Who are the best returning G5 returning quarterbacks? The group of five really took a big leap last season with Cincinnati making the College Football Playoff. The Bearcats and quarterback Desmond Ridder grabbed most of the headlines, but there many terrific teams in those conferences. More importantly, they had plenty of talented quarterbacks. Some will be talked about a lot this upcoming season, and should have their names called in the 2023 NFL Draft. Here at Last Word on College Football, we are looking at the best returning players for the 2021 season. Today we take a look at the best returning G5 quarterbacks.
Best Returning G5 Quarterbacks
#3: Clayton Tune, Houston Cougars
In the AAC, the Cincinnati Bearcats got all the attention last season with quarterback Desmond Ridder leading the charge. The Bearcats were not the only great team, and Ridder not the only great signal caller in the league. Houston got a great year of improvement from Clayton Tune in 2021. He took his touchdown numbers from 2020 of 15 and doubled it to 30. He also became a more accurate passer with the completion rate going from 59.6% to 68.2%. That helped lead to the third best passing offense in the AAC behind just SMU and Tulsa. He passed for 3,546 yards with three games of 300 or more.
The statistics do not tell the whole story. In the Cougars 17-13 win over Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl, he showed he can be relied upon in the clutch. In the game he passed for 283 yards and two touchdowns. His performance on the game winning drive was the impressive part. After trailing 13-10 late in the fourth quarter, Tune led his team on an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended when he connected with Jake Harslow for 26 yards with 3:20 remaining. He went five for six on the drive for 60 yards. The AAC has plenty of tough teams and moments like that will arise again for Tune. He will be helped greatly with the return of leading receiver Nathaniel Dell. The two form one of the best quarterback-receiver duos in the nation. Dell caught 90 passes for 1,329 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
#2: Tanner Mordecai, SMU Mustangs
Staying in the AAC is another great senior signal caller returning in Tanner Mordecai. 2021 was the first season for Mordecai with the Mustangs. He started his college career at Oklahoma (2018-2020). While with the Sooners he could never see the field playing behind Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts, and Spencer Rattler. He made a huge impression in his first start for SMU against Abilene Christian throwing for seven touchdowns. That feat was a school record. On the season he led the AAC in passing yards and touchdowns. He threw for 3,628 yards and 39 touchdowns with a completion rate of 67.8%. The 39 touchdowns ranked in the top five nationally. He passed for more than 300 yards eight times last season, but it was against Tulane he gave his best performance. In the 55-26 victory, Mordecai passed for 427 yards and three touchdowns.
It will be a year of change though for Mordecai. While he is back, his top two receivers in Danny Gray and Reggie Robinson Jr. are not. The two combined for 1,428 yards and 15 touchdowns. He does have team receptions leader Rashee Rice returning, and the Mustangs utilized the transfer portal to add depth at the position. Another change is at head coach for SMU. Sonny Dykes left the program after last season to take the TCU job. SMU turned to former offensive coordinator from 2018 and 2019 Rhett Lashlee to be the new head coach. Lashlee will bring a faster paced approach, but the offense should stay mostly the same.
#1: Jake Haener, Fresno State Bulldogs
While the first two on the list are from the AAC, the best returning quarterback from the group of five is from the Mountain West. Jake Haener returns to the Bulldogs and will look to copy the success in 2021. Last season, Haener passed for 4,096 yards and 33 touchdowns with a completion rate of 67%. He led a Fresno State offense that was one of the best in college football. The offense ranked 14th nationally in total offense and ninth in passing yards. The team also averaged 33.4 points per game, which ranked 26th in the nation. Haener had two of his best performances against a couple of Pac-12 teams. In the second game of the season, Fresno State gave Oregon everything they wanted and more. In a back-and-forth contest, Haener passed for 298 yards and one touchdown in a 24-31 loss. A few weeks later he led an 40-37 upset victory at UCLA. He threw for 455 yards and two touchdowns to knock off the Bruins.
His return almost did not happen though. When head coach Kalen Deboer left for the vacancy at Washington, Haener put his name in the transfer portal. Good news for Fresno State supporters he changed his mind. In an interview with Pro Football Focus, he talked about his decision to return. The hiring of Jeff Tedford, the coach that originally recruited him, was a major impact to return. Tedford was the head coach from 2017-19, but had to step away due to health reasons. As a coach, Tedford has developed a few first round draft picks. Some of those names include Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington, and Aaron Rodgers. Haener is not projected to go that early, but having leading receivers Jalen Cropper and Josh Kelly return will help keep the numbers impressive. That results in Haener being the number one in the best returning G5 quarterbacks.