College football's next star QBs

Why freshmen Hackenberg, Winston and Goff appear poised to do big things

Updated: September 11, 2013, 4:46 PM ET
By Brock Huard | ESPN Insider

Christian HackenbergRich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsTrent Dilfer calls Christian Hackenberg a "Troy Aikman clone."

From Pete Carroll to Jim Harbaugh to the most ardent, old-school football minds, coaches around the NFL and college football have told me that the game is changing at the QB position. This isn't just because of rule changes to help offenses and protect QBs, but more importantly because of the sophistication of instruction and abundant levels of repetitions young passers are getting at the earliest levels of the game. From personal throwing coaches like George Whitfield to instruction camps that span not just the summer but year-round, to programs like Elite 11 run by ESPN's Trent Dilfer, the training at the position has never been better.

The NFL has felt the infusion of youth at the position with dynamic new stars like Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III (and EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and Terrelle Pryor had promising debuts as starters this past week), and the same is true for college football. The top QBs in the country include a true junior in Teddy Bridgewater and redshirt sophomores Johnny Manziel (the first freshman Heisman winner in history last year), plus fellow redshirt-sophs Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley.

So who's next to inevitably achieve college football stardom? There are three freshmen (two true frosh, one redshirt) who have jumped out at me through the first two weeks. Let's take a look at what each does well and why they could soon find themselves among the best in college football. I've also added a thought from Dilfer on each, as he's had a chance to coach them at Elite 11 competitions.

Christian Hackenberg, Penn State Nittany Lions

If you landed in Happy Valley with no prior knowledge of the turmoil and burden the program has been facing as a result of scandal and NCAA sanctions, you wouldn't know that anything was out of the ordinary after watching the team the past two weeks. A large amount of the credit for that goes to head coach Bill O'Brien and true freshman QB Hackenberg.

In the words of Dilfer, Hackenberg is a "Troy Aikman clone," and there are several things to love about his game, but a couple of areas jump out at me:


To read Brock Huard's full take on Christian Hackenberg and two more young QBs who are poised for future stardom, you must be an ESPN Insider.

• College football analyst for ESPN
• Six-year NFL QB and three-year starter at University of Washington
• Co-host of the Brock and Danny Show on ESPN 710 AM in Seattle