College News & Analysis

Top 10 returning quarterbacks in college football for the 2023 season

Arlington, Texas, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) in action during the game between the USC Trojans and the Tulane Green Wave in the 2023 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

USC’s Caleb Williams: The reigning Heisman winner is unsurprisingly the top returning quarterback in college football.

North Carolina’s Drake Maye: The redshirt freshman is the biggest challenger to Williams' throne.

Florida State’s Jordan Travis: The redshirt junior is a top Heisman candidate next year, but he told us he has his eyes on something bigger.

Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins

It’s officially time to hit the reset button.

Now that we know who will continue playing on Saturdays next fall, let's take an early look at the top returning players at every position.

Here are the top 10 quarterbacks returning to college football next season. Please note that NFL projection is not taken into account. 

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1. Caleb Williams, USC Trojans

Williams became head coach Lincoln Riley’s third quarterback in the past six years to win the Heisman Trophy, joining Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. The sophomore excels outside of the original play design, plays on which he led the nation in passing yards (707), passing touchdowns (seven) and big-time throws (10) in 2022. He’s the early favorite to be the first pick in the 2024 NFL Draft and will try to join former Ohio State running back Archie Griffin as the only two-time winners of the coveted stiff-arm trophy.

2. Drake Maye, North Carolina Tar Heels

Maye is the biggest challenger to dethrone Williams as QB1 both in the 2024 draft and in college football, in general. The redshirt freshman was the most valuable player this past season, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. His 45 big-time throws were 10 more than the next closest FBS quarterback. Maye also tied for second among all quarterbacks with 56 combined rushing first downs and touchdowns.

 

3. Jordan Travis, Florida State Seminoles

Neither Williams nor Maye was PFF’s highest-graded Power Five quarterback this past season. That would be Florida State’s Jordan Travis, whose 91.7 mark ranked third among all quarterbacks in the country. The redshirt junior was the only signal-caller who placed in the top 15 in both big-time throw rate (7.1%) and turnover-worthy play rate (1.9%). He recently sat down with PFF to discuss his national championship aspirations in 2023

 

4. Michael Penix Jr., Washington Huskies

Penix led the Power Five in 2022 with 4,641 passing yards, and his 1.3% turnover-worthy play rate ranked fifth lowest in the country. The Indiana transfer led Washington to an 11-2 record, the Huskies’ best season since they made the College Football Playoff in 2016. He returns to Washington as a top Heisman contender in 2023.

5. Bo Nix, Oregon Ducks

Nix enjoyed a career resurgence in 2022. His 69.7% adjusted completion rate across his first three seasons at Auburn ranked just 108th among FBS quarterbacks. But this past season, Nix’s 82.3% mark led the Power Five and ranked second in the nation.

6. Jayden Daniels, LSU Tigers

Like Nix and Penix, a new environment revived Daniels’ career. The Arizona State transfer led all quarterbacks in the country this past season with a 0.6% turnover-worthy play rate. The junior was also the only quarterback who rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Overall, only Drake Maye and Caleb Williams were more valuable Power Five quarterbacks than the LSU signal-caller in 2022.

7. Sam Hartman, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Hartman was the biggest prize of the transfer portal this offseason, eventually deciding on Notre Dame. The former Wake Forest signal-caller is the most valuable Power Five player over the past two seasons, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. The redshirt junior’s 92.5 grade in that span trails only Bryce Young among Power Five quarterbacks. The Demon Deacons’ slow-mesh system definitely aided him, but Hartman should still be the best quarterback the Fighting Irish have had in the PFF College era. 

8. J.J. McCarthy, Michigan Wolverines

McCarthy seized the starting job from Cade McNamara in the second game of the season and didn’t look back, quarterbacking Michigan to its second straight Big Ten title and playoff berth. He thrives outside of the original play design. McCarthy’s five passing touchdowns outside of structure were tied with Drake Maye and trailed only Caleb Williams and Bryce Young among Power Five quarterbacks. 

9. KJ Jefferson, Arkansas Razorbacks

Jefferson is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country. Over the past two seasons, his 91.4 grade is tied for fourth among returning FBS quarterbacks. The redshirt junior has rushed for 1,221 yards after contact in that span, the second most among all quarterbacks in the country. He also showed significant improvement as a passer this past year. Jefferson finished 2022 with an 86.5 passing grade that tied for ninth in the Power Five and was seven points higher than his previous mark. 

10. Michael Pratt, Tulane Green Wave

Tulane put together the greatest turnaround in college football history this past season. After going 2-10 in 2021, the Green Wave went 12-2 and won the Cotton Bowl. It was Tulane’s first New Year’s Six bowl victory since 1934, back when the program was in the SEC. 

Pratt returns as the Green Wave’s starting quarterback. His 89.3 grade in 2022 was a top-five mark among Group of Five signal-callers. The junior recorded a turnover-worthy play on just 1.7% of his dropbacks, the second-lowest rate among that same group. 

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