Ranking the Power 5 conferences at quarterback

The SEC is the best conference in America, but 2016 doesn’t look to be a banner year under center.

This past month at Media Days, only three of the 14 programs brought a quarterback to represent them. There were just as many centers in Hoover, Ala., for print, radio and TV reporters.

Leading the way is Chad Kelly of Ole Miss, who is on a mission to become the first QB in conference history to post multiple 4,000-yard passing seasons. Joshua Dobbs is still more runner than thrower for Tennessee. Trevor Knight transferred from Oklahoma, but how productive will he be at Texas A&M?

Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, Missouri and South Carolina haven’t announced a starter at the game’s most important position. Those decisions will help shape the SEC.

Here’s how I would rank the Power 5 conferences when solely evaluating the starting signal callers.

5. Big Ten

Iowa’s C.J. Beathard was ranked No. 40 in the country this past year in passer efficiency rating.

Among returning starters in the Big Ten, Beathard tops the list. The other Power 5 conferences all have a returning starter that was in the Top 30 a season ago. The league lacks star quality at QB.

However, remember that J.T. Barrett no longer has to deal with Cardale Jones at Ohio State. Barrett is a better fit for coach Urban Meyer’s offense — why he stuck with Jones for so long in 2015 is a mystery — and should be one of the game’s most efficient passers. He’s a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Tommy Armstrong Jr. of Nebraska, Mitch Leidner of Minnesota, Wes Lunt of Illinois and David Blough of Purdue ranked anywhere from 66th to 100th last year. They’re experienced but flawed players.

Even Connor Cook, who took Michigan State to the Final Four, was only 49th in terms of efficiency.

4. SEC

Kelly is fearless as a passer and a lot of fun to watch, but the league has very little behind him.

While Dobbs and LSU’s Brandon Harris (below) are oozing with natural ability, neither is a consistent thrower of the football. Both have great supporting casts. They simply need to do more.

Nov 28, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback Brandon Harris (6) looks to pass the ball against the Texas A&M Aggies in the second quarter at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia’s Greyson Lambert was the 38th-most efficient QB in FBS last season, while South Carolina’s Perry Orth was 78th. More than likely, each will be out of a job once a pair of blue-chip freshmen are ready. Jacob Eason and Brandon McIlwain are the future for the Dawgs and ‘Cocks, respectively.

Knight is a wild card in College Station. If the freshman who beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl shows up, A&M will dent any scoreboard liberally. He fell out of favor quickly with the Sooners, though.

Florida’s Luke Del Rio made the Johnny Unitas Award preseason watch list. But so did 42 other guys.

3. Pac-12

Arguably the best freshman quarterback in the nation this past season, Josh Rosen is back for UCLA.

Already being talked about as the potential No. 1 selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, Rosen was a 60-percent passer with a 23-to-11 TD-to-INT ratio last year. He visits Knight and Texas A&M in Week 1.

Beyond Rosen, Arizona’s Anu Solomon was the 30th-most efficient QB in the land for 2015. Washington State’s Luke Falk was 32nd. Washington’s Jake Browning was 41st. Colorado’s Selo Liufau was 72nd. A lot of experience returns to the Pac-12 this season in the passing game. Expect some lofty numbers.

As far as first-year starters in the league are concerned, there is plenty of buzz about Max Browne of USC and Davis Webb of Cal taking over for draft picks Cody Kessler and Jared Goff, respectively.

Rosen will command the most attention, and deservedly so. But there are some skilled arms out West.

2. ACC

The Pac-12 might be deeper at QB after Rosen, although the ACC gets a big bump with Deshaun Watson.

Crimson Tide fans don’t need to be reminded of how good Watson (below) is, as Clemson’s stud threw for 405 yards and ran for 73 more in a 45-40 defeat at the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Apr 9, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looks to pass the ball during the first quarter of the spring game at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

After Watson, Miami’s Brad Kaaya is also in the conversation as a possible first-round draft choice one day. Unlike previous passers on South Beach, when the Hurricanes were the real “Quarterback U,” Kaaya isn’t surrounded by blue-chippers at every position. He’s done a lot with little assistance.

One name flying under the radar nationally is Lamar Jackson of Louisville. While he might have only been the 71st-ranked passer in America a season ago, he ran for 960 yards and 11 TDs as a freshman.

Florida State hasn’t named a starter yet, but freshman Deondre Francois has Watson-like attributes.

1. Big 12

The third-most efficient QB in the land for 2015, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield was a Heisman finalist.

Why did Knight end up at Texas A&M? Because Mayfield — a transfer himself, arriving via Texas Tech — was too electric to keep benched. His TD-to-INT ratio of 36-to-7 is evidence of that.

Two other Big 12 signal callers were in the Top 30 a year ago looking at efficiency. Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State was 26th, while Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes II was 29th. Getting back to Rudolph, he is a South Carolina native but wasn’t even recruited by the Gamecocks. They’d love to have him now.

Returning from a season-ending neck injury is Seth Russell of Baylor. In seven starts last year, he threw 29 touchdown passes and was averaging 300.6 yards passing per contest. The Bears can sling it.

Battling for No. 1 at TCU is one-time Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill. He knows how to light it up, too.

John Crist is the senior writer for Saturday Down South, a member of the FWAA and a voter for the Heisman Trophy. Send him an e-mail, like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

Source: Saturday Down South

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