Sun Belt QB Rankings 2023: Jordan McCloud Cements Status as No. 1

    The JMU Dukes finished off a historic season and Jordan McCloud cemented his status as the No. 1 QB in our Sun Belt QB Rankings.

    Our weekly iteration of our 2023 Sun Belt QB Rankings is here, taking a look at where they stack up through 13 weeks of the season. The season’s final week saw Jordan McCloud cement his status as the best of the Sun Belt while Gunnar Watson and Joey Aguilar each vie for the Sun Belt Championship.

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    2023 Sun Belt QB Rankings

    As with all of our conference rankings and our national quarterback evaluations, the Sun Belt QB rankings below consider everything involved with quarterbacking at the major college football level.

    While statistics are listed, they were not the lone deciding factor in ranking the athletes. The list below prefers programs with a solidified quarterback situation and one signal-caller who plays significant snaps against top-tier competition. Two-quarterback systems will always be looked down upon, especially in those cases where an answer has not yet been provided for the long term.

    Other factors in these rankings include but are not limited to game film, injury history, play-calling, offensive system knowledge and continuity, general quarterbacking mechanics, level of competition, the elevation of supporting casts, and several other influential factors.

    All QB Rankings: 1-133 | ACC | B1G | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC | AAC | C-USA | MAC | MWC | Sun Belt | FBS Ind. 

    The Coaching Carousel is in full swing. Stay updated with the entire College Football Coaching Carousel here to find all the latest coaching firings, hirings, and rumors.

    Tier 1: The Elite Sun Belt QBs

    1) Jordan McCloud | James Madison

    Last Week’s Ranking: 1st (no change)
    Yards: 3,413 | TDs: 32 | INT: 9 | Comp. %: 68.9% | YPA: 9.0

    What a dominant end to one of the greatest seasons in college football history it was for the James Madison Dukes. Everything went right for the Dukes in Week 13, including not enough teams attaining bowl eligibility, making it the first time in JMU history they’re eligible for a bowl game.

    For as good a job that the rest of the team and coaching staff did, a lot of the season’s success lies squarely on the shoulders of QB Jordan McCloud. He guided an illustrious season as the team’s signal-caller, throwing to two different 1,000-yard receivers as just one of two quarterbacks to do so, and the other is a Heisman finalist (Jayden Daniels).

    McCloud finished the season with a five-touchdown performance for the Dukes as it felt like the Dukes were a predator playing with their food with how the defeated Coastal Carolina. He dished up accurate passes all over the field, he was on time, in rhythm, and calm under pressure, sort of like his entire season.

    He threw for 32 touchdowns against just nine interceptions and if we’re all being honest here, most of those picks weren’t his fault via tipped balls or slipping receivers. McCloud played a nearly flawless season against all odds from the NCAA and came out shining on the other side.

    McCloud deserves shine as one of the top quarterbacks in the country and as one of the best players of the entire 2023 college football season.

    2) Joey Aguilar | Appalachian State

    Last Week’s Ranking: 2nd (no change)
    Yards: 3,271 | TDs: 33 | INT: 9 | Comp. %: 63.5% | YPA: 8.4

    It’s still baffling how Joey Aguilar didn’t win the job coming out of fall camp for the Appalachian State Mountaineers. Despite the job going to Ryan Burger, Aguilar kept his head down and worked. He worked so hard he overtook the job, threw 33 regular-season touchdowns and pushed App State into the Sun Belt Championship Game in the process.

    Aguilar has an incredibly gifted arm with plenty of power, layering, and accuracy. He’ll pick and choose his shots with the best of them and knows how to force the issue when the issue need be forced.

    He’s poised in the pocket and can deliver with pressure coming at him. Aguilar also showed that he can rebuild pockets with his ability to step up and continually maintain vision downfield.

    He finished the year on a tear, throwing at least three touchdowns in the final five games to reach the Sun Belt Championship as the Troy defense awaits.

