College football's top 25 quarterbacks entering the 2020 season

·16 min read

With stars like Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts moving on to the NFL, who are the best FBS quarterbacks in college football returning for the 2020 season?

Below we highlight some household names you’re already familiar with, but also dive in on some lesser-known quarterbacks poised to make a big impact. In assembling these rankings, we’re accounting for past production, as well as doing a bit of projecting into what the future may hold.

Let the debates begin.

1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson (Jr.)

Trevor Lawrence has lived up to his five-star, No. 1 recruit billing. The 6-foot-6 Lawrence led Clemson to the College Football Playoff in his first two seasons, including a national championship as a true freshman. Lawrence has consistently picked apart ACC defenses, making the transition to college ball look effortless. Over his two seasons with the Tigers, Lawrence has thrown for 6,945 yards, 66 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions while completing 65.5 percent of his passes. Lawrence ran into the LSU buzzsaw in last year’s title game, resulting in his first college loss. He will look to get the Tigers back to the top of the mountaintop as a junior before moving on to NFL stardom.

2. Justin Fields, Ohio State (Jr.)

After a highly-publicized transfer from Georgia to Ohio State, Justin Fields emerged as a Heisman Trophy finalist and led the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff in his first year in Columbus. Fields put his entire skill package on display, impressing with his arm strength and also devastating defenses with decision-making on zone read plays. His statistical output was eye-popping: 3,272 yards and 41 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He also rushed for 484 yards and 10 scores. With Fields leading the way, Ohio State is the favorite to win the Big Ten yet again.

3. Sam Ehlinger, Texas (Sr.)

Sam Ehlinger worked his way into a starting role at Texas as a true freshman in 2017 and hasn’t looked back. Tom Herman gave him the keys to the UT offense as the program has tried to move back up the college football pecking order, and Ehlinger has led the Longhorns to three straight winning seasons and three bowl wins. In the process, Ehlinger has thrown for 8,870 yards, 68 touchdowns and 22 interceptions while showing his proficiency in a downhill running attack to the tune of 1,526 yards and 25 scores. The Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia was the high point so far, but Ehlinger wants to lead Texas to a Big 12 title as a senior.

4. Sam Howell, North Carolina (Soph.)

When Mack Brown was brought back to North Carolina, he swooped in and kept Sam Howell, once a Florida State commitment, in his home state. Howell immediately earned the starting role as a true freshman — and for good reason. After combining for five wins in the previous two seasons, Howell led UNC back to the postseason and threw for 3,641 yards and 38 touchdowns (with only seven INTs) in the process. That touchdown total is the third-best single-season mark in ACC history behind only Deshaun Watson (41 in 2016) and Jameis Winston (40 in 2013). The sky's the limit for Howell as he enters his sophomore year.

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell looks to pass against Temple during the first half of the Military Bowl NCAA college football game, Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell threw 38 touchdown passes as a true freshman. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

5. Tanner Morgan, Minnesota (RS Jr.)

Tanner Morgan was one of college football’s most efficient quarterbacks in 2019 as Minnesota had one of the best seasons in program history. The Gophers went 11-2 and found themselves in the College Football Playoff conversation in November and ended up upsetting Auburn in the Outback Bowl. Along the way, Morgan emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten and should emerge into one of the nation’s best in 2020. Morgan threw for 3,253 yards, 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 66 percent of his throws. His best game came against Penn State when he completed 18-of-20 throws for 339 yards and three scores in a 31-26 win.

6. Kyle Trask, Florida (Sr.)

If you watched a Florida game last year, you’ve heard Kyle Trask’s story. The 2019 season marked the first time Trask was a starter for his team since his freshman year of high school. He took over the reins for Dan Mullen’s offense when Feleipe Franks was injured and played really well, throwing for 2,941 yards and 25 touchdowns while completing 67 percent of his throws. Trask thrived in the quick game and was able to spread the ball deftly to a deep collection of targets. Now a senior, Trask could be in line for a big leap forward in 2020.

