Back by semi-popular demand (my editor and a guy down the street said they liked it), we have the second annual Most Intriguing Series previewing the 2013 college football season. This week: the 25 most intriguing quarterbacks.
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. If you don't know why he tops this list, you may want to start following curling instead of football.
2. A.J. McCarron, Alabama. Has a chance to go where no quarterback has gone before, being the starting QB on three straight national titlists. McCarron has often been at his best in the past two BCS championship games, and was highly clutch in the winning drive at LSU last year. He also comes with a girlfriend who made Brent Musberger foam at the mouth on national TV, and a chest tattoo that even Birdman Andersen would find impressive. The only player in America who makes him look dull is Manziel.
3. Braxton Miller, Ohio State. Which starting quarterback has the longest active winning streak in the country? This guy. The Buckeyes went 12-0 last year and have a chance to add 14 more consecutive victories this season – if Miller continues his improvement in the user-friendly Urban Meyer spread offense. The dual-threat junior has nearly 5,300 yards total offense in two seasons, with plenty more to come this year.
4. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville. Can a guy from a middling league playing a weak schedule actually win the Heisman Trophy? Bridgewater has a chance. Probably the most pro-ready QB in the country, Teddy Ballgame has both the tangibles (accuracy, velocity, athletic ability) and the intangibles (great under pressure, physical toughness, leadership ability). If only he had a marquee opponent for a potential Heisman Moment – but an undefeated season and big stats may offset that disadvantage.
5. Tommy Rees, Notre Dame. He's been all over the map with coach Brian Kelly: starter, bench jockey, suspended, reinstated, expendable spare part, irreplaceable relief pitcher. Now, after the academic dismissal of starter Everett Golson, Rees returns to the starting job for his senior year and takes over a team with a solid chance of replicating last year's success – if he comes through. Rees has to be ready right away, because the front half of the Notre Dame schedule is loaded.
6. Marcus Mariota, Oregon. Teammate Kenjon Barner finished in the Heisman voting top 10 last year, but Mariota might have been the more indispensible Duck. He threw for 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and ran for 752 yards and five more TDs. Mariota gets a new head coach this year but a familiar face in promoted offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Expect the pyrotechnic Oregon offense to remain the same, and Mariota to be its leading man.
7. Zach Mettenberger, LSU. The Tigers might have been a quarterback away from national title contention last year – and Mettenberger was that quarterback. Hugely touted coming out of junior college, he has the size and arm strength of an NFL QB but often looked bewildered when facing the speed and complexity of SEC defenses last year. But there was the flash of hope when Mettenberger lit up Alabama, and if new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron can build on that then LSU will again have a chance to win the SEC West.
8. Aaron Murray, Georgia. Murray came back for a fifth season in part to get the bitter taste of the SEC championship game defeat out of his mouth, after the Bulldogs came up five yards and five seconds short of upsetting kingpin Alabama. For a four-year starter, Murray has endured plenty of ups and downs with the Georgia faithful, including the knuckleheads who egged his house after the Bulldogs lost to South Carolina last year. Murray has his best-ever supporting cast on offense now; can it translate into an SEC title?
9. Tajh Boyd, Clemson. Another guy who turned down the pros for a shot at greater college glory. Boyd and the Tigers get Georgia and ACC rival Florida State in Death Valley, giving them a chance to produce a body of work heading into November that has the team in national title contention and Boyd a Heisman front-runner.
10. Casey Pachall, TCU. Last we saw Pachall in game action, he was leading the Horned Frogs to a 4-0 start last year. Then came a DUI, a season suspension, a stint in a substance-abuse clinic and a 7-6 record for the team left behind. Pachall says he has come back wiser and more mature, and he figures to be TCU's starting quarterback when the Horned Frogs open against LSU in Arlington. If Pachall handles this second chance well, it will be one of the better stories of 2013.
11. David Ash, Texas. One of the biggest reasons behind the Longhorns' slide from elite status has been their slide in quarterback production from the Vince Young-Colt McCoy days. Some of that falls on Ash, who has been pretty good but rarely great over the past two years. If Ash can make the good-to-great leap this season, with a full complement of experienced backs, receivers and linemen around him, Texas may rise back into the top Ten. At least.
12. Devin Gardner, Michigan. The Denard Robinson Era is finally over, and while it was a lot of fun, it ultimately was a limited venture. That's why the Wolverines began transitioning to Gardner last season and will hand him complete control of a more versatile and balanced offense this season. Gardner's polished passing skills should mesh well with the preferred offense of coordinator Al Borges. There is a lot of youth surrounding Gardner, but it helps to have All-America left tackle Taylor Lewan watching his back.
13. Blake Bell, Oklahoma. Can the 6-foot-6, 263-pound Belldozer evolve from short-yardage novelty act to fulltime quarterback? That's the key question for a Sooners offense that spent most of the previous four years with Landry Jones calling signals. Bell hasn't proven he can throw and hasn't been guaranteed the starting job just yet, but if he gets it, he should surpass Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech as the World's Largest Starting Quarterback.
