College football’s best quarterbacks aren’t playing for the best teams. Wait, what?
Sporting News writer Bill Bender put together his Top 25 rankings of the nation’s premier quarterbacks heading into the 2015 season, and the Group of Five makes an appearance six different times throughout the piece, grabbing more spots than any other Power Five conference.
Alright, so maybe I exaggerated that lede (but just by a little). Obviously you cannot compare the entire Group of Five to one Power Five conference, or vice versa. That wouldn’t be fair, though the former number is still impressive.
But it should be noted that only four Group of Five quarterbacks made this same list last year, with BYU’s Taysom Hill being the lone incumbent for the 2015 version.
Hill once again leads this list as the No. 9 overall quarterback in the country, while Navy’s Keenan Reynolds comes in at No. 11 and the former Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel sits at No. 15.
Zach Terrell surprisingly makes the list (No. 21) after leading Western Michigan to eight wins in 2014, while the reigning NCAA leader in touchdown passes, Brandon Doughty, fills in right behind him at No. 22. Memphis behemoth Paxton Lynch rounds the list out at No. 25 after helping the Tigers to their best season in school history.
What makes these guys so special? Here’s an argument for each QB and why they’re on this list:
Taysom Hill, BYU, Senior
2014 stats: 88-for-132 (66.7 percent), 975 yards, 7 TD, 3 INT … 87 carries, 460 yards (5.3 ypc), 8 TD
Why: Hill was in the Heisman conversation before a season-ending leg fracture in a Week 6 loss to Utah State that ended up sending BYU into a downward spiral, as it stumbled three more times in a row before finally putting the pieces together for a bowl run. There might not be a more ideal candidate to fill the role as a true “dual-threat” – before his injury, his seven rushing touchdowns was tied for first in the country for quarterbacks, and his 107.0 yards average per game was third. If he can stay healthy and continue completing passes at the same rate, he’ll be right back into consideration for the Heisman and BYU will be playing for a New Year’s Six bowl bid.
Keenan Reynolds, Navy, Senior
2014 stats: 52-of-111 (46.8 percent), 843 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT … 250 carries, 1,191 yards (4.8 ypc), 23 TD
Why: Speaking of running quarterbacks—HELLO. Reynolds only threw the ball 10.1 times per game in 2014, but at 5-foot-11, sub-200 pounds, he rushed for over 1,000 yards and 23 touchdowns – the latter being the fifth-most among all FBS players. Thanks to Navy’s triple-option offense, he’ll never be asked to light it up through the air and, if he continues scoring more than twice a game on the ground, there’s absolutely no reason for it. Reynolds is an electrifying athlete and he’s a lot of fun to watch, especially when he has some space to work with.
Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati, RS Junior
2014 stats: 233-of-390 (59.7 percent), 3,254 yards, 31 TD, 13 INT … 63 carries, 142 yards (2.3 ypc), TD
Why: When he was healthy, we saw why Kiel was the No. 1 overall quarterback for the recruiting class of 2012. But thanks to a nagging rib injury that took him out of games on several different occasions, we also saw an incredibly inconsistent quarterback that made numerous bad decisions that turned into costly interceptions. Now that he’s put the forever-awaited (and highly anticipated) first season as a starter behind him, he can go back to playing as the guy that has an incredible ceiling – one that has the potential to be the No. 1 quarterback taken in the 2017 NFL Draft. (Go buy a rib protector, man.)
Zach Terrell, Western Michigan, RS Junior
2014 stats: 250-of-368 (67.9 percent), 3,443 yards, 26 TD, 10 INT … 78 carries, 264 yards (3.4 ypc), 3 TD
Why: Terrell is probably the least-flashy quarterback to make this list, but he simply got the job done for a rising Western Michigan team in 2014 – and was at his best when facing adversity. Not only did he have a 3.4-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in games on the road, but he played his best football in the most important month of the season (November) and had a 174.6 Passer Efficiency Rating on third downs. What’s most impressive, however, was the fact that he completed 70 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions during games in which the score was within seven points for either team. Terrell is ideal management material at the quarterback position and should have the Broncos in position to compete for the MAC West in 2015.
Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky, RS Senior
2014 stats: 375-of-552 (67.9 percent), 4,830 yards, 49 TD, 10 INT
Why: If I were to make any major changes to this list, it’d be bumping up Doughty a few spots. In January, I wrote how Doughty might have the best chance out of any Group of Five quarterback to become a Heisman finalist in 2015. His stats don’t lie; he led the NCAA in both passing yards and touchdowns, and the fact that he threw an interception per 55.2 attempts is absolutely remarkable for a QB whose offense throws the ball over 40 times per game.
Paxton Lynch, Memphis, RS Junior
2014 stats: 259-of-413 (62.7 percent), 3,301 yards, 22 TD, 9 INT … 113 carries, 321 yards (2.8 ypc), 13 TD
Why: With Justin Fuente sticking around for at least another year, the sky is the limit for Lynch’s junior season and third as a starter. Lynch made some serious progression from 2013 to 2014, improving in every single facet of the game while turning the Memphis offense into a dangerously balanced machine. We saw what Fuente was able to do with Andy Dalton at TCU; can we expect more from a quarterback that stands at 6-foot-7, runs over linebackers, and launches a ball 70 yards down the field?