The Big 12 is going through a transition year at Quarterback in 2015. Gone are veterans Bryce Petty, Clint Trickett, and Sam Waters, replaced by spot starters and transfers. Competition at the position is the norm throughout the conference, with high powered offenses at Baylor, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma yet to name starters, and Texas and Kansas continuing to search for an offensive identity. TCU’s Trevone Boykin returns as the unquestioned star of the group, and easily number 1 on this list. The rest is a combination of study, projection, and guesswork.
1. Trevone Boykin, TCU, Senior
The Mountaineers did not see Trevone Boykin at his best last year, or perhaps, he saw them at theirs (except. for one. play.) – either way, the rest of his resume easily earns him the spot atop these rankings. A true Heisman hopeful, Boykin will be joined on the field by 6 of his top 7 pass catchers from 2014, as well as the team’s leading rusher. After 2 seasons of struggles upon entry to the Big 12, the Horned Frogs have experienced a full on revolution on the offensive side of the ball alongside their quarterback’s evolution. The former part-time wide receiver has developed into the nation’s top dual threat quarterback and TCU has arrived as a Big 12 power. In his scintillating junior season, Boykin won ugly (@ WVU), and he won pretty (TTU), but in 2015 he will have an opportunity to win big. TCU will likely be favored in every game they play, with a schedule that offers very little challenge outside of the conference and sets up nicely for an end of season matchup, at home, against last year’s dream killers – the Baylor Bears.
2. Seth Russell, Baylor, Junior
Sometimes it’s the driver, sometimes it’s the car. Other times it’s a head coach who is willing to call four-verticals 25 times a game. Whatever it is, chances are Seth Russell will succeed in one of the country’s most quarterback friendly offenses. Like Boykin, Russell will enjoy the benefits of playing with seasoned weapons, as aside from Atwan Goodley, all of 2014’s impact offensive producers return (get ready to see a lot more of Coco Coleman). Frankly, I’m willing to leave the number two spot in these rankings open for whoever wins the Baylor quarterback competition – but, this is the internet and I get paid millions to make predictions, so Russell it is. That said, Jarrett Stidham (Fr) and Chris Johnson (So) are both capable of winning the job, and excelling. They are all very different quarterbacks, but in his limited time on the field in 2014, Russell showed that he can operate the offense in game speed situations, while the other two have yet to take a meaningful snap in a college game. Strong-armed and pro-sized, the junior seems fit to take the reins of Art Brile’s offense that has already produced two NFL draft picks at the quarterback position.
3. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State, Sophomore
Mason Rudolph played no more, and certainly no better, than Seth Russell in 2014, but there is no uncertainty regarding his role heading in to 2015. He is the starting quarterback for Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State. Only slightly more efficient than WVU’s Skyler Howard, and turnover prone (a problem Howard, as of yet, is immune to), the new Cowboy quarterback has still managed to get people excited in Stillwater. The return of every player that caught a pass last season will help, and Rudolph would certainly not be the first quarterback to make ball security mistakes in his freshman season, and then leave them there. OSU opens the season with three games that will have Cowboy fans looking for yard-work by the third quarter, but a game at Texas in week 4 should give us a pretty good idea of how good Rudolph and the offense really is (though games at Texas have lied before).
4a. Skyler Howard, West Virginia, Junior
I want to believe in Skyler Howard, and for obvious reasons most Mountaineer fans seem to as well. He appears unafraid, excited, and grateful. All of these traits are contagious, and Howard provides an edge-0f-your-seat element at the quarterback position that the Mountaineers haven’t had since the great Pat White. Aside from taking their home snaps in Morgantown, however, the two have very little else in common. Howard’s accuracy issues have been well documented and discussed on this site, and he has yet to consistently produce big plays with his legs. There still does seem to be something there, though. Perhaps it’s the intangibles mentioned above, or maybe it’s the JUCO highlight tape that made him look like some kind of Doug Flutie/Teen Wolf hybrid, but there is something giving hope in Morgantown. Howard is the unquestioned starter for Dana Holgorsen, despite a relatively impressive depth chart, and there is belief that his mobility could provide a new wrinkle to the WVU attack. If the junior can find some sort of rhythym, and remain in manageable down and distance situations, the versatility of the offense will allow him to thrive. His ability to protect the ball should allow him to avoid disaster and keep a steady hold on the job through the nonconference part of the schedule that ends with Maryland visiting. It’s a game the Mountaineers should win, but will be a suitable challenge for a team working in new weapons and trying help its quarterback find success. Howard will have his chance to make a claim that the next great WVU quarterback has arrived in week 4, at Oklahoma. Win or lose, Howard will need to play in a fashion that provides his team with some sort of positive feelings, as the game represents just the first leg of a four game stretch that appears to be someone pulling a prank on the Mountaineers– at Oklahoma, vs Oklahoma St, at Baylor, at Tcu. The Mountaineers conceivably could play very very well in that stretch, and come out of it 0-4. We will find out who Skyler Howard is.
