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Sleeper College Football QBs with The Potential for Breakout 2023 Seasons

Sleeper College Football QBs with The Potential for Breakout 2023 Seasons

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Every college football season, there are unexpected breakout campaigns. It is especially cool to see this happen to quarterbacks, a position that oftentimes makes or breaks a team having a successful year.

Entering the 2023 season, there are a number of quarterbacks looking to jumpstart their college careers. Some are trying to do so at a new school with a new coaching staff, while others are just waiting to take off at the program they have been at for a couple of seasons. Some guys have struggled to get consistent reps because of injury or after falling behind on the depth chart.

Some of these signal-callers had high expectations from when they were recruits, while others showed promise early on in their college careers but haven't really panned out. Regardless, the guys on this list are not highly-touted transfers or household names.

Let's take a look at a handful of college quarterbacks who you may not be talking about yet but are prime candidates to make major moves this season. While we obviously can't guarantee each of these guys will have big seasons, they all certainly have the opportunity to do so.

Author's note: Player recruitment rankings mentioned throughout are based off the 247Sports composite rankings.

Chandler Morris, TCU

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Chandler Morris, a former 3-star recruit from the class of 2020, started his career at Oklahoma. After attempting just five passes while playing behind starting quarterback Spencer Rattler, he opted to transfer to TCU following the season.

Morris lost the Starting Job to Max Duggan in 2021, but he did throw for 717 yards with three touchdowns in four games, as Duggan dealt with some injuries during the season.

At the start of the 2022 season, the starting job actually went to Morris, as new head coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley implemented their new offense.

Unfortunately, Morris suffered a knee injury during the season-opener against Colorado. The rest is history—Duggan remained the Horned Frogs starter and led TCU to its first College Football Playoff appearance. He threw for 3,698 yards and 32 touchdowns with eight interceptions while rushing for another 423 yards and nine touchdowns. He earned a Heisman invite and led TCU to a national title game appearance against Georgia.

With Duggan heading to the NFL, Morris will have another shot at the starting job in 2023. He'll have a new offensive coordinator, as Kendal Briles will replace Riley, who is now at Clemson. TCU also has lost several offensive weapons, including star wideout Quentin Johnston and running back Kendre Meller, to the NFL.

Nonetheless, Morris will have to go from having to watch TCU's best season ever from the bench to potentially being the starter again in 2023. He could be out to prove why he won the starting job last season in the first place.

Joe Milton III, Tennessee

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Tennessee's Joe Milton III has had quite the journey during his college career. The former 4-star recruit from the class of 2018 started his career at Michigan. He played in 13 games over three seasons, throwing for just 1,194 yards and five touchdowns with six interceptions.

Following his 2020 season at Michigan, he transferred to Tennessee, joining fellow transfer Hendon Hooker, who came to Knoxville from Virginia Tech. Milton won the starting job at the start of the season but left the Vols' Week 2 game against Pitt with an injury.

Hooker came in for Milton, and it was his job moving forward. He threw for 2,945 yards and 31 touchdowns with three interceptions on the season. He was the unquestioned starter heading into 2022 and was a Heisman Trophy favorite all year during the Vols' magical season. It included a win over Alabama for the first time in 16 seasons.

But late in the season, it was Milton who had to come off the bench for an injured Hooker, who tore his ACL against South Carolina on Nov. 19. From that point on, Milton threw for 506 yards and five touchdowns with zero interceptions and helped beat Clemson 31-14 in the Orange Bowl.

Hooker is heading to the NFL, and Milton will have to compete against true freshman and 5-star QB recruit Nico Iamaleava for the starting job. But it looks like 2023 will finally be the chance for Milton to be in the spotlight as Tennessee's quarterback. Replacing a guy like Hooker will be tough, but we'll see if Milton can give Tennessee another double-digit win season.

Tyler Shough, Texas Tech

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Tyler Shough has spent the last two seasons at Texas Tech but began his career at Oregon. He started in all seven games for the Ducks in 2020 after backing up Justin Herbert the year prior, throwing for 1,559 yards with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions while leading Oregon to a Pac-12 championship.

After backup quarterback Anthony Brown shared reps with him during Oregon's Fiesta Bowl loss to Iowa State, though, Shough opted to transfer to Texas Tech at the end of the season.

In his first year in Lubbock, Shough was named the starter during preseason camp. However, he suffered a season-ending collarbone injury during the Red Raiders' Week 4 game against Texas. He completed 64-of-92 passes for 872 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions on the season.

