The start of the college football season is just over a month away, making now a good time to dive more into what teams in the Big 12 will look like in 2018.
We’ll do that here by looking at position groups and ranking them from best to worst. Next up, we move on to looking at how quarterback groups across the Big 12 compare.
1. West Virginia
Unlike last season, this year the separation from the first starting quarterback on this list and everyone else is pretty substantial. Of all the Big 12 quarterbacks, Grier is the only name being included in Heisman conversations right now, and it’s easy to see why. He threw for almost 3,500 yards in 2017 and nearly had a perfect 3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Grier also averaged 317.3 yards passing per game, third most in the conference.
Amongst last year’s best quarterbacks, Grier is the only returner, and with the offensive weapons he has coming back it’s hard to see anyone passing him up.
Given, of course, that the senior stays healthy. Grier was injured at the end of last season, something that hopefully doesn’t happen again in 2018. Ex-Miami quarterback Jack Allison and true freshman Trey Lowe are his backups, neither of whom have had meaningful college snaps.
2. Iowa State
The Cyclones make the second highest spot on these rankings because of the proven production they bring back at the quarterback position. Starter Kyle Kempt, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility in the offseason, had the third-highest quarterback rating in the Big 12 last season. He threw only three interceptions, but had fifteen touchdown passes.
Given that Kempt only started seven games in 2017, it’s not surprising that he made the watch list for the Davey O’Brian Award.
His backup, Zeb Noland, threw for over 250 yards in a game where Iowa State almost upset Oklahoma State last season. Noland probably has more upside than Kempt, but he also takes more chances. Should Kempt have to miss any time, however, there shouldn’t be much – if any – drop-off here.
Tom Herman finds himself with the most experienced quarterback room in the Big 12 this season, with Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger combining for 25 college starts. Even though Ehlinger and Beuchele did not have great seasons in 2017, the Longhorns probably have the highest quality of quarterbacks who have actually played in football games.
According to Herman, there is still a competition on the Forty Acres between those two, but most expect the job to go to the true sophomore Sam Ehlinger. Ehlinger lead the Longhorns in rushing last season, a statistic reflective of the more physical style of play that Herman’s offensive system prefers.
The junior Buechele, who threw for almost 3,000 yards passing his freshman season, would be the most seasoned backup in the conference in that case. Not to mention, Texas just signed two four star recruits in Cameron Rising and Casey Thompson last January. With them, Texas probably has the most collective talent at quarterback than has been on campus since the days of Colt McCoy.
Even though he refused to outright name his starting quarterback, Gary Patterson more or less declared to the college football world who will be “the guy” by bringing Shawn Robinson to Big 12 Media Days this year. Robinson is an athletic player who can make all of the throws. As a true freshman, he played well enough in the swirling winds in Lubbock to get the Horned Frogs a 27-3 to victory.
Entering his second season, Robinson looks poised to have a big year. One reason TCU is higher on this list, however, is what the Horned Frogs have behind their starter. In January, TCU signed five star quarterback Justin Rogers, who could eventually be better than Robinson.
He might have to redshirt, however, and wait behind Penn transfer Michael Collins, a redshirt sophomore who got some playing experience in the Ivy Leagues before moving to TCU. Collins is a solid backup for the Horned Frogs.
The Bears would be higher on this list if there weren’t some legitimate depth concerns in Matt Rhule’s second year. Year One saw Rhule go through three different quarterbacks and possibly find a multi-year starter in freshman standout Charlie Brewer. Brewer has the second-highest Quarterback Rating of all returning Big 12 quarterbacks at 145.9.
His 68.1 completion percentage from a year ago, moreover, is the best among all returners. If he stays healthy, Brewer could get around 3,500 yards passing in 2018.
If the sophomore were to go down with an injury again, the Bears might be in a bit of trouble. Baylor added transfer Jalen McClendon from NC State this summer to suit up alongside true freshman Gerry Bohanon, but those three are Baylor’s only scholarship quarterbacks. The Bears could be higher on this list if that lack of depth weren’t seriously concerning.