    Tier 2: Well-Above-Average Sun Belt QBs

    3) Gunnar Watson | Troy

    Last Week’s Ranking: 3rd (no change)
    Yards: 2,660 | TDs: 26 | INT: 5 | Comp. %: 61.0% | YPA: 8.3

    The Troy Trojans easily coasted into the Sun Belt Championship Game in 2023, riding the strength of their defense and Gunnar Watson’s game-management skills. Yet, for the first time in a sustained season, we saw Watson break free from the game-manager moniker.

    Watson was a big-time play waiting to happen as he developed his rapport with Chris Lewis on the outside. He threw his receivers open at times, and in the case of Lewis, gave him ample chances at 50-50 balls to come down with highlight-reel catches that we hadn’t seen Watson throw in his career before.

    By all stretches of the word, 2023 was a career year for Watson. He hit career-highs in every metric, including yards and touchdowns, and was no slouch at finding his receivers at every level of the field this season.

    Tier 3: Above-Average Sun Belt QBs

    4) Zeon Chriss, Chandler Fields | Louisiana

    Last Week’s Ranking: 5th (+1)
    Yards: 914 | TDs: 7 | INT: 3 | Comp. %: 70.9% | YPA: 7.8

    The battle of the Louisianas went the way of the Ragin’ Cajuns, thanks to Chandler Fields. A surgical performance for Louisiana’s quarterback ended the regular season with a bang in Week 13, tossing for two touchdowns and just two incompletions.

    Fields entered the backfield in Week 10 following Zeon Chriss’s leg injury. After that point, Fields threw seven touchdowns and just one interception (against Sun Belt Championship Game entrant Troy) and looked like a vastly improved signal-caller.

    He was pinpoint accurate and elevated the talent around him, proving to be a great replacement for Louisiana. After starting eight games of middling success in 2022, Fields’ play in 2023 was drastically different down the stretch for the Cajuns. As such, he pushed them to a bowl game, and they’ll have a chance to finish the season with a winning record for the first time since Billy Napier left town.

    Chriss had proven to indeed be a difficult player to keep on the bench when he entered the lineup for Louisiana. He flashed with the ball in his hands, both from the pocket when he had time to throw and on the run when he broke contain (or on designed carries). He’s a dynamic athlete who likely needed this year as a seasoning campaign to take over in 2024.

    He took his lumps this year, and if he slows down and sees the field better in 2024, the sky is the limit for Chriss.

    5) Grayson McCall, Jarrett Guest, Ethan Vasko | Coastal Carolina

    Last Week’s Ranking: 4th (-1)
    Yards: 1,919 | TDs: 10 | INT: 6 | Comp. %: 67.4% | YPA: 8.6

    We knew there would be a step back from this Coastal Carolina offense once Jamey Chadwell departed to Liberty, but we didn’t expect this team to suffer as many setbacks as they did in 2023. The Chants saw injury after injury start to pile up and eventually, their leader fell victim to a vicious head shot that knocked him out of the lineup.

    Grayson McCall will still go down as one of the greatest college quarterbacks of all time, even if his final season in Conway didn’t end like it. He was surgical with the football when he was at his best, and he took care of the ball better than any quarterback in history through his first four seasons.

    When pressed into duty, Etahn Vasko and Jarrett Guest proved they could also hang with McCall in that quarterback room. Vasko got the final three starts and threw for four touchdowns against one interception but struggled to move the football against stingy defenses consistently.

    The Chants will move on to 2024 without the services of McCall (and now Guest after he also hit the transfer portal) and look to the future at the position.

    6) TJ Finley | Texas State

    Last Week’s Ranking: 9th (+3)
    Yards: 3,287 | TDs: 24 | INT: 8 | Comp. %: 68.6% | YPA: 8.5

    In a barnburner to finish the regular season, TJ Finley lit up the scoreboards once again for the Bobcats. He threw for over 360 yards and three touchdowns, averaging a ridiculous 13.0 yards per attempt against South Alabama.

    Behind Finley’s outrageous day, Texas State pushed their season to a guaranteed winning record in G.J. Kinne’s first season in San Marcos, a miraculous feat in and of itself. Thanks to Finley, the Bobcats turned heads weekly with his rare blend of power, size, and underrated athleticism from the pocket.

