USA TODAY Sports is getting ready for the 2019 college football season by breaking down the best players at each position in the Bowl Subdivision. Up first: the quarterbacks.
A list of the nation’s best quarterbacks can essentially double as a preseason list of the top Heisman Trophy contenders — only one non-quarterback, Alabama running Derrick Henry, has taken home the Heisman this decade.
As expected, it’s a grouping led by the two starters in January’s championship game: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. After that pair comes a run of quarterbacks set to make noise in 2019 and beyond.
1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson (Soph.)
Lawrence tossed just four interceptions against 30 touchdowns during his first year on campus, capped by his 347-yard, near-perfect performance against the Crimson Tide. That’s just a taste of what’s to come for a sophomore already compared to some of the great prospects at his position in recent history — including Peyton Manning.
2. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (Jr.)
An otherwise dreamy 2018 season came to a relative thud at the end, with an unpredictably sour showing in the SEC championship against Georgia preceding the Tide’s shocking loss to the Tigers. That’s taken some wind out of his sails, but only to a point: Tagovailoa is still a star who grabs attention in a way no college quarterback has since Tim Tebow.
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3. Justin Herbert, Oregon (Sr.)
Herbert’s decision to return for his senior season is good for his eventual draft prospects — he’s deep in contention for being the top quarterback on the board for 2020 — and even better news for Oregon, which hopes to ride Hebert’s skill set to a Pac-12 championship and major bowl. Herbert is tall, strong-armed and extremely intelligent, a package that speaks to NFL talent gurus.
4. Sam Ehlinger, Texas (Jr.)
Former Oklahoma starter Kyler Murray forced Ehlinger’s strong 2018 season into the background, leading many even in Big 12 country to ignore his strong grasp of Tom Herman’s scheme in his second season with the program. Ehlinger is a bruising runner and a developing passer, and should put together the sort of numbers that when teamed with the Longhorns’ potential success should make him a dark-horse Heisman contender.
5. Jake Fromm, Georgia (Jr.)
Fromm finished last season ranked in the top 12 nationally in touchdowns, completion percentage, yards per attempt and efficiency rating. Few noticed. Supremely reliable and extremely undervalued, Fromm’s national reputation hasn’t caught up with his production. Another Georgia run to the College Football Playoff might change that.
6. K.J. Costello, Stanford (Jr.)
Like Herbert, Costello could’ve put his name into the ring for the recent NFL draft but demurred; as with Herbert, it was the right move. Costello is a fairly unknown commodity on a national level but has the talent and coaching to bloom into an All-America contender and Stanford’s best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck.
7. Adrian Martinez, Nebraska (Soph.)
It might be too soon to anoint Martinez as one of the nation’s best, but the potential is there for the Nebraska sophomore to make an under-the-radar charge at some end-of-season hardware. He was a revelation amid the Cornhuskers’ debut under Scott Frost, who has helped to develop his fair share of quarterback standouts. Martinez will be his latest star.
8. Shea Patterson, Michigan (Sr.)
Patterson was a five-star prospect who has played at a four-star level — not that there’s anything wrong with that. But if spring takeaways are to be believed, Patterson may blossom in Michigan’s turn toward a more modernized offensive scheme. The ability is there for Patterson to match his five-star billing.
9. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (Sr.)
America’s favorite backup quarterback now has the chance to return to the starting role, and at a place famous for its ability to turn transfers into Heisman winners, no less. Hurts might not be as capable a thrower as his two predecessors under center but he has the experience, athleticism and leadership qualities to flourish in a system tweaked to fit his skills.
10. Jordan Love, Utah State (Jr.)
Love tossed a pair of interceptions in last year’s opener against Michigan State, a one-score loss, and then threw 32 touchdowns against just four picks the rest of the way as the Aggies closed the Matt Wells era in style. It’ll be interesting to see if Love’s production continues under new coach Gary Andersen, but he’s already made a name for himself as the top quarterback among the Group of Five leagues.
Five also just missing out
Ian Book, Notre Dame; Jacob Eason, Washington; Mason Fine, North Texas; D’Eriq King, Houston; Khalil Tate, Arizona.