SEC and ACC quarterback rankings 130 beach days before South Carolina kicks off the 2015 college football season against North Carolina on a Thursday night in Charlotte are almost as temporary as an ice cream cone on Isle of Palms.
Ohio State, you might recall, won the most recent national championship with third-string quarterback Cardale Jones making his debut in December.
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson seems to be the best quarterback in the ACC, and South Carolina‘s Connor Mitch almost the worst in the SEC. But Watson missed all of spring practice and gets hurt a lot, and Mitch made strides this spring.
1. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State. Easily. Led the SEC in total offense as a junior.
2. Maty Mauk, Missouri. An erratic passer as a sophomore, but 14-4 as a starter and has been part of back-to-back SEC East championship teams.
3. Jeremy Johnson, Auburn. Ranked too high? Maybe, but the rising junior fits nicely into Gus Malzahn’s spread system and had 9 touchdown passes and 2 interceptions over 13 games as Nick Marshall’s understudy. Plus, it’s a relatively weak SEC quarterback field.
4. Josh Dobbs, Tennessee. The freshman put up 467 yards of total offense in the Volunteers’ 45-42 overtime victory last November at Williams-Brice Stadium.
5. Patrick Towles, Kentucky. He’s got the look, at 6-5, 241. Threw for 226.5 yards per game as a sophomore, fifth-best in the SEC.
6. Brandon Allen, Arkansas. True, Allen’s biggest headline came when his Chevrolet Avalanche was mysteriously set ablaze last August. But he is the SEC’s most experienced quarterback (25 starts).
7. Jake Coker, Alabama. With Blake Sims gone, Coker, a senior Florida State transfer, has a shaky hold on the keys to Lane Kiffin’s offense and Nick Saban’s program.
8. Chad Kelly, Mississippi (eventually). Could move way up. On his best behavior, Kelly, a transfer kicked off the Clemson team, showed star potential. He threw for 47 TDs and 8 interceptions at East Mississippi JC last fall. Still, head coach Hugh Freeze said after the spring game that redshirt sophomore Ryan Buchanan has a slight lead over Kelly.
9. Kyle Allen, Texas A&M. The perfect name for Kyle Field, Allen holds the lead in College Station after five starts late last season (16 TDs, 7 interceptions).
10. Brandon Harris, LSU. Harris, a sophomore, appears to have the slight edge over typically ineffective 2014 starter Anthony Jennings. But LSU head coach Les Miles said after spring practice that a two-quarterback system is possible.
11. Will Grier, Florida. New head coach Jim McElwain said after the Gators’ spring game that Grier is ahead of Treon Harris. But not by much. Both sophomores are likely to play.
12. Brice Ramsey, Georgia. Another ongoing battle, this one to replace departed starter Hutson Mason. Ramsey, a sophomore, is trying to fend off junior Faton Bauta and redshirt freshman Jacob Park (Stratford High School).
13. Connor Mitch, South Carolina. The 6-3, 220-pound sophomore went 2 for 6 passing in relief of Dylan Thompson in 2014. But the defense will be better.
14. Fill in the blank, Vanderbilt. Patton Robinette has opted for medical school leaving a three-man battle, at least. “There is no front-runner,” head coach Derek Mason said after the Commodores’ spring game.
1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson. A Heisman Trophy candidate when he’s healthy. If the sophomore bounces back from ACL surgery, the Tigers are in great shape.
2. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech. The ACC’s fourth-leading rusher in 2014 (77.6 yards per game) who also threw for 1,719 yards. Led the Yellow Jackets to wins over Clemson, Georgia and Mississippi State (Orange Bowl).
3. Marquise Williams, North Carolina. The ACC’s 2014 total offense leader missed spring practice with a hip injury but is expected back at full strength in a few weeks, plenty of time to start preparing for South Carolina.
4. Will Gardner, Louisville (or Reggie Bonnafon). A reach here. But if Gardner recovers from another knee surgery by June, as expected, he can be a star in Bobby Petrino’s offense. If not, dual-threat sophomore Reggie Bonnafon had an excellent spring after five starts as a freshman.
5. Jacoby Brissett, N.C. State. The Florida transfer finished 2014 strong with three straight wins, and had 26 total touchdowns as a junior.
6. Brad Kaaya, Miami. Led the ACC in passing efficiency as a freshman but must make do without star running back Duke Johnson.
7. Sean Maguire, Florida State. Head coach Jimbo Fisher says Maguire is the guy to replace Jameis Winston, but he was only 22 of 44 with two interceptions and no TDs in Florida State’s spring game. Highly regarded freshman Deondre Francois is in the wings.
8. Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh. A smidge underrated. Voytik, who played the entire Blue-Gold spring game, was third in the ACC in passing efficiency as a sophomore last season (16 TDs, 7 interceptions).
9. Thomas Sirk, Duke. In David Cutcliffe’s polished system, a 6-5, 220-pound first-year junior starter with arm strength and touch can succeed. If not, Cutcliffe is fine with juggling two or three QBs.
10. John Wolford, Wake Forest. Trial by fire as a freshman for Wolford (12 TDs, 14 interceptions) but he should be a bit better with a slightly better cast.
11. Matt Johns, Virginia. He beat out fellow junior Greyson Lambert for the starting job in spring practice. “It wasn’t close,” head coach Mike London told reporters. Johns threw eight TDs and 5 interceptions last season.
12. Terrel Hunt, Syracuse. The redshirt senior played well in new offensive coordinator Tim Lester’s simplified offense this spring after suffering a broken leg against Louisville last season (1 TD pass, 4 interceptions in five games).
13. Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech. He struggled for long stretches as a junior (18 TD passes, 15 interceptions, sacked 32 times) and doesn’t run well.
14. Darius Wade, Boston College. The sophomore was Tyler Murphy’s backup in 2014 (3 for 8 passing). Sophomore Troy Flutie, former BC wide receiver Darren’s son and former Heisman winner Doug’s nephew, is a backup.
In a sport dominated by good quarterback play, rankings matter.
But beware of a third-stringer emerging to lead one of these teams to the national championship.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff