Quarterback Youth Movement Looms As Top Playoff Contenders Will Have Talent But Inexperience Under Center

By Andrew Ellis on February 9, 2021 at 10:10 am
Three California five-stars could be the next wave of playoff talent.

Several national powers are dealing with turnover at quarterback.

C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller, or Kyle McCord? Ryan Day's quarterback battle is going to be the biggest Ohio State storyline for the next six months. The Buckeyes have three players who are all extremely talented but have yet to throw a pass at the collegiate level. No one doubted the offense with Justin Fields at the helm. It's going to take some time to get used to what comes next under center. 

The next signal-caller will be surrounded by an absurd amount of talent with two of the game's best wideouts and a room that's deeper than any other in America. Veterans like Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are sure to help make the transition go as smoothly as possible. Still, it's fair to expect a few struggles right out of the gate for the next man up. 

An elite presence at quarterback is typically one of the pillars for a playoff team. Deshaun Watson, Baker Mayfield, Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, and Justin Fields were all fantastic college quarterbacks. There's the occasional exception with some lesser-tier names like Jake Browning and Ian Book, but the most important position in sports can obviously be paramount to a program's playoff aspirations. 

The quarterback spot is Ohio State's biggest question in 2021 even if it's not the biggest concern as that honor should go to Kerry Coombs' pass defense. The shortened 2020 season unfortunately didn't allow Ryan Day to experiment too much with his backups. But this year's playoff race is going to be heavy with inexperience under center. And a trio of California five-stars could be right in the middle of that race. 

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To the surprise of no one, Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are the favorites to win yet another championship. Mac Jones threw 41 touchdown passes and transformed himself into a likely first-round draft pick. DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle will also hear their own names called early on in the draft.

Santa Ana, California's Bryce Young was listed as the No. 2 overall prospect in the Class of 2020. He saw limited action as a true freshman completing 13 of 22 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. At just six-foot and 194 pounds, Young's stature is far from that of a prototypical passer. He's a pass-first quarterback but did rush for over 1,000 yards and 26 scores while leading the powerhouse Mater Dei program. The Tide losing three starters along the offensive line and its top two receivers won't make things any easier for the new quarterback. 

Trevor Lawrence missing some time last season may turn out to be a positive for Dabo Swinney as the heir apparent was able to get an early start on his career. Like Stroud and Young, D.J. Uiagalelei is a California native who was a five-star back in 2020. He saw action in nine games and made two starts as a freshman. Uiagalelei completed 67 percent of his passes while throwing for 914 yards with five scores and no interceptions. In terms of pure arm talent, he may be the best in college football. 

Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies somehow have the sixth-best title odds. I don't think too many people view TAMU as a true contender, but it's worth noting that they too will have a new starting quarterback in 2021. Kellen Mond is no longer in the picture, and backup Haynes King threw just four passes as a freshman in 2020. Zach Calzada was the backup in 2019, and while both are now in the running, it's probably King's job to lose.

And then there are two teams who actually do have some experience at quarterback. Oklahoma and Georgia head into the offseason with the fourth- and fifth-best odds to capture the national title. Each program has a quarterback who saw plenty of action in 2020 and is now listed as a Heisman frontrunner for the upcoming season. 

Spencer Rattler didn't put up Kyler Murray or Jalen Hurts numbers in Norman, but that wasn't a fair expectation for a first-year starter. The redshirt freshman completed 67 percent of his passes for 3,031 yards with 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He added another six scores with his legs while leading the Sooners to a 9-2 season and a 55-20 win over No. 7 Florida in the Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma's wide receiver room is probably second only to Ohio State's, which certainly doesn't hurt.

Kirby Smart's quarterback journey has been a wild one over the last few years. Justin Fields made his way to Columbus, Jake Fromm decided to go pro, and the Bulldogs were left with all sorts of questions in 2020. Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman opted out, and Georgia instead relied on Stetson Bennett and Dwan Mathis for part of the season. 

USC transfer J.T. Daniels was recovering from an ACL injury and didn't make his debut until the Dawgs played Mississippi State on Nov. 21. In four games, he'd go on to throw for 1,231 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. With a healthy Daniels returning in 2021, Georgia should have a bit more firepower as it looks to once again challenge Bama in the SEC. 

The quarterback storylines are impossible to miss when looking at the national landscape. Ohio State didn't benefit from the COVID-shortened 2020 season as Justin Fields saw just about every single snap. But the Buckeyes aren't the only national power dealing with some inexperience and uncertainty under center.

Header photo: The Montgomery Advertiser-USA TODAY Sports & Ken Ruinard 

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