MY PRE-SEASON PICKS*
1. Caleb Williams, USC, Junior, 6’1” 220 lbs
2022: 4,537 yards passing, 42 TDs vs 5 Ints, 382 rushing yards and 10 TDs. The reigning Heisman Trophy, Maxwell and Walter Camp award winner, Caleb is the odds-on favorite to repeat as 1st Team All-American. After starting as a freshman at Oklahoma, Williams followed his head coach, Lincoln Riley, to Southern Cal. Together, the Coach and Quarterback would turn the Trojans into winners. After struggling to a 4-8 season in 2021 the Williams-led Trojans would post an 11-3 record and appearances in the Pac 12 Championship game and the Cotton Bowl.
I just don’t see a flaw in Williams’ game. It will be up to Coach Riley to ensure that the supporting cast, particularly on defense, will keep USC in the national playoff picture. There has only been ONE player repeat as a Heisman winner, and that was Ohio State’s Archie Griffin back in 1974-75. I’m predicting Caleb Williams will buck the trend and win his second Heisman in 2023. Caleb is also the pre-season front-runner for #1 pick in the NFL Draft. There is so much to talk about, and he’s even more fun to watch; arm strength, poise, decision making and he will kill you with his legs.
2. Drake Maye, UNC. Redshirt Sophomore. 6’4” 225 lbs
2022: 4,321 yards, 38 TDs vs 7 Ints, 698 yards rushing and 7 TDs. If anyone is going to push Williams for the Heisman Trophy, a good bet is Drake Maye. Maye is as athletic at the position as anyone in the country, and why not? His dad was a Parade All-American QB in HS and starting QB at UNC in the 1980s, his brother Luke was a great basketball player at UNC, his brother Cole won an NCAA baseball title at Florida, and another brother Beau is a current member of the UNC basketball team!
Given his size and speed, Drake will start the season high on the NFL Draft board. He has exceptional arm strength combined with a refined touch. He makes plays with both his arm and his legs allowing big plays when the structure breaks down. According to PFF, Maye led the nation in big-time throws with 36 in 2022. The Challenges to Maye and UNC will be jelling with a new OC, Chip Lindsey from UCF, and replacing talented receivers at the wideout positions. I see Williams and Maye neck and neck for the #1 pick in the draft.
3. Michael Penix, Washington. Junior. 6’3” 213 lbs
2022: 4,641 yards, 31 TDs vs 8 Ints, 92 yards rushing 2 TDs. In 2018 Penix started as a true freshman at Indiana but suffered a torn ACL. Thus began 3 years of promise only to be ambushed by injury after injury over his three years at Indiana. During those three years his completion percentage topped at 68.8% but bottomed out his last year at 53.7%. In 2022 Penix transferred to the Washington Huskies where he was reunited with head coach Kalen DeBoer. DeBoer was his OC at Indiana in 2019; his most productive season with the Hoosiers.
The reunion of Quarterback and Coach turned into a big bonus for the Huskies as Penix led the nation in passing yardage and turned a dismal 2021 (4-8) into an 11-2 record and one of the big turn-around stories of 2023. The eleven wins included a wild 27-20 victory over Texas in the Alamo Bowl where Penix was named Offensive Player of the game. Look for Washington to be in the playoff discussion in 2023 as Penix announced he will return for a COVID season. The Huskies are loaded at the receiver position and have both offensive tackles returning. Michael Penix has demonstrated the resilience and leadership to recover from three knee injuries at Indiana and deliver high impact results in a new environment at Washington. The NFL has noticed.