    He teetered on the edge of our Elite Tier for a few weeks with his ridiculous play but returned to Earth as the season progressed. Still, the building blocks are there, and Finley, returning in 2024, should give this offense the quarterback necessary to find all their talented playmakers at every level of the field once again.

    They’re a team to be reckoned with in the Sun Belt as they continue to Take Back Texas.

    7) Darren Grainger | Georgia State

    Last Week’s Ranking: 6th (-1)
    Yards: 2,368 | TDs: 17 | INT: 7 | Comp. %: 67.0% | YPA: 7.0

    New York Grainger was a thing that echoed through the halls of College Football Network for the month of September following Darren Grainger’s play to start the season. However, as the season progressed, Grainger’s lofty Heisman campaign did not.

    He threw for nine touchdowns against five interceptions to close out the year winless in the month of November. Still, Grainger flashed the overall tools he presents as a potential quarterback at the next level with pinpoint accuracy and some incredible touch on his throws downfield.

    He’s a dynamic athlete, that’s a given, but Grainger was hardly at his best for the majority of the season once Sun Belt play hit. In three seasons with the Panthers, Grainger threw for over 1,700 yards and at least 17 touchdowns in each season proving to give them a much-needed boost as they still acclimate to the annual rigors of the Sun Belt.

    8) Davis Brin | Georgia Southern

    Last Week’s Ranking: 7th (-1)
    Yards: 3,431 | TDs: 22 | INT: 16 | Comp. %: 64.7% | YPA: 6.7

    The Georgia Southern offense turned Kyle Vantrease around from gunslinger to safe-but-daring quarterback play in 2022, but they couldn’t quite grasp Davis Brin. The big-armed quarterback transferred in this past offseason and made mincemeat of inferior competition to start the campaign, but decision-making plagued the rest of the year.

    In his final game of the season, Brin tossed three interceptions to give him a total of 16, but it felt like it could have been more with how many times he forced passes and got a bit lucky.

    Still, Brin did flash his high-level accuracy and power for the Eagles at times, so it wasn’t all bad. Against Georgia State, he took something off his throws, and Georgia Southern pulled off their rivalry win to reach bowl eligibility.

    He was a tale of two halves at times, noticeably against UL-Monroe when they jumped out to a massive early lead only to find themselves fighting for their lives due to an ugly second half. That’s how it went in 2023, and you’d have to expect this program will want better consistency in 2024.

    9) Carter Bradley | South Alabama

    Last Week’s Ranking: 8th (-1)
    Yards: 2,660 | TDs: 19 | INT: 7 | Comp. %: 67.8% | YPA: 8.2

    A season that just didn’t quite go the way they wanted it to ended with a Desmond Trotter sighting and their sixth close loss for the Jaguars. In 2023, South Alabama lost three games by one possession or less while looking like world-beaters in two-game stretches in between.

    Carter Bradley led the Jaguars to two straight 55-point outings, a victory over Big 12 Championship representative Oklahoma State, and a solid stretch of Sun Belt play. But Bradley was also the culprit of forcing too many throws against some tough defenses and an apparently unsustainable high level of play.

    In the end, it was a disappointing season not just because of their preseason expectations but more because of their in-season performance which showed just how good they could’ve been. Sure, Bradley’s knee injury hampered things, but even with Bradley in the lineup at a full-time capacity, this team was left wanting more.

    10) Grant Wilson | Old Dominion

    Last Week’s Ranking: 11th (+1)
    Yards: 2,026 | TDs: 16 | INT: 7 | Comp. %: 56.9% | YPA: 7.0

    Willing his team to a bowl game, or running his team to a bowl game, you pick, Grant Wilson did everything he could to get the Monarchs into the postseason in Week 13. In the end, it was his designed quarterback carry from three yards out that won the game against Georgia State and pushed ODU over the bowl-eligibility hump.

