There will be a definite air of change at the quarterback position this season, as (at last count) there will be at least 44 new quarterbacks taking snaps on opening day(s) this season. That figure doesn’t even include incumbent starters losing their job in camp, or injuries. That being said, there is already a new bunch of young guys who showed last season that they are ready to become the next stars. Some, like Christian Hackenberg of Penn State and John O’Korn of Houston, are already well on their way to “next big thing” status, and won’t appear on this list. Others have yet to show they have what it takes to lead their team for the next couple of years. The 5 guys on this list are either poised to enter stardom with a full season under their belt, or will improve as their team does. The list is far from definitive, so feel free to offer your own suggestions.
Jared Goff, California
When your team finishes 1-11, the only way to go is up, but not all of the Bears failings can be laid at the hands of Goff. In fact, Cal could have been a lot worse if not for the spirited true freshman. Despite lining up behind an offensive line that could neither pass protect, nor block for the run, Goff came out firing and never let up. Throwing 63 passes in his first collegiate start, he threw 45 or more passes in 9 games. Unsurprisingly, Goff had shoulder surgery after the season, but that had more to do with getting flattened by the Stanford defense. Most importantly though, despite being pulled early over some questionable decisions on occasion, Goff improved over the course of the season, setting the stage for a bigger 2014. He completed 318 of 529 passes (60.1%) of his passes for 3488 and 18 TDs, with 10 interceptions, and also ran for a score. The only potential drawback for Goff is whether his team can move forward with him.
Cody Kessler, Southern California
“Shouldn’t Kessler be on the ‘already there’ list?”, you may ask, and you could make a good case for it. But to be honest, the junior is only scratching the tip of the iceberg from a potential standpoint. Considering for the first 6 games of the season he was essentially handcuffed as a passer (remember Washington State?), Kessler was dynamite over the second half of the season, with only the UCLA loss taking some of the shine off. The firing of Lane Kiffin turned out to be a boon, not just for USC, but for their starting quarterback too, as interim coach Ed Orgeron handed the reins of the playbook to the first-year starter. While he finished the season in style, throwing for 344 yards and 4 TDs against Fresno State, if you want a defining moment to the season, look no forward than the win over Stanford. Despite a running game that accounted for just 23 yards, Kessler took the offense in his shoulders, leading the Trojans to victory with a late drive for the winning field goal. Kessler completed 236 of his 362 attempts for 2967 yards, with 20 TDs and just 7 interceptions, and 1 rushing score. Let’s see what Steve Sarkisian can do with him.
Another PAC 12 quarterback? What the hell? Considering the performance of the conference’s quarterbacks last season, it’s neither fair, nor surprising, that they have the next bunch already waiting in the wings. However, like Goff, Liufau didn’t play for a particularly good team, and led them to just two wins (over Cal and Charleston Southern) in his 8 games. While he didn’t set the world on fire, he certainly showed enough to suggest Colorado’s hunt for a quarterback is over. Liufau replaced Connor Wood, who had been ineffective in conference play, and rewarded the coaching staff’s decision with far better play. Liufau is far from the finished article, and he has been working hard on his consistency so far in spring camp, but it would be a major surprise if he was not the starter, and much improved, when the season kicks off. The true freshman completed 149 of 251 attempts for 1779 yards and 12 TDs, with 8 interceptions. On a completely irrelevant note, former NFL quarterback Jack Thompson is his uncle.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
It’s not often a sophomore takes over for an established senior, yet this is what happened in Starkville when Prescott took over for Tyler Russell last season. Russell still saw plenty of action, but it was Prescott who took the lion’s share of the snaps. Why was this? Simply put, the fleet Prescott was a better fit for the offense, and his running skills added an extra dimension that Russell lacked. Prescott showed his versatility last season with 4 100+ yard rushing games, and 5 games in excess of 200 yards passing. He still needs work as a passer, but with Russell gone, he’ll receive the extra attention in camp. Last season he completed 156 of 267 passes (58.4%) for 1940 yards and 10 TDs, with 7 interceptions, and also ran for 829 yards and 13 TDs on 134 carries. If he stays healthy in 2014 (he missed 2 games last year), it’s a safe bet he’ll blow those numbers out of the water.
PJ Walker, Temple
It seems like Temple hasn’t had a decent quarterback since Bill Cosby played his ball there, but it looks like that could be about to change with Walker on board. The freshman took over from Connor Reilly in game 5 last season, and never looked back. While the Owls only won 2 games with Walker at the helm (and 0 with Reilly), the offense was far superior, and even managed 3 games of over 500 yards. The Owls problems extend far beyond quarterback, but even so, Walker will only get better, and he will give his team a fighting chance in a realigned AAC next season and beyond. Last season, Walker completed 152 of 250 passes (60.8%) for 2084 yards, 20 TDs and 8 interceptions. He can make plays with his feet too, adding 332 yards and 3 scores on the ground. The Owls need to surround him with some more playmakers.