NCAA Football

Top 15 Candidates For 2013 Johnny Unitas Award

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Top 15 Candidates For 2013 Johnny Unitas Award

John David Mercer - USATODAY Sports

For those who don’t know, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award is handed out every year to the most outstanding senior or fourth year quarterback in college football. That means the young guns get excluded for the signal callers that have stayed in school and are about to reach the end of their college career.

The Johnny Unitas Award has been awarded yearly beginning in 1987, when Don McPherson of the Syracuse Orange became the first to receive the award. Since then, players such as Charlie Ward, Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, and Andrew Luck have all won the award, with last year’s Golden Arm Award going to former Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein.

Nothing against Klein or any of the other players that were up for the award last season, but the quarterback class that left college in 2012 was one of the weakest in recent memory. However, the quarterback class of 2013 offers a lot more promise. Even though two of the most talented quarterbacks in the country, underclassmen Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater, aren’t eligible for Johnny Unitas Award, there is a strong group of senior quarterbacks that will be contending for the award this season.

There are well over 20 senior quarterbacks that have had worthwhile careers that will soon be coming to a close, but we have limited our preview to the top 15 candidates entering the season. There should be stiff competition all season long among the veteran signal callers, which should make the Johnny Unitas Award one of the more intriguing postseason awards this season. Here are the top 15 candidates that will be fighting for the award in 2013:

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15. Kolton Browning, Louisiana-Monroe

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You may remember Browning from last September when he scampered into the end zone in overtime to upset the Arkansas Razorbacks. Browning is back for his senior season after leading the Warhawks to eight wins last year, and this year he won’t have to worry about sharing snaps with Cody Wells. You won’t find Browning on a lot of NFL draft boards, but he’s a good college quarterback that can run and throw the ball. Browning is a big reason why ULM is one of the favorites in the Sun Belt this season, as he should be ready for a great senior season.

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14. Drew Allen, Syracuse

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Allen is a big-time sleeper, as he only has 30 career pass attempts, and he still has to beat out three other candidates to be the starter for the Syracuse Orange in 2013. After backing up Sam Bradford and Landry Jones with the Oklahoma Sooners for the past four years, Allen is getting a fresh chance with Syracuse, who got great play at quarterback last season from Ryan Nassib. Allen is plenty talented, and if he can come close to replicating Nassib’s success from last year, he could be one of the top senior signal callers in the country.

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13. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

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The size and skills are all there for Thomas; it’s simply a matter of if and when he’s going to put it all together. He completed just 51 percent of his passes last year and had nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns. He has one more year in Blacksburg, and if he can finally develop into the kind of player he’s capable of being, he could easily leapfrog several of the quarterbacks on this list that currently sit ahead of him.

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12. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State

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Russell finally got the chance to be a full-time starter last season and ended up throwing 24 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. With one of the strongest arms in the SEC and a year and a half of experience under his belt, Russell is ready to gain a lot more notoriety as a senior.

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11. Keith Price, Washington

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After a rough 2012 season, Price is hoping to regain the form he had during his sophomore season in 2011 when he threw 33 touchdown passes and just 11 interceptions. Price has huge amounts of talent and is a tremendous athlete, which means he’s capable of doing some great things during his senior season if he can put his struggles from last year behind him.

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10. Zach Mettenberger, LSU

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Mettenberger had an up and down 2012 season in his first year as a starter, but he came on strong in November and has a chance to put together a good senior season. LSU would like to be more of a pass-heavy team, but Mettenberger needs to improve his accuracy and decision-making if the Tigers are going to run less and depend on Mettenberger more. If he can put it all together, Mettenberger has the arm talent to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country this year.

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9. Tyler Tettleton, Ohio

Jim Cowsert - USATODAY Sports

Tettleton is so good that his more than 2,800 yards passing and 18 touchdowns last season were actually a step back from his sophomore season in 2011 when he threw for over 3,300 yards and 28 touchdowns. Most probably don’t know him, but in last year’s season opener against the Penn State Nittany Lions, Tettleton completed 75 percent of his passes and threw for over 300 yards in an upset victory for the Bobcats. This year, Tettleton leads one of the top favorites in the MAC and a team that has a chance to become a BCS buster. If that’s the case, Tettleton could become a serious contender for the Johnny Unitas Award.

