College football future Power Rankings: Quarterbacks

Illustration by ESPN

ESPN's annual future power rankings series begins with the most important -- and seemingly fluid -- position in college football: Quarterback.

This winter didn't feature as much movement among marquee quarterbacks as the previous transfer cycle, but notable players changed uniforms and impacted depth charts. Sam Hartman, the ACC's touchdown passes leader, left Wake Forest for Notre Dame. Drew Pyne, who started 10 games for the Fighting Irish last season, is an Arizona State Sun Devil.

The ACC's decorated quarterback class entering 2022 didn't pan out and mostly splintered, as Devin Leary transferred from NC State to Kentucky, Brennan Armstrong from Virginia to NC State and D.J. Uiagalelei from Clemson to Oregon State. Two prominent ACC quarterbacks who stayed put are Florida State's Jordan Travis and North Carolina's Drake Maye, who will lead their teams through 2023.

Other key holdovers include USC's Caleb Williams, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Washington's Michael Penix Jr., Oregon's Bo Nix, South Carolina's Spencer Rattler, Utah's Cam Rising, LSU's Jayden Daniels, Michigan's J.J. McCarthy, Oklahoma's Dillon Gabriel, Arkansas' KJ Jefferson, Mississippi State's Will Rogers, UTSA's Frank Harris and Western Kentucky's Austin Reed, the nation's passing yards leader in 2022.

But most if not all will be gone in 2024, and the challenge here is to project the top 25 quarterback groups in college football during the next three seasons -- 2023, 2024 and 2025. Assessments are based on current rosters and committed recruits, while taking into account the likelihood of transfers, both in and out of programs. Programs that have continuity and success with coaching quarterbacks also received special consideration.

Here's a look at last year's quarterback rankings. Now, let's get started.

1. USC Trojans

2022 ranking: 2
Returning starter: Caleb Williams

Coach Lincoln Riley needed just one season at USC to again show he's the sport's premier developer of quarterbacks. Williams, who moved with Riley from Oklahoma to USC, became the third Riley-coached quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy (joining Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray). He led the nation with 42 touchdown passes and ranked third in passing yards with 4,537, while completing two-thirds of his attempts. Williams will spend one more season with the Trojans before likely becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL draft. But USC is well stocked behind him, especially after signing Malachi Nelson, ESPN's No. 1 overall recruit in the 2023 class.

Nelson could compete with Miller Moss, who returns for his second year in Riley's offense and third overall at USC. Moss was ESPN's No. 39 overall recruit in the 2021 class. If he stays for 2024, he will have the experience edge over Nelson. But both are good options in the post-Williams era. The Big Ten will represent an adjustment for USC, but Riley's long-term success with quarterbacks puts the Trojans on top.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

2022 ranking: 1
Returning starter: None

Despite never winning the Big Ten with C.J. Stroud at quarterback, the Buckeyes will miss the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, who passed for 8,123 yards and 85 touchdowns the past two seasons. Like Riley, Buckeyes coach Ryan Day has established enough credibility to churn out top quarterbacks every year, either from recruiting or the portal. Kyle McCord is likely the next man up. He was ESPN's No. 31 overall recruit in 2021 and could become Ohio State's QB1 for multiple seasons. Day also brought in Devin Brown, ESPN's No. 81 recruit in the 2022 class, and No. 4 pocket passer.

Although Ohio State's long-term outlook took a hit when Dylan Raiola, ESPN's No. 1 recruit in the 2024 class, decommitted from the team, the staff acted quickly in adding Lincoln Kienholz -- initially a Washington commitment -- late in the 2023 cycle. The key for Ohio State is McCord or possibly Brown panning out like Stroud did, as a productive multiyear option.