4. Bo Nix, Oregon. Senior. 6’2” 219 lbs
2022: 3,594 yards, 29 TDs vs 7 Ints. 510 yards rushing and 14 TDs. A former Alabama Mr. Football Award winner at Pinion Valley High, Nix committed to Auburn as a 4 star ranked as the # 1 dual QB threat in the country. He delivered on the hype as a true freshman in 2019 by leading the Tigers to a 9-4 record and the big win in the Iron bowl over rival Alabama 48-45. Bo finished 2019 with 16 TDs and only 6 Ints. But, caught in a head coaching carousal at Auburn, Bo’s production was inconsistent over his three years on the Plains. Recruited by Gus Malzahn and briefly benched in 2021 by Bryan Harsin, it almost felt like Nix suffered from too much talent as a dual threat. When to run and when to pass?
Nix’ best decision was his transfer to Oregon prior to the 2022 season. New Ducks’ head coach Dan Lanning must have liked what he saw while co-ordinating Georgia’s defense for three years against Nix at Auburn. Nix immediately delivered leadership and stability to the quarterback position at Oregon. The results were undeniable as Nix completed 71.9% of his passes (his Auburn best was 61%) and demonstrated the type of decision making required by NFL offenses. In 2022 Nix combined the dual threat to perfection with 29 TD passes vs only 7 Ints while rushing for 510 yards and a whopping 14 rushing TDs. Nix is a Quarterback who doesn’t mind putting the team on his shoulders. That will continue in 2023 as Bo Nix surprised many by announcing he would return to Oregon for one more season. He was already in NFL first round discussions so if he can stay healthy his stock should continue to rise. The Oregon offense is loaded and poised to compete for the Pac 12 Championship.
5. Jordan Travis, FSU. Senior. 6’1” 212 lbs
2022: 3,124 passing yards, 24 TDs vs 5 Ints. 417 rushing yards and 7 TDs. Jordan Travis signed with Louisville out of The Benjamin School in West Palm Beach, Florida, but he played only three games for the Cardinals in 2018 and announced after the season that he would be entering the transfer portal. He landed at Florida State in 2019 and saw virtually no action. In 2020 Mike Norvell arrived as head coach and has steadily stabilized the program while increasing the talent level. Travis was not clear where his value sat with the Norvell staff and even asked to be shifted to RB or WR. Norvell was having none of that and 2021 became a breakout season for Jordan if not for the FSU program that finished 5-7.
But In 2022 Mike Norvell, OC Alex Atkins and Jordan Travis put it all together. Their 10-3 record included quality wins over LSU and in-state rivals Miami and Florida. The season was capped with an exciting win over Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl 35-32. Jordan Travis was the game’s MVP and connected on 27 of 38 for a gaudy 418 yards and 2 TDs. In December 2022 Travis announced he would return for a final season in Tallahassee. That’s good news for Seminole fans as FSU appears to be loaded with returning talent across all the skill positions and offensive line. As a prototype QB for an RPO offense that includes a great supporting cast, look for Travis to be in the early Heisman discussions in 2023.
6. Sam Hartman, Notre Dame. Senior. 6’ 1” 210 lbs
2022: 3,071 passing yards, 38 TDs vs 12 Ints. 276 yards rushing and 2 TDs. When you talk about Sam Hartman at Wake Forrest it’s challenging to find a place to start. A starter in each of his four years in the Dave Clawson “slow-mesh” RPO offense (aka the Clawfense) Hartman is the ACC’s all-time career TD pass leader (110) and recorded 21 games of 300 or more yards passing. His 12,967 career passing yards are second in ACC history behind only Philip Rivers (13,484). So what does Sam do for an encore? How about Notre Dame?
Sam Hartman entered the transfer portal in December after yet another MVP award, this time in the Gasparilla Bowl where Hartman completed 23 of 37 for 280 yards and three TDs. It was his last game as a Deacon and his final quote was “As always, go Deacs.” In his 5 years in Winston-Salem he guided Wake to back-to-back ACC Championships and two top 10 national rankings. So why Notre Dame? Well, some feel the transfer to Notre Dame was justified for several reasons including his NIL potential at the iconic Notre Dame as well as the opportunity to play for a national championship. Dave Clawson was quoted in SI saying, “This guy has done everything right for five years at Wake Forest.”
