a disappointment since arriving in Gainesville as a top-20 recruit on the 247Sports composite? Sure. Do I think he's been "bad," or that he's unsalvageable, or that he's impossible to win with under center? Not in the slightest.
In truth, I think the marriage of Will Muschamp and Brent Pease is what stunted Driskel's development. Like Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee, I expect him to be better with Kurt Roper in 2014. But his college career will never end up the way it probably should have, in large part because he was mishandled and improperly coached.
Will Grier does not have the same issues—at least not in my opinion. He was a top-50 recruit on the 247Sports composite this past cycle and enrolled early to participate this spring. As long as Roper doesn't go anywhere, Grier will have ample time to learn under one of the best offensive minds in college football.
And he should be a much better college QB than Driskel because of it.
Current Starter: Hutson Mason
Projected Future QB: Jacob Park or Brice Ramsey
It is wrong to call Hutson Mason a stopgap option—not just because it's pejorative, but also because Georgia has a legitimate chance to win the SEC East in 2014. It's not like the Bulldogs are tossing the season away as a transition period. They want to compete.
Having said that, this season is a transition period. At least at quarterback. After the long, record-breaking tenure of Aaron Murray in Athens, UGA is letting Mason manage an ubertalented offense for one year before its next young QB takes the reins.
Competing for that title will be Brice Ramsey and Jacob Park. Ramsey was considered a top-40 overall prospect by 247Sports in 2013, while Park won Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina this most recent season and enrolled early this spring.
Faton Bauta is also in the mix and might be the primary backup this season, but coaches and fans would rightfully prefer one of the higher-upside prospects to develop and surpass him. Whichever one it is should find a better college career than Mason.
Current Starter: Everett Golson
Projected Future QB: Malik Zaire, DeShone Kizer or Blake Barnett
Everett Golson has never lost a regular-season game and led his team to the BCS National Championship Game as a redshirt freshman in 2012. Anyone who thinks the defense dragged ND to the title should look closer at the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders, which measured the offense as the only top-10 unit on the team.
Golson is not a fluke.
Still, it is impossible to ignore the writing of B/R's Keith Arnold, who described what he saw in backup Malik Zaire as sort of a rich man's version of Golson:
In a few open looks at the Irish last week, Zaire's striking athleticism was on display. Many marveled at the clear distinction between Zaire and Golson once they broke into the open field. Golson is a more than competent runner, leading the team in touchdown runs in 2012, but Zaire is electric, a far more dangerous playmaker in the open field.
One other area where Zaire would be a clear upgrade is in the option run game. If the zone read is going to anchor the Irish rushing attack this season, Zaire could be the better trigger man. After three years in a mostly running system in high school, he is a wizard in the option.
If Zaire is not the successor to Golson—whenever the time for succession may come—it will only be because he got beaten out by a capable player in DeShone Kizer or Blake Barnett.
In the nicest-to-Golson way possible, the future at quarterback is brighter for Notre Dame than its present.
Even if the present isn't dark.
Current Starter: Kevin Hogan
Projected Future QB: Keller Chryst
Kevin Hogan has been good enough for Stanford. Good enough to win 16 of his first 18 starts, and good enough that it didn't have to uglify the offense after losing Andrew Luck. He is functionally a poor man's version of Luck, and there are far worse things for a quarterback to be.
But Keller Chryst is a poor man's version of nobody.
He's different than Luck, but if Chryst reaches his potential, he has a chance to at least be in the same stratosphere. His deep ball is the kind you rarely see from players his age (or at any age), and his arm strength reminds of a young Matthew Stafford at Georgia.
Like Luck, Chryst was raised in a football family. His father Geep is the quarterbacks coach of the San Francisco 49ers; his uncle Paul is the head coach at Pitt. And like Luck, it's clear the moment you watch Chryst play that he was raised around the game and eager to learn it.
There are worse things to be than another Hogan. But for someone with Chryst's potential, that would be a minor letdown.
Current Starter: Cody Kessler
Projected Future QB: Max Browne or Ricky Town
Cody Kessler got better each week in 2013, culminating with a great performance in the bowl win over Fresno State. According to B/R's Trenise Ferreira, he has continued that momentum with a strong spring and is starting to separate himself from Max Browne.
Still, even the most ardent Kessler defender would not want him to be better than his eventual successor. Given the pedigree of Browne and 2015 quarterback Ricky Town, nothing other than an All-American candidate will do—and Kessler is no All-American candidate.
Browne was the top-rated quarterback and No. 11 overall player on the 247Sports composite last season. Town is the top-rated quarterback and overall player on the site's subjective rankings for 2015. With so much raw talent to work with, even the lofty expectations of Trojans fans seem justified. One of those guys has to be great.
The smart money says one will.
Current Starter: Joel Stave
Projected Future QB: D.J. Gillins
All things considered, Joel Stave wasn't nearly as bad in 2013 as Wisconsin fans made him out to be.
He is not the sole reason UW stumbled in its final two games, and his adjustment to Gary Andersen's offense, which does not necessarily fit him, was for the most part admirable in Year 1.
Having said that...well, the scheme doesn't necessarily fit him.
Andersen prefers a dual-threat quarterback with a good head on his shoulders. Finding one of those is easier said than done—guys like Chuckie Keeton do not grow on trees—but the Badgers appear to have landed one in early enrollee D.J. Gillins, who has impressed coaches in a "competition" with Tanner McEvoy and Stave to start in 2014.
"[Gillins] continues to get better every single day," said Anderson, according to Eric Kohlbeck of The Badger Herald. "...He improves daily and he studies hard at it and it means a lot to him, which is a good sight for him."
Expect Stave to keep the job (by a nose) as the Badgers compete for a Big Ten West division title, but it may not always be pretty. Each time he screws up, Wisconsin will be one step closer to the Gillins era.