College football used to be all about the running game, with running backs garnering most of the headlines and even the most successful quarterbacks were runners as well. Obviously, times have changed, as the guys under center — or in shotgun formation — are the focus of much of college football. Here’s a look at five of the top quarterbacks in the nation that we’ll be watching in 2019.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
The junior is the undisputed starter for the Crimson Tide this season with Jalen Hurts having transferred to Oklahoma. Tagovailoa had an outstanding sophomore campaign, throwing for 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns despite rarely playing a full game because the Crimson Tide were leading by so much in most games. But he struggled in the SEC Championship Game, going out with an ankle injury, and the national title game, which Alabama lost by 28 points to Clemson. Four of Tagovailoa’s six interceptions on the season came in those two contests, so despite his gaudy numbers and Alabama’s fantastic season, the junior has something to prove in 2019. That’s bad news for Crimson Tide opponents.
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
As a freshman, Lawrence had nerves of steel, leading the Tigers to an undefeated campaign and their second national championship in three seasons. In two College Football Playoff games, against Notre Dame and Alabama, Lawrence threw for a combined 674 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions. So what does he do for an encore? Likely even more, especially with much of his supporting cast of skill-position players back in running back Travis Etienne and receivers Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins. And he may need to do more, since the Tigers had major losses on defense, especially on the line so that more scoring may be required, at least in the early part of the season.
Jake Fromm, Georgia
Much like his conference rival, Tagovailoa, Fromm has the starter’s job with no dispute this season after Justin Fields transferred to Ohio State in the offseason. The junior is already fourth on the school’s all-time list for passing touchdowns with 54 after he threw for 30 as a sophomore. The Bulldogs finished with a disappointment, falling in the SEC Championship Game to Alabama and in the Sugar Bowl to Texas. Fromm will once again put up big numbers, though he will be without his top two receivers from a year ago, but it is the team success that will be the most important to him in what is likely his last collegiate season. Getting past Alabama and winning an elusive national title would be the only way Fromm wants to end his college career.
Justin Herbert, Oregon
The assumption was Herbert was going to be playing on Sundays this season after being picked No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft. But after throwing for 3,151 yards and 29 touchdowns in leading the Ducks to 9-5 mark and win over Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl, Herbert wasn’t ready to make the jump, returning to Eugene for one more season. He’ll be missing Dillon Mitchell, who took his school-record 1,184 receiving yards to the NFL, but Herbert will still put up some solid numbers as he looks to push Oregon back to national prominence. A second season with head coach Mario Cristobal should help as well, as should the expected emergence of senior Juwan Johnson and freshman Mycah Pittman as pass catchers.
Justin Fields, Ohio State
The Buckeyes are going to be watched by many this season to see how they do in the first year post-Urban Meyer, but Fields will likely draw a lot of individual attention as well. Coming to Ohio State from Georgia and replacing record-setting Dwayne Haskins won’t be easy, but Fields has the talent — and talent around him — to do it. Senior receivers K.J. Hill and Austin Mack will be the main targets for Fields, who will also have a solid running game with J.K. Dobbins in the backfield to rely on. But after coming to the Bulldogs as a highly-touted recruit and transferring after one season, it’s time for Fields to put up or shut up and keep the Buckeyes’ offense rolling.