College football quarterback rankings start with C.J. Stroud but end with SEC feel

The best teams and the best quarterbacks in the Bowl Subdivision reside in the SEC.

There are a few obvious exceptions to the rule: No. 3 Ohio State and quarterback C.J. Stroud might be better than any individual team or quarterback in the SEC, respectively.

It's in the depth of top-level passers that the conference rises above the rest.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is only slightly behind his 2021 pace. No. 2 Alabama's Bryce Young has 13 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 172.2 efficiency rating. Through four games last year, Young had 15 scores, one pick and a rating of 188.5.

No. 9 Tennessee's Hendon Hooker has taken his game even higher after breaking out in his first year on campus. His performance in last weekend's win against Florida vaults him into Heisman contention.

Georgia's Stetson Bennett has taken on a much bigger role for the No. 1 Bulldogs to very strong early results. He's averaging 31 attempts per game, a more than 50% increase from last year, and leads the SEC in completion percentage (74.2%).

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The list of SEC quarterbacks also includes a top draft prospect in No. 8 Kentucky's Will Levis, who has the Wildcats inside the top 10 of the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll; Mississippi State's Will Rogers, the FBS leader in touchdowns (16); and No. 19 Arkansas' KJ Jefferson, who threw for 171 yards and had another 105 yards on the ground in the Razorbacks' painfully close loss to Texas A&M.

This week's list of the top 10 quarterbacks in the FBS definitely has an SEC feel:

1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State

With Stroud at the center of the action, the best offense in college football has been rolling since the opener. Stroud has 14 touchdown passes in his last three games and is now averaging 10.9 yards per attempt after blitzing Wisconsin for 281 yards and five scores in Saturday night's blowout.

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2. Bryce Young, Alabama

One major positive to come out of No. 2 Alabama's September has been the hugely improved running game. After averaging just 4.1 yards per carry last season, the Tide are sitting at 7.3 yards per carry and have run for at least 225 yards three times in four games. That's helped balance things out for Young, who had his best game of the year in last weekend's romp over Vanderbilt.

3. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee

Hooker carried No. 9 Tennessee to a rivalry win against Florida. In addition to his 349 yards and two scores through the air, Hooker ran for 112 yards and a touchdown to outplay the Gators' Anthony Richardson and lead the Volunteers to the program's highest ranking since 2016.

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker runs with the ball during the second half against Florida at Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker runs with the ball during the second half against Florida at Neyland Stadium.

4. Caleb Williams, Southern California

Williams and No. 6 USC had to scratch out a 17-14 win against Oregon State after experiencing no difficulty against an easy non-conference slate. While Williams completed under 50% of his throws, he did lead the Trojans on an 84-yard drive in the final minutes for the game-winning score.

5. Stetson Bennett, Georgia

If third in the power ranking of SEC quarterbacks, Bennett is still very much in the mix to become the second former walk-on to win the Heisman, following former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. While it may take a misstep from Stroud to do so, the senior will face off against Hooker and Tennessee in November and should end up going against Young and Alabama in the conference championship game.

6. Sam Hartman, Wake Forest

Don't blame Hartman for Wake's overtime loss to Clemson. He set a new program record with six touchdown throws in the 51-45 setback, giving him 13 in three starts after missing the season opener. Only once in his last 19 games against FBS competition has Hartman failed to throw for at least two scores — he had just one in last year's less competitive loss to the Tigers.

Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman (10) throws the ball against Liberty during the first half at Truist Field.
Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman (10) throws the ball against Liberty during the first half at Truist Field.

7. Jalon Daniels, Kansas

The best story of the season's opening month can be attributed in large part to Daniels, who is tied for the Big 12 lead in touchdown passes (11) and ranks third among all FBS quarterbacks in rushing yards (320). He had a career-best day against Duke as the Jayhawks moved to 4-0 for the first time since 2009: 324 yards, 14.1 yards per attempt, 83 rushing yards and five total touchdowns.

8. Michael Penix Jr., Washington

The former Indiana transfer is leading the nation in passing yards per game (347.0) and has tossed just one interception in 143 attempts. That marks a major shift from his final season with the Hoosiers, when Penix tossed seven picks in 162 throws before being lost for the season due to injury.

9. J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

After cruising through non-conference play, Michigan ran into some resistance in the Big Ten opener against Maryland. McCarthy remained accurate and productive — he went 18 of 26 for 220 yards and two touchdowns without an interception — but the offense leaned on the running game to secure the 34-27 win. The Wolverines have run for 937 yards and 17 touchdowns through four games.

10. Todd Centeio, James Madison

A graduate transfer from Colorado State (via Temple), Centeio sparked James Madison's incredible comeback against Appalachian State to remain unbeaten as first-year members of the FBS. Down 28-3 to the Sun Belt favorites, the Dukes stormed in front behind the senior's 297 yards of total offense and three total touchdowns. Centeio ranks second among Group of Five quarterbacks in efficiency rating (179.5) and has run for 198 yards on 6.4 yards per carry in two games against FBS competition.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football quarterback rankings led by C.J. Stroud, full of SEC