4b. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech, Sophomore
Another guy who has yet to win his job, but my pick to do so at Texas Tech, comes in at number 4. The Fighting Kingsburys’ sophomore signal caller turned in better work than any of the quarterbacks with limited experience above him on this list, and has a sparkling 16/4 touchdown to interception ratio to show for it. Mahomes was, however, only 1-3 in his four starts, and has yet to separate himself from Davis Webb, at least in his coaches eyes. The Red Raiders rely heavily on the quick passing game aspects of the Air Raid offense so popular in contemporary college football, and high-variance quarterbacks like Mahomes can struggle mightily in such a scheme. Webb is easily the more polished pocket-passer and offers the coaching staff a level of predictability his younger teammate simply does not bring to the table. No one has ever confused Kliff Kingsbury with Randy Edsall, however, and the smart money seems to be on him rolling with the gunslinger. Mahome’s ability to extend plays, work outside the pocket, and find players downfield (like this, for example) creates big plays and touchdowns, while his intelligence and willingness to run limit his turnovers. Were it not for questions about his ability to thrive in the Tech offense as it is currently constructed, the uber-talented dual threat quarterback (who was so good as a freshman that some wondered if his performance led to Jarrett Stidham’s surprise exit from the TTU program) would be much higher on this list.
6. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma, Junior
Once upon a time, Baker Mayfield danced. While it has yet to win him the official nod as starting quarterback of the 2015 Oklahoma Sooners, it was pretty good. Nice job kid. On the field, there is less footage. Mayfield sat out all of 2014 after playing at Texas Tech in 2013. That season, despite an impressive start against less than stellar competition, he struggled mightily in Big 12 play, throwing 5 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in 6 league games. He appears poised to be named Bob Stoops’ starter, but there is not much excitement about the Sooner passing game in 2015. Mayfield began his career as a walk on and will likely only be asked to manage the game with his veteran weapons on the outside (Sterling Sheppard and Duron Neal both return for their senior seasons), while handing off to Samaje Perine as many times as possible. (Samaje Perine once did this to Karl Joseph. Anyone who can do anything to Karl Joseph should get the ball. A lot.)
7. Sam Richardson, Iowa State, Senior
Iowa State, one of the nation’s greatest college football environments, returns Sam Richardson, the elder statesman of Big 12 Quarterbacking in 2015. With the experience gained from 26 games over three years, and fully locked in as the Cyclones’ leader and starter, Richardson is right to have high hopes for his senior season. Trusted targets Quenton Bundrage and Allen Lazard are back, and OC Mark Mangino remains in place. Stability and consistency can work wonders for a team trying to make the jump from 4-8 to 6-6, and get bowl eligible. The Cyclones could be 4-0 heading to Lubbock for a game against Texas Tech. If they emerge victorious, look for them to be playing during bowl season. Sam Richardson is a tough competitor who deserves to finish his career on a high note, but he is no charity case either. Armed with above average athleticism, Richardson is quick and strong enough to make plays from inside or outside of the pocket, and has an arm that is strong enough to beat you.
8. Tyrone Swoopes, Texas, Junior
In this space, I want to say two things: 1) No conference in the country has better quarterback names than the Big 12. Baker Mayfield, Skyler Howard, Mason Rudolph, heck, even “Sam Richardson” evokes inspiring thoughts of plaid shirts and hard work. Not everyone on this list was born to play quarterback at an elite level, but most of them were named to. Tyrone Swoopes? Are you kidding me? Run my offense, kid, run my offense. 2) I have no idea who is going to win the Texas quarterback job. Swoopes, the returning junior, played last year, but not necessarily well, or poorly. He just… played. It is understandable to think there is hope though, as Swoopes has shown the ability to makes plays with his arm and his legs. His size is impressive, and he obviously has the advantage in experience over Redshirt Freshman Jerrod Snead, but, so far, he has only experienced long strings of mediocrity. There have been plays and successes sprinkled in, but progress has been neither consistent nor linear, and there is no guarantee Swoopes will ever be anything more than he is right now – a below average to average Power Conference starter. Snead has time and talent, and is the better athlete, but there appears to be no rush to give him the job. I suspect Head Coach Charlie Strong will go with the veteran Swoopes, while trying to find ways to maximize his gifts. The well-publicized adoption of spread offense tactics and principles should help Swoopes, find a balance between being a running quarterback and working from the pocket.
9. Joe Hubener, Kansas State, Junior
Hubener has attempted only 17 passes in his college career. He did not play quarterback in high school. Despite these two facts, I have to project and rank his upcoming season. Soooo…. I’m putting him here. The junior has shown an ability to run – a little – with 147 yards on 29 career carries, but he has only 1 more touchdown pass in his career than I have. There is competition, of course, in the form of Jesse Ertz (who actually took the opening snaps of the spring game) and exciting freshman Alex Delton, but it is doubtful that Bill Snyder would hand the team to a freshman in week 1, and Hubener served as backup quarterback last year. I can already see opposing fans from across the conference pulling their hair out as Bill Snyder finds a way to lead this quarterback – who had nearly twice as many runs as he had passes heading into the season – to 9 wins.
10. Michael Cummings, Kansas, Senior
Michael Cummings was all set to be the Jayhawks opening day signal caller until a spring game knee injury has brought his availability into question. Whether it is Cummings or fellow returnee Montrell Cozart, whoever the Jayhawks start will fall into this range in the rankings. Kansas has simply not been able to put a quality team on the field since the Todd Reesing days (remember how much fun he was?), and this year will likely be no different. New coach David Beatty will not just be looking to get improved quarterback play in 2015, he’ll be attempting to resurrect an entire program.