College football future Power Rankings: Quarterbacks

ESPN Illustration

For years, ESPN's Future Power Rankings were compiled through two primary streams: existing rosters and recruiting classes. The transfer portal has sent waves through both personnel pools, and made the exercise here -- sizing up the next three seasons -- even more challenging.

No position has been transformed more by the rise of the portal than quarterback. Every December and January (and May) features a flurry of quarterback moves, and not just for clear-cut starting jobs. Both Texas and USC, for example, lost notable reserves to the portal -- Texas' Maalik Murphy to Duke and USC's Malachi Nelson to Boise State -- while not adding portal quarterbacks this winter. After great success with Auburn transfer Bo Nix, Oregon added two quarterbacks with starting experience in Dillon Gabriel (Oklahoma) and Dante Moore (UCLA).

Entire quarterback rooms have transformed, like Ohio State's, which lost starter Kyle McCord to Syracuse but added Will Howard (Kansas State) and Julian Sayin (Alabama), who join holdovers Devin Brown and Lincoln Kienholz, and incoming recruit Air Noland. National champion Michigan, meanwhile, has a quarterback outlook that looks murky, at least in the short term. Texas (Quinn Ewers) and Alabama (Jalen Milroe) both return starters from CFP teams in 2023, but how do they project through the 2026 season? In Texas, there's this Manning guy you might have heard about who now will back up Ewers.

To be clear, high school recruiting is still a factor in the quarterback rankings, but not as much as the track records of teams and coaches in developing standout quarterbacks. Coaches like USC's Lincoln Riley, Ohio State's Ryan Day and Texas' Steve Sarkisian should always remain in or around the top 10. Georgia's Kirby Smart didn't cut his teeth as a quarterback guru, but his team's recent success at the position has changed the outlook.

Here's a link to last year's quarterback rankings. Now let's project the top 25 quarterback groups through the 2026 season.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

2023 ranking: 2
Returning starter: None
On the roster (as of March 12): Will Howard, senior (Kansas State transfer); Devin Brown, junior; Lincoln Kienholz, sophomore; Air Noland, freshman; Julian Sayin, freshman (Alabama transfer); Mason Maggs, junior; Chad Ray, senior

Ohio State's rise to the top spot after a season when its quarterback play dropped off a bit -- at least by the standard of Day's previous signal-callers -- underscores the power of the quarterback portal. The Buckeyes went to the portal and addressed an immediate need by adding Howard, who helped Kansas State to a Big 12 championship in 2022. He had his best statistical season last fall (2,643 pass yards, 24 passing touchdowns, 9 rushing touchdowns). Howard gives Day and new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly an experienced option who can reach another level as a passer while providing a solid run threat. Brown pushed back against suggestions he will transfer, and could push Howard or provide a very solid No. 2 option for the high-stakes 2024 season.

Day and Kelly also have options for the future in Sayin and Noland, ESPN's Nos. 2 and 5 quarterback prospects in the 2023 class. Sayin signed with Alabama in December but transferred to Ohio State following the coaching change in Tuscaloosa. He should compete with Noland, who committed to the Buckeyes in April, as early as the 2025 offseason. Although Ohio State might not be able to realistically keep both young quarterbacks, the team has options through 2026 that most teams would crave.