    At times in 2023, Wilson looked like a potential world-beater. He lit up the Louisiana defense and cruised to one of the more impressive outings against Southern Miss of any Sun Belt quarterback. But he also had a disastrous day against Texas A&M Commerce and struggled to consistently put the ball where he wanted to when under duress.

    Wilson gives the Monarchs a chance to win with his leadership qualities and power downfield, but living to play another down and taking something off his fastballs is the next step. Few quarterbacks went downfield as much as Wilson in 2023, and that should likely change to win some more games next fall.

    Tier 4: Average Sun Belt QBs

    11) Jaylen Raynor | Arkansas State

    Last Week’s Ranking: 10th (-1)
    Yards: 2,293 | TDs: 15 | INT: 6 | Comp. %: 58.8% | YPA: 9.0

    It’s clear that the future is very bright for Jaylen Raynor and Arkansas State under his leadership. The freshman QB blossomed in front of our eyes this season, littering the field with examples of his talent seemingly at every turn.

    Sure, there were growing pains along the way, but Raynor made history with his six-touchdown performance against UMass and he didn’t look back.

    Figuring out the speed of FBS defenses will be key to his development as he progresses into the offseason and spring/summer workouts. Until they, he can rely on the powerful shots he showcased downfield and his ability to buy time from within the pocket.

    Adding some layering and overall fine-tuning of the mechanics is all that’s left of a burgeoning talent.

    Tier 5: Work-To-Be-Done Sun Belt QBs

    12) Cam Fancher, Cole Pennington | Marshall

    Last Week’s Ranking: 14th (+2)
    Yards: 2,162 | TDs: 11 | INT: 11 | Comp. %: 65.6% | YPA: 7.0

    It was arguably the finest performance of Cam Fancher’s career when he lit up the field against Arkansas State in Week 13. He threw for three scores and littered the field with some throws that easily turned the attention of those watching.

    It wasn’t quite enough to make us overlook the struggles that he had during an extremely rough patch during the middle of the season, but it was enough to lift the Thundering Herd into a bowl game and give us hope for Fancher in the meantime.

    The left-handed signal-caller has some serious talent and can move defenders with his eyes, but at times, he was too slow to make any decisions. Sure, the pass-blocking was suspect at times, and he got little help from his receivers, but Fancher will have to improve the decision-making and the speed in which he makes those decisions in 2024 and beyond.

    13) Billy Wiles | Southern Miss

    Last Week’s Ranking: 12th (-1)
    Yards: 1,940 | TDs: 11 | INT: 7 | Comp. %: 53.8% | YPA: 6.4

    The news out of Hattiesburg was so bleak following their season’s end that it had to be stated that they were retaining head coach Will Hall. If that’s what your program is discussing at the end of November, there are some clear issues.

    None bigger than the quarterback situation for the Golden Eagles moving forward. Billy Wiles won the job out of camp but didn’t do much to cement himself as a leader nor elevator of talent when it came to his on-field performance. Wiles is certainly a talented quarterback when he was on his game, but those moments happened far too few for anyone to believe he’s the long-term answer.

    Ethan Crawford got the final two starts of the season for Southern Miss, but it’s clearer than ever: The Golden Eagles have to find a long-term solution to the quarterback position. And they have to do it fast for the sake of their head coach.

    14) Jiya Wright, Blake Murphy | UL-Monroe

    Last Week’s Ranking: 13th (-1)
    Yards: 1,246 | TDs: 10 | INT: 8 | Comp. %: 52.5% | YPA: 6.1

    It’ll be a new era in Monroe after Terry Bowden was fired following the Warhawks’ final game of the season, and the first thing the new coaching staff must do is figure out what they have in the quarterback room or go portal shopping.

    Jiya Wright had a handful of ‘wow’ throws in 2023, throws that dropped the jaws of those attending. But he all too often followed those up with bad decisions strung together with inaccurate ball placement.

    Blake Murphy entered the picture down the stretch and flashed some potentially elite talent with his power, but his accuracy fell off as the season went along. There is promise in this quarterback room, with Murphy leading the charge. But they’ll likely have to entice him to stick around.

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