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QB rankings: Big games put passers under intense scrutiny

The college football season is nearing its end, but scouts are just beginning to dig into the top quarterback prospects to see if their games are ideally suited to the next level. Evaluators are paying close attention to performances in rivalry games to determine which playmakers thrive in intense situations that closely mimic NFL games.

While it's still too early to forecast draft positions, we can certainly take a closer look at which quarterbacks stand above their peers in the college game. Here are my top quarterbacks in college football heading into Week 13:

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1. Jameis Winston, Florida State
(Last week's rank: 1)

The unflappable redshirt freshman continues to impress with his poise and confidence as a first-year starter. Although he is facing increased attention and scrutiny with the Seminoles' resurgence, Winston continues to play with the savvy of a 10-year NFL veteran. Most important, he continues to shine as a passer/playmaker directing an explosive offense that looks championship-caliber.

2. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
(Last week's rank: 2)

The buzz has subsided around Bridgewater's game, but astute observers recognize his talent as a franchise quarterback. The Louisville standout can make every throw in the book, while also displaying remarkable accuracy and touch. In addition, Bridgewater shows a high football IQ directing the game from the line of scrimmage. With coaches and scouts appreciating those traits, Bridgewater remains the top quarterback prospect in NFL circles.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) encourages the crowd during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, in College Station, Texas. Texas A&M won 51-41. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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3. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
(Last week's rank: 3)

It's time to seriously consider Manziel as the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy based on his spectacular season directing the Aggies offense. Texas A&M has scored 40-plus points in 12 consecutive games, with Manziel largely responsible for its explosiveness. Factor in his individual production in that span, and it's hard to make a case against his chances walking away with his second trophy.

4. Derek Carr, Fresno State
(Last week's rank: 4)

Carr is creeping up draft boards across the NFL as a possible first-round selection. Scouts are raving about his combination of arm talent, confidence and pocket poise. Additionally, Carr has earned high marks for his big-game ability and fearlessness as a playmaker. The Bulldogs don't have many big games remaining on their schedule, but evaluators are anxiously awaiting a possible BCS appearance to see if Carr's game is ready for the primetime.

5. Bryce Petty, Baylor
(Last week's rank: 7)

Petty's Heisman Trophy campaign is gaining steam after another strong performance against Big 12 competition. Petty posted his eighth 300-yard passing day against Texas Tech, while tossing at least three touchdowns for the fifth time this season. With a nearly unblemished 24:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, it is time the college football world recognized the gunslinger from Waco.

6. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
(Last week's rank: 6)

A nagging knee injury didn't keep Mariota from shining in Oregon's 44-21 thumping of Utah. Mariota connected on 19 of 26 passes for 288 yards with three touchdowns. Although he didn't flee the pocket often as a runner, the threat of a quarterback scramble enabled the Ducks' runners to enjoy a productive day on the ground.

7. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
(Last week's rank: 8)

Boyd continues to rewrite the ACC record book with his spectacular play from the pocket. He broke Philip Rivers' ACC record for career touchdown passes and is a 300-yard day away from tying his career mark for 300-yard games (18). Given the tremendous success Rivers has enjoyed as a pro, scouts are taking a close look at Boyd's game to see if his skills translate well to the pro game.

8. AJ McCarron, Alabama
(Last week's rank: 5)

McCarron didn't help his chances of shaking the dreaded "game manager" label with his pedestrian performance against Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide star completed only 56 percent of his throws, and tossed a pair of interceptions in a closer than anticipated 20-7 win over the Bulldogs. Although McCarron eventually led his team to his 35th win in 37 career starts, the uneven performance left scouts with more questions than answers about his potential.

Nov 15, 2013; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley (17) throws a pass against the Washington Huskies at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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9. Brett Hundley, UCLA
(Last week's rank: 10)

Hundley is an intriguing NFL prospect, but scouts have questions about his lackluster performances in the Bruins' biggest games. He has struggled with his accuracy, particularly on deep balls, against top competition and failed to make enough big plays to keep the offense on schedule. With a few more big games (Arizona State and USC) on the schedule to show his development as a clutch performer, Hundley has a chance to change the perception on his potential as a franchise quarterback.

10. Aaron Murray, Georgia
(Last week's rank: 12)

Murray has silenced the critics questioning his ability to perform in big games. He has single-handedly carried the Bulldogs offense after a bevy of injuries left the unit punchless on the perimeter. Additionally, Murray has shown exceptional leadership skills and poise rallying his team back from several deficits throughout the season.

11. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
(Last week's rank: 11)

Mettenberger has climbed up draft boards across the NFL by displaying a more refined game this season. He makes precise throws to every area of the field and displays the arm talent offensive coaches covet in franchise quarterbacks. With Cam Cameron tailoring the Tigers' game plan to accentuate his strengths as a deep ball thrower, Mettenberger is creating a legitimate buzz in NFL scouting circles.

12. Braxton Miller, Ohio State
(Last week's rank: 9)

Urban Meyer has built the Buckeyes offense around the most explosive athlete in the Big Ten. Miller zips around the field like a track star with the ball in his hands, yet delivers fastballs when firing passes from the pocket. Although he needs to work on his touch and precision as a passer, Miller is such an explosive threat with the ball in his hands that few opponents have the potential to slow down the Buckeyes' offensive juggernaut.

13. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
(Last week's rank: 13)

The Huskies' star is not only climbing my list, but he is starting to garner serious consideration as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Lynch ranks ninth in the FCS in rushing yards and has 35 combined touchdowns. Although some have dismissed his production based on the level of competition, his consistency over the past two seasons makes him worthy of consideration for college football's top individual honor.

14. Blake Bortles, Central Florida
(Last week's rank: NR)

Bortles' inclusion on this list is long overdue based on his impressive play this season. He has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards with 19 touchdowns against only five picks. Most important, Bortles is completing 68 percent of his throws, including a handful of dimes in the clutch against Temple that solidified the team's spot at the top of the American Atlantic Conference (AAC).

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15. Nick Marshall, Auburn
(Last week's rank: 15)

On the strength of his improbable "Hail Mary" completion to Ricardo Louis, Marshall retains his spot on the list. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound playmaker is a better athlete than quarterback at this point, but he has found a way to make enough plays in the passing game to keep the Tigers' punishing spread offense on track. Factor in his explosive running skills as the director of the team's power-read scheme, and Marshall is quietly carving up opponents with his versatility.

16. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
(Last week's rank: NR)

Wallace is quietly enjoying a big year in Oxford for an emerging Rebels squad. The 6-foot-4, 209-pound junior is a sneaky dual-threat playmaker with the potential to do damage with his arm or legs. Wallace is completing more than 64 percent of his passes and has 21 combined touchdowns through 10 games. That's pretty good production for a quarterback breaking in a few newcomers on the perimeter.

Out of the list: Sean Mannion, Oregon State (last week's rank: 14); Shane Carden, East Carolina (last week's rank: 16).

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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