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Not all "second-year starting quarterbacks" are created equal in college football, not in this zany landscape. Some are 19 years old. Others have been over the legal drinking age for a year now. But we're a sucker for categories, and following a recent look at which true freshmen are most likely to play Year 1, we wanted to offer up our take on which second-year starting quarterbacks are most likely to take a leap. 

Because we knew our list would be a lot more fun with some of the darling Class of 2023 quarterback prospects -- such as Nico Iamaleava and Jackson Arnold -- we made some rules for our list. 

  • A player needed to start at least one game last season
  • It does not matter if the player is on the first year with his program, as long as he started for somebody last year
  • Sophomores who did not start last season but will this year (like Malachi Nelson at Boise State) were omitted because they are not "second-year starters," by the letter of the law. 

As for how we sort this list: In some ways it's a ranking of a baker's dozen list of second-year quarterbacks, but the prompt we're trying to execute is guessing which quarterback is most likely to elevate their game to program-altering status.  

Probably not

13. Luke Altmyer, Illinois

Somebody's got to kick things off and if we can keep things in perspective: Altmyer may be last on this list, but he's still a starting quarterback in a marquee conference. 

Altmyer transferred from Ole Miss before the 2023 season and took over the starting job in Champaign. He disappointed, tossing 10 interceptions with a 4-5 in the games in played in. Illinois fared better with backup John Paddock at the helm, but he's gone. Altmyer needs to continue strengthening his arm and keeping the ball out of harms way. Sometimes he didn't look real sure about where to go with he football.

Just wants some respect

12. Rocco Becht, Iowa State

He may never be a superstar, but look for Becht to create some nice buzz in his second year as a starter. He took over in a tough situation last season and looked more than competent. Becht grew significantly throughout the year and ended up with 23 touchdown passes. Becht knows the game and comes from NFL pedigree as a smart and heady player, and Iowa State and Matt Campbell know how to develop quarterbacks. He is not going to be a household name this year, but don't rule out it happening down the line. 

The chip on his shoulder keeps getting bigger

11. Miller Moss, USC

The national narrative all of last season was that USC would look to the transfer portal to replace Caleb Williams, as Lincoln Riley tends to do. But then Moss threw six touchdowns in his first start against Louisville in the bowl game.

Moss is the starter, but USC still brought in UNLV transfer Jayden Maiava for some security at the position. There aren't any elite physical skills to write home about in regards to Moss, but he's got a fire in his belly and if he can prove us wrong here the way he proved us wrong last fall, the Trojans will be fine. It will be an interesting, year, though: USC has a very tough schedule as it transitions to the Big Ten and the Maiva, the backup, is more accomplished. The first sign of trouble could see Riley pull the plug on Moss in an important third season in Los Angeles.

All that said, I'm not forecasting much of a leap. 

Do they have enough weapons? 

10. Drew Allar, Penn State

A Class of 2022 prospect, Allar is already a mercurial figure in the college football world after arriving to Penn State as a ballyhooed, five-star prospect (remind you of anybody?). Allar started last season and took a lot of criticism for not being able to connect on explosive plays. I'm not so sure things will be that much better in 2024. Penn State lost leading pass catcher Keandre Lambert-Smith and stud tight end Theo Johnson. Dante Cephas is also gone. The Nittany Lions added Ohio State receiver Julian Fleming but he didn't show much big-play ability in Columbus. Still, don't be surprised if NFL circles fall in love with him because of his frame and strong arm. 

9. Brendan Sorsby, Cincinnati

Sorsby had some bright moments during his first season as a starter for Indiana. He threw three scores in three different games and ended up tossing 15 touchdowns compared to five picks. Sorsby is now at Cincinnati after a coaching change at Indiana. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, he can make all the throws with a smooth arm and poise at the position but he'll need help from a room of Bearcat skill players I'm not super high on if he's going to flourish in his second season as a starter.  

8. Anthony Colandrea, Virginia

The Monticello Manziel, Colandrea could be outstanding in 2024 if he has enough help around him. Colandrea took over the starting job last season and was an absolute blast to watch, showing off savvy playmaking and natural arm talent en route to winning the quarterback nod on the 247Sports True Freshman All-American Team. 

Colandrea will be much better in 2024, but will the rest of the team? We'll see how the receiving corps rebounds from the loss of the nation's second-leading wideout, Malik Washington, to the NFL. I'm high enough on Colandrea to think he can make magic happen as a one-man show, if it comes to that. 

