This week, we finish up our “College Football 2022 Most Interesting” lists with the quarterback, the position that gets the most attention and is in the most flux. Nearly half of this list is made up of transfers for 2022, and to be honest, all 25 could have probably gone that way. Coaches, people in suits, and people who aren’t quarterbacks were on the previous “Most Interesting” lists.
Caleb Williams of USC is the best quarterback. How far can they ride together if they’re as close as twins? Riley’s sudden move to USC insulted Oklahoma fans, but when the top quarterback prospect for the class of 2021 went with him, they were downright angry. Williams showed a lot of talent and improvisational brilliance as a true freshman last year. He had the second-highest pass efficiency rating of any true freshman in at least the last 14 years (169.63). Williams has a chance for a big season if he teams up with the new talent at skill positions in L.A. This could help start the Trojans’ comeback.
2. Bryce Young, Alabama. Yes, he has had a pretty good start to his college career. He won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore in his first season as a starter and threw for more yards in a single season (4,872) than any SEC player who wasn’t named Joe Burrow. But Alabama is all about winning national titles, and Young’s pick-six in the College Football Playoff title game last year ended his team’s chances of winning. As the Crimson Tide’s third straight first-round QB draught pick, Young is almost certain to go to the NFL in 2023. Can he grab the brass ring that eluded him last year?
3. Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. Stroud could be the quarterback taken before Young in the 2023 draught. He did a lot for the Buckeyes as a redshirt freshman last year. He threw 44 touchdown passes, only one interception in his last nine games, averaged 370 passing yards per game, and set 17 school records. Even though the Heisman finalist threw to the best group of receivers in the country in ’21, he did a lot of the magic with his arm. Even though two Buckeyes were taken in the first round last year, he might still have the best group of receivers in the country.
4. DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson. A lot is going on here. Is Uiagelelei the “mega-recruit” who played well when Trevor Lawrence got hurt in 2020 as a freshman? Or is he the starter who wasn’t sure what to do and lost confidence after a disappointing second year? Last year, Uiagelelei never threw for 250 yards or three touchdowns in a game. He wasn’t much of a threat on the ground, and he had more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (9) by the end of the season (nine). In ’22, Brandon Streeter will be the new play-caller for Clemson, which might give DJ a new lease on life. If not, Cade Klubnik, the next star freshman, is ready to take over.
5. Quinn Ewers, Texas. The face of the NIL era in college football dropped out of high school early to enroll at Ohio State and start making money. Last year, he hardly played (zero pass attempts) and transferred back to his home state. Last spring, Ewers bought a burnt-orange-colored Aston Martin once he moved to Texas. Even though he was famous and wealthy, he had to fight Hudson Card to be the starting quarterback until last week. Now, all 19-year-old Million-Dollar Mullet Man has to do is live up to the hype and Bring Texas Back in Year 2 under Steve Sarkisian.
6. “Coastal Carolina” by Grayson McCall. McCall has the other great quarterback mullet. He is proud to be going against the fleeting quarterback trend. In 2021, McCall broke the FBS single-season pass efficiency record with a rating of 207.65, but he refused to move to a bigger school. His post on social media saying he was going back to Coastal was epic: “When I say I piss teal, I mean it,” McCall wrote, referring to the main color of the Chanticleers. In ’22, it will be important that he knows how to use Jamey Chadwell’s option offense. This season will be hard for McCall because he lost his top three receivers, a 1,000-yard rusher, and three starters on the offensive line.
7. Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma. When Williams left Oklahoma, Gabriel jumped at the chance to take his place as the starting quarterback. The former UCF quarterback was going to UCLA in December, but he changed his mind and went to Oklahoma instead. The left-handed Hawaiian has thrown for more than 8,000 yards in college, and he will be working with his coordinator from his freshman year at UCF, Jeff Lebby, at Oklahoma. Gabriel is coming back from a broken collarbone and hasn’t played in a game since September 17, 2021. However, the Sooners have heard good things about him during spring practice and the offseason. Brent Venables said in July, “Dillon Gabriel is a winner.” “He brings people together.”
Spencer Rattler lives in South Carolina. Last year at this time, Rattler was the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, which is hard to believe. That was when he was Oklahoma’s starting quarterback (before Williams took the position away, then left himself). His sophomore year was not the step forward that was expected. Instead, it was a step backward, so he transferred to Columbia to play for Shane Beamer, who was an assistant coach for the Sooners when he was there. Rattler will focus on keeping the ball safe because they turned it over seven times in the first six games of last season, most of which were against weak teams.