Last year, Shough was named the starter once again during fall camp. But the injury bug again affected the QB's playing time, as Shough suffered a shoulder injury against Murray State in Tech's season opener. Donovan Smith and Behren Morton played capably in his stead, but Tech struggled to a 3-5 record under the two backups.

Shough resumed his starting role for the final four games of the season and won all of them, including a Texas Bowl victory over Ole Miss. On the year, he finished with 1,310 yards passing with seven touchdowns and four interceptions.

If Shough can stay healthy in 2023, he could have his biggest season yet in Lubbock in head coach Jerry McGuire's second year.

Ari Patu, Stanford

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After spending the last two seasons backing up Tanner McKee under center, quarterback Ari Patu is ready for his shot at the starting job in 2023.

Patu, who will be a junior in Palo Alto next season, is a former 3-star recruit from Stanford's 2021 recruiting class out of Folsom High School. In fact, Patu played his high school ball at the same place new Stanford head coach Troy Taylor was a head coach from 2002-04 and again from 2012-15 as a co-head coach. Prior to arriving at Stanford, Taylor was the head coach at FCS Sacramento State, which is just over 20 minutes from Folsom High School.

"I got to see him play a lot in high school," Taylors said of Patu. "Never really spent too much time evaluating him because I knew he was kind of out of our grasp as a special kid. So I'm excited to work with all of our quarterbacks. There's some really special people here."

Over the last two seasons, Patu played in just six total games, completing 14 passes for 113 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He rushed for another 39 yards on six carries. For the starting job, he'll compete against sophomore Ashton Daniels, who rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns last season, and 2023 signee Myles Jackson.

If Patu wins the starting job, he has a chance to show what he can do in Taylor's pass-heavy offensive scheme.

Brennan Armstrong, NC State

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Brennan Armstrong will play his sixth and final season of college ball at NC State after an up-and-down career at Virginia, dating back to 2018. After playing eight games over two seasons in 2018 and 2019, Armstrong played in nine games as a redshirt sophomore in 2020. The QB finished with 2,117 passing yards for 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

He had an impressive season in 2021, throwing for a school-record 4,449 yards to go along with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But his efforts went relatively unnoticed as the Cavaliers went 6-6, and head coach Bronco Mendenhall resigned at the end of the season.

Virginia hired new head coach Tony Elliott, and Armtrong regressed quite a bit in 2022. A big reason might have been that, for the first time, he played without offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who coached last season at Syracuse. Armstrong had the worst season of his career, finishing with just 2,210 yards and seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions while leading UVA to a 3-7 record.

Armstrong transferred to NC State in January. One of the biggest reasons Armstrong has a chance to have a big season with the Wolfpack is that head coach Dave Doeren hired Anae as his new offensive coordinator this offseason.

NC State needs to replace longtime starter Devin Leary, who transferred to Kentucky this offseason. Armstrong will compete against redshirt sophomore Ben Finley and redshirt freshman MJ Morris for the starting job. If Armstrong wins and has a season like he did with UVA and Anae in 2021, the Wolfpack could potentially be a surprise contender in the ACC.

Luke Altmyer, Illinois

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Luke Altmyer is a former highly-rated recruit looking to get a fresh start at a new school in 2023. He was a 4-star recruit and the No. 4-ranked prospect out of Mississippi from the class of 2021.

Unfortunately for Altmyer, he had some talented guys play in front of him over the last two years. In 2021, he sat behind Matt Corral and threw for 192 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He filled in for an injured Corral during Ole Miss' Sugar Bowl loss to Baylor.

In 2022, Altmyer found himself once again second on the depth chart, this time sitting behind USC transfer Jaxson Dart. He completed just eight passes for 125 yards with two touchdowns and an interception on the season. In all, he played in just eight games at Ole Miss.

Unsurprisingly, Altmyer entered the transfer portal at the end of the 2022 season and soon thereafter announced he was heading to Illinois.

The Fighting Illini finished 8-5 last season, and they will have to replace NFL-bound quarterback Tommy DeVito. Altmyer is expected to compete against redshirt freshman Donovan Leary and 2023 3-star recruit Cal Swanson.

Altmyer has the most college experience of the group. If he can win the starting job, he could have a breakout season, finally playing as QB1 at a new school.

Graham Mertz, Florida

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Graham Mertz is hoping that a new start will turn his college career around. Although he signed at Wisconsin in 2019 as a former 4-star recruit and the No. 3 pro-style signal-caller in his class, his career hasn't exactly panned out all that well.

After redshirting in 2019, Mertz earned the starting job for Wisconsin's pandemic-shortened season. He threw for 1,238 yards and nine touchdowns with five interceptions. The Badgers finished 4-3, and while Mertz's numbers weren't overwhelmingly impressive, it looked like he had the potential to improve in the coming years with more experience.

