Ranking the 10 best college football quarterbacks heading into the 2023 season

Caleb Williams: Job is not done at USC (1:09)

Caleb Williams discusses next season's goal of making the College Football Playoff. (1:09)

With an end in sight to spring practice and spring games on the horizon, it's officially time to start forecasting the coming season.

Our writers came together to cast their votes on the top 10 quarterbacks heading into the 2023 college football season.

From a Heisman winner to fifth-year seniors coming back for another run at a College Football Playoff berth or a fresh start at a historic program, these quarterbacks will dictate the road to the CFP and national championship.

Fall practice will be here before we know it, so study up on these names to remember in August.

Our 12 writers voted on a ballot with 10 points to the first-place quarterback down to one point for the 10th-place QB.

1. Caleb Williams, USC

Upcoming year: ​Junior
2022 statistics: 4,537 yards passing, 42 touchdown passes, 5 interceptions, 382 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns, 87.6 QBR.
Points: 119 (11 of 12 first-place votes)

Williams will find himself in a rare spot when the Trojans open the season against San Jose State as a reigning Heisman Trophy winner back on campus. It has become more common over the past decade -- Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston, Lamar Jackson, Bryce Young -- but none of them, or any quarterback before them, accomplished what Ohio State running back Archie Griffin did by winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies. Can Williams buck the trend? The odds are low for a variety of factors, but that doesn't mean expectations for Williams in his second year in Los Angeles won't be even higher than before. The weight of USC's revival rests heavily on his shoulders, and after he led the Trojans back from competitive irrelevance in Year 1, anything short of a conference title and playoff berth could be viewed as disappointment.

Last year's stats will be hard to replicate, too. Williams threw for 4,537 yards with 42 touchdown passes to five interceptions with a QBR of 87.6. He also ran for 382 yards and 10 touchdowns, meaning he had a hand in an average of 3.7 touchdowns per game. If he does repeat as the Heisman winner, it will mean USC is near the top of the polls -- something that will be more reliant on USC's ability to field an improved defense than on anything to do with Williams. Either way, this figures to be his final season of college football before departing for the NFL. -- Kyle Bonagura

2. Michael Penix Jr., Washington

Upcoming year: Fifth-year senior
2022 stats: 4,167 passing yards, 31 passing touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 92 yards rushing, 2 rushing touchdowns, 81.1 QBR.
Points: 97

It's amazing what the right system and just a little bit of good injury luck can do for you. For a while, it looked like a career in reverse for Penix. The player from Tampa, Florida, shined as a redshirt freshman for Indiana in 2019, but his numbers regressed the longer he was in Bloomington. From an 81.6 Total QBR in 2019 (which would have ranked 10th nationally with enough snaps), Penix fell to 67.7 in 2020 (44th) and, after a late-2020 knee injury introduced a heavy layer of rust to his game, 51.1 in 2021 (89th). His completion rate was 69% in his first year as a starter and 54% in his third.

A promising career seemed to have lost its promise. But Penix got healthy and moved to Washington to reunite with head coach Kalen DeBoer, his 2019 offensive coordinator at IU. It was as if the two had never parted. Starting for a full season for the first time, Penix threw for 4,641 yards and 31 touchdowns; his Total QBR: 81.1 (13th). He showed off a big, accurate arm and quick decision-making, and after going just 7-9 over the previous two seasons, the Huskies surged to 11-2 and finished the year on a seven-game winning streak. Then Penix pulled off an even bigger surprise: He elected to return to college. "As I look back on this special season we had," he said on social media, "I realized there were so many great moments and things to celebrate, but I KNOW for sure there is so much more out there for this team and the job is still not finished." Most of his receiving corps and both offensive tackles return, too. There's plenty of talk about USC's potential out West, but the ridiculously resilient Penix and Washington could be major factors in the Pac-12 and top-10 races. -- Bill Connelly

3. Drake Maye, North Carolina

Upcoming year: Sophomore
2022 stats: 4,321 yards, 38 touchdown passes, 7 interceptions, 698 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns, 82.4 QBR.
Points: 93 (1 of 12 first-place votes)

