It’s football season again, and the replacing of Matthew Stafford with Jared Goff as Detroit Lions quarterback means it’s also another kind of season, one we haven’t seen in more than a decade in Detroit: college quarterback scouting season.
Even though we’ve only seen Goff for a quarter of action in the preseason, the combination of his veteran status, the Lions’ likelihood to struggle this year and their surplus of draft picks in 2022 suggest taking a QB.
The Lions will have two first-round picks in 2022 — their own (which should be near the top of the draft, if not No. 1 overall) and the Rams’ (which should be near the bottom of the round if Stafford lives up to expectations in L.A.).
All of that means nabbing a quarterback at some point, even in the second or third round, seems prudent and would give Dan Campbell and Co. a season to groom their guy behind Goff, rather than throw him into the fire in his first season. (They could also wait till 2023 to do all this, but that’s no fun for us now, is it?)
And so, we’re giving you fair warning so that you can keep an eye on nearly a dozen QBs throughout the college football season, though we make no guarantees these are the only possibilities. After all, going into last season, we knew Trevor Lawrence was a lock at No. 1. But Zach Wilson and Trey Lance at Nos. 2-3? Nope.
The slate of “Week 0” games doesn’t give us a lot of chances to scout — Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez? Illinois’ Brandon Peters? No thanks. — but after that? Well, here’s your list.
CARLOS MONARREZ: Preseason has made it clear: This Lions rebuild won’t be a quick fix
Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
The buzz: Rattler’s three predecessors at OU are starting in the NFL — Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and, yes, we’ll count Jalen Hurts for now — which explains Rattler’s one season of experience so far. Then again, that one season was pretty good, as he completed 67.5% of his passes for 3,031 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions (with three of the picks coming in a loss to Kansas State in his second career start).
When to watch: The Sooners haven’t bailed for the SEC yet and at No. 3 in the polls, they’ll get a lot of short-notice games, all on Saturdays on the major networks. But if you’re booking your calendar now, there’s their noon Sept. 4 season opener at Tulane on ABC, followed by a noon start hosting Nebraska on Sept. 18 on Fox.
MICHIGAN STATE: Still plenty of questions in Year 2 under Mel Tucker
Kedon Slovis, USC
The buzz: The shine from his surprising 2019 — in which a JT Daniels injury in the opener led to Slovis completing 71.9% of his attempts, for 3,502 yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions — wore off a bit in his abbreviated six-game 2020. Slovis still completed 67% of his passes and averaged nearly three TDs a game, but his yards per attempt dropped from 8.9 to 7.3.
When to watch: The Pac-12’s dodgy TV coverage on its own network won’t make this easy — especially if the Trojans stumble early — but the Trojans have two early national games on Fox, hosting Stanford at 10:30 p.m. Sept. 11, followed by a visit to Washington State at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 18. And, of course, there’s always USC’s game against Notre Dame, this year in South Bend (and thus on NBC) at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23.
Sam Howell, UNC
The buzz: Howell passed for about 3,600 yards in each of his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, but Mack Brown’s return as coach last season meant he needed 74 fewer attempts to do it. In all, he has a 64.4% completion percentage with 68 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. (He also took about three dozen sacks in 2020 alone, so you could say he’s already prepared to be a Lion.)
When to watch: Howell will get the usual ACC/ESPN network placement, including a 6 pm. Friday start against Virginia Tech (ESPN). The Tar Heels also get a spotlight game at Notre Dame (with a 7:30 p.m. start) on Oct. 30 on NBC, a Thursday-night game at Pitt on Nov. 11 (7:30) and a post-Turkey Day Friday slot against N.C. State (exact time and TV to be announced).
Malik Willis, Liberty
The buzz: Absolutely the most athletic QB on this list, Willis got 14 pass attempts and 28 carries over two seasons at Auburn. He then transferred to Liberty — sitting out 2019 as a result — and starred in a 10-1 season in 2020 (including two wins over Power Five teams). That included completing 64.2% of his passes for 2,250 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions, and rushing 141 times for 944 yards — a 6.7-yard average.
When to watch: The Flames are an FBS independent, making their schedule a bit … haphazard. Your best bet will be their two Power Five matchups: Sept. 24 (a Friday night!) at 8 p.m. at Syracuse on ACC Network, and Nov. 6 at Ole Miss (time and TV to be announced).
Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
The buzz: The Bearcats will open the season as a top-10 team (in both polls) for the first time in school history, and Ridder is a big reason why. He has three straight seasons of at least 2,100 yards passing, 18 touchdowns and single-digit interceptions, plus at least 580 yards rushing. That includes 2020, in which he completed 66.2% of his passes for 2,296 yards, 19 TDs and six picks and ran 98 times for 592 yards and 12 touchdowns.
