McSorley tops list of returning NCAA quarterbacks |

McSorley tops list of returning NCAA quarterbacks

Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley (9) passes the ball against Pitt in the second quarter on Saturday Sept. 09, 2017 at Beaver Stadium.

College football is almost here. USA TODAY Sports is getting you ready for the 2018 season by breaking down the best players at each position in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

First up: the quarterbacks. There’s a power vacuum atop the list after five of college football’s biggest stars went in the first round of the recent NFL draft. But there’s talent waiting in the wings, including several starters who will enter this season at or near the top of most Heisman Trophy lists.

From the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Pac-12 Conference and all points in between, here are the best quarterbacks in college football for 2018.

1. Trace McSorley, Penn State

McSorley will get his chance to shine as a solo artist without Saquon Barkley owning the spotlight in Penn State’s quarterback-friendly scheme. He’ll respond well to the challenge. Much like Baker Mayfield, McSorley combines top-level awareness, underrated athleticism and an impeccable grasp of his team’s offense in an undersized package. But also like Mayfield, he possesses a drive you can’t measure in yards, touchdowns or inches.

2. McKenzie Milton, Central Florida

How UCF fares as a team in the transition from Scott Frost to Josh Heupel is one of college football’s most intriguing story lines heading into September. One thing is sure, however: Milton’s going to put up numbers. The best quarterback on the Group of Five level and an outstanding fit for the Knights’ system — which will look slightly different under Heupel — Milton is a true Heisman contender coming out of the American Athletic Conference.

3. Ryan Finley, North Carolina State

Finley has what the NFL is looking for: intelligence, experience, a strong arm and familiarity with a pro-tempo system. That he protects the football as well as any quarterback in the country is a plus. He could stand to add some weight, but Finley has the ability and the accompanying skill talent to play his way into an All-America selection.

4. Will Grier, West Virginia

What’s most intriguing about Grier is his clear room for improvement. Not that he’s not already among the elite at his position: Grier threw for 3,490 yards and 34 scores in 2017, his first as the Mountaineers’ starter. It’s more about the idea that he’s only now scratching the surface of his potential. Remember that he played in just six games at Florida before stepping into Dana Holgorsen’s offense a year ago. He could explode as a senior.

5. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn

It’s no coincidence that Auburn is nearly unbeatable when Stidham has room to operate. As he goes, so go the Tigers. Like Grier, there’s enormous reason for optimism: Stidham got his feet wet as a freshman at Baylor in 2015 and had his down moments for Auburn in 2017, with the byproduct of this experience almost inevitably a push for all-conference and national recognition.

6. Justin Herbert, Oregon

It would be great to see Herbert for one full and healthy season before he shuttles off to the NFL. What we’ve seen so far are spurts of genius mitigated by the not-unexpected brushes with inefficiency and ineffectiveness. But this is also true: Oregon is garbage without Herbert and a potential top-25 team with the junior in the lineup. If healthy, Herbert will prove in 2018 why NFL scouts are already enamored with the local product’s arm, touch and smarts.

7. Drew Lock, Missouri

On one hand, Lock led the nation with 44 touchdowns a year ago. On the other, 18 of those scores came in games against the powerhouse defenses at Southwest Missouri State, Idaho and Connecticut. He completed 52 percent of his attempts with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions against winning FBS competition. He hit on 63 percent of his throws on 10.7 yards per attempt with 26 scores against losing teams. So what’s the story? That Lock can pitch it as well as anyone but must also show up and perform at a higher level against the elite opponents on the Tigers’ schedule. The same can be said of Missouri as a whole, obviously.

8. Khalil Tate, Arizona

Tate took college football by storm after moving into the starting lineup one month into last season. His October — a stretch that began with an all-timer performance against Colorado — cemented his place in the Heisman conversation, and also overshadowed a significant decline in production during Arizona’s 1-4 close to the Rich Rodriguez era. The Wildcats’ new coach, Kevin Sumlin, brings along an offense suited to Tate’s skill set; Sumlin’s scheme will play to his dual-threat gifts, a thought that should wobble the knees of opposing Pac-12 defensive coordinators. The strides Tate has made as a passer this offseason will determine whether or not he factors into the end-of-year award mix.

9. Jake Fromm, Georgia

The best is still to come for Fromm, though it’s hard to overestimate the importance of his spending an entire offseason as the Bulldogs’ unquestioned starter. He’ll be better in 2018: more confident, more under control, savvier in the face of SEC defenses. Then again, he’ll have more on his plate as Georgia breaks in a new backfield and a new starter at left tackle. Fromm seems up to the challenge of becoming the face of the Bulldogs’ offense.

10. Jake Browning, Washington

It was just two seasons ago that Browning tossed 43 touchdowns and finished sixth in the Heisman voting. In comparison, that made his 2017 season a disappointment — even as Browning significantly increased his completion percentage and maintained a healthy per-attempt average. He could use some help from a receivers corps that must develop at least one additional deep threat. But the advantage of spending the past three seasons as Chris Petersen’s starter can’t be overlooked.


Jake Bentley, South Carolina

Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin

Kyler Murray, Oklahoma

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

Clayton Thorson, Northwestern

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