Davis Webb, Cal
Webb comes to Cal via transfer from Texas Tech, and he steps into big shoes, taking over for the most recent No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, Jared Goff. Webb was supplanted by Red Raiders star Patrick Mahomes, but his experience in the Air Raid offense should make him a natural fit under Sonny Dykes. Like Goff, Webb has NFL talent, and he’s considered one of the top quarterback prospects for next year’s draft. Webb has already put up some big numbers in his career, throwing for over 5,000 yards and 46 touchdowns in 22 appearances.
Luke Del Rio, Florida
Del Rio joined Florida as a walk-on transfer before last season and was later granted a scholarship. Del Rio bounced from Alabama to Oregon State before joining the Gators, and won the starting job in a wide open competition. Del Rio’s experience under the current coaching staff—he worked with Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier while the two were at Alabama—gave him an edge in camp. Most importantly? Del Rio can’t be much worse than what the Gators had under center to finish last season, as Florida’s offense faltered without the since-departed Will Grier.
Deondre Francois, Florida State
Francois brings some electricity to the Seminoles, who made do with Sean Maguire managing the offense last season. Maguire is still on the roster, but he’s hurt, and with Malik Henry suspended, Francois is in the driver’s seat to lead the team. Jalen Ramsey, who overlapped with Francois last season before heading to the NFL, recently said he would have been comfortable with Francois leading the team as a true freshman. With Dalvin Cook in the backfield, Francois should have the easiest job on this list.
Tyler O’Connor, Michigan State
O’Connor is a veteran of the Spartans program, and was good enough to back up Connor Cook last season. But the senior will have to prove he can lift the offense this season as opposed to simply taking care of it. O’Connor does have a road win against Ohio State on his resume, something most new starters can’t claim. What O’Connor is lacking, however, is a moment when he put his stamp on a game. Cook was no small departure, and O’Connor better be ready to carry the expectations of a playoff hopeful.
Trace McSorley, Penn State
A redshirt sophomore, McSorley will take over the starting job vacated by Christian Hackenberg. McSorley appeared in seven games last season, completing 20 of 40 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns, with most of those numbers coming in Penn State’s bowl game. McSorley had been viewed as the favorite to take over for Hackenberg since he stepped on campus in 2014, when he joined the Lions as a three-star recruit. McSorley is expected to be a dual-threat for Penn State, and he should have a good rapport with coach James Franklin, as he was the first quarterback Franklin signed as the Lions’ head coach.
David Blough, Purdue
Blough is the fourth Boilermakers opening day starter in four years, as Purdue has continued to spin on a quarterback carousel. Blough will be tasked with showing that his experience will actually translate to success, something his predecessors failed to do. Blough started eight games last season, and threw for nearly 1,600 yards, with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Chris Laviano, Rutgers
Laviano played in every game for the Scarlet Knights last season, and started the last 11. He threw for 2,247 yards and 16 touchdowns, but he failed to keep Rutgers close in many of its conference games. Like Blough, Laviano already has a lot of experience with his current team. Unfortunately, as is the case with Blough and Purdue as well, improvement at the quarterback position won’t be a cure-all for the program’s problems.
Ryan Burns, Stanford
The untested Burns is taking over for Kevin Hogan, who led the Cardinal to a 12–2 record and Rose Bowl win last season. Burns beat out Keller Chryst for the starting job, though Chryst is also expected to see playing time in Stanford’s opener against Kansas State. A redshirt junior, Burns has been on the active roster for two seasons. He last saw action in 2014, when he completed his only pass attempt for 13 yards. Burns was a four-star recruit and the No. 4 QB in the class of 2013.
Max Browne, USC
Browne was a highly touted recruit in 2013, with many pegging him as the best quarterback of his class, and at 6’5’’, he certainly looks the part of USC quarterback. Browne has only thrown 19 passes in two seasons as a backup, but does have familiarity with coach Clay Helton. While Browne is a pro-style passer, it’s unclear how much he’ll be asked to do early in the season. Browne is fortunate to have a loaded crop of skill position players, including standout receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and electric tailback Ronald Jones II, who should prop up the quarterback until he realizes his potential.
Troy Williams, Utah
Williams won a three-man competition to become the Utes’ opening day starter. Williams was originally recruited by Steve Sarkisian to play at Washington, but the only time he saw action was under Chris Petersen in 2014. Williams hardly played for the Huskies, throwing 36 passes in 2014, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. A former four-star recruit, Williams’ dual-threat skill set will buoy a Utes offense that lost star running back Devontae Booker this off-season.
Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
Shurmur was a heralded recruit for the Commodores, and played in five games last season. He’s a prototypical pocket passer, standing 6’4”, but he hardly lived up to his potential as a true freshman. Shurmur completed only 42.7% of his passes in 2015, throwing five touchdowns against three interceptions, and finished with a 2-3 record.
Kurt Benkert, Virginia
Another transfer, Benkert comes to the Cavaliers via East Carolina, where he hardly played due to injuries. Benkert hasn’t started a football game since high school, and missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Still, Benkert had enough talent to beat out Matt Johns, who started every game for Virginia last season. Under new coach Bronco Mendenhall, Benkert’s main goal will be to cut down on turnovers. Johns led the FBS last season with 17 interceptions.