Sam Hartman became the most prized catch in this year’s transfer portal and the beneficiary is one Marcus Freeman, head coach of the Irish. In his first year, Freeman had some ups and downs at 8-4 including a stunning 26-21 loss at home to Marshall. Quarterback has been a big question mark for the Irish since the graduation of Ian Book. Hartman now instantly stabilizes the position with leadership, poise, and talent. If his supporting cast can gel quickly, Sam should be another QB high on the Heisman watch list.
7. Quinn Ewers, Texas. Sophomore. 6’2” 207 lbs
2022: 2,177 passing yards, 15 TD vs 6 Ints. -52 rushing yards and 1 TD. Ewers, only 20 years old, attended Carroll Senior High School in Southlake, Texas. Check this out: as a sophomore in HS Ewers passed for 3,998 yards with 45 TDs and only 3 Pics!! As a Sophomore!!! Seriously. His Junior year he was slowed by injuries and missed six games but still recorded 28 TDs in 8 games. By this time following his junior year Ewers was considered a 5 Star and the #1 ranked prospect (as well as QB) in the country. While evaluating NIL offerings Ewers was informed that Texas state legislation would void his eligibility if he accepted NIL money in Texas. Consequently, Ewers and his family made the decision to forgo his senior high school season while also committing to Ohio State. Shortly after, Ewers signed an NIL agreement with GT Sports Marketing for $1.4 million.
But the Buckeyes and coach Ryan Day were not to be for Quinn Ewers. CJ Stroud matured quickly in the Spring (missed by Ewers) and was well established by the time Ewers made it to summer camp. Ultimately, Quinn Ewers would play only two snaps for Ohio State in the 2021 season. Meanwhile CJ Stroud blossomed with 4,435 yards, 44 TD passes vs only 6 Ints and a 71.9% completion percentage. Yikes. No surprise with Stroud still having another year of eligibility that Ewers hit the transfer portal in December of 2021. Expressing he wanted to be closer to home, Quinn enrolled at Texas to continue his career.
In 2022 Ewers beat out incumbent Longhorn Hudson Card for the starting job. He played great in the opening 52-10 victory vs Louisiana-Monroe. And then The following week Ewers started against Alabama like the 5-Star everyone knew him to be. He shredded the ‘Bama defense, completing 9 of 12 for 134 yards in the 1st quarter. More than that Quinn looked liked he owned the place. He had swagger, toughness and precision. He looked All-American. Then the Gods turned a cheek and Ewers went down with a sprained clavicle. He would miss the next three games. Finally coming back he unloaded against rival Oklahoma with 21 of 31, 289 yards and 4 TDs in the blowout 49-0 Longhorn win. Steve Sarkisian’s Longhorns would finish 8-5 with an Alamo bowl loss to Michael Penix’ Washington Huskies.
But there are big expectations in Austin, and the Longhorn Quarterback Room has a lot to do with it. Sarkisian announced following the Spring Game that Quinn Ewers is THE starter. But he is backed up by 4-star Maalik Murphy at 6’5” 235 lbs (and with a sweet NIL deal of his own). The Room is completed by the 2023 5-Star and #1 rated recruit Arch Manning. Manning has already announced he will not accept an NIL deal until he wins the job. So stay tuned, it should be an interesting year in Austin. I look for Ewers to start with the swagger he displayed vs the Tide and vault Texas into the top 10 in 2023.
8. Michael Pratt, Tulane. Junior. 6’2” 220 lbs
2022: 3,010 passing yards, 27 TDs vs 5 Ints, 478 rushing yards and 10 TDs. A 3 star recruit from Deerfield Beach, Florida HS Michael Pratt signed with Tulane out of high school. Pratt became the starter three games into his freshman year in 2020 at Tulane and has never looked back, but it hasn’t been all that easy playing for a Group of 5 program. That freshman year Tulane was a pedestrian 6-6 and in 2021, Michael’s sophomore season, it was a 2-10 disaster. But somehow Michael Pratt rose above the mayhem of a 2-10 season. He completed 57.6% of his passes for 2,381 yards and 21 TDs vs 8 Ints. I can tell you from personal experience, it’s HARD to post positive numbers in a negative environment.
