This week, The Comeback’s 2017 college football preview focuses on the Big 12. For our position previews, I’ll examine the league’s quarterbacks.
Q. Who are the top returning quarterbacks in the Big 12?
3. Kenny Hill, TCU – The most versatile quarterback in the league, Hill can do a little bit of everything. He’s excelled as a passer at both TCU and Texas A&M, throwing for 6,040 yards and 41 touchdowns in three seasons. He also did a great job running the ball last year, rushing for 609 yards and 10 touchdowns. And, despite having a number of dropped passes in 2016, Hill still managed to complete 61.1% of his passes, which ranked fourth in the Big 12. As the leader of the most experienced offense in the country (10 returning starters), look for him to improve on his already-solid numbers in 2017.
2. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State – In any other conference, Rudolph would be at the top of the list. He was one of the better passers in the nation in 2016, ranking in the top 10 in yards per game (seventh), yards per attempt (10th), and passing efficiency (10th). More impressively, he only threw four interceptions last season, which is the lowest total among quarterbacks that started every game.
Rudolph also elevated his game against top competition last year, averaging 328.3 yards per game against ranked opponents, including a 314-yard, three-TD performance against Colorado in the Alamo Bowl. With top targets James Washington and Jalen McCleskey returning this fall, there’s no reason to think that he won’t eclipse the 4,000-yard barrier for the second straight season.
1. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma – Simply put, Mayfield is the best quarterback in the country. He led the nation in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating last season. He also ranked in the top 10 in passing touchdowns (sixth), passing completions longer than 20 yards (sixth), and passing yards (ninth), which are impressive feats considering that he averaged fewer than 30 attempts per contest. Although the Sooners will need to break in some new receivers this year, I still expect him to have a huge season. He’s the type of player who makes everyone around him better.
Q. Which quarterback is due for a breakout season?
Although there are several signal callers who will show significant improvement in 2017, I’ll go with Iowa State quarterback Jacob Park. He certainly played well at the end of the 2016 campaign, throwing for 301 yards against Oklahoma and 371 yards in the season finale versus West Virginia. Now that he won’t share snaps with Joel Lanning – who will probably be the starter at middle linebacker this fall – he’s poised to have a big year. Don’t be surprised if he leads the Cyclones to an upset or two in conference play.
Q. Who is a newcomer to watch in the Big 12?
Without question, it’s Will Grier. He has already proven that he has what it takes to succeed on college football’s biggest stage, leading Florida to a 6-0 record in 2015 before his suspension. He had some great games as the Gators’ starting QB, sparking them to a dramatic win over Tennessee and following that up by going 24-of-29 for 283 yards in a victory against an Ole Miss team that finished in the top 10.
After sitting out the second half of 2015 and all of 2016, he’s definitely ready for this season to start. He’ll thrive under Dana Holgorsen’s system, and have the Mountaineers in the thick of the Big 12 race.
What is the most intriguing quarterback situation in the Big 12?
It’s definitely the quarterback competition at Baylor. Zach Smith played well when he got the chance last season, completing 62.1% of his passes and averaging 313.5 yards per game in four starts. But he’ll face a stiff challenge from Anu Solomon, who threw for 6,925 yards and 49 TDs in three seasons at Arizona. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to just five games in 2016.
Is Solomon finally healthy? Will Smith win the job even if Solomon is 100%? Will the new Baylor offense use both players’ skill sets to keep opposing defenses honest or is this competition a “if you ain’t first, you’re last”-type of situation?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but it will be interesting to see how things unfold.