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Ranking college football’s marquee 2024 true freshmen QBs by likelihood of playing in Year 1

Projecting a true freshman signal caller’s immediate impact is hardly an exact science but considering a number of factors like past performance, positional depth, scheme fit and program stability can help us indicate which first-year quarterbacks are ready to hear their number called on Saturdays sooner rather than later. 

Last year’s crop of 14 Class of 2023 Top247-ranked quarterbacks yielded a modest 11 combined starts and 53 games played in 2023 as the likes of Nico Iamaleava (Tennessee), Dante Moore (UCLA), Jackson Arnold (Oklahoma), Jaden Rashada (Arizona State), and Avery Johnson (Kansas State) all started in at least one game last season. 

Although there’s no shortage of name recognition with regards to last year’s heralded group of passers, it’s not always the highest-ranked prospects who make the most timely impact as exemplified by two of the nation’s most under-the-radar freshmen in 2023 in Virginia’s Anthony Colandrea and Arkansas State’s Jaylen Raynor,  who emerged as college football’s two most productive first-year quarterbacks last season. Ranked as a three-star and the No. 45 QB in the country by 247Sports coming out of Lakewood High School in Saint Petersburg (Fla.), Colandrea started six games for the Cavaliers in his rookie season, eclipsing over 300-yards passing in two of his six starts while also helping Virginia to an upset victory over Duke. Colandrea headlined the 247Sports True Freshman All-American Team in 2023. 

An unranked prospect from East Forsyth High School in North Carolina, Raynor earned his first start of 2023 for the Red Wolves in week four against Southern Miss, leading his team to a high scoring 44-37 victory against the Golden Eagles. Raynor became the first true freshman quarterback to start for the program since 2001 and the only one to lead a program to a victory in his first career start. The Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year started double digit games as a true freshman. 

With the qualifiers out of the way, here’s how we rank five marquee true freshmen quarterbacks by likelihood of seeing serious playing time in 2024. 

UNLIKELY, BUT CRAZIER THINGS HAVE HAPPENED

5. Walker White, Auburn (No. 5 QB, No. 41 overall)

The Tigers will return some experience at the quarterback position this season as Payton Thorne gears up for another go on the Plains, along with Hank Brown and Holden Geriner as year two of the Hugh Freeze era approaches with more expectations attached.

At 6-foot-3 and 220-pounds, White has the ability to give Freeze and Auburn fans a taste of what the future could hold with his combination of raw athleticism as a runner and NFL-caliber arm talent. Although he’ll need some refinement in the passing game and more than likely a year or two to develop, Freeze and the Tigers could opt to get the talented true freshman acquainted quickly by utilizing him situationally in the running and short yardage situations. 

Comparable to Tennessee Titans quarterback Will Levis in regards to physique, athletic upside and arm talent, expect White to become a household name in scouting circles very quickly as he possesses all the physical traits sought out in the quarterback position. 

DON’T SAY WE DIDN’T WARN YOU

4. Julian Sayin, Ohio State (No. 3 QB, No. 20 overall)

Ohio State has arguably the most interesting quarterback room in the country as the Buckeyes undoubtedly possess the talent to compete for a national championship in what will be a very important seventh season for Ryan Day in Columbus. 

A former Alabama signee, Sayin entered the portal only nine days after he enrolled in school in Tuscaloosa, opting to suit up for Day and the Buckeyes post Nick Saban’s departure from the Crimson Tide. Although the path to the field isn’t super clear with Kansas State transfer Will Howard the presumed started and former top recruit Devin Brown also in the room, there are some question marks, especially after a spring period that did not see Howard light the world on fire.

Arguably the most polished passer in a trio of quarterbacks to be named five-stars last cycle, it’s easy to see why Sayin could excel early in a Chip Kelly offense that offers one of the best supporting casts in the country. A timely passer that operates with no shortage of pocket maturity, don’t be surprised if we see the California native on the big stage sooner than we think. Given the pressure facing Day, we could see him turning to Sayin at the first sign of trouble. It’s up to Howard, and Brown to an extent, to keep the true freshman at bay. 

PROBABLY NOT, BUT MAYBE

3. Demond Williams, Washington (No. 19 QB)

Although he would currently have to unseat transfer quarterback Will Rogers from the starting job, the former four-star signal caller could be in position to see his fair share of playing time in Seattle this season as Jedd Fisch and the Huskies try to replace Michael Penix Jr. and navigate a massive roster turnover amid their first year in the Big Ten. Convincing Williams to transfer from Arizona to Washington after a few weeks in Tucson was a big, albeit unsurprising, roster development for Fisch. 

Quickly earning a reputation as an undersized playmaking point guard that plays the game with elite command, Williams has drawn comparisons to former Fisch pupil and current Arizona signal caller Noah Fifita with regard to both his stature and playstyle. 

Currently listed at 5-foot-11 and 185-pounds, Williams too plays a lot bigger than his size, showing a knack for maximizing game changing opportunities both through the air and on the ground as he rushed for 1,100 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior at Basha High School in Arizona. 

Often referred to as a “gamer” because of his competitive nature and lack of height, Williams offers first year Huskies Head Coach Jedd Fisch an interesting off-ramp to build towards the future if the first half of Washington’s conference schedule proves to be too daunting. 

MORE LIKELY THAN NOT 

2. DJ Lagway, Florida (No. 1 QB, No. 3 overall)

On paper, Billy Napier and the Gators appear to be in a very comfortable position at the quarterback spot as Graham Mertz and his wealth of experience return to Gainesville with hopes to build on an encouraging first year in the Swamp. That being said, Lagway is simply too gifted to and too important to Napier’s future to keep off the field as he enters the fray and what is considered to be a make-or-break season for the Gators.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and north of 240 pounds on Florida’s spring roster, Lagway is coming off a senior season at Willis High School where he set the Texas Class 6A single-season record for touchdown passes all while leading the program to its best record in over 60 years and their first trip to the regional semifinals in almost three decades. A proven winner, it’s not only the true freshman’s intangibles that should be noted but his dual-threat capabilities too that should allow Napier and his staff the creativity to use the five-star signal caller in a way that should remind most Florida fans of the Anthony Richardson era. 

LIKELY – AND MAY EVEN START GAME 1

1. Dylan Raiola, Nebraska (No. 2 QB, No. 7 overall) 

It appears more and more likely that former five-star and Nebraska legacy Dylan Raiola could emerge as Matt Rhule’s starting quarterback this fall after putting together an impressive spring campaign. If you’re Rhule and Nebraska fans alike, you’re probably asking yourselves the same question: Why not start the talented freshman?

Raiola will step into an interesting situation in his first season as hopes to kickstart a program in search of the postseason bowl bid since 2016, not to mention trying to revitalize one of college football’s worst passing offenses last season. It’s a difficult task but one certainly ripe with opportunities for a young, talented signal-caller as the Cornhuskers will host five of their first six opponents at home in Lincoln, two of which include games against UTEP and Northern Iowa

A big framed passer at 6-foot-3 and 220-pounds, Raiola’s sturdy frame and physicality are undoubtedly ready for the rigors of college football but there’s no answer until the opener as to whether the Cornhuskers have enough protection and playmaking to ease his transition into the collegiate ranks. 

Ready or not, expect a heavy dose of Dylan Raiola this season in Lincoln. 

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