Credit head coach Willie Fritz for pulling the Green Wave out of the 2021 doldrums. Fritz and his Quarterback orchestrated one of the biggest turn-arounds in college football history in 2022. All they did was go 12-2, including a miraculous win over USC in the Cotton Bowl 46-45. Tulane scored 16 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to overcome a monster game by USC QB Caleb Williams who completed 37 of 52 for 462 yards and 5 TDs. Not to be outdone, Michael Pratt showed why he is considered one of the top dual threats in all of college football when he converted a key 4th and 6 with his legs and another huge 4th and 10 with his arm on the game-winning final drive. Pratt would connect with receiver Alex Bauman on a 6 yard touchdown pass with 9 seconds left to bring Tulane its first ever Cotton Bowl win. Pratt is a bona-fide NFL prospect and was rumored to turn down overtures from several Power 5 teams to enter the portal. He will be returning to the Green Wave in 2023, so look for more of the magic!
9. JJ McCarthy, Michigan. Junior. 6’3” 200 lbs.
2022: 2,719 passing yards, 22 TDs vs 5 Ints. 306 rushing yards and 5 TDs. JJ attended Nazareth Academy in LaGrange Park, Illinois. But when his season was canceled due to COVID in 2020, McCarthy transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fl. Rated as one of the top QBs in the nation, JJ considered offers from 33 institutions before committing to Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. Ironically, Harbaugh has been criticized for his lack of Quarterback development at Michigan, the same school where he starred as a QB. So in McCarthy’s Sophomore season at Ann Arbor, Harbaugh announced there would be an open competition for the job between incumbent Cade McNamara and McCarthy.
This was and is a Wolverine team built on defense and a strong running game on offense. Harbaugh looks for big plays out of his QB, but just as important is good decision making and the ability for the QB to make plays with his legs as well as his arm. I once had a coach tell me the #1 job of the offense is to leave the defense in good field position. You get a sense that is also Michigan football. So by the time the 2022 season was kicking off, Harbaugh announced the QB competition would continue into the first two games of the season and each quarterback would get a start. I actually admire the coaching decision and the respect it gave both Quarterbacks. In his start vs Hawaii McCarthy completed 11 of 12 for 229 years and three TDs for a 42-0 lead at halftime! The job was JJ’s and he delivered. His biggest moment in 2022, with star running back Blake Corum out with injury, was against arch rival Ohio State in Columbus. JJ accounted for 4 TDs in that win and delivered again in the Big 10 Championship game vs Purdue with three more TD passes. The fairytale 12-0 season ended for Michigan with the CFP playoff loss to TCU 51-45 in a game that saw McCarthy throw for 343 yards and rush for another 52 yards, but ultimately throw two pick-sixes in the losing cause.
In 2023 McCarthy will not have to wait for the season to start to know he’s got the top job. My guess is JJ will have more on his shoulders this year as Michigan retools from a graduating class that has beaten Ohio State two in a row. His exceptional arm strength and ability to throw on the run should bode well for the Wolverines again in 2023. Look for him to break the Michigan single season TD pass record (25) in 2023. Michigan will kick-off the season as a top 5 club and could win it all in 2023.
10. Jaydon Daniels, LSU. Junior. 6’3” 200 lbs
2022: 2,913 passing yards, 17 passing TDs vs 3 Ints. 885 rushing yards and 11 TDs. Jaydon was a 4-star QB out of Cajon HS in San Bernardino, CA. He was aptly ranked as the #2 dual-threat QB in the nation and signed with Arizona State in 2019. As a true freshman, Daniels beat out the incumbent starter making him the first true freshman QB to start for the Sun Devils and head coach Herm Edwards. As a true freshman Daniels dazzled. His production across 12 games included 2,943 yards passing, 17 TDs vs 2 Ints with Jaydon contributing another 355 yards and 3 TDs on the ground. The Arizona State 8-5 record included a Sun Bowl win over Florida State.
