Every year between 2016 and 2019, the Big 12 produced at least one Heisman finalist. Heck, the conference even had two finalists in 2016. Granted, four of those five finalists have been from Oklahoma, but hey, the SEC claims Alabama’s national title success, right?
Between Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray — both Heisman Trophy winners — and Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts, the quarterback play in Norman has been fantastic over the last several years. Even as far back as 2015, Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman voting and barely missed being a finalist.
In 2014, former TCU quarterback Trevon Boykin barely missed being a finalist as well.
The point is that the Big 12 has been producing quality talent for some time now, especially at the quarterback position. Mayfield, Murray, Hurts, Will Grier and Mason Rudolph have all been Day 1 or 2 picks in the last four drafts. That recent run of success should continue following 2021, especially if another Oklahoma signal-caller chooses to leave early for the NFL.
Yes, the Big 12 did lose Sam Ehlinger, Charlie Brewer and Alan Bowman, but there will still be quality play at the position, and the list below proves it.
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been identifying the top returning talent in college football by position and conference, and today we finally get around to the quarterbacks in the Big 12. Here’s how we rank them:
Honorable mention: Jarret Doege, West Virginia; Skylar Thompson, Kansas State
5. Spencer Sanders, Oklahoma State
Spencer Sanders didn’t make the leap in 2020 many were expecting. In fact, going into last season, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound quarterback was projected to be a future first-round draft pick. It made sense after he was named Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2019.
Unfortunately, he fell well short of expectations. If he ever wants to reach his incredibly high ceiling, he’ll need to do two things: 1) prove that he can stay healthy and 2) cut down significantly on his turnovers. In 20 career games, Sanders has tossed 19 interceptions. That isn’t going to get the job done.
Still, there’s a lot to like about the Denton, Tex. native. He’s got a strong arm and can certainly make plays with his legs (897 rushing yards, four scores in the last two seasons). Sanders put up strong numbers in his final game of 2020. In a 37-34 victory over Miami in the Cheez-It Bowl, he totaled 350 yards (305 passing, 45 rushing) with four touchdowns and zero interceptions.
That type of performance shows how effective Sanders can be, but his inconsistency and turnover issues needs to be addressed. Hopefully he’ll be able to overcome the loss of three key members of his offensive supporting cast: Chuba Hubbard, Tylan Wallace and Teven Jenkins.
His Heisman odds currently sit at +8000 on the FanDuel Sportsbook.
4. Max Duggan, TCU
This is more of an upside ranking. I’m a big fan of the growth Max Duggan showed in 2020. After putting up solid numbers as a true freshman in 2019, the dual-threat quarterback showed that he’s trending in the right direction with turnovers — cutting his interceptions from 10 to four.
He also improved his completion percentage from 53.4 percent to 60.8, showing more consistency with his accuracy and overall ball placement. In 22 career games, Duggan has thrown for 3,872 yards, 25 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions. He’s also added another 1,081 yards and 16 scores on the ground.
His 1.9 touchdowns per game could use some improvement, but there are so many things pointing up for the young signal-caller as he heads into Year 3. Despite losing running back Darwin Barlow to USC, the combination of Zach Evans and Kendre Miller should contribute to a solid run game. And overall, there should be enough talent around him to be effective.
His Heisman odds currently sit at +10000 on the FanDuel Sportsbook.
3. Casey Thompson, Texas
Casey Thompson is a tough quarterback to predict. So far, he has looked fantastic in his time in Austin. Last season, he completed 70.6 percent of his passes for 225 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. The problem is that he only has 17 career pass attempts and one start.
Granted, in that one start against Colorado in the Valero Alamo Bowl, he led Texas to a sizable 55-23 blowout in which he completed 8-of-10 passes for 170 yards and four touchdowns and added another 17 yards on the ground. But still, is there enough of a sample size to rank him at No. 3? After struggling with that internal, I ultimately landed on yes.
With new head coach Steve Sarkisian coming over from Alabama, this Texas offense should be ready to take a giant step forward, especially with Bijan Robinson providing plenty of relief in the run game. Thompson isn’t guaranteed the starting spot over Hudson Card, the nation’s No. 2 dual-threat QB from the 2020 class, but things are trending in that direction.
His Heisman odds currently sit at +4000 on the FanDuel Sportsbook. Others with +4000 odds: Breece Hall, Emory Jones and McKenzie Milton.
2. Brock Purdy, Iowa State
Coming into the 2020 season, many expected Brock Purdy to be one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12 — and maybe even all of college football. He was good, but he wasn’t that good. In fact, he really struggled with consistency, an issue that cost Iowa State a couple of games last year.
First off, he was awful in the opening week of the season against Louisiana-Lafayette. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and one interception, and the Cyclones ultimately lost 31-14.
His rematch against Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game was also poor. He tossed three interceptions, including one with a minute left in the game that sealed the 27-21 victory for the Sooners.
With all that being said, we also got some great performances from Purdy last season. In a three-game stretch to end the regular season — against Kansas State, Texas and West Virginia — he totaled 885 yards (795 passing, 90 rushing) and eight total touchdowns without throwing any picks.
And when you look at his final numbers from last season, they don’t look bad at all. He completed 66.6 percent of his passes for 2,750 yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions to go along with 382 yards rushing and five more scores. His issue has been consistency.
Hopefully he narrow the ups and downs some. With the trio of running back Breece Hall, wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson and tight end Charlie Kolar, Purdy will have one of the best offensive weapon trios in the Big 12 this season. That certainly helps.
His Heisman odds currently sit at +3000 on the FanDuel Sportsbook. Others with +3000 odds: Bijan Robinson, Desmond Ridder, Jayden Daniels and Kedon Slovis.
1. Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
Spencer Rattler was Mr. Everything coming out of Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, Ari. He put up impressive numbers and was soon rated the nation’s No. 1 pro-style quarterback, according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings.
The hype surrounding Rattler’s first season in Norman was somewhat tempered by the arrival of Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts, but in the fall of 2020, the Rattler train officially left the station. In some ways, Rattler didn’t quite live up to all those insane expectations, but that may have had more to do with his surrounding talent than anything else.
He still completed 67.5 percent of his 317 pass attempts for 3,031 yards, 27 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Of those interceptions, five of them came in the first four weeks of the season, which means he threw only two in his last seven games. Rattler also added 160 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
At one point during the second quarter of the rivalry game against Texas, he was benched after a costly fumble but was inserted back into the lineup at the start of the second half and immediately led the offense to two touchdown drives. The Sooners ended up winning 53-45 in a four-overtime shootout, thanks in large part to Rattler’s game-winning fourth overtime touchdown pass to Drake Stoops.
With weapons such as a former five-star Jaden Haselwood and others returning, the talent around Rattler will be a lot closer to what Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray had during their time in Norman. That’s a scary thought considering his ability.
There’s a reason Rattler is the Heisman favorite over at the FanDuel Sportsbook with +800 odds.
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Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.