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Slinging for Surprise: 10 Quarterbacks who will impact the 2022 CFP Race

2022 Slinging For Surprise Quarterback Payton Thorne

2022 Slinging For Surprise Quarterback Payton Thorne

Payton Thorne - Michigan State

Rey Del Rio/MSU Communications

Rey Del Rio/MSU Communications

For Michigan State to duplicate the success it had in 2021, it will need quarterback Payton Thorne to step up to fill the void left by Heisman candidate Kenneth Walker III. In his breakout season, he completed 60% of his passes for 3,233 yards and set a school record with 27 touchdown passes.

Thorne, to his benefit, has a trio of wide receivers that are as deep as any group in the country, led by All-American Jayden Reed, Keon Coleman, and Tre Mosley. However, he will have to contend with an offensive line that was average at best last season, having to replace three starters and replacement for KW3.

Sean Clifford - Penn State

Penn State Athletics

Penn State Athletics

For Penn State, the 2021 season was a tale of two seasons, delineated by Sean Clifford's injury.

Before he was hurt, Clifford had Penn State 5-0, in the Top 5. After, Penn State was in a 9 OT ineptitude festival with the Fighting Illini and won 2 of their final 8 games.

While all is not on Clifford, the 6th-year senior quarterback has guided the Nittany Lions to a New Year's Six bowl berth in his time at Penn State. Much like Thorne at Michigan State, Clifford is benefitting from top wide receiving talent in Parker Washington, Mitchell Tinsley, and KeAndre Lambert.

What Clifford has significant questions for is does he have an improved offensive line, and does he have a running game better than the one that finished 118th in the Nation last season with 107.8 yards per game.

Brennan Armstrong - University of Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 23: Brennan Armstrong #5 of the Virginia Cavaliers throws a pass during a game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Scott Stadium on October 23, 2021 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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It's hard to say University of Virginia senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong can surprise after what he accomplished last season. Armstrong averaged 436.1 yards per game of total offense against FBS opponents, which was the highest of any FBS quarterback since 2009.

What made coming back for a senior season very attractive to Armstrong was being able to be mentored by first-year head coach Tony Elliott. Elliott, who spent the last 7 seasons coordinating offenses for Clemson, has mentored Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence.

If Armstrong grows any more under Elliott, he will have the Cavaliers positioned to play in Charlotte for the ACC Championship.

Kedon Slovis - Pitt

University of Pittsburgh

University of Pittsburgh

Our first Trojan quarterback transfer on the list, Slovis had a roller coaster ride at Southern Cal.

As a freshman, he looked like the next quarterback prodigy in line for the Trojans when he threw for 3,502 yards and 30 touchdowns.

During his junior season, he worked on improving his mechanics, and while attempting to improve his mechanics took a step back last season for the Trojans.

Looking for a clean slate, Slovis found himself into a potential ACC Championship contender with the Pitt Panthers. Losing Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison to the transfer portal hurts for Slovis and the Panthers.

Helping Slovis, however, is the fact that Pitt returns its entire offensive line, running back Israel Abanikanda, and Jared Wayne at wide receiver. Look out for Akron transfer Konata Mumpfield to be a speedy addition to the Panthers receiving core, who is already getting 2023 NFL Draft attention.

Michael Penix Jr. - Washington

Kim Grinolds /Dawgman

Kim Grinolds /Dawgman

The last time Penix Jr. was with new Washington Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer, it was in 2019 was DeBeoer was coordinating the offense for Penix Jr. That season, Penix Jr. completed 69% of his passes, 1,394 yards, 10 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in six starts where the Hoosiers went 5-1.

Penix Jr. took the Hoosiers to near championship heights during the 2020 COVID that included a Top 10 upset of Penn State, led the Hoosiers to #12 ranking, and was in a heavyweight fight with the Ohio State Buckeyes in a 42-35 defeat that saw Penix Jr. throw for 491 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Penix Jr. is returning to what he knows in DeBoer, and the Huskies have a defense that will keep them in games, it will up to Penix Jr. to put the Huskies over the top and derail Pac-12 contenders seasons.

