In 2012, Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) and Marcus Mariota (Oregon) burst onto the scene as redshirt freshmen. Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy and lead the Aggies to a win in the Cotton Bowl over Oklahoma. Mariota laid the foundations for his record-breaking career with the Ducks and lead them to a Fiesta Bowl victory as well.
In 2013, Jameis Winston (Florida State) won the Heisman Trophy and lead the Seminoles to a national championship victory over Auburn as a redshirt freshman.
In 2014, J.T. Barrett (Ohio State) took over as a redshirt freshman after Braxton Miller went down with injury and set a Big Ten record with 45 total touchdowns and helped the Buckeyes secure a berth in the College Football Playoff.
In 2015, Deshaun Watson (Clemson), a true sophomore, became the first player in FBS history to throw for 4,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in a season while leading the Tigers to a national championship appearance.
The theme of second-year quarterbacks having breakout seasons is becoming commonplace in college football. Whether it be a redshirt freshman or true sophomore, we can predict that at least one quarterback will have a “Heisman-type” year. With that being said, who are some of the candidates to have a breakout season in 2016?
The True Sophomores
Josh Rosen, UCLA
After posting one of the most impressive true freshman seasons in recent memory, Josh Rosen is already on the verge of superstardom. The top-rated quarterback from the 2015 class, Rosen cemented himself as UCLA’s starting quarterback from day one. He threw for 3,670 yards and 23 touchdowns as a true freshman and showed flashes of a prospect that many consider to be a franchise quarterback when he is draft eligible. If he continues to develop, he could challenge Andrew Luck as the most pro-ready quarterback in recent draft history.
Jake Browning, Washington
A four-star prospect, Jake Browning earned the starting job at Washington and quietly had a great true freshman campaign. He threw for 2,955 yards and 16 touchdowns and had some great individual performances, including a 263-yard, four-touchdown game versus Arizona. The Washington Huskies are expected to contend for the North division in 2016, and a big reason why is their emerging sophomore quarterback.
Brett Rypien, Boise State
The nephew of former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, Brett took over at quarterback when starter Ryan Finley went down with injury in Boise State’s third game of the season. He lead the Broncos to a 9-4 record and was named first-team All-MWC while throwing for 3,353 yards and 20 touchdowns. While head coach Bryan Harsin has stated that there will be an open competition in spring camp, Rypien certainly has the inside track after his record-setting freshman season.
Tanner Mangum, BYU
A member of the 2012 recruiting class, Mangum delayed his enrollment at BYU in order to take part in a Mormon mission trip. He returned in 2015 to backup Taysom Hill, but took over once Hill went down with an injury. He lead BYU to back-to-back wins over Nebraska and Boise State on Hail Mary attempts and finished his freshman season with an impressive 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns through the air. Taysom Hill will return to BYU in 2016, but Mangum should be favorited to return as starting quarterback.
Lamar Jackson, Louisville
A three-star prospect out of high school, Lamar Jackson rotated with other quarterback throughout his true freshman season. However, he had a breakout performance in Louisville’s bowl game versus Texas A&M when he accounted for 453 yards (227 through the air, 226 on the ground) and four total touchdowns (two passing, two rushing). Many college football writers have already compared him to a young Michael Vick in terms of his playmaking ability and elite track speed. He still needs to develop as a passer, but Jackson’s ceiling is very high.
Chase Litton, Marshall
An under-the-radar quarterback, Chase Litton earned the starting job at Marshall before the third game of the season and dazzled with a four-touchdown performance. He finished his true freshman season with 2,605 yards and 23 touchdowns through the air and is undoubtedly one of C-USA’s best young quarterbacks. In a system that produced Byron Leftwich and Rakeem Cato, Litton is certain to put up big numbers in 2016.
The Redshirt Freshmen
Blake Barnett, Alabama
Blake Barnett became the highest rated quarterback to ever commit to Alabama when he enrolled last year. He redshirted in 2015, but is firmly entrenched in the quarterback competition this offseason. A dual-threat option, Barnett’s legs bring an element to the position that was missing last season in Tuscaloosa. He will have to battle junior Cooper Bateman and sophomore David Cornwell for the job, but should push for major playing time even if he doesn’t win right away.
Deondre Francois, Florida State
With Sean Maguire out with an injury during spring practice, Francois is already taking first-team snaps. A four-star prospect from the 2015 class, Francois is a dual-threat option who has a lightning-quick release and cannon for an arm to boot. He will have to compete with Maguire for the job in fall camp, but Deondre Francois will have a great opportunity to win over Jimbo Fisher during Florida State’s spring game.
Brady White, Arizona State
The highest-rated quarterback to ever sign with the Sun Devils, White is splitting reps with the first team in spring practice. He is a little undersized at 6-2, 200 lbs. (per Arizona State’s official roster), but impressed during the Elite 11 competition last season. White is undoubtedly the best passer out of the three competitors and should have the inside track at winning the job.