Notre Dame Football: 5 Best QBs Irish Will Face in 2014

Mike Monaco@@MikeMonaco_Contributor IAugust 4, 2014

Notre Dame Football: 5 Best QBs Irish Will Face in 2014

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    Jameis Winston
    Jameis WinstonStephen Dunn/Getty Images

    When the Davey O’Brien Award watch list was announced in mid-July, there was a heavy connection to Notre Dame football.

    Davey O’Brien Watch List out. Everett Golson makes it. So do QB’s of six opponents (Michigan, Stanford, FSU, Navy, ASU & USC).

    — Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) July 16, 2014

    And while quarterback play at Notre Dame is always the hot topic—and deservedly so—the strong stable of opposing signal-callers whom the Irish will face is also quite important.

    Most notably, Notre Dame will have to defend reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston when Florida State hosts the Irish in October. It should come as no surprise Winston will be one of the five best quarterbacks Notre Dame will see this season.

    But who else makes the list?

    We’ll consider the quarterback’s past performance and preseason projections, while attempting to separate his play from the rest of his team’s. In other words, just because Michigan is a class (or two or three) above Navy doesn’t mean the Wolverines quarterbacks are necessarily better than those for the Midshipmen.

No. 5: Devin Gardner, Michigan

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    Devin Gardner
    Devin GardnerTony Ding/Associated Press

    One of the tightest races on this list was for the No. 5 slot. Michigan’s Devin Gardner just barely gets the nod over Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.

    Much like the situation at Notre Dame, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke hasn’t officially named a starting quarterback between Gardner and Shane Morris. Gardner struggled at times in 2013, while Reynolds simply thrived.

    Reynolds, a junior, racked up 31 rushing touchdowns last season—the most in a single season by a quarterback in NCAA history—to go along with 1,346 rushing yards. But the 5’11”, 195-pounder hasn’t done it against premier competition.

    Meanwhile, though Gardner faltered for stretches during October and November, he’s still the player with the ability to carry his team against elite opponents. Irish fans will surely remember Gardner gashing Notre Dame’s defense to the tune of 294 passing yards, 82 rushing yards and five total touchdowns in 2013. In a 42-41 loss to No. 3 Ohio State, Gardner completed 32 of 45 passes for 451 yards and notched five total touchdowns (one rushing).

No. 4: Cody Kessler, USC

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    Cody Kessler
    Cody KesslerJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Though he may not yet have the same name recognition of Devin Gardner, USC redshirt junior Cody Kessler checks in one spot better at No. 4.

    In 2013, Kessler broke away from Max Wittek to control the quarterback job. He totaled 2,968 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, while adding a lone rushing score. The numbers aren’t awe-inspiring, especially in comparison to Gardner, who finished with 2,960 passing yards and 21 touchdowns in addition to 483 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.

    But Kessler claims the upper hand in two specific areas. The 6’1”, 210-pound Bakersfield, California, product completed 65.4 percent of his passes last season, including a 70.8 percent mark in the second half of the campaign.

    Gardner, on the other hand, completed merely 60.3 percent. And while Gardner tossed 11 interceptions and struggled with costly fumbles, Kessler only threw seven picks—just two of which came in the second half of the season.

    Kessler may not have the rushing ability of Gardner, but the Trojans signal-caller has provided better ball security.

No. 3: Kevin Hogan, Stanford

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    Kevin Hogan
    Kevin HoganThearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Stanford redshirt junior Kevin Hogan is one of the toughest quarterbacks to evaluate in all of college football.

    Looking at his numbers—both from a big-picture standpoint and in individual games—doesn’t wow anyone. Hogan completed 61.0 percent of his passes for 2,630 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2013. The deceptively nimble 6’4”, 225-pounder did amass 355 rushing yards and two touchdowns, as well.

    Supporters could point to his record. Hogan is 16-3 all time as a starter. More impressively, he’s 10-1 against opponents ranked in the AP Top 25. But how do you separate his play from that of his team, which is consistently ranked in the Top 10?

    That’s tough to do. But for what Hogan does in the run-first Stanford offense, it’s tough to find many better. In ESPN’s Total QBR rankings for 2013, Hogan ranked 16th in the country at 80.5. The all-encompassing ranking goes beyond box scores and factors in performance on a play-by-play basis.

    Still, until Hogan is asked to carry the load for the Cardinal, it’s tough to bump him above No. 3 on our list.

No. 2: Taylor Kelly, Arizona State

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    Taylor Kelly
    Taylor KellyLM Otero/Associated Press

    For everything Hogan lacks in terms of gaudy numbers, Arizona State redshirt senior Taylor Kelly more than makes up for it.

    The Eagle, Idaho, native piled up 3,635 passing yards and 28 touchdowns through the air in 2013, while completing a whopping 67.1 percent of his pass attempts. For good measure, Kelly tacked on 608 rushing yards and nine more touchdowns.

    But it’s not all about the raw, cumulative totals. Otherwise, it’d be a landslide between Kelly and Hogan. Rather, Kelly has been asked to go out and win games for his team in a way Hogan has not. For instance, when Stanford and Arizona State met in 2013, Hogan could rely on the rushing attack and its 257 yards, while Kelly needed to go to the air 55 times to give the Sun Devils a chance.

    Moreover, Hogan only attempted 18 passes against Notre Dame in the regular-season finale. When Arizona State battled the Irish, Kelly completed 33 of 47 passes for 362 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

    Yes, the offenses are quite different. But Kelly has lifted his team to wins with his right arm and his legs, while Hogan hasn’t needed to nearly as much.

No. 1: Jameis Winston, Florida State

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    Jameis Winston
    Jameis WinstonChuck Burton/Associated Press

    There’s no debate here. Florida State redshirt sophomore Jameis Winston was the best player in college football last year, not to mention the best quarterback in the nation.

    Notre Dame will be forced to tame the reigning Heisman Trophy winner; there’s hardly a hope of shutting him down. Winston threw for multiple touchdown passes in 13 of 14 games in 2013. He only fired one against Miami, but the Alabama native made up for it by completing 72.4 percent of his passes.

    He looked out of sync for much of the BCS National Championship Game against Auburn, only to drive the Seminoles 80 yards down the field with one minute, 11 seconds remaining in the game to win the national title.

    The Irish will have their hands full with Winston in Tallahassee, Florida, on Oct. 18.

    All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

    Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.