But that freshman year would be the peak of Jaydon’s play with the Sun Devils. In the 2020 season Arizona State and the Pac 12 conference limited football to a COVID-shortened 7 games and due to schedule cancelations the Sun Devils managed to play only 4 games going 2-2. Jaydon Daniels accounted for 9 TDs (pass and run) in the shortened season. Going into 2021 the program was under the gun: An NCAA inquiry into potential recruiting violations would eventually cost Herm Edwards his job. The 2021 season would again post a winning 8-5 record but Daniels’ personal production took a hit with 10 passing TDs vs 10 Ints. After 3 years in Tempe it was time for a change.
Daniels entered the transfer portal following the 2021 season. The perfect match turned out to be with Brian Kelly, the recently-named new head coach at LSU. After 12 years and 113 wins at Notre Dame, which surpassed the legendary Knute Rockne, Kelly was shopping for a quarterback. Kelly recruited Daniels for one final season, and helped him find an elite quarterback trainer on the west coast to enhance his development. It clearly paid off. Kelly and Daniels led LSU to the SEC West title with a 10-4 record, which included back-to-back wins over Ole Miss and and Alabama, beating the Tide 32-31 in OT. For the season, Daniels was not only LSU’s leading passer, but leading rusher as well! He’s incredibly smooth and athletic, and breaks down defenses by prolonging plays and stretching the field. Consider Daniels a worthy Heisman candidate as Kelly continues to build talent around him.
*This list is a ranking of the best college Quarterbacks for pre-season 2023. It is NOT a list of the top NFL prospects. In some cases there are references regarding a QB’s value to the NFL, but it has not impacted the evaluation to compile this list. The primary criteria for this list is the Quarterbacks’ value to their respective team and how they rank vs all other college Quarterbacks at the FBS level.
The Best of the Rest: Any one of these Quarterbacks could break the top ten with a fast start in 2023
Cam Rising, Utah. The only thing holding Cam back is off-season knee surgery. He has led Utah to back-to-back Pac 12 titles.
Jalon Daniels, Kansas. A real catalyst to the Jayhawks turn-around, Jalen also coming off injuries, but threw for 544 yards and 5 TDs in Liberty 55-53 Bowl loss to Arkansas.
Spencer Rattler, South Carolina. 23-7 as a starter with Oklahoma and now at Gamecocks. Decision-making needs to get better to cut back turnovers.
Will Rogers, Miss State. 10,869 yards past three seasons running Mike Leach’s “Air Raid” offense. With Leach’s passing Rogers needs to adjust to Zach Arnett’s system.
Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina. Best QB nobody knows. McCall: 78 TD passes vs 8 INTs. 70.6% completions! Holy cow. Keep an eye out for the Chanticleers with McCall under center.
Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma. Injuries and coaching changes have held Dillon back. But, he closed 2022 strong averaging 317 yds passing over last 3 games.
Riley Leonard, Duke. A 6’4” dual-threat, Riley and Duke finished strong down the stretch winning 5 of 6 as the QB hit for 11 TD passes vs 1 pick in that span.
Frank Harris, UTSA. 61 TD passes vs only 21 INTs in three years and back to back Conference-USA Championships.
Joe Milton, Tennessee. Heir apparent running Vol’s high speed offense. Josh Heupel knows how to coach QBs and Milton posted 10 TDs vs 0 Ints in backup role last year.
KJ Jefferson, Arkansas. Another big producer coming off 2022 injuries. KJ a big part of Razorbacks’ turn-around under Sam Pittman. KJ has totaled 45 TD passes vs only 9 INTs over the past 2 seasons.