Every year, a ton of talent leaves the college ranks, some for the NFL, and most for the real world. More importantly though, they leave a gulf in talent and/or experience for their successors to try to match. We will address each conference, what quarterbacks are leaving, and who will try to replace them. Realigning teams will be in their new leagues. As always, let me know if I missed anyone.
Blake Bortles, Central Florida
With Jeff Godfrey struggling in 2011, Bortles stepped in at times to right the ship and showed he could have a bright future in Orlando. The following season, with Godfrey moving to wide receiver, Bortles had the job to himself and hit the ground running. The then-sophomore led the Knights to a 10-win season (after 5-7 in 2011), including a close loss to Tulsa that would have won UCF their last CUSA title. With the Knights moving to the AAC in 2013, it was assumed UCF would have some success, but no one expected them to contend for the conference crown. Bortles didn’t get the memo. Leading the Knights to an improbable 12-1 season, clutching victory from the jaws of defeat on a number of occasions, UCF went undefeated in league play and almost beat South Carolina too. They topped off the season with an impressive win over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. For his career, Bortles completed 65.7% of his passes for 7598 yards, with 56 TDs and 19 interceptions. He also ran for 561 yards and another 15 TDs. Bortles is an early entrant for the NFL draft.
The Replacements: Freshman Justin Holman backed him up last season. The only other quarterback currently on the roster is another freshman, Pete DiNovo. Tyler Harris, a 4-star recruit this year, could steal the job, but whoever takes over has big shoes to fill.
Garrett Gilbert, Southern Methodist
Name sound familiar? He’s the freshman who replaced Colt McCoy against Alabama in the 2009 national title game. The game turned out to be a microcosm of his Texas career, with the occasional flash, but mostly disappointment. Hence the change of scenery. His first season in Dallas was a little better than his Austin years, but Gilbert still fell far short of the high expectations he carried out of high school. Then came last season. Gilbert finally started to play more to the level expected of him. Don’t get me wrong, he was no all-star, but he played well enough that whoever takes his place will have decent sized shoes to fill. After sporting a 54.9 career completion percentage, with 28 TDs and 38 interceptions, he completed 66.5% of his passes and threw 21 TDs compared to 7 interceptions in 2013. Over his entire career he completed 58.7% of his passes for 9761 yards with 49 TDs and 45 interceptions, while rushing for 1013 yards and another 20 scores.
The Replacements: Redshirt freshman Neal Burcham took over for Gilbert when he was out injured last season, and had his moments, so he will likely get first nod this season, but there is a bunch of freshman waiting in the wings.
Brendon Kay, Cincinnati
Kay is a strange case. After doing little over his first couple of years in Cincinnati, he took over for a struggling Munchie Legaux in 2012 and played great football down the stretch. Last season, with Tommy Tuberville taking over, Kay lost the starting job in camp. However, Legaux was injured early in the season, and Kay took over again. Again he dominated as a passer, although he struggled a little late in the season. What is strange is why he couldn’t win the starting job at the start of the year, yet was a winner when on the field. Over his career, he completed 65.4% of his passes for 4647 yards with 32 TDs and 14 interceptions, while rushing for 503 yards and 8 scores. If Legaux struggles or gets injured again next season, the Bearcats will need someone else to step up.
The Replacements: Legaux would be the expected starter, but expect rolling stone Gunner Kiel to push him all the way through camp.
The rest of the league, including East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, and Uconn football, all have their quarterbacks returning.