When to watch: But somehow, this top-10 team opens the season with a couple of games on ESPN+. Still, the Bearcats will have a couple of daytime spotlight games: Sept. 18 at Indiana (at noon on ABC or ESPN) and Oct. 2 at Notre Dame (2:30 p.m. on NBC). They’ve also got Friday night games against Temple (7 p.m. Oct. 8 on ESPN) and USF (6 p.m. Nov. 12 on ESPN2) if your Saturdays are otherwise booked.
Carson Strong, Nevada
The buzz: Strong went from 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2019 to 27 TDs and four picks (and 2,858 yards) as a sophomore despite playing in only nine games. That was fueled by a final four games in which he went 98-for-140 (70%) for 1,053 yards, 11 TDs and two picks.
When to watch: Get ready to stay up late — seven of the Wolf Pack’s 12 games start at 9 p.m. Eastern or later, including a national game against Cal at 10:30 p.m. Sept. 4 on FS1. But you can catch him under the midday sun at 2 p.m. Sept. 18 against K-State … if you have an ESPN+ subscription.
Matt Corral, Ole Miss
The buzz: His overall numbers will likely be eye-popping, thanks to Lane Kiffin’s up-tempo offense — Corral passed for 3,337 yards and 29 touchdowns (and ran 12 times for 506 yards) over 10 games in Kiffin’s first season in Oxford. But he also threw 14 interceptions in 326 attempts after just four in 200 attempts over his first two seasons. (Then again, six of those picks came Oct. 17 against Arkansas; the Hogs and Rebs meet again Oct. 5 this year.)
When to watch: Corral will have two non-Saturday showcases; the Rebels open the season on a Monday night (Sept. 6) at 7 p.m. against Louisville on ESPN and finish it on Thanksgiving day at 6:30 p.m. against Mississippi State on ESPN. In between, he’ll also get the usual SEC schedule, a tune-up game against Tulane at 7 p.m. Sept. 18 on ESPN and an intriguing matchup against Liberty on Nov. 6 (time and TV TBA).
JT Daniels, Georgia
The buzz: A transfer from USC last season, Daniels missed Georgia’s first six games healing up his 2019 knee injury. When he debuted in red and black though, he shredded Mississippi State’s defense for 401 yards and four TDs, then averaged 276.7 yards, two TDs and less than an interception in three games against South Carolina, Missouri and Cincinnati. (No wonder fried-chicken chain Zaxby’s signed him up when the NIL changes went into effect.)
When to watch: The Bulldogs, of course, will have plenty of SEC matchups air on the ESPN family (including their conference opener against South Carolina at 7 p.m. Sept. 18), but they’ll be in the national spotlight on Sept. 4 with a 7:30 p.m. game against No. 2 Clemson. In between, there’ll be a tune-up game against UAB at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 11 on ESPN2.
Brock Purdy, Iowa State
The buzz: Few QBs on this list have more experience — Purdy has at least 10 appearances and 16 passing touchdowns in each of the past three seasons — and his completion percentage has stayed steady at about 66%, but his yards per attempt have dropped from 10.2 as a freshman to 7.5 as a junior in 2020. (He has also been good for about 300 yards rushing in each season.)
When to watch: The Cyclones have three main games on national TV: Sept. 11 at 3:30 p.m. against rival Iowa on ABC, Sept. 18 at 9:30 p.m. at UNLV on CBS Sports Network and — just in case the Lions’ Thanksgiving game hasn’t made you swear off football — on Nov. 26 at 3 or 3:30 p.m. against TCU on Fox or FS1.
Michael Penix Jr., Indiana/Sean Clifford, Penn State
The buzz: It seems almost sacrilegious not to have a Big Ten QB on this list, so we’ll sneak a couple on here who could boost their draft stock with strong and/or healthy years (since OSU’s C.J. Stroud won’t be eligible). Penix is arguably the conference’s best, but his season was cut short after six games (with 1,645 yards, 14 TDs and four interceptions) due to an ACL tear. Clifford had to fight for his job during the Nittany Lions’ 0-5 start but showed some NFL-type game-manager skills with a 33-for-49 passing, 517-yard, four-touchdown combined performance in PSU’s final two games. (Against Michigan State and Illinois, but still…)
When to watch: Catch ‘em both in one game, when the Hoosiers visit the Nittany Lions on Oct. 2. (Time and TV TBA, but its competition for the night spot <ahem, Whiteout?> on ABC or Fox is Michigan/Wisconsin and Ohio State/Rutgers.)
You’ve been warned.