14. Jameis Winston, Florida State. The Seminoles' championship aspirations rest largely on the shoulders of a quarterback who has not yet played a down as a collegian. Winston was breathlessly recruited out of Hueytown, Ala., turning down the SEC for Tallahassee, and, after a redshirt season, is ready to join a long line of star QBs at Florida State. But he needs to be good immediately, especially since backup QB Clint Trickett bailed for the starting job at West Virginia.
15. Jacob Karam, Memphis. You may wonder why a pretty good quarterback from a 4-8 team is on this list. Watch this video clip and you'll understand why.
16. TBD, USC. No pressure, kids, but whoever starts at quarterback for the Trojans may hold the key to Lane Kiffin's job security. It could be sophomore Cody Kessler, who had the superior spring, or it could be sophomore Max Wittek, who has the superior physical gifts. Wittek was thrown into the fire against Notre Dame last year after the injury to Matt Barkley, and showcased some dazzling physical talent. But his Sun Bowl performance against Georgia Tech was pretty much a disaster, so the job opened up. And remains open.
17. Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State. He is living proof that perseverance can pay off in sports. Chelf entered spring 2012 as the likely starter and wound up third string by kickoff last September. But when the two guys ahead of him got hurt, Chelf finally got the call in the last month of the season and took over the job. Original 2012 starter Wes Lunt transferred and backup J.W. Walsh returned to backup status. Chelf is, at last, the man this August in Stillwater.
18. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska. It only seems like Martinez has been quarterbacking the Cornhuskers since the Osborne Era. His fourth and final year as the starting QB in Lincoln gives us one more chance to debate whether T-Magic is a good enough passer to win a Big Ten championship, or a slightly different Denard Robinson. Martinez improved his accuracy appreciably last year and threw a career-high 23 touchdowns – equaling the total from his first two years combined. But he also threw a career-high 12 interceptions and was sacked a career-high 34 times.
19. Brett Hundley, UCLA. He was one of the revelations of 2012, emerging as a redshirt freshman to throw for more than 300 yards in three of his first four games – including an upset of Nebraska. By the time Hundley was done, he'd thrown for 3,740 yards and 29 touchdowns, leading the Bruins to their most victories in seven seasons. With the loss of star running back Johnathan Franklin and several experienced receivers, even more will be on his shoulders this year.
20. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois. The only returning player who averaged more yards per game in total offense last season is Johnny Football. The MAC version, Jordan Football, was just short of 5,000 yards running and passing last season, leading the Huskies to a previously inconceivable BCS bowl berth. Lynch's limitations were exposed in that game by Florida State, but he still will be very difficult for less-talented defenses to contain in 2013.
21. Kain Colter, Northwestern. There is no diva in Colter, who willingly – and sometimes voluntarily – gave up snaps last year to better passer Trevor Siemian. That's how Colter wound up seeing time at wide receiver, catching 16 passes. He also ran for nearly 900 yards and 12 touchdowns. If the passing is improved (872 yards, eight touchdowns, four interceptions, 68 percent accuracy), Colter might get almost every snap at QB this time around.
22. Derek Carr, Fresno State. He's emerged from the shadow of big brother David, the former Fresno star and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick. Last year Carr was one of nine FBS quarterbacks to throw for more than 4,000 yards, leading the Bulldogs to a nine-win season. With another season like that from Carr, Fresno will have a say in who wins the Mountain West.
23. Connor Shaw, South Carolina. Playing quarterback for Steve Spurrier means you're always one play away from the doghouse. However, Spurrier has consistently said that Shaw is his starter on what might be the Head Ball Coach's most prolific passing team in nine years at the school. Shaw has endured injuries and demotions with aplomb and should be poised for a big senior season.
24. Kevin Hogan, Stanford. His late-season emergence as a freshman saved Stanford's 2012 season, helping lead the Cardinal to a BCS championship game-ruining upset of Oregon in Eugene and to a Rose Bowl victory. With the loss of 1,500-yard rusher Stepfan Taylor and the Cardinal's top three receivers, Hogan will have to be even better as a sophomore.
25. Tyler Tettleton, Ohio. Son of former big-league catcher Mickey Tettleton earned his own place in the spotlight by leading the Bobcats to a season-opening upset of Penn State, on the way to a 9-4 record and a romp in the Independence Bowl. Tettleton will get the chance for a second straight opening-weekend statement victory when Ohio faces Louisville Sept. 1.
Just missed the list: Taylor Kelly, Arizona State; Joe Southwick, Boise State; Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech; Chuckie Keeton, Utah State; Clint Trickett, West Virginia; Jeff Driskel, Florida; Garrett Gilbert, SMU; Rakeem Cato, Marshall; Stephen Morris, Miami; Bryn Renner, North Carolina; Brendon Kay, Cincinnati; Keith Price, Washington.
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