We’ll get more numbers as we approach the 2017 college football season. But, one thing we can say early is 2017 should be an excellent year for quarterback play (all five of our preliminary Heisman favorites were quarterbacks). That could make things interesting near the top of the polls.
Returning Starters… Having an experienced quarterback back tends to work out well in college football. Clemson loses DeShaun Watson. The remaining 13 of the final AP Top 14 have a starting quarterback (or someone who spent a significant amount doing it) returning. Two of those are Danny Etling and Luke Del Rio, but still.
Underclassmen… Many of the star quarterbacks coming back were young. Four 2016 underclassmen who ranked Top 20 nationally in passer rating – Jake Browning (Washington), Sam Darnold (USC), Trace McSorely (Penn State), Brett Rypien (Boise State) – should be back and, one presumes, better. That list does not include Deondre Francois (FSU), Jalen Hurts (Alabama), or some dude named Lamar Jackson (Louisville) who won the Heisman.
Last Year’s Freshmen… There’s an important crop of freshmen beyond the big names who either did make an impact in 2016 or should make one in 2017. Shane Buechele is now working with Tom Herman at Texas. Justin Herbert put up Top 30ish numbers at Oregon. The two big SEC recruits – Jacob Eason (UGA) and Shea Patterson (Ole Miss) will be sophomores. Zach Smith put up solid numbers for Baylor.
Seniors… Five of the Top 10 rated passers nationally in 2016 were juniors. Two, Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) and Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State) decided to come back. That makes things far more interesting at the Top of the Big 12. Ohio State has work to do in its passing game. But, now maligned J.T. Barrett is 26-4 as a starter at Ohio State.
The Best NFL Draft Prospect… We should mention UCLA’s Josh Rosen. His 2016 season was derailed by injury. Getting back on track for 2017 could see him become the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. With new OC Jedd Fisch coming over from Michigan, Rosen will probably be getting the best pro-style coaching he’s had since being on campus.
What Does All This Mean… Losing a talented, longtime starting quarterback can be devastating (see MSU as an extreme example in 2016). This isn’t to say teams don’t have issues with returning linemen and returning receivers that could have an impact. But, you would expect many of the same top teams from 2016 to be relevant again in 2017.
Having quarterbacks come back does not guarantee a crazy, competitive season with a lot of great teams. But, it’s more auspicious than 13 of the top 14 teams having a quarterback leaving.