There are just five Saturdays left until we get to our first major college football Saturday (sorry, I’m not counting those games on August 26th, it’s all about September 2nd). So it’s that time of year again to begin our position group rankings in the Big 12 conference. Here are our rankings of the Big 12 quarterbacks heading into the 2017 college football season.
1. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State Cowboys: Sorry, OU fans, but Rudolph is the best quarterback in the Big 12 conference and the quarterback with the best pro potential. Some might cite Mayfield’s intensity gives him the edge, but Rudolph is just as competitive, it’s just in a more subdued manner. Rudolph tossed 28 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions during his junior season and is only showing signs of improving. He has better and more experienced weapons than Mayfield at his disposal, especially at wide receiver, with Mayfield’s only edge coming on the offensive line. If this season becomes a special one for the Pokes, expect to see Mason Rudolph getting some Heisman Trophy love come season’s end.
2. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma Sooners: Even though I did spend some time knocking Mayfield, he’s still a helluva quarterback. Mayfield’s touchdown to interception ratio was 40 to 8 last season, and while the Sooners are losing key pieces from 2016 such as Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, we know that Oklahoma doesn’t rebuild, it reloads. There are plenty of breakout candidates at wide receiver and running back who should keep this offense the fine-tuned machine it has been under Lincoln Riley. But yes, experience is a factor, hence Rudolph taking the top spot in the Big 12 quarterbacks rankings. Also, Lincoln Riley handling head coaching duties on top of being the OC could have a slight affect on the offense as well.
3. Will Grier, West Virginia Mountaineers: There were folks around the Mountaineers football team last year who watched Grier play the West Virginia first-team defense in practice during the week and were incredibly impressed, believing he would’ve been one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12 last fall. Grier has already received plenty of praise for his leadership and work ethic. He brings back the Big 12’s leading rusher in Justin Crawford, which could help Grier out plenty as defenses line up to protect against Crawford and the running game. As Florida’s QB, Grier torched Ole Miss, Tennessee and Missouri before he was suspended in 2015, so I’m excited to see what’s in store for him against the Big 12 after two years to grow personally and as a leader.
4. Shane Buechele, Texas Longhorns: It was a solid offseason for Buechele who went from reportedly being in a quarterback battle with true freshman Sam Ehlinger to clearly becoming the frontrunner in spring practice and winning the QB Challenge at the Manning Passing Academy. For a true freshman on a losing team, Buechele performed admirably last season, throwing for nearly 3,000 yards with 21 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. Buechele now has Tom Herman on his side, who has certainly been a quarterback whisperer in his recent stops at Ohio State and Houston. Buechele has to learn a new playbook, but with a solid group of wide receivers led by Collin Johnson, there’s reason to believe this Longhorns offense can be the best it’s been since the height of the Mack Brown era. That would be a huge step in the right direction for the program.
5. Jesse Ertz, Kansas State Wildcats: The most overlooked quarterback of the bunch, which I suppose is typical for a Bill Snyder-coached team. Frankly, that’s how Kansas State players like it. After being injured in previous seasons, Ertz finally showed the promise and potential Wildcats fans were hoping for last season when he became a great dual-threat option, throwing for over 1700 yards, while rushing for more than 1,000. And even more impressive, Ertz played a lot of last season with a shoulder injury that needed offseason surgery to repair. Ertz will, once again, have a solid offense line to run and operate behind, 8 offensive starters returning, including a solid running back duo of Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon, and a year of experience under his belt. So the expectations are understandably high for this team and this offense in 2017.
6. Jacob Park, Iowa State Cyclones: After a couple years away from the game or holding a clipboard on the sidelines, Park knocked off the rust last season and really started to settle into his comfort zone in the second half of the season. Park completed over 76% of his passes in two of his last 4 games, while throwing 6 touchdowns to 2 interceptions over that span. Park has a big arm, good size, and decent pocket mobility. Heading into his junior season, the Cyclones program is much more stable than it was a year ago when Matt Campbell was entering his first year on the job. He has plenty of targets on the outside, including Allen Lazard and Deshaunte Jones, and a quality backfield led by David Montgomery. Questions remain on the offensive line, but Park is set up for success like he’s never been in his collegiate career.
7. Nic Shimonek, Texas Tech Red Raiders: Shimonek impressed when he came in after Patrick Mahomes got injured and threw four touchdowns and zero interceptions against… the Kansas Jayhawks. Still, it was something. And combine that with his years of learning the system, and Kliff Kingsbury’s success with quarterbacks, and there’s little reason to doubt Shimonek will put up big numbers. Now those big numbers may not translate to wins, but I don’t believe it will be Shimonek’s fault. Dylan Cantrell, T.J. Vasher, Cameron Batson and plenty of others should help make Shimonek’s life easier. But I’m not so sure we can say the same thing about the offensive line. Plus, the pressure of knowing you need to score at least 50 points just to have a chance at winning can be awfully stressful for a quarterback.
8. Kenny Hill, TCU Horned Frogs: Hill has one more chance to prove that his college football career won’t be defined by the word “inconsistent”. Hill’s overall numbers from last season looked solid: 3200 passing yards with 17 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, but he struggled mightily at times against the Big 12’s best teams. Now it’s entirely possible that by the end of the 2017 season, we will look foolish having Hill so low on this list. But the reality is Kenny Hill has spent most of his career being overhyped, so here’s a chance for him to be under hyped for once. Or maybe, it’s exactly where he is supposed to be. Hill is the player on this list who has the greatest chance to make a major leap by season’s end.
9. ________, Baylor Bears: Baylor actually has a lot of depth at this position. The problem is I’m not sure any one of them can be one of the top Big 12 quarterbacks (at least not this fall). Matt Rhule has given no indication in which direction he is going in his three-man quarterback battle between Zach Smith, Anu Solomon and Charlie Brewer. All indications are it’s a close race. Smith is the incumbent who stuck it through during a tough year in Waco, Solomon is the experienced transfer from Arizona, and Brewer is the wide-eyed true freshman who came to campus for spring ball and has impressed the coaching staff. Smith struggled when he took over for Seth Russell last season, ranking No. 8 in the conference in QBR (44.7) while producing eight TDs and eight turnovers. Granted, the Bears were checked out as a team and a coaching staff by late in the season. My hunch says Solomon gets the job because Rhule won’t want to go with a true freshman behind a shaky offensive line. Plus, Solomon performed well at Arizona (49 touchdowns to 16 interceptions for his career) and is much more of a running threat than Smith.
10. Peyton Bender, Kansas Jayhawks: Is Bender officially the starter? No. But I have a very hard time seeing how he won’t be. Bender will have full knowledge of the majority of Doug Meacham’s Air Raid playbook since he played under Mike Leach at Washington State. Bender has a quick release, perfect for the Air Raid. Also, often times in situations like this, there can be a wink-wink between a coaching staff and a JUCO transfer that the player has at least a slight edge on their competition for the job (especially at quarterback). Stanley has been serviceable and I wouldn’t be shocked if he sees some time under center early in the season, but I believe this will be Bender’s team.
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