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Jameis Winston, Blake Bortles among surprising QBs

College football has never been a more quarterback-centric game than it is now. If a team doesn't have a good QB, it might survive for a while, but it's not going to contend for championships. These days, teams are not going to be able to hide a quarterback and say, 'We're just going to run the ball and play good defense.' If the quarterback can't make plays, that's it.

So, game managers need not apply.

Some people might ask about the quarterback for the No. 1 team in the nation. 'What about Alabama's AJ McCarron?' Well, it's been a while since McCarron was a game manager. He put those questions to rest long ago.

Other top QBs are proving for the first time this season that they can lead a team to title contention. With quarterbacks dominating like never before, here is a look at the surprises we are seeing at the position:

1. UCF's Blake Bortles takes on Teddy Bridgewater, and wins

Last week's upset over Louisville doesn't happen without Bortles playing big in the second half of the game. He showed poise, leadership and made the big throws when they needed to be made, including the game-winning touchdown pass. You must have a guy who can step up in those moments to be a consistent winner, and the Louisville game was not the first time we've seen Bortles do it. He did the same thing at Penn State earlier this season against QB Christian Hackenberg, who was the top QB in the 2013 recruiting class. The Knights are now in the driver's seat of the AAC and in line for a BCS bowl berth.

2. Jameis Winston shocks Clemson

What Winston had done this season heading into last weekend's game had already been phenomenal, but to go to Clemson and answer one of the last remaining questions about him -- how does he handle big-game atmosphere on the road? -- with such authority in a 51-14 win was remarkable. To me, there is one more question to be answered and that is how will he respond in a game when he struggles? Who knows when that will happen? He hasn't had a game like that yet, and the Seminoles are hoping that it never arrives. The thing that surprised people at Clemson was Florida State's margin of victory and Winston's poise from the word "go." He never seemed to doubt himself for a second, and his team is a national title contender because of it.

3. Texas Tech rolling with true freshmen

Anyone see this coming? The Red Raiders are undefeated and ranked No. 10 in the country while relying on not one but two true freshmen at quarterback in Baker Mayfield, a walk-on, and Davis Webb. To be clear, Mayfield turned down scholarship offers from, among others, Washington State and Rice, so it's not like he was a player no one was recruiting. That said, both he and Webb are true freshmen that have played like monsters for first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Webb has thrown for more than 400 yards in each of the two starts he has made since Mayfield suffered a knee injury, including a Texas Tech freshman record 462-yard day in a comeback win against West Virginia last weekend. The coaching staff won't commit to him as starter yet, though, because Mayfield, who has thrown for 1,488 yards and eight touchdowns in five games, had played so well prior to getting hurt. It was a surprise the Red Raiders had to battle back on road against a pretty average West Virginia team, but it's even more stunning that both true freshmen are producing at this level. We're about to learn a lot about his team as it hits the meat of its schedule, starting with Oklahoma this weekend.

4. Oregon State has nation's most prolific passer

The FBS leader in passing yardage (2,992) and touchdowns (29) is not Johnny Manziel, Winston or Marcus Mariota. It's Mannion, who had to compete just to win a starting job in fall camp, and he's doing it for a team that lost its opener at home to an FCS team in Eastern Washington. Everyone left the Beavers for dead, but they have not lost since heading into a big home game this weekend vs. Stanford, the winner of which will become the last challenger to Oregon in the Pac-12 North.

None of these four teams were frontrunners heading into the season, but they are each in the thick of a conference championship race heading into the ninth week of the season. To find out why, start by looking at their trigger men. Teams that have been left behind in the standings will certainly be taking a cold, hard look at their own QBs as they try to figure out what went wrong for them.

Follow Charles Davis on Twitter @CFD22.

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