7. Ian Book, Notre Dame (RS Sr.)

Ian Book returns to South Bend for his third season as starting quarterback. Since replacing Brandon Wimbush early in the 2018 season, Book has a 21-3 as Notre Dame’s starter. Book saw his completion percentage drop considerably from 68.2 percent in 2018, when he led the Irish to the CFP semifinals, to 60.2 percent in 2019. On the other hand, his touchdown total jumped from 19 in 2018 to 34 in 2019. Book can hurt defenses with his running ability, too. Book was one of two FBS quarterbacks to account for 2,500 passing yards, 500 rushing yards and 30 TD passes in 2019, joining Jalen Hurts.

8. Brock Purdy, Iowa State (Jr.)

Matt Campbell quickly raised the competitive level of Iowa State in the Big 12, and Brock Purdy has been at the center of ISU’s climb up the standings the past two seasons. Purdy came out of nowhere as a freshman in 2018, helping ISU win eight games. As a sophomore, Purdy threw for nearly 4,000 yards to go with 27 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. His yardage and touchdown totals were both single-season program records, as were his 312 completions, six 300-yard games and 4,321 yards of total offense.

9. Jayden Daniels, Arizona State (Soph.)

It did not take long for Jayden Daniels to seize the starting role in Tempe. Daniels became the first true freshman to start the season opener for the Sun Devils and went on to have an excellent freshman season. Daniels led come-from-behind victories over Michigan State, Cal and Washington State and would later shine in a big upset over No. 6 Oregon. In a 31-28 victory, Daniels threw for 408 yards and three touchdowns and showed off his full package of skills — especially his poise. Daniels threw for 2,943 yards and 17 touchdowns with just two interceptions on the year. He has the chance to be special.

Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels (5)  passes against Washington State during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels could end up being the best quarterback in the Pac-12. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

10. D’Eriq King, Miami (RS Sr.)

D’Eriq King has that rare ability to make a big play every time he touches the ball. King put his dual-threat skills on display at Houston in 2018 when he threw for 2,982 yards, ran for 674 yards and combined for a whopping 50 touchdowns (36 passing, 14 rushing). After four games at UH in 2019, King decided to take a redshirt — a move that allowed him to graduate and transfer after the season. King, who started parts of three seasons at Houston, then landed at Miami, a program that is in dire need of strong quarterback play. He has the chance to thrive in the ACC.

11. Kedon Slovis, USC (Soph.)

Another freshman that thrived in 2019 was Kedon Slovis. An unheralded three-star recruit, Slovis started the year as USC’s backup behind JT Daniels. But Daniels went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1, opening the door for Slovis to succeed in Graham Harrell’s Air Raid offense. Slovis, who showed impressive accuracy, helped USC return to respectability and had some monster games along the way, including four 400-yard efforts. In all, Slovis threw for 3,502 yards, 30 touchdowns and nine picks. He has the chance to blossom into an elite college quarterback.

12. Jamie Newman, Georgia (RS Sr.)

Jamie Newman seized his opportunity late in the 2018 season when Wake Forest starter Sam Hartman went down with a leg injury. Newman helped Wake rally to a bowl game down the stretch and carried that over into the starting role in 2019. Newman excelled in Wake’s RPO-heavy scheme and used jump-ball receivers like Sage Surratt to his advantage in the downfield passing game. He also played poorly down the stretch last year as Wake lost four of its final five games. Now at Georgia for his final season, the fans in Athens are expecting big things. Newman will have much more talent around him, but also will be facing tougher competition and huge expectations.

13. Shane Buechele, SMU (RS Sr.)

Shane Buechele found an excellent landing spot when he transferred to SMU. Buechele was the primary quarterback at Texas in 2016 but his playing time decreased when Sam Ehlinger arrived in Austin. When Buechele moved on to SMU as a graduate transfer, he fit in excellently in Sonny Dykes’ system and helped the Mustangs have a tremendous 2019 season. With Buechele leading the way, SMU reached the 10-win mark for the first time since 1984. Buechele threw for 3,929 yards and 34 TDs.

14. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M (Sr.)

Kellen Mond enters 2020 with 34 starts under his belt, but not a whole lot to show for it. Texas A&M has been a middle-of-the-road team as Jimbo Fisher assembles a program to his liking in College Station. Mond has shown flashes of excellence throughout his career, but sometimes struggles to make the routine plays. He’s just a 57.8 percent career passer and has played poorly against marquee opponents. The 2020 schedule is a favorable one for the Aggies, though, and Mond is set up for a strong senior season.

Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond (11) slips the tackle attempt by Oklahoma State defensive tackle Israel Antwine (95) during the second half of the Texas Bowl NCAA college football game Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond has 34 career starts entering his senior season. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

15. Spencer Sanders, Oklahoma State (RS Soph.)

Out of all the quarterbacks on this list, Spencer Sanders could have the chance to take the biggest step forward. Sanders had an up-and-down redshirt freshman season, throwing for 2,065 yards with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 11 games. He also rushed for 628 yards, second-most among all freshmen quarterbacks. Equipped with excellent speed and escapability, Sanders also aggressively pushes the ball downfield in the passing game — both inside and outside the pocket. Once he shores up his ball security, Sanders could become one of the most feared playmakers in college football.

16. Mac Jones, Alabama (RS Jr.)

Mac Jones acquainted himself quite well when he stepped in for the injured Tua Tagovailoa toward the end of the 2019 season. In his three starts, Jones threw for 937 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions while completing 68 percent of his passes. Of course it helps when you have receivers like Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs by your side, but Jones showed he is more than capable of leading the Alabama offense. It would be unfair to expect Jones to come close to replicating Tagovailoa’s elite level of play, but he will have to be even better than he was late last year to get the Crimson Tide back to the College Football Playoff. And to fend off a five-star freshman looking to take the starting job.

17. Brady White, Memphis (RS Sr.)

After starting his career at Arizona State, Brady White has been able to excel in the AAC at Memphis. White helped Memphis have its best season ever in 2019. The Tigers won the AAC title — its first outright conference championship since 1969 — and won a school-record 12 games en route to a New Year’s Six bowl berth. Along the way, White threw for 3,296 yards and 26 touchdowns while completing 63 percent of his passes.

18. Bo Nix, Auburn (Soph.)

Like Sanders, Auburn’s Bo Nix is primed for a big step forward in his sophomore season. Nix, the SEC’s Freshman of the Year, showed why he was so highly-recruited at various times throughout the year. He has a strong arm, is shifty with his legs and has the ability to improvise when the pocket breaks down. He also looked like a freshman far too often for Auburn to compete for an SEC title. He especially struggled in hostile road environments. In all, Nix threw for 2,542 yards, 16 TDs and six interceptions while completing just 57.6 percent of his throws. He also rushed for 313 yards and seven scores.

Auburn quarterback Bo Nix runs against Minnesota during the second half of the Outback Bowl NCAA college football game Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix was the SEC's Freshman of the Year in 2019. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

19. Charlie Brewer, Baylor (Sr.)

Now a senior, Charlie Brewer has started 30 games over the course of his Baylor career and helped guide the program back to relevancy under Matt Rhule. Brewer emerged as a bright spot during the Bears’ one-win 2017 campaign and has become one of the better quarterbacks in the Big 12 in the years since. Brewer has thrown for 7,742 yards and 51 touchdowns while completing 64 percent of his throws in a Baylor uniform. He has also struggled with concussions. Should Brewer stay healthy, he’ll help the Bears get back to another bowl game in their first season with Dave Aranda as head coach.

20. K.J. Costello, Mississippi State (RS Sr.)

After an injury plagued junior year at Stanford, K.J. Costello decided to move on for his final year and found a soft landing spot in Starkville, where Mike Leach had just taken over at Mississippi State. Costello was a breakout performer in 2018 when he threw for 3,540 yards and 29 touchdowns. Now he will get to operate Leach’s pass-happy offense that turned Gardner Minshew and Anthony Gordon into NCAA passing leaders at Washington State the last two seasons.

21. Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma (RS Fr.)

After thriving with transfers Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts, it’s time for Lincoln Riley to break in a homegrown recruit. Spencer Rattler, a five-star prospect, saw brief action and took a redshirt last fall but is in line to start for the Sooners for the next few years. We’ve only seen limited glimpses of Rattler in blowouts and high school highlight tapes, so we asked Rivals national recruiting analyst Adam Gorney what to expect from Rattler.

“Rattler zips it incredibly well, he gets it out fast and accuracy has always been one of his strong suits. Watching him in limited action at Oklahoma last season, he kind of reminds me of a taller Kyler Murray with the running skills of Baker Mayfield, just without the polish yet,” Gorney told Yahoo Sports.

“He could be really special in Lincoln Riley’s offense because he’s perfect for it. Rattler is most comfortable sitting in the pocket and throwing but he’s almost just as good at getting out and running for yards as well. For Rattler’s dual-threat abilities and playmaking style, he couldn’t have picked a better offense.”

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 28:  Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) during the College Football Playoffs Semifinal Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl between the LSU Tigers and the Oklahoma Sooners on December 28, 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Spencer Rattler saw brief action in mop-up duty for Oklahoma in 2019. Now he is primed to take the starting role for the Sooners. (Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

22. Sean Clifford, Penn State (RS Jr.)

Sean Clifford is one of very few question marks on a deep Penn State team. Clifford should be able to benefit from the hire of Kirk Ciarrocca from Minnesota. Tanner Morgan thrived in Ciarrocca’s RPO schemes, and Clifford — a strong-armed passer who can make defenses pay with his bruising, physical running style — has the chance to do the same. Clifford’s biggest issue in 2019, his first year as a starter, was his accuracy. He completed just 59.2 percent of his throws and didn’t complete more than 60 percent of his throws in a game over PSU’s last seven outings. James Franklin seems confident, though, that Clifford is the guy for the Nittany Lions.

23. Dillon Gabriel, UCF (Soph.)

With McKenzie Milton injured, many thought it would be Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush taking the reins for UCF. Instead, it was another signal caller from Hawaii (like Milton) who got the nod. Dillon Gabriel, a 6-foot lefty, was a mid-three-star recruit, but he quickly rose up the depth chart in preseason camp. He put up big numbers in Josh Heupel’s offense as a true freshman. He threw for 3,653 yards — 12th-most in FBS — along with 29 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He’ll be one of the AAC’s best in 2020.

24. Bryce Young, Alabama (Fr.)

Mac Jones may be the favorite to start in Week 1 against USC, but Bryce Young, the five-star freshman out of California, will be nipping at Jones’ heels. Some think Alabama’s situation could play out like the Kelly Bryant-Trevor Lawrence situation at Clemson a few years ago. What makes Young so enticing? According to Rivals national recruiting analyst Adam Gorney, it’s his intelligence.

“Young is so smart on the field, so patient and calm and then so calculating when it’s time to make a decision that he just frustrated the bejeezus out of every defense. Other than his size (6-feet), Young has absolutely no weaknesses,” Gorney told Yahoo Sports.

“He’s accurate, he’s on time, he can dissect defenses, he’s a quiet leader and time and again he just gets the job done. Mac Jones is entrenched and has waited his turn for the starting job but if coach Nick Saban wants to put the most-talented quarterback on the field with the most potential for the next three years, Young would start from Day 1.”

25. Chase Garbers, Cal (RS Jr.)

Chase Garbers enters his third season as Cal’s starting quarterback after an injury interrupted what had the chance to be a special 2019 campaign for the Golden Bears. Garbers had Cal out to a 4-0 start before an injury against Arizona State. He came back late in the year and helped his team win its final three games. In fact, Cal was 7-0 when Garbers played for more than half the game. He is one of the more underappreciated players in the country.

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