Vernon Adams Jr., Oregon (5-11, 195): After a record-setting career at Eastern Washington, Adams was up to the challenge at Oregon. In three years at Eastern Washington, Adams accumulated a Big Sky Conference-record 110 touchdown passes — 10th in FCS history. He also threw for 10,438 yards, completed 64.8 percent of his passes and rushed for 1,232 yards. He was the runner-up for the Walter Payton Award — the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy — as a sophomore and junior. With diploma in hand, Adams took his talents to Oregon. He was even better against the big boys. Adams completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 2,643 yards with 26 touchdowns and six interceptions. He ranked second in the nation in passer rating and second in yards per attempt. It almost didn’t happen. He needed three tries to pass a math exam to make him eligible. He contemplated going to the CFL. “I was just so stressed. I didn't even want to come to Oregon. I was like, none of this is worth it. I don't even want to play.” Adams is listed as a throwing quarterback, meaning he will go through drills with the quarterbacks one day and then throw to the skill players the next.
Brandon Allen, Arkansas (6-2, 221): Allen made 34 consecutive starts, which is the longest streak for an Arkansas quarterback since joining the SEC in 1992. He completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 3,440 yards, with 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Allen’s touchdown total ranks second in school history and second in the SEC this season. Of those 34, 21 came against conference foes — tops in the SEC. Allen ranked sixth in the nation in passer rating and completion percentage. His 64 career touchdown passes set a school record. Off the field, he was a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy — aka the Academic Heisman Trophy. Allen’s father, Bobby, is the Razorbacks’ director of high school and NFL relations. As a local kid, Allen faced intense scrutiny. And scorn, when the Razorbacks went 0-8 in SEC play in 2014. But Allen produced a big senior season, turning his career from goal to GOAT. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do,” Allen said. “You’re going to get hated on by a lot of people. You’re going to get loved on by people when you don’t even deserve it. I don’t think there was any pressure (then) or relief when it kind of stopped. I’ve just been doing what I’ve always been doing with it.”
Trevone Boykin, TCU (6-0, 205): Boykin rewrote the TCU record book before his career finished with an arrest and suspension. Boykin closed his career ranked No. 1 in school history with 10,728 passing yards, 1,356 attempts, 830 completion and 86 touchdown passes. He averaged more than 300 passing yards per game during his final two seasons. Boykin rang up 12,777 yards of total offense during his career, including 2,049 rushing yards and 257 receiving yards. He’s one of just eight players in FBS history with at least 10,000 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards. As a sophomore, he was the only player in the nation with a 100-yard rushing game, 100-yard receiving game and 200-yard passing game. Before his junior season, he gave up fast food and started a crusade against animal cruelty. The payoff? He was a consensus second-team All-American and finished fourth in the Heisman balloting as he set TCU records for passing yards (3,901), touchdown passes (33), touchdowns responsible for (42) and total offense (4,608). Boykin ranked third in the nation in total offense at 354.5 yards per game. As a senior, he earned more All-America accolades as he threw for 3,575 yards and 31 touchdowns and rushed for 612 yards and 10 more touchdowns. He averaged a whopping 380.6 total yards per game and was a finalist for the O’Brien, Manning and Unitas awards, which honor the top quarterbacks. However, just days before the Alamo Bowl, Boykin was arrested outside a San Antonio bar. He was charged with assault of a police officer, an offense punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Between the already-present questions about size to his legal challenges, Boykin knows he faces an uphill battle to live out his dreams. At the NFLPA all-star game on ESPN, Boykin said: “It truly humbled me as I was sitting in the cell, and they gave me my phone and as I was talking with my mom I broke down in tears. I’m not really an emotional guy, I don’t cry a lot, but that incident really hurt me inside. I let down my teammates, I let down the city of Fort Worth, I let down TCU, and most of all the people that helped me get to this point to where I was before. It hurt so much. I think I cried for two days.” If he makes it to the NFL, it will cap a long climb that included time living in the South Dallas projects as a kid and then moving in with his grandparents when he was in seventh grade.
Jacoby Brissett, NC State (6-4, 236): Brissett spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons at Florida, starting three games there — including against No. 1 LSU and No. 24 Auburn in back-to-back weeks as a true freshman. After redshirting in 2013, Brissett started at NC State in 2014 and 2015. As a senior, he completed 60.0 percent of his passes for 2,662 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. He added 370 rushing yards and six more scores. Brissett threw for 5,268 yards in his two-year career at NC State, the seventh-best mark in school history, while his 43 career touchdown passes rank fifth. That second chance at his college career was the winning recipe for Brissett, who baked goodies for his teammates.
Connor Cook, Michigan State (6-4, 220): Cook was a three-year starter who finished as the winningest quarterback in school history with 34 victories. He went 34-5, including 23-2 vs. Big Ten opponents (21-2 regular season; 2-0 Big Ten Championship games) and 2-1 in bowl games. His win total is the fourth-best in conference history. In 43 career games, he completed 58 percent of his passes for 9,194 yards with 71 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. He holds school records for touchdown passes, passing yards and total yards (9,403), and is tied for first with 10 300-yard passing games. As a senior, he won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (top quarterback) and the Big Ten’s Quarterback of the Year and finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy race. He completed 56 percent of his passes for 3,131 yards with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions to help the Spartans to the playoffs. Cook became the Spartans’ first all-Big Ten first-team quarterback since 1965. While he doesn’t have a cannon for an arm and isn’t going to blow away anyone running his 40 at the Combine, Cook doesn’t have a glaring weakness, either. As Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said before the national semifinal matchup: “We’re not going to put a defense out there now that Connor Cook hasn’t seen. It’s not about tricking him. There is not a throw that he can’t make. He makes decisions so quick.” He looked up to the man he replaced as quarterback, Kirk Cousins, who vaulted past Robert Griffin III to become the Redskins’ franchise quarterback. “There were times in practice where the ball wouldn’t touch the ground,” Cook said. “Every single ball was just right here, in the catch radius for every receiver. He was always making the right read; he was always putting in extra time in the film room. I just saw the way he carried himself on the field, off the field.” He caught Michigan State’s eye as a high school sophomore, when he was asked to throw passes to a player the school was recruiting.
Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky (6-3, 212): For his career, Doughty threw for more yards (12,855) and touchdowns (111), and had a better career completion percentage (68.6) and passer rating (161.04) than any quarterback to ever play college football in the state of Kentucky. In 2014, Doughty won the Sammy Baugh Award as the nation’s top passer by leading the nation in passing yards (4,830) and passing touchdowns (49). Late in that season, the NCAA decided to give Doughty a sixth year of eligibility after missing most of 2011 with a knee injury. He took full advantage with a remarkable encore season. Doughty led the nation in passing yards (5,055) and passing touchdowns (48) for a second consecutive season while also leading the country in completion percentage (71.9) and ranking third in passer rating. He became the 11th player in NCAA history to throw for 5,000 yards. He is the two-time Conference-USA Player of the Year. His left arm is covered with tattoos. His right arm doesn’t have any. Why? “I would never touch this arm like that. It’s God-given.” Before the 2015 season, he was named as a camp counselor to the prestigious Manning Passing Academy. “It was really good to see Peyton Manning, Eli, in their workplace,” Doughty said. “You see them on TV and see them in the game, but to be able to kind of pick their minds and ask them questions about preparation, about how much it takes to be at that level and be that successful for that long – those guys are Hall of Famers, so anytime you get to talk to someone like that, you can learn a lot from it.”
ALSO IN THIS SERIES
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