There were some truly outstanding quarterback-wide receiver tandems on display during the 2013 college football season. Unfortunately, college fans we’ll never again get another chance to see powerful passing partnerships like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, Fresno State’s Derek Carr and Davante Adams, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Odell Beckham, since all those talented playmakers have moved on to the NFL.
Luckily, though, there are still plenty of intriguing passing combinations to get excited about.
Here’s a look at college football’s top 10 passing tandems for the 2014 season.
Jameis Winston and Rashad Greene, Florida State
Jameis Winston was college football’s most celebrated breakout star of the 2013 season. But it’s unlikely that Winston would have been able to achieve the type his level of tremendous success during his debut season without the help of his top receiver Rashad Greene.
Greene proved to be a reliable go-to target for the 2013 Heisman winner, as he totaled 76 catches for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns.
Since receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, who totaled 108 catches last season, have both departed Tallahassee, Winston will rely on the speedy 6’0”, 180-pound senior even more in 2014.
The two first-team All-ACC performers will be the biggest keys to Florida State’s offensive success this fall. They’ll once again give the defending national champion Seminoles two explosive playmakers to rely on during their title defense campaign.
Bryce Petty and Antwan Goodley, Baylor
During Art Briles’ tenure at Baylor, the Bears have annually had one of the most powerful and potent passing attacks in college football. 2013 was no different. Last year, Baylor ranked first in the nation with 10.4 yards per pass attempt and tied for 10th in the country with 35 passing touchdowns.
The centerpiece of the offense was QB Bryce Petty. In his first season as a starter, the strong-armed signal-caller proved to be a perfect fit for Briles’ explosive vertical attack. Petty completed 62 percent of his passes for 4,200 yards and accounted for 46 total touchdowns, as he led the Bears to 11 wins and the team’s first ever Big 12 title and BCS bowl berth.
Though the Bears had six receivers who totaled at least 20 catches, it was Antwan Goodley who stood out from the crowd. Goodley led the team with 71 receptins for 1,339 yards (18.8 yards per catch), and 13 touchdowns. He led the conference with 22 catches of over 20 yards.
In recent years, Baylor’s offense has produced highly productive passers like Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence, as well as notable big-play receivers like Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams and Josh Gordon. However, the Petty-Goodley combination could ultimately become the best duo that Briles has had.
Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
As a sophomore in 2012, Taylor Kelly showed that he had the skills it takes to become a great quarterback. It, wasn’t until this past season, though, that Kelly emerged as a truly dynamic dual-threat playmaker.
Kelly put together a statement season in 2013, in which he totaled over 4,200 yards of offense and accounted for 37 touchdowns, while leading the Sun Devils to 10 wins and a Pac-12 South division title.
It certainly wasn’t a coincidence that Kelly just happened to hit his stride and come into his own during Jaelen Strong’s first season in Tempe. Strong gave the second-year starter the bona fide No. 1 receiver he needed to take his game to the next level. The 6’4”, 205-pound JUCO product displayed his strong hands, as he hauled in 75 catches for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns.
It didn’t take long for Kelly and Strong to attain cohesion during their first season together. Now that they are on the same page, the powerful passing partnership will give opposing secondaries plenty to be concerned about in 2014.
Kevin Hogan and Ty Montgomery, Stanford
This past season, Stanford proved that—even in this day and age when high-powered spread offenses are becoming the new norm—you can still play run-first, power football and win a conference championship. The Cardinal ranked dead last in the Pac-12 with just 311 pass attempts, yet they still managed to win 11 games and a league title.
Now that bell-cow back Tyler Gaffney, who ranked second in the conference with 331 rushing attempts in 2013, has moved on the NFL, it’s likely that coach David Shaw will change his offensive philosophy and finally let QB Kevin Hogan off his leash so he can flaunt his passing prowess.
Although Hogan had limited opportunities to show off his arm in 2013, he still managed to make a difference in the passing game. He completed 61 percent of his passes, averaged nearly nine yards per throw and finished the year with a 151 passer rating, which ranked 21st in the country.
Hogan’s top receiver, Ty Mongtomery, showed off his speed and explosiveness in 2013, when he totaled 61 catches for 958 yards and 10 touchdowns.
With Gaffney gone, Shaw will likely give Hogan and Montgomery more of a chance to play a more prominent role in the offensive game plan this fall. It will certainly be interesting to see how the pair handle their expanded roles in 2014.
Nick Marshall and Sammie Coates, Auburn
Auburn managed to do a complete °180 on offense in Gus Malzahn’s first season as head coach. The Tigers went from ranking 13th in the conference in scoring offense in 2012 to ranking 2nd in the league with 39.5 points scored per game in 2013.
What changed? Well, most importantly, Malzahn was able to establish stability at the quarterback position as his control factor with Nick Marshall.
Marshall rewarded his new coach by totaling over 2,900 yards of offense, accounting for 26 touchdowns and leading the Tigers to a 12-win campaign, an SEC title and a surprise berth in the BCS title game.
His main receiving threat in 2013 was Sammie Coates. a former lightly recruited 3-star prospect who developed into a dangerous weapon in Malzahn’s offense. After catching just six passes in 2012, Coates totaled 42 catches for 902 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013. His 21.4 yards per reception average ranked third in the nation.
