Yes, it is only February. That does not mean we cannot start looking at who the top returning quarterbacks are for 2021. There are plenty of good quarterbacks returning in 2021, but this list of 10 are who stand out to me as the top returning quarterbacks. Disclaimer: The players on this list must have been starting in 2020. Sorry Bryce Young and D.J. Uiagalelei, but you guys are eliminated from this list. I am also not considering transfers. Let’s jump into it!
10 – Michael Penix (Indiana) – Micheal Penix is entering his third season as the starter at Indiana. He has only played in 15 career games but has shown flashes of his abilities on the field. He has thrown for 25 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. Penix saw his completion percentage drop to 56% after completing over 68% of his passes in 2019. While he is a mobile quarterback, he primarily uses his legs to buy time looking for a receiver downfield. He does not run for forward progress often. With additional spring practices and the return of Ty Fryfogle, look for Penix to have a strong 2021 campaign and cement himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
9 – Grayson McCall (Coastal Carolina) – Grayson McCall bursts onto the scene with Coastal Carolina in 2020 and proved to be a stellar quarterback. The freshman threw for 26 touchdowns and only three interceptions. McCall completed over 68% of his passes. He should continue to get better as he gets more game repetitions and builds chemistry with his teammates. McCall threw for over 300 yards in his last two games, he will look to take that momentum into 2021 with him.
8 – Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) – Desmond Ridder is not going to blow anyone away with his stats, but he is efficient. Ridder is a three year starter who has thrown for over 2,000 yards each season. In 2020, he threw for 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Ridder is a proven threat to run the ball rushing for over 1,800 yards in three season starting. Last season he scored 12 times on the ground. His duel threat ability helps make him one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
7 – Kedon Slovis (USC) – Kedon Slovis only played in six games last season, but he averaged over 320 yards per game. He also completed 67% of his passes. Slovis had USC at 5-0 before entering the Pac-12 Championship. Slovis should be the best quarterback in the Pac-12 next fall. He will have opportunities to shine and should Slovis have success, a trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony is not out of the question. Slovis returns some of his top receivers in Bru McCoy, Drake London, and Tyler Vaughns.
6 – Brock Purdy (Iowa State) – Brock Purdy actually had a worse year statistically in 2020 than he did in 2019. One part of his game that stands out is his completion percentage. In each of his three seasons, Purdy has completed over 65% of his passes. One reason Purdy’s stats may have fallen could be the emergence of Breece Hall. Hall had 600 more yards from 2019 to 2020. Purdy’s success was not as vital to the team in 2020 has he could rely on Hall. Purdy returns his top two pass catchers so chemistry can only get better.
5 – Matt Corral (Ole Miss) – Matt Corral flew under the radar in 2020 having one of the best seasons in the country. He threw for over 3,300 yards and ran for an additional 500. Corral had a total of 33 touchdowns. One of Corral’s best games in 2020 came against Alabama where he completed 75% of his passes and threw for 365 yards. This was the second highest amount the Crimson Tide allowed in 2020, behind Florida’s Kyle Trask. Head coach Lane Kiffin is viewed as a strong offensive minded coach. Another year under Kiffin should help Corral grow as a quarterback.
4 – D’Eriq King (Miami) – In D’Eriq King’s first season in Miami, he showed flashes which made him electric in Houston. King threw for over 2,600 yards and ran for an additional 500. In the two games Miami lost in the regular season, King had his worst performances of the season. While he threw five interceptions in 2020, they came in a total of three games. King took care of the ball and helped his offense extend drives. He did suffer a torn ACL in the bowl game against Oklahoma State. King should be ready to play this fall, but the lack of spring practice two years is a row cannot be discounted. If he is healthy, he is one of the most electric quarterbacks in college football.
3 – Sam Howell (North Carolina) – In two seasons, Sam Howell has thrown for over 7,200 yards proving he is one of the best passers in college football. Howell averaged 10.3 yards per attempt in 2020 which ranked sixth in college football. He also had a QB rating of 197.1 which ranked eighth in the nation. Howell completed 68.1% of his passes which was a significant increase from his freshman year when he completed only 61.4%. If Howell has the season many expect, it should end with him attending the Heisman ceremony in New York City.
2 – Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma) – Lincoln Riley has shown time and time again that he is a the quarterback whisperer, and Spencer Rattler is the latest testament. Rattler, a former five star prospect, threw for over 3,000 yards in his first season starting. He had a total of 34 touchdowns in 2020. Lincoln Riley has never had a starting quarterback for more than one season until this year. Rattler provides stability and opportunity to throw the ball down the field with talented receivers. Look for Rattler to have an explosive season and lead a high powered Oklahoma offense to the College Football Playoffs.
1 – J.T. Daniels (Georgia) – The former USC transfer, J.T. Daniels had a strong showing at the end of 2020. Daniels only played in four games but had a QB rating of 178.5. In three of his four games, he threw for 299 yards or more. Daniels completed over 67% of his passes in limited games. Daniels did not arrive at Georgia until late summer and that was following surgery to repair his knee. You saw the jump Joe Burrow made from year 1 to year 2 at LSU, I expect a similar jump for J.T. Daniels. While Daniels may not win the Heisman in 2020, he certainly will be at the top of most voter’s list.
Honorable Mentions: Jayden Daniels (Arizona State), Dillon Gabriel (UCF), Phil Jurkovec (Boston College), Tanner Morgan (Minnesota)