Group of 5 schools might not receive as much publicity as the big boys, but they’re still loaded with talent, especially at the quarterback position. Here’s a list of five signal callers from non-power conferences that any power conference coach would want to build his program around.
5. Cooper Rush, Central Michigan
A three-year starter, Rush has thrown for 9,356 yards as the Chippewas’ trigger man. He also completed 62.8% of his passes during that span, averaging 7.9 yards per attempt.
While these stats are impressive, what makes Rush such a great quarterback is how he performs on third down and long. In situations where he faced third and 10 or more yards to go last season, Rush completed 40 of 56 passes (71.4%) for 520 yards and 23 first downs.
Those numbers were better than anyone in the country last year, including Jared Goff, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
What coach wouldn’t want a guy like that under center?
4. Zach Terrell, Western Michigan
Terrell has been one of the most accurate passers in the country over the last two seasons, completing more than 67% of his throws. He took his game to another level against elite competition last year, throwing for 365 yards against Michigan State and completing 12 of 20 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns against Toledo in the season finale to give the Broncos a share of the MAC West title.
In addition to his standout performances against tougher opponents, Terrell is one of the best in the country when it comes to stretching the field. 143 of his 262 completions went for 10 or more yards last fall, resulting in an average of 9.0 yards per attempt. He’s the only quarterback in college football to eclipse the 9-yard barrier in each of the last two seasons, averaging 9.4 yards per attempt in 2014.
It’s hard to argue with those results.
3. Dane Evans, Tulsa
One of the metrics used to evaluate a quarterback is how he performs under pressure. In order to win ball games, a team needs someone who can get the job done with the game on the line.
Dane Evans is that guy. He was absolutely fantastic in the fourth quarter last year, completing 75 of 119 passes (63%) for 1,139 yards, which was the second-best total in the country. More importantly, he threw six touchdown passes and no interceptions.
It’s also worth noting that Evans was at his best when the Golden Hurricane fell behind. In situations where Tulsa trailed last year, he completed 213 of 322 passes (66.1%) for 3,075 yards with 19 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He was especially impressive when the team fell behind by more than 14 points, completing 70.1% of his throws with eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
Dane’s excellence under fire makes no lead safe against the Golden Hurricane. That’s a luxury a lot of offensive coordinators would love to have.
2. Nick Mullens, Southern Mississippi
Mullens was one of the most pleasant surprises in college football last season, connecting on 331 of 521 passes (63.5%) for 4,476 yards and 38 touchdowns. He was absolutely sensational for USM down the stretch, averaging 358 yards per game in three must-win contests in November. As a result of his efforts, the Golden Eagles earned a berth in the Conference USA championship game.
While he posted some outstanding statistics last year, the thing that stands out the most about Mullens is his ability to keep the chains moving. He was clearly the best quarterback in college football on third down last year, leading the nation in yardage (1,397), first down completions (70), and touchdowns (14). In addition, he ranked second in the country in completion percentage (69.9) and quarterback rating (180.97) on third down as well.
This precision passing on crucial downs is the type of stuff that makes opposing defensive coordinators want to pull their hair out. Expect him to have another big season in 2016.
1. Greg Ward, Houston
Although he might not have better numbers than some of the other players on this list, Ward is the quarterback that almost every coach in the nation wished he had on his roster.
Make no mistake about it: Ward is one of the most explosive players in college football. A true dual-threat QB, Ward is capable of taking it to the house every time he touches the ball. He excelled as both a runner and a passer last season, rushing for 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns, while completing 67.2% of his throws for 2,828 yards and an impressive 17-6 TD-to-INT ratio.
In other words: he’s one of the toughest quarterbacks in the country to defend. With his mobility and arm-strength, even the most perfectly defensed play could turn into a big gain.
If that doesn’t sound like the ideal college quarterback, I don’t know what does.