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College football opening weekend: Top 5 QBs to watch

College football has returned. Which players and games should you be watching this weekend?

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Football, real, meaningful football is almost back.

While the New York Giants have a preseason game against the New England Patriots Thursday night, the college football season will begin in earnest. Saturday’s slate of games looks to be one of the most exciting opening weekends in a long time. There will be marque matchups all day long, some of which could have lasting repercussions when it comes to the college football playoffs.

It’s also the first chance we get to see the 2017 NFL Draft prospects.

We’re starting with the quarterback position for a couple reasons. First, because it’s the most important position in the Pro game. But for the Giants specifically, they might be looking for a player who can not only replace Ryan Nassib as the backup quarterback, but also potentially groom to eventually take over for Eli Manning. While Manning is the Giants’ franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future, he is still closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

1. Brad Kaaya (Miami at Florida A&M - 9/3, 6 p.m., ACCN)

Clemson’s Deshaun Watson will likely be No. 1 on most every list, when it comes to quarterbacks, however, give me the pocket passer. This isn’t a bias against mobile quarterbacks, the way they can stress a defense after the snap always bears considering, but just my preference. The stereotypical NFL QB is the stereotype for a reason; the ability to beat a defense before the ball is snapped is more important, and improves with age, rather than leaving them and they are generally less likely to get injured. Kaaya has prototypcial NFL size, an acceptably strong arm, and appears to be a very bright quarterback, processing information quickly.

Kaaya is a polarizing player, but I like his physical tools and that he was tossed into the fire as a the Hurricane’s starting QB as a freshman, playing well despite a bad situation with regards to coaching and talent.

2. Deshaun Watson (Clemson vs Auburn - 9/3, 9 p.m., ESPN)

Kaaya is my preferred QB (as of now) but Watson is a special talent in his own right. Highly athletic with plenty of arm talent, Watson has the kind of skills that talking heads drool over, and terrify defensive coordinators. He doesn’t have the kind of size you’d like to see, "just" 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, but he has the arm to make all the throws and the wheels to paralyze a defense if he threatens to run with it. Watson should put up excellent numbers once again — particularly with wide receiver Mike Williams returning from injury — and he looks to be one of the darlings of the combine. You’ll hear his name a lot between now and the 2017 draft.

3. C.J. Beathard (Iowa vs Miami (OH) - 9/3, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU)

Beathard isn’t very well known yet, but if he takes another step forward, he could be a big name come Draft Season. Taking a step forward last year, Beathard was one of the driving forces behind Iowa’s surprising run in 2015. He has prototypical size, a big arm, surprising mobility, and poise in the pocket. For me, personally, his status as a red-shirt senior and experience with pro concepts in college are attractive traits. Given my druthers, I like quarterbacks to get as much experience as possible in college — I feel the greater maturity and seeing more football puts them in better position to succeed in the NFL, and playing in a pro-style offense is always a plus.

4. Chad Kelly (Mississippi at Florida State - 9/5, 8 p.m., ESPN)

Born in Buffalo, Chad Kelly is the nephew of former Bills’ signal caller Jim Kelly. At his best, Chad certainly looks like he has his uncle’s football genes. The problem with the Ole Miss QB is that he isn’t always at his best. He has arm strength, toughness, and mobility to spare, but he is always an adventure to watch. Much like a young Brett Favre, Kelly can either take a game over, or give it away. If he can clean up his play and improve his consistency, he has a chance to be a good quarterback.

5. Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State vs Southeastern Louisiana, 9/3, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)

Rudolph is another prospect who could go either way. He has the size and arm strength that draft evaluators covet, but playing in the Cowboys’ spread offense will leave him with a significant learning curve in the NFL. He’s accurate enough (63 percent) in his college system, but most of Oklahoma State’s offense relies on quick passes and bubble screens. He will need to show the ability to read his progressions and keep that accuracy when his receivers are running a pro route tree.