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Fresh Starts With New Programs Have Given These College Quarterbacks New Life

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (shorter uprights sold separately in Fayetteville):

MORE DASH: League Rankings | The Surprises & Dumpster Fires of September

First Quarter

Quarterback Revivals

D.J. Uiagalelei (1) spent the 2021 season being questioned and criticized, unfamiliar territory for a five-star recruit who flashed enormous potential as Trevor Lawrence’s emergency stand-in as a freshman at Clemson. His talent and confidence seemed to evaporate, as the Tigers flailed offensively through a disappointing year. He was even replaced as the Quarterback of Choice in the Dr. Pepper “Fansville” ads by Alabama’s Bryce Young.

Uiagalelei retained the starting position heading into this season, but fans (and media) were ready for a rapid change to the next Clemson QB phenom, Cade Klubnik. That only intensified after an uneven opening victory against Georgia Tech, in which Klubnik came in late and flashed his own potential.

But Uiagalelei held onto the position through the next two games, as coach Dabo Swinney held firm in his belief that the junior was the best man for the job. In a ranked showdown against Wake Forest on Saturday, Uiagalelei resuscitated his career with a dazzling, save-the-day performance in a 51–45 triumph.

“I couldn’t smile any harder,” teammate K.J. Henry said. “Nobody deserves it more.”

Uiagalalei threw for 371 yards (his most since a memorable start at Notre Dame in 2020) and a career-high five touchdowns. He ran for 52 yards, including a key third-down carry for 24 to keep a drive alive, and showed his strength to escape a couple of sacks. He lived up to Clemson’s considerable quarterback lineage when the Tigers needed it to avoid an upset.

“A lot of competitiveness,” Clemson offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said. “And a ton of guts.”

Swinney took the opportunity to throw out some I Told You So shots in support of his quarterback.

D.J. Uiagalelei throws a pass for Clemson.

Uiagalelei threw for 371 yards and posted a career-high five touchdowns against Wake Forest. 

“He’s a great football player who had a bad year, and nobody wants to hear all the reasons why” Swinney said. “They just want to pile on D.J. Everybody wants a quarterback change. I just have belief in him. I know who he is. I know his heart. So it’s easy. … After four games, if you don’t recognize this kid’s special ability, then you’re blind.”

Uiagalelei, true to his personality, deflected credit to his teammates and stayed above the fray in terms of firing back at those who called for his benching. “I’m just trying to do my part, do my one-eleventh,” he said. If his 1/11th is that good going forward, Clemson could be headed back to national title contention after a one-year sabbatical.

Here are a few other quarterbacks experiencing a revival thus far this season:

Adrian Martinez (2), Kansas State

  • Previous situation: Four-year starter at Nebraska who bore the brunt of a lot of fan frustration for the Cornhuskers’ program-wide futility.
  • Current situation: Led the 3–1 Wildcats to yet another upset of Oklahoma on Saturday, their third in four seasons.

Martinez threw for a season-high 234 yards and ran for 148, the second-most in his career, while accounting for five touchdowns. He delivered the backbreaker late in the fourth quarter, breaking a third-and-16 scramble for 55 yards and then scoring the clinching touchdown. It was precisely the kind of victory that always eluded Martinez at Nebraska. Also of note for a player who had turnover issues with the Cornhuskers—Martinez hasn’t thrown an interception yet this season.

Meanwhile, back at Nebraska, it’s the same sad story no matter who plays quarterback.

Bo Nix (3), Oregon

  • Previous situation: Maligned three-year starter at Auburn.
  • Current situation: Posting career-best numbers while leading the Ducks to a 3–1 start.

Nix has played three great games in a row after getting his head handed to him (along with the rest of the team) by Georgia in the season opener. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes, run for three TDs with just one interception and completed 78 percent of his passes in wins against Eastern Washington, BYU and Washington State. Nix now owns one of the all-time geography stats: in games played west of the Central Time Zone, he is a perfect 4–0; in games played elsewhere, he is 20–14. Good news for Oregon: all its remaining regular-season games are in the Mountain or Pacific Time Zones.

At Auburn, the Tigers are a shaky 3–1 and 13th in the SEC in pass efficiency.

Hendon Hooker (4), Tennessee

Hendon Hooker runs upfield for Tennessee.

Hooker threw for 349 yards and ran for another 112 more against rival Florida on Saturday. 

  • Previous situation: A solid, under-appreciated quarterback on disappointing Virginia Tech teams.
  • Current situation: Leading the Volunteers to a 4–0 start, and perhaps placing himself at the forefront of the early Heisman Trophy race. (Just typing that sentence will invoke spasms of anger from Tennessee fans over Peyton Manning—and even Johnny Majors—not winning the award, so prepare for that.)

