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Fastest Arm in the West: Who’s the Best Big 12 Quarterback?

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With Kyler Murray and Will Grier gone, the race for best quarterback in the Big 12 is wide open.

Iowa State v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

More than any other league, the Big 12 is defined by its quarterback play.

Alabama ran through the SEC for a decade with a rotating cast of nondescript game managers behind center (hi, Blake Sims!). Wisconsin and Michigan are perennially challenging for the Big 10 title, and their passing attacks are charitably described as “anemic” and less charitably described as “an abomination before God.” The ACC just has Clemson QBs to carry the conference reputation — and no, Daniel Jones getting drafted in the first round does not count. The Pac-12 has had some good quarterbacks in the past few years, but the conference has been so down lately that it’s hard to appropriately judge how good those signal callers were.

But the Big 12 will pretty much always have a stable of guys who aren’t afraid to sling the pigskin, even if those quarterbacks are on bad teams. Patrick Mahomes dragged a Texas Tech team that wouldn’t have won three games without him to a 5-7 record in 2016, and he wasn’t even the best quarterback in the conference that year.

And in 2019, the top dogs in the conference at quarterback are all gone. Kyler Murray, Will Grier and Taylor Cornelius aren’t there to pick apart defenses anymore. There’s a power vacuum at quarterback in the Big 12, and there’s a hungry group of players ready to fill that void.

So — let’s rank those players, from 10-1. This is solely based on how I think the quarterbacks will perform in 2019, and team success is not necessarily a prerequisite. Like Mahomes, you can be a really good quarterback on a really bad team.

I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t predict the winner of a couple of quarterback battles; in those cases, we’ll rank them as “School QB X” or something. It’ll make sense, I promise.

10. Kansas QB X

The first year of the Les Miles Experience won’t be an easy one, least of all for whomever starts at quarterback. I like Miles and think he’s a good coach, but he hasn’t exactly been known for creating quarterback-friendly systems.

Those with more knowledge of the Kansas program than I do think either redshirt senior Carter Stanley or junior transfer Thomas MacVittie will earn the job. Stanley has played in 21 games in the last three years, completing 58.8 percent of his passes for 2,371 yards, 13 touchdowns and 14 picks. MacVittie started his career at Pitt before transferring to Mesa Community College in Arizona, and was the No. 3 JUCO quarterback recruit in the country.

If I had to bet, I’d say MacVittie starts, and maybe he’ll develop into a fine player. But as for now, the Jayhawks are clearly bringing up the rear at the quarterback spot.

9. Skylar Thompson, Kansas State

Thompson is a junior that played in 11 games for Kansas State last year. He split time with Alex Delton, who is now a Horned Frog. In 11 games, Thompson threw for 1,391 yards, completing 58.7 percent of his passes and throwing nine touchdowns against four picks.

Much like Miles at Kansas, new Kansas State coach Chris Klieman will need time to implement his system. Thompson is a game-manager that does have some running talent — he ran for five touchdowns in 2018. But he’s not going to put up any flashy numbers any time soon. And if Kansas State falls behind in games and is forced to throw, it remains to be seen if Thompson has what it takes to air it out for a win.

8. TCU QB X

TCU could rise as high as fifth in the conference quarterback rating if a) Justin Rogers is healthy and pans out, b) Max Duggan is as good as advertised and steals the starting job or c) Jalen Reagor just runs the wildcat the entire time.

But as for now, the Frogs are behind the majority of the conference when it comes to quarterbacks. TCU has plenty of options — there’s just no guarantee any of those options are going to provide the high-level play needed to challenge for a conference championship. Alex Delton was lackluster at best at Kansas State. Michael Collins was inconsistent in his first year with TCU (although due to injuries he was thrown into the starting role much too soon, which wasn’t his fault). Rogers has been battling a foot injury, and we still don’t know how healthy he’ll be.

TCU gets the bump above the Kansas schools due to sheer number of options. Odds are, there’s a really good quarterback somewhere on the Horned Frogs’ roster. TCU will just have to hope the coaching staff can identify who it is.

7. Oklahoma State QB X (But Probably Spencer Sanders)

Taylor Cornelius was a poor man’s Mason Rudolph last year, but a poor man’s Mason Rudolph is still very good. Now Cornelius is gone, and Spencer Sanders is the favorite to take his spot. Sanders is a redshirt freshman from Texas that has all the talent in the world, but there’s stiff competition with Hawaii transfer Dru Brown in the room.