It is remarkable that at this time last year, Maye was in the middle of an unsettled quarterback competition with Jacolby Criswell, considering what unfolded in 2022. Maye -- a player who was not declared the starter until fall camp -- ended up becoming one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the nation, starting 14 games and winning ACC Player of the Year, ACC Offensive Player of the Year, ACC Rookie of the Year and ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year. His firm grip of the Phil Longo offense allowed him to set multiple single-season records, including passing yards and passing touchdowns, and his ability to make plays with his legs also helped. In short, if Maye had been eligible to enter the NFL draft after last season, he would be in the discussion to be the No. 1 quarterback taken.

He certainly will be in that conversation headed into the 2024 draft. But first, he has another season to polish his credentials and help the Tar Heels try to win an ACC title. This season comes with its fair share of questions. Longo left for Wisconsin, and new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey takes over. Maye was consulted on the new coordinator hire, for obvious reasons, but there is no question there will be a bit of a learning curve in the new scheme. Maye also must break in a new group of receivers, with Josh Downs and Antoine Green off to the NFL. Despite those questions, Maye has proved himself to be an elite thrower and a student of the game, with an elite skill set that will once again put him in position to turn heads and make plays. -- Andrea Adelson

4. Bo Nix, Oregon

Upcoming year: Fifth-year senior
2022 stats: 3,593 passing yards, 29 touchdown passes, 7 interceptions, 510 yards rushing, 14 rushing touchdowns, 85.1 QBR.
Points: 80

Nix's transfer to Oregon ended up working out as well as it could for both parties. His veteran presence was a major difference-maker for a team that had received mediocre QB play the previous two years after Justin Herbert's departure for the NFL. Nix was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country, posting an 85.1 QBR with a career-best 29 touchdown passes (he never had more than 16 in a season in three years at Auburn). Nix was also sacked just five times and ran for 510 yards and 14 touchdowns.

This year, he'll be working under a new coordinator (Will Stein) after Kenny Dillingham left to become the head coach at Arizona State. How that change will impact Nix remains to be seen, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism after Stein co-coordinated an impressive offense at UTSA that ranked No. 9 in total offense as QB Frank Harris ranked second in the nation in total offense. -- Bonagura

5. Jordan Travis, Florida State

Upcoming year: Redshirt senior
2022 stats: 3,124 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 417 yards rushing, 7 rushing touchdowns, 85.8 QBR.
Points: 58

When Travis transferred to Florida State in 2019, he was considered a runner more than a passer, and was used far more as a way to keep defenses off balance during key stretches -- in four games, he had 23 rushes and only 11 passing attempts. His confidence was so low when coach Mike Norvell arrived in 2020 that he asked to switch positions just so he could play. Then-offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham told him absolutely not. This new staff saw him as a bona fide passer and was going to show him why. That is why his transformation from overlooked to elite is so stark. Travis has put in countless hours working himself into one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country. Can he still run? Absolutely. But now, he is an elite-level passer, coming off a 2022 season in which he set career bests in completion percentage (64%), passing yards (3,214) and passing touchdowns (24) in his first season as the full-time starter -- putting up numbers not seen in Tallahassee since Jameis Winston a decade ago.

Travis became the fourth Florida State player with at least 3,000 total yards and 30 total touchdowns last season, joining the three Heisman Trophy winners in school history (Charlie Ward in 1993, Chris Weinke in 2000 and Winston in 2013). That is pretty good company. The expectation heading into this season is for an even bigger year. Florida State expects to be better on the offensive line and has nearly every significant contributor returning at receiver and at running back. When Travis arrived, Florida State was below average along the line and at receiver. Now those are considered strengths. So is Travis. At least on paper, that should make for a big season in Tallahassee. -- Adelson

6. Cam Rising, Utah Utes

Upcoming year: Redshirt senior
2022 stats: 3,034 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 465 yards rushing, 6 rushing touchdowns, 83.1 QBR.
Points: 38

He swaggers. He rocks long hair and a mustache. And over the past two seasons, only five quarterbacks have ranked higher in Total QBR than Rising: C.J. Stroud, Stetson Bennett, Caleb Williams, Bryce Young and Hendon Hooker. That's the best quarterbacking college football can offer, and Rising has been only slightly off of that pace. He took over as Utah's starter two weeks into the 2021 season, and he has now thrown for 5,572 yards with 46 touchdowns, only 14 interceptions and only 16 sacks. He also has rushed for 953 yards at over 4 yards per carry after contact. He has helped the Utes win a pair of Pac-12 titles, and he has started two Rose Bowls.

