There's nothing like watching top players duke it out in a big game with national championship implications on the line. While it is probably a bit of an exaggeration to suggest either LSU or Georgia as a legitimate national title contender, there is no denying the brilliant display of quarterback play put on by Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray.
Each put on an impressive showing that will endear their respective games to a number of NFL coaches, scouts and executives around the league. Moreover, the duo answered some of the pressing questions that kept scouts from fully jumping onboard with their brimming potential as franchise quarterbacks. Given the impressive display put on by two of the top quarterbacks in college football, I had to make some adjustments to the "Quarterback Tracker" list this week to accommodate some reshuffling at the top of the list.
Let's take a look ...
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
(Last week's rank: 2)
Say what you want about Manziel's cocky demeanor, the kid balls out when his team needs him to play well. He accounted for 320 yards and two touchdowns on the way to guiding the Aggies to a 44-33 win over Arkansas. From a few heroic throws to Mike Evans on the perimeter to a handful of dizzying scrambles, Manziel made enough big plays to keep Kevin Sumlin's squad one step ahead of the Razorbacks in a surprisingly competitive contest. With few players capable of rivaling Manziel's big-game ability, it's time to return the Heisman Trophy winner to the top of the charts.
2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
(Last week's rank: 1)
Mariota loses his spot at the top of the board after a lackluster performance against Cal. Sure, he helped the Ducks top the 50-point mark for the fourth consecutive game, but Mariota was off his game as a passer and playmaker against the Bears. He only connected on 11 of 24 passes for 114 yards, and repeatedly missed open receivers at intermediate range. While the inclement conditions certainly played a role in his ineffectiveness as a passer, the fact that he was consistently off the mark makes it hard to justify his spot at the top of the list this week.
3. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
(Last week's rank: 3)
Bridgewater has yet to face a tough opponent this season, but he deserves a spot near the top of the list based on his stellar performance from the pocket. He is as accurate a passer as I've seen in the college game for years, and his game is perfectly suited for the NFL. If he can avoid the complacency that occasionally seeps into games against inferior competition, Bridgewater will remain in the mix for college football's top individual honor.
4. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
(Last week's rank: 5)
It's not a coincidence that the Tigers' offense has gone to another level with Boyd developing into an assassin from the pocket. He has consistently delivered dimes to all areas of the field and shown the ability to throw to his receivers in tight windows. Additionally, he continues to shine as a selective runner, which makes him nearly impossible to slow down with the ball in his hands.
5 Up, 5 Down
Among Daniel Jeremiah's five things that are chugging along smoothly through last weekend's play are Georgia QB Aaron Murray and LSU QB Zach Mettenberger. **More ...**
5. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
(Last week's rank: 7)
The "cha-ching!" that you heard while watching the LSU-Georgia contest was the cash register going off in the Mettenberger house. The LSU standout enhanced his chances of becoming a top selection in the 2014 NFL Draft by obliterating the Bulldogs' defense with a series of pinpoint throws. More importantly, he displayed exceptional poise, repeatedly guiding the Tigers back from deficits in a back-and-forth thriller. With questions aplenty about Mettenberger's ability to play under pressure, the fact that he responded with an A-plus performance will undoubtedly boost his chances of coming off the board early on draft day.
6. Aaron Murray, Georgia
(Last week's rank: 8)
So much for the narrative about Murray underperforming in big games. The senior standout has been spectacular this season, particularly in competitive contests against ranked squads. He continued to enhance his impressive career resume by torching an LSU squad that appeared overmatched on the defensive side of the ball. He nearly topped the 300-yard mark for the fourth time this season, and displayed the big-game moxie that scouts have been questioning for most of his career.
7. Brett Hundley, UCLA
(Last week's rank: 4)
The Bruins didn't suit up last weekend, but face a stern test from a gutsy Utah squad in a Thursday-night showcase. The game will give Hundley an opportunity to display his polished game in front of a national audience. While college football fans will tune in to see if his game lives up to the hype, NFL executives will closely monitor his progress as a passer and playmaker from a year ago. If Hundley shines on the big stage, the buzz will start building about his pro potential as a possible 2014 draftee.
8. Jameis Winston, Florida State
(Last week's rank: 9)
It's time to seriously consider Winston as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate after watching the redshirt freshman put on another jaw-dropping performance last weekend. He notched his second career 300-yard passing game against Boston College, and left the college football world floored with a sensational Hail Mary toss at the end of the first half. Most importantly, he showed NFL evaluators that he has composure, confidence and poise to put the team on his back when needed. Of course, Winston will have to do more to secure the hardware for college football's top honor, but he is certainly off to a good start on a team that is vying for national championship recognition.
