Five who can make 2016 the year of the quarterback in college football

Think back to the 2015 season. Now, name your first-, second- and third-team All-Americans at running back.

Hey, look at that. Those are some great selections.

Now, don't take this the wrong way, but chances are I could rearrange those choices and it would make just as much sense. In fact, I could probably throw in three different names altogether and my All-American running back list would still be legit.

That's how deep college football was at running back last season. Yet, if you can believe it, 2016 could be just as strong, if not stronger. Leonard Fournette (LSU), Christian McCaffrey (Stanford), Dalvin Cook (Florida State), Nick Chubb (Georgia) and Jalen Hurd (Tennessee) are all All-American candidates. And they're simply the first names that came to mind. They're also all going to be eligible for the NFL Draft in 2017.

The point is that, for the second year in a row, college football could be dominated by running backs. In this era of quarterback-driven, pass-happy football, when was the last time you could say that? These are fascinating times for the game, to be sure.

Look, college football doesn't lack star power at quarterback; it's just not as deep of a position overall. With so much focus on running backs, though, now is as good a time as any to shift that focus to the quarterbacks who can take back the limelight.

Note that this is not a list of the "best" quarterbacks -- besides, what does that even mean? "Best" can be a number of things and is usually made up of many metrics. These are the quarterbacks capable of having big enough seasons to pull the attention away from guys like Fournette and McCaffrey. Whether they'll lead their teams to playoff appearances, earn Heisman invites to New York, garner significant NFL Draft consideration, or all of the above, keep these names on the tip of your tongue for the 2016 season.

Honorable Mentions: Joshua Dobbs (Tennessee), Luke Falk (Washington State), Chad Kelly (Ole Miss), Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech), Seth Russell (Baylor)

5. Greg Ward Jr., senior, Houston: Call this the "Kellen Moore Award for Group of 5 Excellence." Houston is likely going to be the overwhelming pick to crash the College Football Playoff after finishing 13-1 last year, which means Ward is going to get some notable level of attention if the Cougars even come close to achieving that goal.

Nothing about Ward stands out as a quarterback prospect in the NFL, but he's fun to watch. He's slippery as a runner and does well enough in the passing game to make him a complete threat. Major college football doesn't enjoy an underdog as much as college basketball when it comes to playing for a national title, but this sport needs a true Group of Five power to at least make things interesting. Who knows, if Ward puts up, say, 4,000 yards of total offense, he could be the face of that underdog role and receive an invite to the Heisman ceremony in New York.

4. Josh Rosen, sophomore, UCLA: All in all, the "Rosen One" lived up to expectations as a true freshman in 2015. For as hyped as incoming blue-chip players are these days, that's actually quite an accomplishment. Rosen threw for 3,669 yards, 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions -- excellent numbers by most measures, but there's room for his ceiling to grow, as well.

Falk will inevitably throw for more yards and Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop will try to make a name for himself at Oregon, but Rosen has the most cache among Pac-12 quarterbacks at the moment. This time two years from now, we could be talking about Rosen as a top-tier quarterback prospect, too.

3. J.T. Barrett, junior, Ohio State: Oh, how easily we forget Barrett once bested a bunch of Braxton Miller's school offensive records. What's more, Barrett set the new Big Ten record with 45 total touchdowns in 2014 and was named both the conference's quarterback of the year and freshman of the year. But, you know, Cardale Jones happened and then the Buckeyes weren't quite the same machine during the 2015 season.

Never mind that now. There are many holes to fill thanks to a Buckeye-friendly NFL Draft, but Barrett returns as a cornerstone for the entire team. Head coach Urban Meyer has praised Barrett's leadership and there's no shortage of blue-chip talent around the junior signal-caller. Michigan might be the trendy Big Ten team to latch on to, but with Barrett behind center, the Buckeyes still have a clear path to the playoff.

Baker Mayfield could lead Oklahoma back to the playoff in 2016. USATSI

2. Baker Mayfield, senior, Oklahoma: Mayfield isn't No. 1, but if anyone can leapfrog into that spot, it's him. In terms of pure excitement and unpredictability, Mayfield is a rare breed. Few have mastered the art of the "no no no no no no YES" play (i.e. the Russell Westbrook Special) like Mayfield. His game has an element of chaos to it. The football field is his backyard and he's the all-time quarterback clowning your friends. And boy, will he tell them about it afterwards, too. Mayfield backs down from no player, which only adds to his ever-growing folklore.

And yes, it helps that he plays on a team that should once again contend for a Big 12 title and playoff spot. Having a ton of eyeballs on you is critical, especially when you're a highlight reel like Mayfield.

1. Deshaun Watson, junior, Clemson: The fact that Watson was the only quarterback among the three Heisman finalists last year is reason enough to put him at No. 1. That he was the most valuable player on a team that played in the national title doesn't hurt, either.

There are a handful of reasons why Watson can be the face of college football in 2016, as well. Early mock drafts from Pro Football Focus to here at CBS have Watson as the No. 1 overall pick for the '17 draft (subject to change, of course). Plus, Clemson's offense returns just about everybody: Artavis Scott, Deon Cain, Jordan Leggett, Wayne Gallman -- oh, and Mike Williams, who missed practically all of last season with a neck injury. Like we said, e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y.

Watson is the most complete quarterback heading into next season. He has speed and mobility, a strong arm and better-than-advertised decision-making and touch on his throws. He'll get a lot of NFL chatter and the Tigers, once again, will be in a position to compete for an ACC title -- maybe more. He's not the most exciting pick, but he's the surest pick.

CBS Sports Writer

Ben Kercheval joined CBS Sports in 2016 and has been covering college football since 2010. Before CBS, Ben worked at Bleacher Report, UPROXX Sports and NBC Sports. As a long-suffering North Texas graduate,... Full Bio

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