Justin Herbert's surprising decision on Dec. 26 to spurn first-round projections and return to Oregon for his senior season was the first step toward what could be the Year of the Quarterback in 2019.
A few weeks later, on the game's biggest stage at the College Football Playoff National Championship in California, we were truly off and running in that direction, as Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence entered into the national consciousness with each whistling pass that gutted the Alabama defense. In an instant, Lawrence became a star and the Heisman Trophy favorite for next season, and on the opposing sideline was the man who surely will be No. 2 on the oddsmakers' list behind him: Alabama sophomore Tua Tagovailoa.
We certainly wish Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins and Oklahoma's Kyler Murray the best when the NFL draft rolls around in late April, but there's no need for folks outside of Columbus and Norman to mourn their departures when they remember the dizzying amount of returning quarterbacks nationwide. Lawrence, Tagovailoa and Herbert are only the headliners at a position that has rarely seen this combination of depth and talent.
In fact, three-quarters of the playoff's starting quarterbacks will be back next season, if you include Ian Book of Notre Dame. Book might have struggled in a playoff loss to Clemson, but the entire offense was a mess from the second quarter on, and it shouldn't negate the fact that he was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the FBS last season (he broke the 300-yard passing mark four times).
If you widen the lens out a bit more, though, you'll find that, of the top 10 teams in the final AP poll, only Oklahoma, Ohio State and Washington State are expected to break in new starters next season. And even then it's fair to say that each of those programs has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to finding and developing quarterbacks. Mike Leach's offensive system at Washington State practically spits out 4,000-yard passers, and transfer Justin Fields is an NCAA waiver away from fulfilling Ohio State's annual offering to the preseason Heisman handicapping gods.
Oklahoma clearly has this transfer thing down. Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray -- who went to Norman from Texas Tech and Texas A&M, respectively -- won back-to-back Heismans and led the Sooners to consecutive playoff appearances, and now it appears that Jalen Hurts is poised to follow their lead. The former Alabama quarterback, who committed to Oklahoma on Wednesday, has a 26-2 record and an SEC Offensive Player of the Year award already under his belt. In Lincoln Riley's system -- and against Big 12 defenses -- he could flourish.
The same might be said for another high-profile transfer, Kelly Bryant, at his new home, Missouri. All Missouri did was lose a potential high-round draft pick in Drew Lock and replace him with Bryant, who went 24-2 as the starter at Clemson until Lawrence beat him out.
Washington finished the season ranked 13th by the AP and lost longtime starter Jake Browning, but it has had former Georgia starter Jacob Eason ready to step in for a year now. Eason, who sat out this past season to regain eligibility, was the No. 1-ranked QB in the Class of 2016 and was as well thought of a prospect as any in the SEC until an injury and the emergence of Jake Fromm derailed his career in Athens.
Shea Patterson is now a year removed from transferring to Michigan from Ole Miss, but it's important to remember that he'll be back, too. He threw for 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first season in maize and blue, and now he'll have a new offensive coordinator and playcaller to work with in Josh Gattis.
Don't forget K.J. Costello, either. The redshirt sophomore fell off the map a bit when Stanford lost four of five games and went from the top 10 to unranked, but he's an NFL talent who threw for 3,500 yards last season.
Again, it's not just marquee names this year. There's depth, too. We'd be remiss if we didn't mention that Georgia sophomore Fromm has legitimate first-round buzz or that Texas welcomes back Sam Ehlinger after he threw for 3,292 yards last season.
Don't forget the Group of 5 while you're at it. North Texas' Mason Fine might not look the part at under 6 feet tall, but he's already the program's leading career passer and he ranked ninth in the country in yards per game last season. He's an ocean away, but Hawaii's Cole McDonald was right ahead of him in eighth place. Also, dynamic D'Eriq King returns to Houston, where the thought of him in new coach Dana Holgorsen's offense is enticing, to say the least. Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder and Utah State's Jordan Love are worth keeping an eye on, as well.
Every few years, someone proclaims it to be the so-called "Year of the Quarterback" in college football, but it might actually hold true this time. The return of Herbert, coupled with the head-to-head battle of Lawrence and Tagovailoa, was only the start. What comes next is where the real fun lies.