Mike Gundy is an offensive savant, and Sanders should slip right into the high-powered system at Oklahoma State. Expect the Cowboys to still present a potent offensive threat through the air in 2019 with him under center — and if Sanders can’t do the job, Brown is no slouch, either.

6. Austin Kendall, West Virginia

Kendall, the transfer from Oklahoma, bided his time with the Sooners backing up Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. In his career at OU, he completed 28 of 39 passes for 265 yards and three TDs, but that was largely in garbage time.

Now he’s the favorite to win the job at West Virginia over Miami transfer Jack Allison. While the Mountaineers will have to adjust to a new coach in Neal Brown after Dana Holgorsen departed for Houston, I think Kendall has what it takes to thrive at West Virginia. Call it a hunch.

5. Alan Bowman, Texas Tech

There’s not much to say about Bowman. He’s your prototypical Texas Tech quarterback — he’ll throw a bunch, and he’ll throw deep. He played in eight games as a freshman last year, and completed 69.4 percent of his passes for 2,638 yards and 17 touchdowns against just seven picks.

That’s pretty dang good for a freshman, and he should only improve as a sophomore, even if Matt Wells will be in his first year as the head coach at Tech. Bowman also showed some incredible toughness after recovering from a partially collapsed lung he suffered on the field last season. Now that he’s fully healthy, he should be ready to carry on the Red Raider quarterback tradition of being an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses.

4. Brock Purdy, Iowa State

I think Purdy is a fine quarterback, and I think Matt Campbell is a hell of a head coach.

But I’m not ready to anoint Purdy as the next great Big 12 QB just yet. As a freshman, he played in 10 games, threw 220 passes (completing 66.4 percent), racked up 2,250 yards and had a TD:INT ratio of 16:7. That’s very good, and he’s also a capable runner, scoring five TDs with his legs.

There are definitely three quarterbacks better than Purdy in the Big 12, though, and if Bowman gets hot, Purdy could slip to No. 5. I still expect Purdy (and Campbell) to pull off a major upset or two this season.

3. Charlie Brewer, Baylor

I’ve had a long-running argument with friend, former colleague and Baylor graduate Shehan Jeyarajah over whether or not Brewer is a star. I wasn’t sold on the Baylor quarterback’s stardom in 2018, despite Brewer throwing for 3,019 yards and 19 touchdowns with a 61.5 percent completion rate and running for seven more TDs.

But now that he’ll be a junior, I think Brewer is finally ready to take the leap into nationwide stardom. Baylor has had uncommonly bad injury luck over the last two years, and that shouldn’t be the case in 2019. Matt Rhule seems to have the program going in the right direction heading into his third year. If Brewer can cut down on his turnovers — he threw nine interceptions last year — the Bears should have a great offense this season.

2. Sam Ehlinger, Texas

I was all set to come in and try to poke holes in Ehlinger’s game, but the fact is that he’s darn good. In 2018, his sophomore year, he threw for 3,292 yards and 25 touchdowns against only five picks. He also ran for 482 yards and 16 touchdowns. There’s nothing to criticize in those stat lines.

Ehlinger also rises to the occasion in big games, most notably in the Red River Shootout, when he threw for 314 yards and two TDs and ran for 72 yards and three more scores. If he can play at that level this year, Texas will be formidable on offense. (The defense is another matter, but that’s not Ehlinger’s fault).

He can be a bit corny (see: Horns Down), but he’s a really, really good quarterback, and he has the potential to be a great one.

1. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma

There’s only one quarterback in the Big 12 that has started two national championship games, and that’s Jalen Hurts.

Sure, Tua Tagovailoa took Hurts’ job at Alabama. But that’s more due to Tua being a transcendent, once-in-a-generation talent than anything else. Hurts could start at 99 percent of schools in the nation, and that includes Oklahoma, the school that produced two straight Heisman winning quarterbacks.

Over his career, Hurts has completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 5,626 yards, 48 touchdowns and 12 picks. He’s also ran for 1,976 yards and 23 touchdowns. He’s a true dual-threat talent, and now he has the genius mind of Lincoln Riley at head coach. (That’s not saying Nick Saban isn’t a genius, for the record.)

There’s an argument for Ehlinger over Hurts. But right now, I’d take Hurts.

Ask me again in November.