2018 will be the first year that Lincoln Riley has to break in a new quarterback since he’s been coaching in Norman. After producing a overall number one draft pick and Heisman winner last season, it’s more than justifiable to be bullish on Riley’s ability to develop the position.
But there are no doubt questions at the quarterback position for Riley. The Oklahoma head coach was quick to point out at Big 12 Media Days that former five star recruit Kyler Murray hasn’t yet won the job over redshirt sophomore Austin Kendall. Murray is a dynamic athlete, but the last time he got significant snaps – his 2015 freshman campaign – he threw five touchdowns to seven interceptions and posted a Quarterback Rating of 109.2.
Could either Murray or Kendall have one of the best seasons of all Big 12 quarterbacks? Certainly. Neither have proven themselves to be elite signal callers yet, however, and with a professional baseball career ahead for one of them, it’s safe to say there is some ambiguity surrounding this position group.
7. Kansas State
When Jesse Ertz went down with an injury early last season, Bill Snyder had to play Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson before he probably would have liked. Delton proved to be a threat with his legs, while Thompson – who came in when Delton was injured – proved to be slightly more of a threat with his arm.
Each player has qualities that Snyder has traditionally liked in his quarterbacks, but if the head coach could combine their talents, he would have the ideal signal caller for his system. Snyder took both to Big 12 Media Days, possibly signaling that it might be quarterback-by-committee this season in Manhattan.
The old adage which claims that “if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any” is one reason why the Wildcats are lower on this list, however. Both Thompson and Delton seemed to have their limitations last season, so how does that translate to high level quarterback play?
8. Oklahoma State
The Pokes are lower on this list because it is so difficult to project who will be the starting quarterback at Oklahoma State any given week of this upcoming season. Mike Gundy said Taylor Cornelius “his guy” headed into the season, but he has played multiple quarterbacks before, and may well do so again in 2018.
The competition in Stillwater has multiple players who each have something unique to bring to the table, but who also have question marks.
Cornelius is a fifth year former walk-on who has spent countless hours in offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s system. Cornelius has deceptive athleticism for a guy who’s six-and-a-half feet tall, but does he have the arm strength necessary to make Big 12 defenses nervous?
Dru Brown is a Hawaii transfer who threw for over 5,000 yards in two years, but how well will that translate into the elevated competition of the Big 12? Do the 48 times he was sacked over that same time span have more to do with his offensive line or an inability to get rid of the football in a timely manner?
True freshman Spencer Sanders might have the most upside of any of these three. Sanders is a four star, dual threat quarterback who signed with the Pokes in January. He very well could be the future of the Oklahoma State quarterback position, but is he ready to take this position on right now?
9. Texas Tech
It’s odd for the Red Raiders to be so low in a ranking of offensive position groups, but this might be the most uncertainty Kliff Kingsbury’s had at quarterback in recent years. Junior McLane Carter would seem to have the edge in the competition as the older player, but there are good reasons to have reservations about his ceiling. In his most meaningful game action to date, Carter was benched against Texas last year after throwing two interceptions with no touchdowns and posting a 43.2 completion percentage.
There might be more upside to his primary competition, Jett Duffey. Duffey is a dual-threat player at the position, and reminds some of former Red Raider signal caller Patrick Mahomes. As of spring, Duffey hadn’t won the job, however, and an off-the-field incident with Lubbock police raised questions about his leadership.
Another name getting more hype as fall camp approaches is Alan Bowman, a true freshman out of Grapevine, Texas, who probably has the best arm of all three candidates.
Kingsbury has started young players like him before, but even standouts like Mahomes and then-Red Raider Baker Mayfield had their share of struggles in that situation. That raises the biggest issue for Texas Tech: there is of course a lack of quality game experience around the conference, but the Red Raiders probably have the least of any team.
Even though the Jayhawks have experience at this position, they are last on this list because of the lack of quality production. Upperclassmen Carter Stanley and Peyton Bender both struggled last season, with neither guy completing more than 55 percent of his passes.
Together, the duo combined to throw three more interceptions than touchdowns in 2017, numbers that may improve this year, but are not exactly promising. Beaty brought in transfer Miles Kendrick to add to the competition that will be ongoing this fall, but by all accounts, it’s still a two-man race in Lawrence.