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  • Where Did College Football Teams Find Their Starting Quarterbacks for 2021?

Alabama’s Bryce Young is one of the headliners of a new wave of California-bred signal-callers ready to make their mark on the field

If there’s one word that can be used to describe the quarterback landscape, it’s something that coaches and fans alike don’t want to see from their signal-caller — turnover. Yet for the fourth straight season, more than half of the projected starting quarterbacks in the Power 5 conferences will be new compared to this time last year.

It should be pointed out the degree of this turnover (55 percent for 2021) is the lowest in the last four years, but there will still be a lot of new quarterbacks leading their teams this fall. Some of this, of course, is to be expected with players expiring their eligibility, but several high-profile signal-callers also decided to move on to the NFL despite being granted another year because of the unusual, COVID-19-impacted 2020 campaign, while others opted to take advantage of the transfer portal to go to a different program.

And this turnover at quarterback will impact the entire landscape. Look no further than the fact that all four College Football Playoff participants — Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, and Notre Dame — will have someone new running their offense in 2021.

So besides becoming familiar with all of the new quarterbacks across the country, another question comes to mind. Where are Power 5 teams finding their quarterbacks for the upcoming season?

For the sixth year in a row, Athlon Sports has tracked the roots of every projected starting quarterback for the upcoming season in the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC), along with BYU and Notre Dame. The operative word for this exercise is "projected," as the aforementioned exodus of talent at the position and subsequent flurry of transfers has only added to the number of quarterback competitions that will take place this spring and probably carry over into fall camp.

There are 24 states represented by this year’s quarterback crop and some of the observations that can be made might be a little surprising.

West Coast bias?

When it comes to producing Power 5 quarterbacks, California is king by a wide margin for 2021. For one year at least, Texas’ reign has come to a screeching halt. California can claim a whopping 14 projected starting signal-callers among the 66 programs included in this exercise. Texas is no slouch with eight, but the Lone Star State had 11 compared to California’s seven.

And while California is the heart of Pac-12 country, only four of the 14 quarterbacks play for teams in the conference. Instead, Cali-born-and-bred signal-callers have not been afraid to leave the nest; the state is sending multiple quarterbacks to the Big Ten (four), SEC (three), and ACC (two), with the Big 12 also getting in on the act. Three of this past season’s College Football Playoff participants looked westward for their projected starter in Alabama (Bryce Young), Ohio State (C.J. Stroud), and Clemson (D.J. Uiagalelei).

And from the useless information department, there’s this. There are three quarterbacks with the last name Daniels expected to start for their respective teams this fall — Jalon (Kansas), Jayden (Arizona State), and JT (Georgia). All three hail from southern California, roughly 100 miles apart from each other.

But it’s not just California either. If you include neighboring states (Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington) plus Hawaii, the western part of the U.S. is responsible for almost half (27) of all the projected Power 5 quarterbacks. Speaking of Arizona…

Arizona standing strong

For the second straight year, the Grand Canyon State comes in third with six homegrown starting quarterbacks. It’s possible that the Grand Canyon State could claim the with Brock Purdy (Iowa State), Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma), and Kedon Slovis (USC) found on many preseason lists.

Additionally, Gilbert, Arizona, has the unique distinction of boasting three projected starters — Purdy, as well as brothers Jack (Purdue) and Will (Arizona) Plummer. The only other city with more than one is Oklahoma City.

Not just a Lone Star State

Even though Texas has ceded its throne to California, the Lone Star State still maintains a strong presence when it comes to Power 5 quarterbacks. Of Texas’ projected eight starters, only two play for in-state programs (Baylor, Texas A&M), while the rest are elsewhere in the Big 12 (Oklahoma State, West Virginia) and SEC (Vanderbilt), as well as the ACC (Miami), Pac-12 (Utah), and at BYU.

East Coast exodus?

Florida and Georgia are well-known for producing some of the most sought-after recruits on a year in, year out basis, but that’s not the case at quarterback in 2021. The two states are responsible for a combined five this year compared to eight last year. Of course, when the departures include former Heisman Trophy finalists like Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones, it’s not that hard to explain the reason for the drop-off.

But it’s not just Florida and Georgia who have slipped this year. The entire East Coast contingent of states (also New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina) has seen its representation drop from 20 last year to a projected 15 for 2021. It’s not all bad news, however, as the East Coast can still claim standouts like North Carolina’s Sam Howell (Tar Heel State product) and Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr. (from Florida).

Cross-country signal-callers

Led by a trio of Hawaiian transplants, the 2021 crop of projected starting quarterbacks has some mileage on them, and that’s not referring to their arms. Ten signal-callers play at a school that is more than 2,000 miles away from their homes. Not surprisingly, the three Hawaiians — Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa, Florida State’s McKenzie Milton, and Washington State’s Jayden de Laura — are the farthest from home, but 13 of their peers are 1,200 or more miles away as well.