Tanner McKee - Stanford

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

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While most of the Pac-12 laurels will go to Caleb Williams, Cameron Rising, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a fourth member would be Stanford's Tanner McKee. McKee who is already being lauded as the most polished quarterback for the 2023 NFL Draft class, especially by Pro Football Focus.

He was instrumental in the Cardinal's 31-24 overtime upset of Mario Cristobal's Oregon Ducks going 20 for 36 with 230 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Supporting McKee will be an offensive line that is among one of the best in the league and running back E.J. Smith, who is being praised by Head Coach David Shaw as one of the most complete running backs in the country.

The Cardinal lack the elite vertical weapons to support McKee but he is being supported by three senior wide receivers who know the system and have experience.

Hendon Hooker - Tennessee

L.G. Patterson/AP

L.G. Patterson/AP

Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel spent the better part of his first season rotating in and out talent across the board for the Volunteers. During his first season, Heupel saw 45 players leave the program in one fashion or another and was trying to find the right combinations to succeed.

In one area he found success was the offense that set a program record with 511 points scored on the season.

Hendon Hooker, a transfer from Virginia Tech, settled in Heupel's system completing 69% of his passes, threw for nearly 3,000 yards, and had 31 touchdowns to 3 interceptions last season.

Hooker will be complimented by 8 returning offensive starters that include deep threat Cedric Tillman for the Volunteers. If Hooker and the offense can replicate what they did a season ago that was Top 10 in scoring, total offense, and rushing offense, they are an improved defense away from returning to the elite of the SEC.

Jaxson Dart - Ole Miss

Ole Miss Football opened spring practice for the 2022 season on March 22nd, 2022 in Oxford, MS. Photos by Joshua Taylor McCoy Buy Photos at Twitter/Instagram: @OleMissPix

Photo by Joshua Taylor McCoy

Second of 3 Southern Cal transfer quarterbacks on the list.

Jaxson Dart, who spent much of the 2021 season playing in place of a struggling Kedon Slovis, saw the writing on the wall when new Trojans Head Coach Lincoln Riley arrived in Los Angeles.

The transfer of Caleb Williams to the Trojans would mean bench time for Dart, so he took his talents to Oxford to join up with another Trojans expat in Lane Kiffin. Dart was described to ESPN's Adam Rittenberg from a Pac-12 Defensive Coordinator as, “He was the most talented quarterback we played against last year. He was inexperienced, but he threw the ball well and he had enough movement. Projecting him moving forward, he was going to be the most talented guy in the conference.”

Dart should get the nod as starter over Luke Altmyer, and he will be supported by a trio of upper classmen wide receivers notably Jonathan Mingo.

JT Daniels - West Virginia

William Wotring/The Dominion Post

William Wotring/The Dominion Post

Our third and final Trojan Transfer on our list is one that is on his second transfer.

JT Daniels transfered to WVU this past offseason from the defending National Champion Georgia Bulldogs, where Daniels was unable to unseat starter Stetson Bennett. Daniels picked Neal Brown's Mountaineers because of his familiarity with new Offensive Coordinator Graham Harrell's scheme, one he worked with at Southern California.

The Mountaineers were competitive last season, highlighted by wins against Virginia Tech, Texas, and Iowa State. It was the one possession losses, the Mountaineers lacked that difference maker that hurt against Maryland, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech.

Daniels will benefit with a return of the entire offensive line, that includes Wyatt Milum who moves to Daniels blindside, and two veteran wide receiving targets in Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Sam James.

Adrian Martinez - Kansas State

247 Sports

247 Sports

The much maligned Adrian Martinez was always in constant pressure being in Nebraska.

How much is it Martinez's to blame is up for Big Red to debate.

Martinez in his time in Lincoln accrued 10,792 yards of total offense for the Cornhuskers including 8,493 yard passing.

The Wildcats have been looking for that bonafide starter in the Chris Klieman era in Manhattan and Martinez is looking to fill the void left by Skylar Thompson.

Martinez will be mentored by former Wildcat legend Collin Klein at Offensive Coordinator and will be supported by arguably the nation's top running back in Deuce Vaughn, wide receiving ace Malik Knowles.