NCAAF
February 26, 2021

Predicting the 10 Best Quarterbacks in College Football in 2021

This time of year, there is so much attention on the outgoing class of college quarterbacks. Everybody wants to know about their draft stock and where they might find a home in the NFL. But what about the quarterbacks who are still in college and poised to take the country by storm in 2021?

For fans of college football, there’s no point in talking about Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields any longer. Instead, let’s start to look ahead to the quarterbacks who will dominate the gridiron this fall.

While there is still plenty of time before the start of the 2021 college football season, here is our prediction of the top 10 quarterbacks in the country this year.

10. DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson

There were several viable candidates for the final spot in our top 10, but in the end, we had to give the nod to DJ Uiagalelei.

Nobody should expect him to play at the same level as Trevor Lawrence right away. But he more than held his own last year when the Tigers needed him to start against Notre Dame. Keep in mind that he was a top prospect coming out of high school and probably has more arm talent than Lawrence.

Uiagalelei also will have the benefit of playing for Clemson, which means a strong offensive line protecting him, as well as a deep and talented collection of wide receivers. That combination should allow Uiagalelei to instantly become one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC.

9. Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina

We’re still not sure how Grayson McCall slipped through the cracks of every power-conference program and ended up at Coastal Carolina. But we’re certain that McCall’s success during his freshman season wasn’t a fluke.

He led the Chanticleers on a magical 11-0 season before losing in overtime in their bowl game. Along the way, McCall threw 26 touchdown passes and just three interceptions while averaging 10 yards per pass attempt. Granted, he had plenty of help around him and mostly played against porous Sun Belt defenses. But McCall is the real deal and we expect him to put together another impressive season in 2021.

8. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

Somehow, Desmond Ridder remains one of the most overlooked quarterbacks in the country. He made considerable strides between 2019 and 2020, leading the Bearcats to a 9-1 season with their only loss coming against Georgia in the Peach Bowl.

Ridder improved his accuracy considerably in 2020 and was a lot more comfortable taking shots down the field. He’s also a dynamic runner who had nearly 600 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns in 10 games.

Playing in the AAC will limit some of the attention he gets, but he looks poised for a monster senior season.

7. Dillon Gabriel, UCF

If we were listing the quarterbacks who would put up the best stats, Dillon Gabriel might be at the top of the list. He’s put up some monster numbers over his first two seasons at UCF, eclipsing 7,000 yards with 61 touchdown passes and just 11 interceptions.

Even with a new head coach in Gus Malzahn who likes to run the ball, Gabriel will get plenty of chances to air it out. Over the last handful of years, virtually no AAC defense has been able to keep the UCF offense under wraps. That’s not going to stop now that Gabriel has two years of experience under his belt.

In fact, we’re expecting him to be even more accurate and efficient in 2021 and continue to post video game numbers.

6. Brock Purdy, Iowa State

Brock Purdy is about to enter his fourth campaign as a starter and has been nothing but consistent over the first three seasons of his career. Admittedly, he was far from his best in 2020. Yet, he still managed to lead Iowa State to the Big 12 Championship Game and a win in the Fiesta Bowl.

While he’s a little undersized to be an elite NFL prospect, Purdy has a great combination of accuracy and mobility. With plenty of experience under his belt and a running back in Breece Hall that will force defenses to focus on the Iowa State running game, Purdy could be considered a Heisman dark horse if everything comes together.

5. D’Eriq King, Miami

If it feels like D'Eriq King is entering his sixth season in college it’s because the 2021 campaign will indeed be his sixth year.

King boasts more experience than any other quarterback in the country and is coming off the best season of his career as a passer. His accuracy was up considerably and he limited himself to just five interceptions. King is also a dynamic runner who can make plays with his legs when things break down.

Of course, there’s some hesitancy to assume King can take things to the next level after tearing his ACL in Miami’s bowl game. But he should have enough time to recover in time for the season and he should have a good enough supporting cast around to make his final college season his best.

4. Sam Howell, North Carolina

For the record, Sam Howell is talented enough to be the best quarterback in the country and a top draft pick this time next year. However, he'll have a tougher time next year with North Carolina losing so many key skill players. We’re talking about two 1,000-yard rushers and a pair of NFL-caliber wide receivers.

To his credit, Howell looked just fine with most of those players sitting out the Orange Bowl against Texas A&M. He’s also thrown 68 touchdown passes to just 14 interceptions over his first two seasons. But there could be some drop-off in his performance without the same caliber of skill players around him. But if Howell can pick up where he left off, there will be no question that he belongs among the elite quarterbacks in the country.

3. JT Daniels, Georgia

The expectations around JT Daniels are massive heading into 2021 after the way he transformed Georgia’s offense during the second half of 2020.

The Bulldogs looked like a new team down the stretch with Daniels throwing 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions in four games. If you extrapolate that over a full season, Daniels is in line to throw for over 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns this year. Keep in mind the Bulldogs always have a viable rushing attack, which should aid Daniels in pushing the ball downfield.

We don’t want to overreact too much because it’s still a small sample size, but we expect Daniels to be the best quarterback in the SEC next season by a wide margin.

2. Kedon Slovis, USC

Kedon Slovis didn’t get nearly the credit he deserved during USC’s shortened 2020 season. He pulled the Trojans out of the fire on multiple occasions, leading late-game drives and making some next-level throws in the process.

If USC had played a full season, Slovis' numbers probably would have put him on par with some of the quarterbacks who were Heisman finalists, which should make him a legitimate Heisman candidate in 2021. It remains to be seen whether the Trojans can remain a contender in the Pac-12 or make some noise nationally. But Slovis has proven over the last two years that he’s good enough to give USC a fighting chance.

1. Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma

After a slow start in 2020, Oklahoma caught fire during the second half of the season, and Spencer Rattler was a big reason why.

He looked sharp down the stretch, especially in the Big 12 Championship Game and the Cotton Bowl. There’s no reason to think that he won’t be able to carry that over in 2021 and continue to improve. Just think about Oklahoma’s recent track record at the quarterback position and it becomes easy to envision Rattler becoming the best quarterback in the country this year.

There’s no question that he has all of the talent and tools. Now that he has a little experience under his belt, Rattler should be ready to lead one of the most dynamic offenses in college football and be the best passer in the nation.

Photo: Getty Images