Truth be told, Hooker revived his career last season. He took the starting job away from Joe Milton early in the year and played very well, racking up nearly 3,500 yards total offense and 36 touchdowns. But he and the Volunteers have taken it to another level this season—Hooker leads the SEC in pass efficiency and yards per attempt, and has run his streak of games without an interception to seven. Against nemesis Florida on Saturday, Hooker threw for 349 yards and ran for 112.

As for Virginia Tech? You don’t want to know.

Jordan Travis (5), Florida State

  • Previous situation: Part of the malaise gripping the Seminoles program for three years—by no means the biggest problem, but not a big enough part of the solution to satisfy the public.
  • Current situation: A big part of the current solution, with a 4–0 start that includes two ACC wins and an upset of LSU.

Travis’ 169.1 pass-efficiency rating is 21 points higher than last season, which was 20 points higher than 2020. Coming off an ankle injury that knocked him out of the game at Louisville, he threw for a career-high 321 yards in a rout of Boston College on Saturday. At 10.4 yards per attempt, Travis is providing a deep threat that Florida State hasn’t had since Jameis Winston was quarterback.

Tanner Morgan (6), Minnesota

  • Previous situation: A solid but unspectacular QB for the Gophers in 2020 and ’21, but not quite able to replicate the 2019 season that went so well for Morgan and the program as a whole.
  • Current situation: The fourth-most efficient quarterback in the country while leading Minnesota to a 4–0 start.

Morgan was one of just four QBs nationally to average more than 10 yards per pass attempt in ’19, connecting for big gains with future NFL wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson. Then his offensive coordinator, Kirk Ciarrocca, departed for Penn State, and Morgan’s productivity dipped. Now Ciarrocca is back, and so is the explosiveness in the Minnesota passing game. Morgan looks like his 2019 self, averaging 11.2 yards per attempt and completing 77 percent of his throws. A leader worth his weight in gold, he’s the extension of head coach P.J. Fleck in the locker room.

(Michael Penix Jr. of Washington is certainly worthy of a place on this list, but The Dash chronicled some of his bounce-back last week.)

Four for the Playoff

James Franklin and the Nittany Lions are 4-0 so far this season. 

James Franklin and the Nittany Lions are 4-0 so far this season. 

Every week, The Dash lays down the law about what the College Football Playoff bracket would look like if today was Selection Sunday.

Peach Bowl: Top seed Georgia (7) vs. fourth seed Penn State (8).

The Bulldogs (4–0) half-stepped their way to a sloppy victory against Kent State, 39-22. The 22 points allowed was more than double than the first three opponents combined this season, and was the most Georgia has allowed between the hedges since November 2020. Georgia committed its first three turnovers of the season and looked like it didn’t take the Golden Flashes seriously—but still won by 17. Survive and advance. Next up for Georgia: at struggling Missouri on Saturday.

The Nittany Lions (4–0) had their own temporary travails against a major underdog, tied with Central Michigan at 14 late in the first half before pulling away with a 33-14 victory. Penn State pitched a second-half shutout, played turnover-free football for the third straight game, and forced its opponents to commit four-plus turnovers for the second straight contest. Like most of the good James Franklin teams, they are solid in every phase of the game. Next up for Penn State: remarkably bad Northwestern comes to Happy Valley on Saturday.

Fiesta Bowl: Second seed Ohio State (9) vs. third seed USC (10).

The Buckeyes (4–0) absolutely blitzed Wisconsin, racing to a 28-0 first-quarter lead and then cruising to a 52–21 win. Quarterback C.J. Stroud continues to put up monster numbers without the benefit of star wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba, with tight end Cade Stover the latest to get a star turn with two TD catches in that first-quarter onslaught. But don’t overlook the running game, which pounded out 258 yards—the most Wisconsin has surrendered on the ground since 2019. Next up for Ohio State: Rutgers comes to the Horseshoe on Saturday in the Buckeyes’ fifth straight home game.

The Trojans (4–0) survived a serious predicament at Oregon State, with their high-flying offense failing to score a touchdown until the fourth quarter. But amid an ugly game, quarterback Caleb Williams got it done when he had to, leading two long TD drives. Meanwhile, the defense continued to show its dramatic growth with four more interceptions, including one to seal the game. Is their plus-14 turnover margin sustainable? No. But that might not matter for a couple more weeks. Next up for USC: Arizona State, in disarray, comes to the Coliseum on Saturday.

Dropped out: None.

Also considered: Alabama, Washington, Tennessee, Clemson, Minnesota, Michigan, Kentucky, North Carolina State, Syracuse, Kansas, Florida State.

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MORE DASH: League Rankings | The Surprises & Dumpster Fires of September