Last offseason, I wrote about potential quarterback breakout candidates in college football. I saw that a lot of quarterbacks who had “breakout seasons” came when they were second-year players, meaning either true sophomores or redshirt freshmen. This list includes Johnny Manziel’s Heisman season in 2012, Jameis Winston’s Heisman and national championship winning season in 2013, and Deshaun Watson’s run to the national title in 2015.
Not to pat myself on the back, but I correctly tabbed Jake Browning, Deondre Francois and Lamar Jackson as breakout candidates. Browning led Washington to a Pac-12 title and the playoffs, Francois took Florida State to an Orange Bowl win and Jackson won the Heisman trophy.
On the other hand, I whiffed on a few guys. Josh Rosen at UCLA got hurt and sat out for most of the year. Blake Barnett and Brady White did not win the jobs at Alabama and Arizona State respectively. I also completely missed a few players, such as Sam Darnold’s rise to stardom at USC.
Thankfully, the quarterback class of 2016 makes my job easy. Several players started as true freshman, while a couple more have already paved their way for jobs after redshirting. Alabama’s Jalen Hurts is not included in this list, because he is already a bonafide star after winning the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year award.
With our criteria already established, who are some quarterbacks who could be in line for breakout seasons in 2017?
The True Sophomores
Jacob Eason, Georgia
A five-star recruit out of high school, Jacob Eason is everything you want from in a quarterback. Standing at 6-5, 235-pounds with a great arm as well, there is no doubt he has a future as a professional. Eason was up-and-down as a true freshman starter, passing for 2,430 yards and 16 touchdowns. Between the return of running back Nick Chubb to a (hopefully) improved offensive line, Eason has the potential to be the next big name SEC quarterback.
Shea Patterson, Ole Miss
If there’s one player in college football who could be the reincarnate of Johnny Manziel, it’s Shea Patterson. He only started three games last year for the Rebels, but his 338-yard, two touchdown performance at Texas A&M reminded a lot of people of how Manziel used to scurry around Kyle Field and make amazing plays. Patterson’s potential at Ole Miss will be limited by the ongoing sanctions surrounding the program, but the former five-star recruit has a plethora of talented wide receivers to throw to as a true sophomore next season.
Justin Herbert, Oregon
Oregon was a shell of its former self last season, but the play of Justin Herbert gave many fans optimism for the future. Under new head coach Willie Taggart and with another offseason under Herbert’s belt, expect the Ducks to return to national prominence. Herbert passed for 1,936 yards and 19 touchdowns, despite only starting for half of the season. Oregon has historically produced good quarterback play, so there’s no reason to doubt Herbert’s potential as a true sophomore.
Jake Bentley, South Carolina
Jake Bentley’s story is all too familiar for college football fans. He skipped his senior year of high school and won the job at South Carolina as a true freshman. Bentley started for the latter half of the Gamecock’s season, throwing for 1,420 yards and nine touchdowns. Those aren’t the best stats, but his poise and leadership were something that coaches raved about. With another year under offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, Bentley could thrive in the SEC.
Shane Buechele, Texas
There’s no one more happy to see Tom Herman in Austin than Shane Buechele. Buechele started all 12 games for Texas last season, throwing for 2,958 yards and 21 touchdowns, but the hype around the Longhorns died quickly. With Herman installed as the head coach, Buechele could thrive in his up-tempo system. He will face some competition for the job, but his experience should push him over the edge and allow him to take the next step as a passer.
The Redshirt Freshmen
KJ Costello, Stanford
A former four-star recruit, Costello redshirted his first year on campus for Stanford, not something unheard of for quarterbacks under head coach David Shaw. But with Keller Chryst recovering from knee surgery, there is an open competition this offseason for the job. Senior Ryan Burns has experience, but Costello has the talent and upside. At 6-5, 220-pounds, Costello has the size and arm talent to make all the throws necessary from Stanford’s pro-style offense. There’s a good chance that Costello makes a major push for job, if not outright winning it, before Stanford’s season opener in Australia.
Feleipe Franks, Florida
Florida has been desperately looking for a quarterback ever since Tim Tebow left and Feleipe Franks just might be that guy. The former blue-chip recruit enrolled early at Florida last year and redshirted, but this is now his time to shine. He will have to beat senior Luke Del Rio and fellow freshman Kyle Trask, but neither has the pure arm talent or upside that the 6-6, 219-pound Franks possesses. If he can win the job, then the ceiling for Florida’s 2017 season gets a lot higher.
Jack Allison, Miami (FL)
With the departure of Brad Kaaya, there is a major hole at quarterback for the Hurricanes. Jack Allison was a four-star recruit and fits a similar profile to Kaaya at 6-5, 200-pounds. He has all the tools you want from in a quarterback and, with an offseason under the tutelage of Mark Richt, there is no doubt he could be the Hurricanes’ starter. Assuming he wins the job, he will have some great weapons to work with as Miami tries to return to national prominence.