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Andy Wittry | | August 19, 2021

These are the top 9 returning passers entering the 2021 college football season

Way too early predictions for the 2021 college football season with B/R's Adam Kramer

The best returning FBS quarterbacks are truly located from coast to coast, from North Carolina to California, from Florida to Michigan.

Only one FBS conference has three of the nine leading returning passers in the sport. Hint: It's not the SEC or the Big Ten. It's not the ACC or the Pac-12. You'll have to continue reading to find out.

These are the top nine returning FBS quarterbacks in terms of passing yards per game during the 2020 season.

Reinhold Matay | USA TODAY Sports Images Dillon Gabriel led the country in passing yards per game last season.

1. Dillon Gabriel, UCF

Passing yards/game: 357.0 yards/game
Passing yards: 3,570 yards
Passing touchdowns: 32 touchdowns

Gabriel proved to be very consistent from his freshman season to his sophomore campaign – 59.3 completion percentage to 60.0; 9.2 yards per attempt to 8.6; 156.9 passing efficiency rating to 156.3 – and he led the country in passing yards per game last season, by less than 0.1 yard per game over Florida's Kyle Trask.

Gabriel surpassed the 400-yard mark, threw for at least four touchdowns and completed at least 65 percent of his passes in four of UCF's first five games, including a 601-yard, five-touchdown performance in a loss to Memphis. His games against Georgia Tech (65.9 completion percentage, 417 passing yards, four touchdowns), East Carolina (68.1 completion percentage, 408 passing yards, four touchdowns) and Tulane (65.0 completion percentage, 422 passing yards, five touchdowns) also stand out from last season.

Kiel Maddox | USA TODAY Sports Images Jake Haener was Fresno State's quarterback in 2020 after transferring from Washington.

2. Jake Haener, Fresno State

Passing yards/game: 336.8 yards/game
Passing yards: 2,021 yards
Passing touchdowns: 14 touchdowns

In his first season playing for Fresno State after transferring from Washington, Haener and the Bulldogs went 3-3 as their quarterback completed 64.7 percent of his pass attempts, averaged 8.7 yards per attempt and threw 14 touchdowns to five interceptions. After a shaky season opener in which he completed just over half of his attempts against Hawaii and threw three interceptions, he had 13 touchdowns to just two interceptions the rest of the way, including 422 passing yards and four touchdowns in a win over Utah State, followed by 485 yards and two touchdowns in a road loss against Nevada.

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Stephen Lew | USA Today Sports Images Matt Carrol ranked in the top 10 in numerous passing categories last season.

3. Matt Corral, Ole Miss

Passing yards/game: 333.7 yards/game
Passing yards: 3,337 yards
Passing touchdowns: 29 touchdowns

Last season, Corral ranked fifth in passing yards per game, seventh nationally in passing yards and passing touchdowns, and 11th in passing yards per completion. His completion percentage surged from 59 percent as a sophomore to 70.9 percent last season under first-year coach Lane Kiffin, while averaging 10.2 yards per attempt.

Corral's season had highs (513 passing yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions with an 87.5 completion percentage against South Carolina; 412 passing yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions with a 91.2 completion percentage against Vanderbilt) and lows (six interceptions against Arkansas and five interceptions against LSU), but Corral is an explosive player for Ole Miss, which won four of its last five games, including a bowl win over Indiana.

Kirby Lee | USA TODAY Sports Images Kedon Slovis helped USC go 5-1 last season.

4. Kedon Slovis, USC

Passing yards/game: 320.2 yards/game
Passing yards: 1,921 yards
Passing touchdowns: 17 touchdowns

Slovis' passing statistics fell off from his freshman season – 71.9 completion percentage to 67 percent; 8.9 yards per attempt to 7.3; a 167.6 passing efficiency rating to 144.1 – but he still helped the Trojans go 5-1 in the Pac-12 and finish in the top 25, while ranking sixth nationally in passing yards per game.