Just about the only thing Rising hasn't done at this point: finish a Rose Bowl. He left both of them injured, and after he took part in Utah's 2022 Senior Day ceremony, it looked as if his college career would end with him on the sideline in Pasadena. But, perhaps because his most recent leg injury threw his pro prospects into question, Rising decided the best thing he could do was stay in Salt Lake City for one more year. He's "running it back," and he persuaded some of his wavering teammates, such as tight end Brant Kuithe and receiver Devaughn Vele, to do the same. In a conference loaded with high-caliber quarterback play and ambitious contenders, he's going to give Utah a shot at a third straight crown. -- Connelly

7. Sam Hartman, Notre Dame

Upcoming year: Redshirt senior
2022 stats: 3,071 yards passing, 38 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 276 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns.
Points: 37

Some quarterbacks have college careers that go by in a blink of an eye. Not Hartman. His accomplishments and experiences could fill two or three careers, and he's not done yet. The ACC's career touchdown passes leader started games in each of the past four seasons at Wake Forest and left as the most productive passer in team history. He now embarks on a final go-round at Notre Dame and a potential push for the College Football Playoff. Hartman surged in his final two seasons with Wake Forest, piling up 7,929 pass yards and 77 touchdowns, and last fall finally eclipsing 60% completions (63.1). He operated a distinct and productive scheme, recording 21 career games of 300 pass yards or more, and the second-highest passing yards total in ACC history (12,967, behind only the 13,484 of Philip Rivers). His consistency is a hallmark, as he accounted for a touchdown in his final 34 games with Wake Forest.

Hartman has been in big games, including the 2021 ACC championship, and won MVP honors in the Gator and Gasparilla bowls. He also has faced challenges adjacent to football, including anxiety, which he has spoken openly about, and a blood clot that required surgery before the 2022 season. Hartman will enter a brighter spotlight at Notre Dame but has shown he can handle just about anything at the college level. If he can replicate his production this fall, he should get Notre Dame closer to the CFP. -- Adam Rittenberg

8. J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

Upcoming year: Junior
2022 stats: 2,719 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 306 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns, 79.1 QBR.
Points: 35

Before last season, the knock against Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh carried a bit of irony: He hadn't found a true difference-maker at quarterback, the position where he starred for the Wolverines. McCarthy arrived with fanfare, as ESPN's No. 25 overall recruit in the 2021 class. Although Michigan returned a starter at quarterback (Cade McNamara) from its first CFP team -- and McCarthy had missed much of the offseason with a shoulder injury -- Harbaugh looked toward the future entering last season. After McCarthy delivered a near-perfect performance in his first career start, albeit against Hawai'i, the QB1 title became his own. He operated a mostly safe passing game with precision, eclipsing 69% completions in each of his first six starts.

McCarthy went through some growing pains late in the season, but he also showed electric playmaking ability when Michigan leaned more on its passing game after star running back Blake Corum went down with a knee injury. McCarthy accounted for four touchdowns (three pass, one rush) in Michigan's road upset of No. 2 Ohio State, and followed with three more scoring strikes in the Big Ten championship against Purdue. His challenge going forward is blending accuracy with creativity/explosiveness, and limiting major mistakes like the two pick-sixes he threw against TCU in Michigan's CFP semifinal defeat. McCarthy doesn't lack any confidence and uses meditation and philosophy to guide his mental approach. He hopes to join Harbaugh among Michigan's great quarterbacks and ultimately lead the team toward more success in the postseason. -- Rittenberg

