We wrap up our College Football 2022 Most Intriguing lists this week with the position under the most scrutiny and in the most flux—quarterback. Nearly half this list is made up of 2022 transfers, and frankly the entire 25 probably could have gone that way. The previous Most Intriguing lists: coaches, people in suits and non-quarterbacks.
1. Caleb Williams, USC. Joined at the hip with Lincoln Riley; how far can they ride together? Oklahoma fans were insulted by Riley’s sudden departure for USC, but outright furious when the No. 1 QB prospect in the class of 2021 went with him. Williams flashed considerable talent and improvisational genius last season while posting the second-highest pass efficiency rating by a true freshman in at least the last 14 years (169.63). Linking up with an influx of new skill-position talent in L.A. gives Williams a chance at a huge season that could jump-start the Trojans’ renaissance.
2. Bryce Young, Alabama. Yeah, his college career has gotten off to a pretty good start—Heisman Trophy winner as a sophomore in his first season as a starter, throwing for more yards in a single season (4,872) than any SEC player not named Joe Burrow. But national championships are the coin of the realm in Alabama, and Young threw the pick-six that ended his team’s chances in the College Football Playoff title game last season. Almost assuredly on the way to the NFL in 2023 as the Crimson Tide’s third straight first-round QB draft pick, can Young grab the brass ring that eluded him last year?
3. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State. If any QB comes off the board before Young in the 2023 draft, it might be Stroud. His productivity as a redshirt freshman last year for the Buckeyes was immense—44 touchdown passes, six interceptions (only one in his final nine games), 370 passing yards per game, 17 school records. Yes, the Heisman finalist benefited from throwing to the best receiver corps in the country in ’21, but he made a lot of that magic happen with his arm. (He might still have the best receiver corps in the country, even after two Buckeyes were taken in the first round last year.)
4. DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson. The intrigue is heavy here. Is Uiagelelei the mega-recruit who played brilliantly in emergency relief of Trevor Lawrence as a freshman in 2020? Or is he the unsure starter whose confidence cratered in a disappointing sophomore season? Uiagelelei never threw for 250 yards or three touchdowns in a game last year, wasn’t much of a running threat and finished the season with more interceptions (10) than TD passes (nine). Clemson has a new play-caller in ’22 (Brandon Streeter), and maybe that change will reinvigorate DJ. If not, the next hotshot freshman (Cade Klubnik) waits in the wings.
5. Quinn Ewers, Texas. The poster child for the NIL era in college football left high school early to enroll at Ohio State and begin cashing in last year—then he hardly played (zero pass attempts) and transferred back to his home state. Once at Texas, Ewers got an Aston Martin with burnt-orange interior last spring. Despite all the fame and fortune, he was in a battle with Hudson Card before being named the starter last week. Now all the 19-year-old Million-Dollar Mullet Man has to do is live up to the hype and Bring Texas Back in Year 2 under Steve Sarkisian.
6. Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina. The other magnificent QB mullet belongs to McCall, who has proudly counter-programmed the transient quarterback trend. After breaking the FBS single-season pass efficiency record in 2021 with a rating of 207.65, McCall resisted overtures to transfer to a bigger school. His social media post announcing that he’d be back at Coastal was epic: “When I say I piss teal, I mean it,” McCall said, citing the Chanticleers’ predominant color. His savvy command of Jamey Chadwell’s option offense will be vital in ’22. After losing his top three receivers, a 1,000-yard rusher and three offensive line starters, McCall is taking a heavy load on his shoulders this season.
7. Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma. When Williams vacated the starting job at Oklahoma, Gabriel jumped at the chance to replace him. The former UCF QB was headed to UCLA in December, but decommitted from the Bruins in early January and redirected to Norman. The left-handed Hawaiian has thrown for more than 8,000 yards in college and reunites with his freshman-year UCF coordinator (Jeff Lebby) at Oklahoma. Gabriel is coming off a fractured clavicle and hasn’t played in a game since Sept. 17, 2021, but has drawn strong reviews through spring practice and the offseason with the Sooners. “Dillon Gabriel is a winner,” Brent Venables said in July. “He’s a galvanizer of people.”
8. Spencer Rattler, South Carolina. Hard to believe, but some betting outlets had Rattler as the Heisman Trophy favorite this time last year. That’s back when he was the starting QB at Oklahoma (before Williams took the position away, then left himself). His sophomore season was a step backward instead of the anticipated leap forward, and the result for a hyped prospect coming out of high school was a transfer reboot to reconnect with former Sooners assistant Shane Beamer in Columbia. Rattler’s ball security will be a point of emphasis after committing seven turnovers in the first six games last season, mostly against modest competition.
