The Davey O'Brien, Johnny Unitas, Maxwell and Heisman Trophy awards handed out this week will recognize college football's finest players at the quarterback position (unless Manti Te'o brings home the Heisman, that is). They will be awarded to QBs who have produced at the highest levels within a bevy of unique, diverse offensive schemes.
Mel Kiper and Todd McShay will continue to massage and reshape their quarterback prospect rankings as we head toward April's draft, rankings largely based on projection. Arm talent, physical skills and intangibles are all components of the formula, used to predict both a prospect's potential and what NFL decision-makers will decide as it pertains to the most critical position in sports.
Between those worlds is the final edition of our QB rankings for the 2012 season. We've shaped our list in this way because, while production absolutely matters when it comes to being an elite quarterback at the collegiate level, the skills required of an NFL-caliber passer do as well.
That's not just because of the strain that high-level throwing ability puts on collegiate defenses. It's also because nearly every player who lines up under center on Saturdays has dreams and aspirations to make a living playing the game on Sundays. Ask college coaches today about the biggest change in recruiting over the last two decades, and they'll tell you that getting to "the league" is more prominent in conversations with quarterback prospects than ever before. Prove that you can get one top college passer to the NFL, and more will follow.
So while impressive raw tools without on-field success aren't enough to earn a player a top ranking on this list, neither will a near-flawless statistical résumé posted by a QB with serious limitations as a passer.
Here are my season-ending rankings of the top 10 quarterbacks in college football for 2012.
1. Matt Barkley, Sr., USC Trojans
The USC meltdown of 2012 features many culprits, but ultimately the buck stops with head coach Lane Kiffin. A historically porous defense, leaky offensive line, shaky game management and a devastating lack of depth curtailed the efforts of the 25th-best passing offense in college football. Add Barkley to the list of college seniors such as Sam Bradford and Andrew Luck who returned to campus to finish their business, but who ultimately were finished by losses and -- in the case of Bradford and Barkley -- injuries.