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8. Connor Shaw, South Carolina

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Shaw deserves to be much higher on this list, possibly even top-3, but he’s going to have a hard time winning the Johnny Unitas Award if he has to share snaps with Dylan Thompson, which is a distinct possibility. Shaw has come a long way since taking over for Stephen Garcia midway through the 2011 season, and he’s got everything you would want in a college quarterback. It’ll be good for South Carolina’s SEC title hopes if he and Thompson both get regular snaps, but it’ll hurt his chances of taking home some postseason hardware.

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7. David Fales, San Jose State

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Fales has bounced a round during his career, but he’s found a good home at San Jose State. Last year, he completed 72.5 percent of his passes and threw 33 touchdowns, and he should be able to put up similar numbers this season. The caveat is, of course, that he doesn’t play against quality competition. If he can put up good numbers and help the Spartans pull off an upset over a quality opponent, Fales will get a lot of attention and could become a sleeper for the Johnny Unitas award.

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6. Bryn Renner, North Carolina

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As a junior last season, Renner threw 28 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions, and if he can build off that, he’ll have a great senior season. Renner has a lot of experience and two quality seasons under his belt. If he can continue to be an efficient quarterback during his senior campaign and help lead the North Carolina Tar Heels to the ACC title game, he’ll be front and center for the Johnny Unitas Award.

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5. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska

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Martinez isn’t going to be talked about a lot as it pertains to playing at the next level, but he is one heck of a college football player. He made big strides as a passer last season, completing 62 percent of his passes and throwing 23 touchdowns, in addition to all the damage he did on the ground. He is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, and if he can continue to improve as a passer, he could be one of the best quarterbacks in the country during his senior season.

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4. Derek Carr, Fresno State

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Derek’s brother David won the Johnny Unitas Award back in 2001, and now the younger brother has a realistic chance of winning the award in 2013. After throwing 63 touchdowns over the past two seasons, there’s no doubt that Carr will be able to put up huge numbers again as a senior. But he also passes the look test and possesses as much, if not more, talent than most of the other quarterbacks on this list. After 4,104 yards throwing and 37 touchdowns last year, the sky is the limit as to what Carr can do as a senior which should make him a serious contender for the Golden Arm.

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3. Tajh Boyd, Clemson

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Boyd could be one of the most difficult to defend players in the country in 2013. He has great weapons around him and is a threat with both his arm and his legs. He became a far more accurate passer during his junior season, completing 67 percent of his passes, while nearly reaching the 4,000-yard mark. Boyd could be poised to have a brilliant season and possibly put Clemson in the thick of the national championship race, and if that happens, he’s going to be a finalist for a lot of awards, including the Johnny Unitas award.

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2. Aaron Murray, Georgia

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Some may ponder whether it was a mistake for Murray to come back for his senior season. But he’s back at Georgia for another season, and with three years as a starter in the SEC under his belt, he’s the most experienced quarterback in the country. Murray came back to school because there’s a lot that he still wants to accomplish, and while the Johnny Unitas Award may not be high on his list of priorities, it’d be foolish to think that a four-year starter from an elite program isn’t going to be one of the favorites. If Murray has the kind of senior season he’s hoping to have, there’s no doubt that he’ll be one of the top contenders for the Golden Arm.

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1. A.J. McCarron, Alabama

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After winning back-to-back national championships (and technically being the back up for a third during his redshirt season in 2009), it’s hard not to think McCarron is the top candidate for the award that goes to the best senior quarterback. It’s true that McCarron’s performance in 2013 will be the only thing that matters, but he’s set up for success once again with a talented offensive line in front of him, talented running backs behind him, and Amari Cooper leading a great group of receivers. McCarron threw just three interceptions last season, with 30 touchdowns and a rating of 175, and there’s no reason to think that he can’t put up similar numbers this season. If that won't make him the most outstanding quarterback in the country, what will?