9. Cameron Ward, Washington State. Fascinating prospect on a meteoric rise. Ward rarely got to throw the ball while playing in a Wing T offense in Texas in high school, and his recruiting profile was commensurately obscure. He enrolled at FCS Incarnate Word, became an immediate starter in 2020 and a star in ’21, throwing for more than 4,600 yards. Ward then became a hot property in the transfer portal, but Washington State won out for his services in no small part by hiring Incarnate Word’s head coach, Eric Morris, as the Cougars’ new offensive coordinator. Less than three years after having just two college scholarship offers, Ward now is considered a potential first-round NFL pick.
10. Stetson Bennett, Georgia. There aren’t many stories like Stet’s. The list of QBs who have been ahead of Bennett on the Georgia depth chart over the years is lengthy, but the list of QBs who have led the Bulldogs to a national title is extremely short—and Bennett is on it. His 2021 season was one for the ages, starting yet another season on the bench before taking over the job and finishing fourth nationally in pass efficiency while being named offensive MVP of both Georgia’s Playoff games. He has become a legitimate, top-shelf college QB. Now in his sixth year of college ball, Bennett will turn 25 during the season.
11. JT Daniels, West Virginia. The guy Bennett Wally Pipp–ed from the lineup at Georgia has landed in Morgantown, his third stop in a college career marked by some great games between extensive time missed due to injury. Now in his fifth season, Daniels has played in 22 college games—just 11 of them since he was a star freshman at USC in 2018. At West Virginia, Daniels reunites with former USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell in an offense that should suit his talents. With head coach Neal Brown treading water at exactly .500 through three seasons at WVU, Daniels will be looked to as the guy who might elevate the program’s standing in the Big 12.
12. Will Levis, Kentucky. He’s got a big arm and a big personality, and there are big things expected of both Levis and the Wildcats in 2022. Kentucky has its first AP preseason ranking since 1978, and Levis is viewed as a darkhorse Heisman candidate and potential first-round pick. The Penn State transfer made an immediate impact last year, accounting for more than 3,000 yards total offense and 33 touchdowns. But Kentucky is replacing its offensive coordinator and big-play receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, and Levis must prove he can have big passing games against high-end SEC defenses—his ’21 efficiency rating was 90 points higher against non–Power 5 opponents.
13. Anthony Richardson, Florida. He flashed enough talent last season to leave Gators fans salivating for more—and the fact that Dan Mullen didn’t find a way to deliver more with Richardson is one reason why he’s now a former coach and current ESPN analyst. The 6'4", 236-pounder with the Cam Newton starter set of skills now has control of the starting position under new coach Billy Napier. He made headlines this summer by announcing a change in his nickname, going from “AR-15” to just “AR” and dropping his jersey number to avoid aligning with the semiautomatic weapon of the same name.
14. Whoever Starts at Michigan. In late July, Jim Harbaugh described his QB conundrum: “Cade McNamara is going to be really tough to beat out for the starting quarterback job. J.J. McCarthy is going to be really tough to beat out for the starting quarterback job.” McNamara had a very good sophomore season in leading the Wolverines to the Big Ten championship and College Football Playoff, but some believe the more athletic McCarthy has the greater upside. Whoever wins the job will have a plethora of weapons and blockers around him and should operate one of the better offenses in the country.
15. Casey Thompson, Nebraska. Arrives from Texas with Scott Frost’s job security at least partly in his hands. Thompson took over as the starter with the Longhorns early in the 2021 season. He had some huge games (16 touchdown passes, two interceptions and more than 1,000 yards against Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Kansas) and some struggles (a thumb injury he tried to play through could account for a lot of those). Thompson had surgery on the thumb in April, and Frost said he’s throwing the ball much better now in preseason camp. Nebraska fans hope Thompson will make fewer big mistakes than the departed Adrian Martinez, but Thompson had a slightly higher interception rate in ’21 (3.5% to 3.3%).
16. Tyler Van Dyke, Miami. Coaches always love taking over a program with a big-time QB talent, and Mario Cristobal has that in Season 1 at The U. In the final six games last year, the redshirt freshman ascended to lead the Hurricanes to a 5–1 finish. His numbers in that stretch: 157 completions in 238 attempts; 2,194 yards; 20 touchdowns and three interceptions; efficiency rating of 168.61—which is only a point less than Caleb Williams’s full-season rating. If some new receivers step up and Van Dyke meshes well with offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, he could have a huge season.
17. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee. If every QB transfer worked out as well as Hooker in Knoxville, what a happy college football world it would be. The former Virginia Tech player was sensational in Year 1 with Josh Heupel, throwing 31 touchdown passes and just three interceptions while compiling more than 3,500 yards total offense. His efficiency rating of 181.41 set a Tennessee school record, was third nationally and led the SEC. Not bad for a guy who was backing up Joe Milton when the season began. Hooker’s go-to guy, Cedric Tillman, is the most productive returning wideout in the SEC (1,081 yards, 12 TDs last year).
