As the College Football Playoff picture starts to come into focus, it's understandable that quarterbacks like Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Fields and Joe Burrow have become the faces of their team's playoff runs. But in four of the five College Football Playoffs, there has been at least one backup quarterback to supplant a starter prior to the playoffs or come on in relief during big playoff moments.
The names of those backups read now like an NFL Draft board: Jalen Hurts, Jake Fromm, Tua Tagovailoa, Trevor Lawrence, Ian Book and Cardale Jones. Because history tells us that a backup quarterback will be in the field, it's worthwhile to examine who has the best backup quarterback on deck. Florida is already on quarterback No. 2 and thriving with Kyle Trask. Alabama has been forced into a quarterback stress test with an ankle injury to Tagovailoa. Who is next and can they weather the adversity? I have ranked the backup situations of the top 10 playoff contenders based on their ability to win a title without the starter.
Ranking based on the most recent AP Top 25 poll.
1. Oklahoma, 7-1 (Rank: 10)
The Lincoln Riley magic has proven to be transferrable to whoever is under center in Norman. That's not to say the drop-off from Hurts to his backup isn't steep. But behind Hurts sits a former four-star in Mordecai and the flexibility for Riley to fire a second bullet if things don't click immediately with a true freshman in Rattler on standby as well. Rattler was the No. 1 overall quarterback in the class of 2019, a natural thrower, a smooth athlete and if you're looking for a potential breakout star from the backup ranks a la Tagovailoa or Lawrence, Rattler is your best bet.
2. Alabama, 8-0 (Rank: 2)
Backup QB: Mac Jones
Jones isn't Tua Tagovailoa, but he has once outplayed Jalen Hurts in a spring game and was ranked as the No. 11 pro-style quarterback in the nation coming out of high school. While the drop-off may be steep, Jones is still a competent option to fill in. Given Alabama's catch-and-run offense to a loaded wide receiver group, Jones' 67 career pass attempts offer up enough experience to give Alabama fans cautious optimism that they could find a win on the big stage.
3. Clemson, 8-0 (Rank: 4)
Backup QB: Chase Brice
Brice appeared in 12 games in 2018. He's already appeared in six this fall. He saved the season last year as a redshirt freshman when he replaced an injured Lawrence and led a comeback win over Syracuse. While he may only be a redshirt sophomore, Brice has some seasoning to his game and some earned confidence. He's also more limited than a few of the other players on this list. However, given the amount of talent around him and what he'd be asked to do, Brice may be one of the more equipped signal callers to get a win.
4. LSU, 8-0 (Rank: 1)
Backup QB: Myles Brennan
Joe Burrow is completing nearly 80 percent of his passes, the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and steadily climbing up NFL Draft. So it's no slight on Brennan to say that LSU would look dramatically different with the backup running the show. That said, Brennan was the No. 6 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2017 and holds the Mississippi high school record for career total offense (16,168 yards). He can chuck it around and is a skill-set fit for the new LSU offense. He's added some much-needed weight since his arrival in Baton Rouge and he should be the starter in 2020, but high-stakes games in 2019 would likely mean some trial and error.
5. Oregon, 7-1 (Rank: 7)
Backup QB: Tyler Shough
A pure thrower that was a late bloomer who emerged as one of the best pro style quarterbacks in the class of 2018, Shough has added some much-needed weight during his redshirt season. He's also been solid in limited action this fall, most notably going 8-of-9 passing for 92 yards and two touchdowns in mop up duty against Nevada. Shough is the favorite to win the starting job next fall in Eugene and while he is less athletic than Herbert, he could be an upper tier Pac-12 quarterback in waiting.
6. Florida, 7-1 (Rank: 6)
Backup QB: Emory Jones
Technically, Florida has already entered into the backup quarterback realm. An injury to Feliepe Franks has revealed Kyle Trask to be a very capable backup, so much so that all of Florida's goals remain in play, even after splitting games against top 10 opponents. But for our purposes, let's look beyond Trask to the 2014 Ohio State scenario and examine No. 3 on the depth chart. Jones, the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the 2018 class, showed up to Florida talented but very raw. The offense would likely shift away from the throw-heavy, quick-game attack we see now and into a more run-heavy system. In the hands of Mullen, you could bet that Florida would be competitive, but the ceiling would drop quite a bit.
7. Penn State, 8-0 (Rank: 5)
Backup QB: Will Levis
Though he wasn't highly rated coming out of high school as a three-star prospect and has limited experience as a redshirt freshman, Levis could be one of the better pure talents on this list. He's big and athletic with a huge arm, but he only has 22 career passing attempts and four games of experience. The good news for Penn State is that it's less dependent on Sean Clifford than some of the other teams on this list are on their starters, but Levis remains one of the bigger wild cards as a backup.
8. Utah, 7-1 (Rank: 9)
Backup QB: Jason Shelley
One of the more experienced quarterbacks on this list, Shelley started five games as a redshirt freshman in 2018 for injured Tyler Huntley and had mixed results. He threw for more interceptions than touchdowns (5:6) and completed less than 60 percent of his passes, but he also provided a run element with 192 rushing yards. In his third year in the program -- albeit his first year under new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig -- Shelley's experience is helpful but his body of work isn't confidence inspiring.
9. Ohio State, 8-0 (Rank: 3)
Backup QB: Chris Chuganov
Chuganov has experience as a starter already, but like Shelley at Utah had mixed results. He went 0-3 as the starter at West Virginia in 2017 with two touchdown passes, two interceptions and a 45 percent completion percentage. Justin Fields arrived at Ohio State with some doubters and he's quickly become a Heisman front-runner so maybe we shouldn't hold Chuganov's West Virginia stint against him and just trust in Ryan Day. He's two years older, more experienced and surely improved, but the former three-star prospect that chose West Virginia over the likes of Bucknell and Maine doesn't have the skillset to give Buckeyes much confidence in a playoff scenario.
10. Georgia, 7-1 (Rank: 8)
Backup QB: Stetson Bennett
A one-time walk-on at Georgia that left to play junior college ball before coming back as a scholarship quarterback, Bennett is as good as the players around him. He threw for 1,840 yards on a 10-2 Jones County Junior College in 2018 and he's got the ability to keep the ship afloat. However, in a playoff matchup or an SEC Championship play-in game, Georgia would be in a tough spot without Fromm manning the wheel.