9. Cameron Ward from the state of Washington. The meteoric rise of an interesting prospect. Ward played in a Wing T offense in Texas when he was in high school, so he didn’t get to throw the ball very often. This made it hard for recruiters to find out about him. He went to FCS Incarnate Word, where he started right away in 2020 and was a star who threw for more than 4,600 yards in 21. Ward then became a popular player in the transfer portal, but Washington State was able to get his services in part because they hired Eric Morris, the head coach of Incarnate Word, to be their new offensive coordinator. Less than three years ago, Ward only had two college scholarship offers. Now, he could be picked in the first round of the NFL draught.
10. Stetson Bennett, Georgia. Stet’s story isn’t very common. There have been a lot of quarterbacks at Georgia who were better than Bennett over the years, but Bennett is on the short list of quarterbacks who have led the Bulldogs to a national championship. His 2021 season was one for the record books. He started the year on the bench again but then took over as quarterback. He finished fourth in the country in pass efficiency and was named offensive MVP of both of Georgia’s playoff games. He has become a real, top-notch college quarterback. Bennett is in his sixth year of college baseball. During the season, he will turn 25.
11. JT Daniels, West Virginia. The guy Bennett Wally Pipp took out of the starting lineup at Georgia is now at West Virginia. This is his third school, and he has had some great games and missed a lot of time because of injuries. Daniels has played in 22 college games so far, but only 11 of them have been since he was a star freshman at USC in 2018. Daniels will work with former USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell at West Virginia, which should be a good fit for his skills. WVU’s head coach, Neal Brown, has been stuck in the same place for three years, with a.500 records. Daniels will be looked to as the guy who might help the program rise in the Big 12.
Will Levis is from Kentucky. He has a big arm and a big personality, and both Levis and the Wildcats are expected to do big things in 2022. Kentucky is ranked by the AP for the first time since 1978, and Levis is seen as a darkhorse candidate for the Heisman and a possible first-round pick. The transfer from Penn State made a big difference right away last year. He was responsible for more than 3,000 yards of offense and 33 touchdowns. But Kentucky is replacing its offensive coordinator and big-play receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, and Levis must show that he can have big passing games against high-end SEC defenses—his ’21 efficiency rating was 90 points higher against non-Power 5 opponents.
Anthony Richardson, who lives in Florida. Last season, he showed enough talent to make Gators fans want more, and the fact that Dan Mullen didn’t find a way to get more out of Richardson is one reason why he’s no longer a coach and is now an ESPN analyst. Under new coach Billy Napier, the 6’4″, 236-pounder with Cam Newton-like skills is now in charge of the starting spot. This summer, he made news when he changed his nickname from “AR-15” to just “AR” and dropped his jersey number to avoid being confused with the semiautomatic weapon with the same name.
14. Anyone Who Begins in Michigan. In late July, Jim Harbaugh told reporters that Cade McNamara would be hard to beat for the starting quarterback position. It will be hard to get the starting quarterback job away from J.J. McCarthy. McNamara had a very good second year, leading the Wolverines to the Big Ten title and the College Football Playoff. However, some people think McCarthy has more potential because he is more athletic. Whoever gets the job will have a lot of tools and blockers at their disposal and should be able to run one of the best offenses in the country.
Casey Thompson, Nebraska, number 15. Comes from Texas with at least part of Scott Frost’s job in his hands. Early in the 2021 season, Thompson took over as the Longhorns’ starting quarterback. He had some great games (16 touchdown passes, two interceptions, and more than 1,000 yards against Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Kansas) and some bad games (a thumb injury he tried to play through could account for a lot of those). Thompson had surgery on his thumb in April, and now that preseason camp has started, Frost says he’s throwing the ball much better. Nebraska fans hope Thompson won’t make as many big mistakes as Martinez did, but Thompson had a slightly higher interception rate (3.5% vs. 3.3%) in ’21.
16. Tyler Van Dyke, Miami. Coaches love taking over a team with a great quarterback, which is what Mario Cristobal has in Season 1 at The U. Last year, the redshirt freshman took over the Hurricanes’ last six games and led them to a 5–1 record. His numbers in that stretch: 157 completions in 238 attempts; 2,194 yards; 20 touchdowns and three interceptions; efficiency rating of 168.61—which is only a point less than Caleb Williams’s full-season rating. If some new receivers step up and Van Dyke meshes well with offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, he could have a huge season.
17. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee. If every QB transfer worked out as well as Hooker in Knoxville, what a happy college football world it would be. The former Virginia Tech player was sensational in Year 1 with Josh Heupel, throwing 31 touchdown passes and just three interceptions while compiling more than 3,500 yards of total offense. His efficiency rating of 181.41 set a Tennessee school record, was third nationally, and led the SEC. Not bad for a guy who was Joe Milton’s back-up at the start of the season. Cedric Tillman, who is Hooker’s go-to guy, is the best returning wide receiver in the SEC (1,081 yards, 12 TDs last year).
18. North Carolina State’s Devin Leary. In 1978, running back Ted Brown finished sixth in the Heisman voting. That’s the best an NC State player has ever done, and now Leary is trying to beat it. A few months ago, the school sent out Leary for Heisman hats as part of the hype train. The Wolfpack has something to sell. Leary has thrown for more than 5,500 yards in his career, even though he has only played in 22 games. Last year, he broke Philip Rivers’ record for most touchdown passes in a single season with 35. Long-suffering NC State fans have been waiting for a season like this since, oh, the Lou Holtz era. If so, Leary will be in the running for the Heisman.
19. Sam Hartman, Wake Forest. After a medical issue that had nothing to do with football took him out of the lineup for an undetermined amount of time, his final season at Wake is now uncertain. Coach Dave Clawson said Hartman will be back this season but offered no timetable. The Demon Deacons want to do even better this year than they did last year when they had 11 wins and won the Atlantic Division. However, a lot could depend on the health of a guy who is the leading active FBS passer in terms of career yards (9,266). For now, backup Mitch Griffis is in charge of a high-powered offense (15 career pass attempts).
Michael Penix Jr., from Washington, was 20th. In 2019 and 2020, he was the leader of Indiana’s renaissance. In 2021, he helped Indiana fall apart. Now, Penix has taken his weak body to the Pacific Northwest to meet up with Kalen DeBoer, who used to be his boss at Fresno State and Penix’s coordinator at Indiana. DeBoer is now the head coach of the Huskies. Penix has been competing with Dylan Morris and Sam Huard for the starting job at Washington this month, but he didn’t come all the way there to carry a clipboard. Can Penix find the magic he showed against Ohio State and Michigan in 2020? It may make or break Washington’s season.
21. Bo Nix, Oregon. Former Auburn legacy QB escaped the pocket one last time at the Loveliest Little Village on the Plains, seeking a fresh start far away with a top-25 program. Nix started right away as a freshman, but he hasn’t improved as a passer as expected. His efficiency rating has stayed the same, going from 125.03 in 2019 to 123.94 in 2020 to 130.03 last year. Can he keep his improvisational skills and improve as a schedule-based passer under coordinator Kenny Dillingham, who was the offensive coordinator at Auburn when Nix was a freshman? Georgia, a team they’ve played before and know to be tough, will be the first test of this.
Kedon Slovis, who lives in Pittsburgh. The most successful former USC quarterback takes over the job that was held by a Heisman finalist last year. However, he won’t be able to throw to star wide receiver Jordan Addison, who transferred to USC from another school. Slovis played like a rising star as a freshman, just like Daniels did before him (3,502 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, nine interceptions). But, like some of the other people on this list, his star has faded over the years, in part because of injuries. This guy has had 10 games in his career where he threw for at least 300 yards and nine games where he threw at least three touchdowns. If he can stay on his feet, he should be able to do well.
24. Jake Haener, Fresno State. He had one of the best games of 2021 when he threw for 455 yards against UCLA and led the Rose Bowl comeback against all odds. That gave the Bulldogs the motivation to have a 10–3 season, which helped DeBoer get the job at Washington and gave Haener a choice. He went to the transfer portal and was interested in a lot of things, like going with DeBoer to Washington, which is where Haener started college. But after a rough eight days in the transfer portal, he decided to stay at Fresno with Jeff Tedford, who was the head coach during Haener’s redshirt season in 2019. Can he replicate a season in which he finished in the top 10 nationally in passing yards, yards per game, and touchdown tosses?
25. Adrian Martinez, Kansas State. He and Scott Frost were supposed to produce greatness together at Nebraska, and it never happened. Martinez was an athletic quarterback for four years, but his lack of improvement as a passer and tendency to make mistakes made him the face of a team that went 4-8, 5-7, 3-4, and 3-9. Maybe the change of scenery will help both sides write a different story. Martinez seems like a good fit with Chris Klieman’s run-heavy offense, which is better with a dual-threat QB running the show.