18. Devin Leary, North Carolina State. In 1978, running back Ted Brown finished sixth in the Heisman voting. That’s the high-water mark for an NC State player; now Leary is trying to surpass it. The school is on the hype train, sending out Leary for Heisman hats a couple of months ago. The Wolfpack have something to sell: Leary has thrown for more than 5,500 career yards despite seeing extensive action in only 22 games, and last year he broke Philip Rivers’s single-season touchdown pass record with 35. This could be the kind of season long-suffering NC State fans have been waiting for since, oh, the Lou Holtz era. If it is, Leary will be in the Heisman discussion.
19. Sam Hartman, Wake Forest. A highly anticipated final season at Wake now is shrouded in uncertainty, after a non-football medical situation knocked him out of the lineup for an unspecified period of time. Coach Dave Clawson said Hartman will be back this season but offered no timetable. Coming off an 11-win season and Atlantic Division title, the Demon Deacons have aspirations for even bigger things this year—but that could largely depend on the health of a guy who is the leading active FBS passer in terms of career yardage (9,266). For now, an explosive offense is in the hands of backup Mitch Griffis (15 career pass attempts).
20. Michael Penix Jr., Washington. Led the Indiana renaissance in 2019–20, then helped preside over its collapse in ’21. Now Penix has taken his fragile body to the Pacific Northwest for a reunion with Kalen DeBoer, now the head coach of the Huskies after stints as the boss at Fresno State and as Penix’s coordinator at IU. Penix has been in competition with Dylan Morris and Sam Huard this month and has not yet been named the starter at Washington, but he certainly didn’t come all that way to carry a clipboard. Can Penix rediscover the magic of his 2020 performances against Ohio State and Michigan? Washington’s season may depend on it.
21. Bo Nix, Oregon. Former Auburn legacy QB escaped the pocket one last time at the Loveliest Little Village on the Plains, seeking a fresh start far away with a top-25 program. After breaking into the lineup from the get-go as a freshman, Nix’s expected progression as a passer hasn’t materialized—his efficiency rating has treaded water from 125.03 in 2019 to 123.94 in ’20 to 130.03 last year. Can he maintain his improvisational flair while also making a jump as an on-schedule passer under coordinator Kenny Dillingham, who was the OC at Auburn during Nix’s freshman season? The first test of that will be against a familiar and formidable opponent, Georgia.
23. Kedon Slovis, Pittsburgh. The most productive member of the USC QB diaspora inherits the position filled by a Heisman finalist last year—but doesn’t get to throw to star wideout Jordan Addison, who transferred the other way to the Trojans. Like Daniels before him, Slovis played like a rising superstar as a freshman (3,502 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, nine interceptions). But like others on this list, his star has dimmed in succeeding seasons in part due to injuries. This is a guy with 10 career 300-yard passing games and nine career games with at least three TD passes; if he can stay upright, he should be able to produce.
24. Jake Haener, Fresno State. He had one of the great performances of 2021, shredding UCLA for 455 passing yards in leading a comeback upset in the Rose Bowl. That spurred the Bulldogs to a 10–3 season, which helped DeBoer get the Washington job and left Haener with a decision to make. He entered the transfer portal and had plenty of interest, including the possibility of going with DeBoer to Washington—where Haener began his college career. But after a tumultuous eight days in the portal, he opted to remain at Fresno with once-and-future coach Jeff Tedford, who was in charge during Haener’s redshirt season in ’19. Can he replicate a season in which he finished in the top 10 nationally in passing yards, yards per game and touchdown tosses?
25. Adrian Martinez, Kansas State. He and Scott Frost were supposed to produce greatness together at Nebraska, and it never happened. For four years, Martinez was an athletic QB whose lack of progress as a passer and penchant for mistakes made him the face of a program that went 4–8, 5–7, 3–4 and 3–9. Perhaps the change of scenery will help both parties author a change of narrative. Martinez seems like a good fit with Chris Klieman’s run-heavy offense, which is better with a dual-threat QB running the show.
Just missed the list: Tyler Buchner, Notre Dame; Max Johnson, Texas A&M; Spencer Sanders, Oklahoma State; Cam Rising, Utah; Blake Shapen, Baylor. Gerry Bohanon, South Florida; Clayton Tune, Houston; Brennan Armstrong, Virginia; Malik Cunningham, Louisville; Jayden Daniels, LSU; Jaxson Dart, Mississippi; Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA; KJ Jefferson, Arkansas; Phil Jurkovec, Boston College; Tanner Mordecai, SMU; Tanner McKee, Stanford; Will Rogers, Mississippi State; Jaren Hall, BYU.