9. Jayden Daniels, LSU

Upcoming year: Fifth-year senior
2022 stats: 2,913 passing yards, 17 passing touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 855 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns, 79.2 QBR.
Points: 25

One of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school, Daniels has been around so long he was the 2019 Sun Bowl MVP when he led Arizona State to a 20-14 win over Florida State. The 6-foot-4 QB blossomed into a true dual threat at ASU, where he threw for 2,943 yards,17 TDs and two INTs as a true freshman. After ASU played just four games in 2020, he had a mediocre 2021 season, throwing 10 interceptions to his 10 TDs.

Daniels opted to transfer to LSU before last season, won the starting job and had a productive first season under Brian Kelly, throwing for 2,913 yards and 17 touchdowns with just three interceptions and rushing for 885 yards and 11 more scores as the Tigers claimed the SEC West. He led LSU in each category on the ground, with 180 carries that led to those yard and TD tallies. He showed his promise in two straight games last fall, leading LSU to a 45-20 win over Ole Miss while completing 21 of 28 passes for 248 yards and two TDs and rushing for 121 yards and three scores. The next week, he completed 22 of 32 passes for 182 yards and two TDs against Alabama and added 95 rushing yards, including a 25-yard score in overtime and the winning 2-point conversion pass to Mason Taylor in a thrilling 32-31 win. Kelly said recently that he recruited Daniels back for one final season when he could've tested the NFL draft, putting together a year-round training program for him and helping his player from California find an elite QB trainer on the West Coast. With 41 career starts under his belt, Daniels said he was returning in hopes of leading LSU to a championship. -- Dave Wilson

10. Jalon Daniels, Kansas

Upcoming year: Senior
2022 stats: 2,014 passing yards, 18 passing touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 419 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns, 87.9 QBR.
Points: 19

It's been a remarkable rise for Daniels, a late bloomer who was an unheralded recruit (he flipped from Middle Tennessee to Kansas right before signing day) before earning Heisman hype last season while leading the Jayhawks to a 5-0 start after throwing 11 TDs to 1 INT over that span. Daniels, a 6-0, 215-pound soon-to-be senior, arrived in Lawrence from Lawndale, California, in the Los Angeles area, and started as a freshman under then-coach Les Miles.

In 2021, new coach Lance Leipold took over and transfer Jason Bean arrived from North Texas and won the starting job. But when Bean was injured after a 1-8 start, Daniels started and led the Jayhawks to a 57-56 upset of Texas in Austin. The Jayhawks then lost by one score to TCU and West Virginia to end the season, and Daniels showed enough flashes to win the job heading into 2022. Finally, Daniels got the Jayhawks off to a scorching start after years of struggles, throwing for 2,014 yards, completing 66% of his passes with 18 TDs while running for 419 yards and seven TDs. But in a "College GameDay" matchup with undefeated TCU, he injured his shoulder and missed several games, returning late in the season for losses to Texas and Kansas State. But after becoming the first quarterback to lead Kansas to a bowl game since 2008, he set multiple records in the Liberty Bowl trying to lead the Jayhawks to a comeback over Arkansas. He finished with 544 passing yards and five TDs, also rushing for another score.

Daniels and Bean both return this year, but Daniels is poised to hold on to the starting job and has Kansas optimistic for a second straight bowl game. It won't be easy, but nothing about Daniels' career to this point has been, either, and he has developed into one of the top quarterbacks in the country. -- Wilson

Also receiving votes: Will Rogers, Mississippi State (14), KJ Jefferson, Arkansas (11), Frank Harris, UTSA (8), Michael Pratt, Tulane (8), Spencer Rattler, South Carolina (4), Cade Klubnik, Clemson (3), Devin Leary, Kentucky (3), Brennan Armstrong, NC State (2), Joe Milton III, Tennessee (2), Austin Reed, Western Kentucky (1), Dillion Gabriel, Oklahoma (1), Kurtis Rourke, Ohio (1), Spencer Sanders, Ole Miss (1).