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College Football 2021: Top 5 Breakout QB Candidates

The 2021 college football season witnessed the breakout of many quarterbacks ranging from BYU’s Zach Wilson to Liberty’s Malik Willis and Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall. While players like Spencer Rattler, Kedon Slovis and Sam Howell will be in the spotlight all season, there are many players who have a chance to take the next step forward from being a solid or average quarterback to a great one. Here are our top 5 breakout QB candidates for the 2021-22 season.



  1. Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland

2020 Stats: 75/122 CMP/ATT, 1,011 YDs, 61.5 CMP %, 7 TDs, 7 INTs, 26 CAR, 44 YDs, 2 TDs

The 2020 college football season didn’t go as expected for Maryland Terrapin fans, but it certainly gave them a lot to look forward to. This was due to the play of signal caller Taulia Tagovailoa. While turnovers were an issue for the younger brother of Tua in his first year starting, Taulia showed plenty of flashes in upset victories over both Minnesota and Penn State to set up a potential breakout campaign for the 2021 season. Tagovailoa’s worst games came against Indiana and Northwestern, teams that had two of the best defenses in the Big Ten Conference. Even with those poor performances, Tagovailoa was able to showcase his strong arm and ability to make great throws into tight windows through the shortened Big Ten schedule (Maryland only played four games in 2020). With a talented receiving corps that includes senior Dontay Demus and former five-star recruit Rakim Jarrett, Tagovailoa has the personnel to be successful. If he is able to improve his decision-making and continue his development as a dual-threat quarterback, Tagovailoa could certainly be in for a huge 2021 season.

  1. Kaleb Eleby, Western Michigan

2020 Stats: 75/116 CMP/ATT, 1,442 YDs, 64.5 CMP %, 16 TDs, 1 INT, 25 CAR, 19 YDs, 4 TDs

Despite the fact that the MAC had a shortened schedule in 2020 due to the pandemic, Western Michigan’s offense was still must-see TV due to the duo of Seattle Seahawks 2021 second-round pick D’Wayne Eskridge and QB Kaleb Eleby. Western Michigan’s offense scored at least 30 points in all but one game – the Broncos’ lowest output was 27 points in a loss to MAC champion Ball State. In his first action since 2018, Eleby showed flashes of being a high-level quarterback in the MAC who has the chance to bring WMU back to the top of the conference for the first time since the P.J. Fleck era. Moreover, even with a young receiver corps this upcoming season, Eleby should still be in a position to succeed due to his ability to make strong throws on the move while also being able to evade pressure and make smart decisions. This was a player who helped WMU immensely in a number of tight situations in 2020. If Eleby can build on his strong play in 2020, he should be in line for an all-conference type of year.

  1. Sam Hartman, Wake Forest

2020 Stats: 159/273 CMP/ATT, 2,224 YDs, 58.2 CMP %, 13 TDs, 5 INTs, 63 CAR, -1 YD, 2 TDs

With every offensive starter from the 2020 season returning, QB Sam Hartman could very well be in for a big season in Winston-Salem. Hartman has plenty of starting experience as he has started at least one game each of the three years with Wake Forest. Moreover, the Demon Deacons boast a very experienced offense that should put Hartman in a great position to succeed in 2021. While the stats may not have been indicative of this in 2020, Hartman has shown an ability to get out of the pocket and scramble for much-needed yardage, putting his dual-threat abilities on full display. The redshirt sophomore should have Wake Forest fans excited about the 2021 season due to what he was able to accomplish against North Carolina, one of the top teams in the ACC, in a performance that included 429 passing yards and 4 touchdowns against no interceptions. Hartman’s play was solid for the majority of the year, and he did an excellent job of making good throwing decisions -- he did not throw any interceptions until the last two games of the year. If he can continue to run Wake’s offense effectively and not give the ball away, then Hartman could very well lead the team to new heights in 2021.

  1. Connor Bazelak, Missouri

2020 Stats: 218/324 CMP/ATT, 2,366 YDs, 67.3 CMP %, 7 TDs, 6 INTs, 44 CAR, 20 YDs, 2 TDs

Missouri had a solid first season in the Eliah Drinkwitz era, compiling a 5-5 record that included wins over LSU and Kentucky. Much of Missouri’s success came as a result of running back Larry Rountree III and then redshirt-freshman QB Connor Bazelak. In his second year of playing time and first as a starter, Bazelak showed a lot of improvement from his first season that should have Missouri excited about what he can do. Not only did Bazelak show he can go toe-to-toe with one of the more talented offenses in the SEC (LSU), but he was also able to show he is fully capable of managing tight situations exceptionally well. In the aforementioned matchup against LSU, three of Bazelak’s four passing touchdowns were 20 or more yards. He was able to make tough throws under pressure while showing a knack for being able to read any type of coverage that LSU was throwing at him. While the turnovers can be cut down, Bazelak should still be in for a nice 2021 campaign if he is able to continue building on his solid 2020 season.

  1. Tanner Mordecai, SMU

2020 Stats: 32/40 CMP/ATT, 395 YDs, 80.0 CMP %, 2 TDs, 1 INT

SMU is starting to build a reputation as one of the premier offensive teams in the Group of Five conferences. A lot of that has to do with head coach Sonny Dykes, who has done a great job of implementing his Air Raid offense at the school. It certainly helped that SMU had one of the better QBs in the country the past two seasons in the form of Texas transfer Shane Buechele. Now that Buechele is in the NFL, it is up to a new transfer QB to take the reins of what could be another explosive Mustang offense. The projected starter is former Oklahoma QB Tanner Mordecai, who should have ample opportunities to succeed with his new team. Not only do the Mustangs return all-conference receiver Reggie Roberson, but SMU boasts an overall strong receiving corps that includes 2020 receiving yards leader Rashee Rice, speedster Danny Gray and Oklahoma transfer tight end Grant Calcaterra. Mordecai should have every chance to thrive in Dykes’ system with a plethora of weapons that will help him showcase his dual-threat abilities that made him such a highly coveted player coming out of high school.