The mere presence of a native Hawaiian is enough to skew a conference’s average distance between home and school, which is why the Big Ten (Tagovailoa) and ACC (Milton) are first and second in that respect. It doesn’t matter how many "hometown heroes" (see below) a conference can claim, if one guy is more than 4,500 miles away from where he played in high school, that’s going to make an impact on the rest.

On the flip side, the SEC’s footprint coincides with some of the most fertile recruiting ground in the country, which is why the conference averages the fewest miles between home and school among its quarterbacks. However, there are a few outliers with Alabama (Bryce Young), Georgia (JT Daniels), and Ole Miss (Matt Corral) tapping into the California pipeline.

10 Farthest From Home

Quarterback School Miles Hometown
Taulia Tagovailoa 4,833 Ewa Beach, HI
McKenzie Milton 4,549 Kapolei, HI
Jayden de Laura 2,866 Honolulu, HI
Braxton Burmeister 2,442 La Jolla, CA
D.J. Uiagalelei 2,271 Inland Empire, CA
JT Daniels 2,251 Irvine, CA
C.J. Stroud 2,202 Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Cade McNamara 2,135 Reno, NV
Bryce Young 2,020 Pasadena, CA
Ryan Hilinski 2,019 Orange, CA

Hometown heroes

Not every projected Power 5 starting quarterback is at a school thousands of miles away. Duke’s Gunnar Holmberg is just a short drive from his Wake Forest, North Carolina, roots. He’s one of three ACC signal-callers (Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman, North Carolina’s Sam Howell) from the Tar Heel State that stayed close to home. Interestingly enough, of the seven others on the list below, only four play for schools that are located in the same state as their hometown. All total, 12 of the projected starting quarterbacks for 2021 will play for schools in their home state, compared to 15 last year.

10 Closest to Home

Quarterback School Miles Hometown
Gunnar Holmberg 23 Wake Forest, NC
Dylan Morris 36 Puyallup, WA
Sam Hartman 79 Charlotte, NC
Will Plummer 102 Gilbert, AZ
Brandon Peters 114 Avon, IN
Will Rogers 117 Brandon, MS
Bo Nix 125 Pinson, AL
Myles Brennan 130 Long Beach, MS
Skylar Thompson 133 Independence, MO
Sam Howell 150 Indian Trail, NC

California (14)

Braxton Burmeister (Virginia Tech), Matt Corral (Ole Miss), Jalon Daniels (Kansas), Jayden Daniels (Arizona State), JT Daniels (Georgia), Chase Garbers (California), Tristan Gebbia (Oregon State), Ryan Hilinski (Northwestern), Adrian Martinez (Nebraska), Tanner McKee (Stanford), Spencer Petras (Iowa), C.J. Stroud (Ohio State), D.J. Uiagalelei (Clemson), Bryce Young (Alabama)

Texas (8)

Charlie Brewer (Utah), Jarret Doege (West Virginia), D’Eriq King (Miami), Haynes King (Texas A&M), Baylor Romney (BYU), Spencer Sanders (Oklahoma State), Ken Seals (Vanderbilt), Jacob Zeno (Baylor)

Arizona (6)

Jack Plummer (Purdue), Will Plummer (Arizona), Brock Purdy (Iowa State), Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma), Tyler Shough (Oregon), Kedon Slovis (USC)

Florida (3)

Henry Colombi (Texas Tech), Michael Penix Jr. (Indiana), Jeff Sims (Georgia Tech)

Hawaii (3)

Jayden de Laura (Washington State), McKenzie Milton (Florida State), Taulia Tagovailoa (Maryland)

Mississippi (3)

Myles Brennan (LSU), KJ Jefferson (Arkansas), Will Rogers (Mississippi State)

New Jersey (3)

Tommy DeVito (Syracuse), Devin Leary (NC State), Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh)

North Carolina (3)

Sam Hartman (Wake Forest), Gunnar Holmberg (Duke), Sam Howell (North Carolina)

Ohio (3)

Brennan Armstrong (Virginia), Connor Bazelak (Missouri), Sean Clifford (Penn State)

Alabama (2)

Malik Cunningham (Louisville), Bo Nix (Auburn)

Georgia (2)

Harrison Bailey (Tennessee), Emory Jones (Florida)

Nevada (2)

Cade McNamara (Michigan), Dorian Thompson-Robinson (UCLA)

Oklahoma (2)

Beau Allen (Kentucky), Casey Thompson (Texas)

Pennsylvania (2)

Phil Jurkovec (Boston College), Anthony Russo (Michigan State)

Indiana (1)

Brandon Peters (Illinois)

Iowa (1)

Max Duggan (TCU)

Kansas (1)

Graham Mertz (Wisconsin)

Kentucky (1)

Tanner Morgan (Minnesota)

Missouri (1)

Skylar Thompson (Kansas State)

Nebraska (1)

Noah Vedral (Rutgers)

New York (1)

Oregon (1)

South Carolina (1)

Luke Doty (South Carolina)

Washington (1)

Dylan Morris (Washington)

*List also includes BYU and Notre Dame

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