But in 2021, although the Badgers finished 9-4 with a Las Vegas Bowl victory over Arizona State, Mertz continued to struggle with turnovers. He threw for 1,958 yards and 10 touchdowns with 11 interceptions, throwing picks in four of Wisconsin's last five games.

Mertz's woes continued in 2022, during a year in which the Badgers finished 7-6 and fired head coach Paul Chryst following his 2-3 start. The QB finished with 2,136 passing yards on a 57.3 completion rate with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Mertz sat out of Wisconsin's bowl game against Oklahoma State and announced he was heading to Florida in late December. In Gainesville, the Gators have to replace signal-caller Anthony Richardson, a top 2023 NFL draft prospect.

If Mertz can fix his turnover issues, he could immediately elevate Florida's current quarterback situation, which the Gators desperately need. After all, the only other QB on their roster that has taken live snaps is Jack Miller III, who struggled in Florida's bowl game against Oregon State after completing just 13-of-22 passes for 180 yards.

There is a possibility that Billy Napier tries to go after another quarterback during the May transfer window. Mertz wasn't exactly the most sought-after transfer QB. Pair that with the Gators failing to sign 4-star QB Jaden Rashada after his NIL deal fell through, and it wouldn't hurt to add another signal-caller for 2023.

For now, though, Mertz looks like Florida's starter if the season began tomorrow.

Haynes King, Georgia Tech

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Haynes King is starting anew at Georgia Tech after spending the first three seasons of his career at Texas A&M, where he had a rollercoaster of a career.

After taking a redshirt in 2020, King was the Aggies starting quarterback at the start of the 2021 season. His stint as the starter ended after Week 2 when he suffered a broken leg against Colorado, though.

With Zach Calzada, King's replacement in 2021, transferring to Auburn last offseason, King was named TAMU's starter for Week 1 of 2022, as well.

But following Texas A&M's shocking home loss to Appalachian State in Week 2, in which King threw for just 97 yards and no touchdowns, head coach Jimbo Fisher started LSU transfer Max Johnson for Week 3's game against Miami. The Aggies won 17-14, then beat Arkansas 23-21 in Week 4. But Texas A&M's quarterback situation—much like its 5-7 season as a whole—quickly went downhill.

Johnson suffered a broken hand during TAMU's loss to Mississippi State in Week 5, and Fisher called King in off the bench. He completed just six passes for 49 yards and two interceptions on 13 attempts. He did play well in the Aggies' close loss to Alabama on Oct. 8, finishing with 253 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

But following a bye, King left the South Carolina game with a shoulder injury. The QB played just one more game the rest of the season, in a 41-24 loss to Florida, as Fisher went with true freshman Conner Weigman the rest of the season.

You can't exactly blame King for wanting to start over somewhere else in 2023. At Georgia Tech, King looks like the most experienced quarterback on the Yellow Jackets' roster, joining a QB room that features redshirt freshman Zach Pyron and Akron transfer Zach Gibson. King certainly has the talent to put up some big numbers during head coach Brent Key's first season in Atlanta.

Robby Ashford, Auburn

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Robby Ashford earned the QB1 job a bit unexpectedly during Auburn's tumultuous 2022 season, during which Bryan Harsin was fired in late October. He started as the backup to T.J. Finley, but following an injury against Penn State in Week 3, Ashford came off the bench for him.

Five days later, Zach Calzada, who transferred to Auburn from Texas A&M last offseason, was ruled out for the season to undergo shoulder surgery. That all but cemented Ashford's role as the starter.

Ashford, who transferred to Auburn after failing to see the field in two seasons at Oregon, struggled a bit during the Tigers' 5-7 season. He completed just 49.2 percent of his passes while throwing for seven touchdowns and the same number of interceptions.

He did show flashes of his rushing ability, though, recording 710 yards and seven scores on the ground. He had two games with over 100 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns against Mississippi State and Alabama.

Although new Tigers head coach Hugh Freeze has yet to name a starting quarterback just yet, it looks like it will come down to Ashford, Finley and redshirt freshman Holden Geriner. Finley does have more experience than Ashford, playing five games at LSU in 2020 and another nine for Auburn in 2021.

But if Ashford wins the starting job, he can have a truly breakout season in Freeze's Year 1 with the Tigers.

from Bleacher Report

This post first appeared on Auburn Family News, please read the originial post: here

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Sleeper College Football QBs with The Potential for Breakout 2023 Seasons


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