9. AJ McCarron, Alabama
(Last week's rank: 6)
The reigning BCS national champions put a shellacking on Ole Miss last weekend behind an efficient performance from McCarron. The senior standout completed 25 of 32 passes for 180 yards, while making a handful of plays to keep the Crimson Tide ahead of the chains against a gritty Rebels defense. Although he didn't record a touchdown pass and tossed an interception, McCarron's superb game management skills were on the display in the 25-0 victory.
10. Derek Carr, Fresno State
(Last week's rank: 11)
Carr is an immensely talented gunslinger capable of making every throw in the book from any spot on the field. He has repeatedly shown those skills this season by posting three 300-yard games (Carr has topped the 400-yard mark twice) in guiding the Bulldogs to a 4-0 start in the Mountain West Conference. The skeptics will point out that Carr has not faced an elite defense this season, but it's hard to dispute the kind of performance and production the gunslinger has put on tape to this point.
11. Kevin Hogan, Stanford
(Last week's rank: 13)
Coach David Shaw finally unleashed his young quarterback against Washington State. Hogan responded by throwing for 286 yards and three touchdowns on an assortment of vertical throws off play-action that showcased his terrific talents as a ball handler in the backfield. Most importantly, the game gave Hogan the chance to show the college football world that he is capable of being a franchise playmaker at the next level. With a showdown with Washington on the horizon, Hogan could take another step forward in his development this weekend.
12. Braxton Miller, Ohio State
(Last week's rank: NR)
It's laughable to think some pundits were suggesting a quarterback competition after watching a super sub (Kenny Guiton) shine over the past three weeks. But that noise will quickly subside after watching Miller complete 17 of 25 passes for 198 yards and four scores in a pivotal Big Ten win over Wisconsin. He complemented his brilliance as a passer with a handful of nifty runs that resulted in 83 rushing yards on 22 carries. With Miller showcasing explosive skills as a dual-threat playmaker, the Buckeyes could run through the rest of the Big Ten with relative ease.
13. Stephen Morris, Miami (Fla.)
(Last week's rank: 10)
Morris has skated through the regular season to this point, but the Hurricanes' schedule will provide a few tough assignments for the senior quarterback down the stretch. He faces a stiff challenge this weekend from a gritty Georgia Tech squad looking to bounce back from its first conference loss. Additionally, the pressure generated by the Yellow Jackets' underrated front seven should reveal Morris' poise under pressure and his big-game moxie. If he can check off the boxes in those areas, Morris could be one of the first quarterbacks to come off the board in the spring.
14. Keith Price, Washington
(Last week's rank: 12)
The Huskies' re-emergence on the national scene has coincided with Price's resurgence as a top playmaker. The fifth-year senior has completed over 72 percent of his passes with a 9:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio while guiding the Huskies to a 4-0 start. While his pedestrian performance (14 of 25 passing for 165 yards with two touchdowns and an interception) against Arizona won't elicit a strong response from observers, the fact that he played winning football in inclement conditions says a lot about his leadership skills.
15. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
(Last week's rank: NR)
There isn't a quarterback in the country doing more with less than Mannion. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound redshirt junior is single-handedly carrying the Beavers' offense on the strength of his right arm. He leads the nation with 21 touchdown passes against only two interceptions, and is coming off a 414-yard performance that featured six touchdowns against Colorado. Although the Beavers' surprising early-season loss to Eastern Washington has pushed Oregon State into the shadows, Mannion should garner serious Heisman Trophy consideration for his spectacular play this fall.
16. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
(Last week's rank: NR)
After opening the season with a lackluster effort against Alabama, Thomas has slowly righted the ship in Blacksburg with his solid play in the pocket. He has taken on the challenge of serving as the Hokies' lone offensive weapon, and found a way to get it done on a weekly basis. Last week, Thomas passed for 221 yards with a touchdown and added 58 yards on the ground with a rushing score. Those numbers certainly don't jump off the stat sheet, but the fact that the Hokies are back in contention for the conference speaks volumes about his contribution as the team's primary offensive weapon.
Out of the list: Devin Gardner, Michigan (last week's rank: 14); Kenny Guiton, Ohio State (last week's rank: 15); James Franklin, Missouri (last week's rank: 16).