Coates is the big-play threat the Tigers offense needs. With RB Tre Mason gone, Malzahn will likely look to air the ball out more often in 2014, which is why we should expect Marshall and the 6’2”, 201-pound senior to tear up defenses this fall.
Cody Kessler and Nelson Agholor, USC
Going into the 2013 season, highly touted and heralded WR Marqise Lee was the player that Trojan fans were focusing on and talking about. As it turned out, though, the Trojan receiver who ended up making the biggest statement last fall was WR Nelson Agholor.
With Lee struggling through an injury-filled campaign, Agholor had the chance to make a name for himself. The former 5-star recruit from Tampa proved to onlookers that he was worthy of his high school hype, as he totaled 56 catches for 918 yards and scored six touchdowns during his sophomore season.
Now that Lee has moved on to the NFL, and now that Kessler has distanced himself from the rest of Trojans’ quarterbacks, new head coach Steve Sarkisian knows what two players he needs to build his offense around in 2014.
Sarkisian should rely heavily on the Kessler-Agholor connection in 2014, and the two of them should reward their new coach with highly productive performances.
Shane Carden and Justin Hardy, East Carolina
Shane Carden and Justin Hardy have something substantial in common.Both players know what it’s like to be overlooked by the big collegefootball programs in the Carolina’s. But the two also know the feeling of what it’s like to make those supposed significant programs who passed up the chance to secure their services as recruits regret that decision.
Last year, Carden and Hardy hooked up 114 times for 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns, while helping guide the Pirates to their first double digit-win campaign in 25 years.
As they enter their final collegiate seasons, both players will now be looking to make their presence felt in the team’s inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference.
Anthony Boone and Jamison Crowder, Duke
Once considered to be the laughingstock of the ACC, Duke emerged as a legitimate threat in the conference in 2013. Thanks in large part to an offense that averaged 32 points and 426 yards per game, the Blue Devils managed to win 10 games, take home an ACC Coastal division title and nearly upset a heavily-favored Texas A&M squad in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Following the breakthrough campaign, there’s now reason for Duke fans to finally be optimistic and hopeful about an upcoming football season. Much of that optimism surrounding the 2014 season has to do with the return of the offense’s two top weapons: QB Anthony Boone and WR Jamison Crowder.
Boone had a bit of an up-and-down performance in 2013, looking outstanding in certain games and downright dreadful in a few others. However, Crowder was the model of consistency. The 5’9”, 175-pound senior led the ACC with 108 catches for 1,330 yards and scored 11 total touchdowns.
If Boone can sure up some of the flaws in his game, he has a chance to be the league’s second best quarterback behind Jameis Winston. Crowder, on the other hand, has already proven that he isn’t just one of the premier pass-catchers in the ACC; he’s shown that he’s one of the top receivers in the country.
Nate Sudfeld and Shane Wynn, Indiana
Though Indiana managed to win just five games in 2013, that lack of success certainly didn’t have to do with a lack of offense. The Hoosiers quietly had one of the most powerful passing attacks in the country, ranking 17th in the nation with an average of 306 passing yards per game.
While the team may have lost its leading receiver Cody Latimer, the passing game should still be in great shape with the return of big, strong-armed QB Nate Sudfeld and explosive receiver Shane Wynn.
In his first season as a full-time starter, Sudfeld displayed all the tools necessary to become one of the sport’s most effective and efficient passers. The 6’5”, 230-pound junior completed 60 percent of his passes for over 2,500 yards and tossed 21 touchdowns compared to just nine interceptions. Wynn was on the receiving end of many of Sudfeld’s biggest passing plays. The small but speedy 5’7”, 170-pound senior caught 46 passes for 633 yards and scored 13 touchdowns in 2013.
With Sudfeld, Wynn and RB Tevin Coleman all returning, the Hoosiers have the type of dangerous offensive weapons they need to make a run towards their first bowl game since 2007.
Rakeem Cato and Tommy Shuler, Marshall
Marshall has featured a high-volume passing offense under head coach Doc Holliday, which has given QB Rakeem Cato plenty of chances to show off his passing skills. Cato followed up a breakout campaign in 2012—in which he completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and threw 37 touchdowns—with another strong showing this past season. The Miami native threw for over 3,900 yards and hit 39 touchdown strikes, as he led the Thundering Herd to a 10-win season.
The senior signal-caller should once again be one of the most productive passers in college football in 2014, especially since he’ll have his top receiver, Tommy Shuler, to rely on.
Like Cato, Shuler has thrived in Marshall’s pass-happy offense, totaling over 100 catches in each of the past two seasons.
The former teammates at Miami Central High School have clearly developed a special bond during their many years playing together. That rapport should reach its peak during their final season together.
10 Other Passing Tandems to Watch
- Bo Wallace and Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
- Trevor Knight and Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
- Braxton Miller and Devin Smith, Ohio State
- Dak Prescott and Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State
- Davis Webb and Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
- Jacob Coker and Amari Cooper, Alabama
- John O’Korn and Deontay Greenberry, Houston
- Conor Holliday and Gabe Marks, Washington State
- Terrance Broadway and Jamal Robinson, Louisiana-Lafayette
- Jared Goff and Chris Harper, California