Slovis threw for at least 300 yards in four of USC's six games last season, including a season-high 381 yards against Arizona State in the Trojans' season opener and 344 yards and five touchdowns (as well as two interceptions) in a road victory against UCLA.

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David Calvert | USA TODAY Sports Images Carson Strong had a 218.8 passing efficiency rating in a bowl win over Tulane.

5. Carson Strong, Nevada

Passing yards/game: 317.6 yards/game
Passing yards: 2,858 yards
Passing touchdowns: 27 touchdowns

Strong's play took a major step forward from his redshirt freshman season to his sophomore campaign – 63.4 completion percentage to 70.1; 6.2 yards per attempt to 8.1; a 121.8 passing efficiency rating to 160.6 – as he threw for roughly 500 more yards in one fewer game than the year before. His season-opening performance against Wyoming set the tone, when he completed 75 percent of his 52 attempts for 420 passing yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. In a bowl win over Tulane, he had his highest passing efficiency rating of the season (218.8) after completing nearly 80 percent of his passes and throwing for five touchdowns.

Bob Donnan | USA Today Sports Images Sam Howell threw for 551 yards and six touchdowns against Wake Forest.

6. Sam Howell, North Carolina

Passing yards/game: 298.8 yards/game
Passing yards: 3,586 yards
Passing touchdowns: 30 touchdowns

Howell finished fourth nationally in passing yards and sixth in passing touchdowns, while his completion percentage climbed nearly seven percentage points from his freshman year to 68.1 percent and his yards per attempt average improved by 1.7 yards to 10.3 yards per attempt.

North Carolina went 8-4, including a 7-3 mark in the ACC and the Tar Heels finished in the AP Top 25 at No. 18.

His most prolific game of the season came against Wake Forest, when he threw for 551 yards and six touchdowns.

Kent State Athletics Kent State's Dustin Crum had his most efficient passing season as a senior.

7. Dustin Crum, Kent State

Passing yards/game: 295.3 yards/game
Passing yards: 1,181 yards
Passing touchdowns: 12 touchdowns

Despite a shortened senior season in which Kent State played just four games, Krum had the most efficient season of his career, with a 192.7 passing efficiency rating, 10.5 yards per attempt average and 73.5 completion percentage. Over the last two seasons, he has thrown 32 touchdowns to just four interceptions and he finished the 2020 season with back-to-back games with at least 340 passing yards and three passing touchdowns.

Brian Losness | USA TODAY Sports Images Kaleb Eleby had a breakout 2020 season.

8. Kaleb Eleby, Western Michigan

Passing yards/game: 285.8 yards/game
Passing yards: 1,715 yards
Passing touchdowns: 18 touchdowns

Eleby had a breakout 2020 season in which he ranked 15th nationally in passing yards per game, averaged 11.2 yards per attempt and threw for 18 touchdowns to just two interceptions. In a road win against Central Michigan, Eleby threw for a season-high 382 yards and five touchdowns, along with a 292.9 passing efficiency rating. His second-highest single-game passing efficiency rating of the season (274.4) came in the season opener against Akron, when he completed 12-of-16 pass attempts for 262 yards and three touchdowns.

Eastern Michigan Athletics Preston Hutchinson is the ninth-leading returning passer in terms of passing yards per game.

9. Preston Hutchinson, Eastern Michigan

Passing yards/game: 276.2 yards/game
Passing yards: 1,657 yards
Passing touchdowns: 12 touchdowns

Hutchinson joins Crum and Eleby as returning MAC quarterbacks who were among the national leaders in passing yards per game. Hutchinson's passing yards nearly quadrupled from 2019 to 2020, while playing in the same number of games (six) in each season. His season-high in passing yards came against Central Michigan, when he threw for 365 yards in a loss in which he also threw three interceptions.

Hutchinson has also proven he can be effective as a runner, shown by his 118 yards and three rushing touchdowns in a loss to MAC champ Ball State.

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