Will they boom or bust?

7. Maalik Murphy, Duke

Duke was a bit of a surprising transfer destination after Murphy left Austin, but he was behind the eight-ball a bit (transferring in mid-December, which is after most QBs) and needed a guaranteed starting spot. Taking the leap for Murphy would mean blooming into a bonafide Day 2 NFL Draft prospect, which I think he can do. Murphy has elite physical tools at 6-foot-5, 238-pounds with a high powered rifle for an arm. He started two games in 2023 and made some remarkable downfield throws but also mixed in some bizarre decisions and and had a few moments where he threw a duck. 

Murphy looked good this spring in Durham but we'll see if he can put together a full season of consistency.

6. Josh Hoover, TCU

A name many don't know, Hoover has exciting arm talent and can hit throws from all different platforms. He threw for over 400 yards in two of his six starts for TCU in 2023, but also threw multiple interceptions in two games. He took the job from veteran Chandler Morris, so there's a reason he's made some waves in Forth Worth. If Hoover can keep the ball away from coverage in 2024, look for him to have a massive year in a new-look Big 12. 

5. Garrett Nussmeier, LSU

Everyone loves a gunslinger with moxie at the quarterback position and that's exactly what Nussmeier will bring to the table as he takes over from Heisman winner Jayden Daniels. Nussmeier waited his turn and is ready to unleash in 2024. Nussmeier plays with great confidence (he's already 22-years-old!) and will test tight windows with what I like to call "aggressive intelligence." 

The LSU offense will look different with receivers Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas off the NFL and a new offensive play-caller. I give Nussmeier a very good chance at making a leap and possibly even playing his way to Day 1 NFL Draft territory, but we've also seen the ballyhooed, long-awaited backup fall flat on his face before, so I'm keeping him out of our two loftier tiers. 

How much better can he get?

4. Noah Fifita, Arizona

Fifita had one of the best (redshirt) freshman seasons in Pac-12 history. He tossed 25 touchdowns to six interceptions and won seven out of nine games he started. Even in the two losses to USC and Washington, Fifita threw eight touchdowns and completed 70% of his throws. 

Fifita has precision accuracy and decisiveness for a young quarterback and plays with the maturity of a fifth year guy. There's a lot of change with head coach Jedd Fisch leaving to Washington, but Fifita still has Tetairoa McMillan to throw the ball to. The 5-foot-10 Fifita will be a redshirt sophomore this fall. Frankly, we think he's already taken "the leap" and slot him here because of that. Unless he morphs into a Bryce Young starter kit, we think his ceiling is lower than the next three guys, too. 

We are absolutely positive they'll take the leap

3. Avery Johnson, Kansas State

Johnson has "star" written all over him and may be the most fun quarterback to hit the sticks with in the upcoming College Football 25 video game. The dynamic Johnson has bona fide speed and is dripping with so much talent he pushed out Will Howard to Ohio State -- and the consensus is Kansas State absolutely kept the better quarterback. 

If Johnson continues to develop as a passer, he will be unstoppable a the college level and Kansas State's best Heisman hopeful since Collin Klein. In a game against Texas Tech this year, Johnson rushed for five touchdowns. Kansas State also added some nice weapons around him for 2024, so he's really just getting started. 

2. Jackson Arnold, Oklahoma

Arnold started in the bowl game for Oklahoma against Arizona and there were definitely growing pains and freshman lumps, but there were also some magnificent plays where the Texas native displayed wonderful footwork, escapability and an explosive arm. Arnold was a five-star in the 2023 class and his ability pushed out starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel (one of college football's most prolific passers) to Oregon. We really like the weapons at receiver for Arnold with Deion Burks, Andrel Anthony and Nic Anderson

1. Nico Iamaleava, Tennessee

Iamaleava may have the biggest upside of any quarterback in the country at 6-foot-6, and 205-pounds with superb mobility. Nico got his feet wet last season in blowout wins and started the bowl game for the Vols, where he showed off his dynamic running ability and huge arm, torching a stingy Iowa defensive for three rushing scores and one passing. 

Under the watchful eye of Josh Heupel, don't be surprised if Iamaleava ends up as one of the best SEC quarterbacks by year's end. He won't leave Knoxville before finding his way to New York City for a Heisman ceremony.