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Athlon previews the quarterback battles this spring.
Spring practice is underway, and all 128 college football teams have started to sort through the solutions for the question marks surrounding the roster.
Quarterback battles are the most intriguing element to watch in spring practice, even if there is little clarity on the depth chart until the fall.
This spring is full of quarterback battles that have national title implications. In Tuscaloosa, Alabama is searching for a replacement for AJ McCarron. Blake Sims has the edge in experience, but Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is the early favorite. Coker won’t arrive in Tuscaloosa until the summer, which means Sims and the other Alabama quarterbacks have a chance to stake their claim for the starting job this spring.
Outside of Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Clemson, Miami and Texas are just a handful of teams looking for a No. 1 quarterback.
Texas is another intriguing battle, as David Ash returns after missing nearly all of last season due to a concussion. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes is intriguing, and the coaching staff is pursuing USC transfer Max Wittek as another option.
In College Station, the race to replace Johnny Manziel is already underway. Can true freshman Kyle Allen beat Kenny Hill or Matt Joeckel for the top spot?
College Football’s Top 15 Spring Quarterback Battles for 2014
The Candidates: David Cornwell (FR), Cooper Bateman (RS-FR), Blake Sims (SR), Parker McLeod (RS-FR), Alec Morris (SO), Jacob Coker (JR-TR)
What to Watch: There’s plenty of intrigue around the quarterback battle in Tuscaloosa this spring. Not only are there five candidates pushing for time, new coordinator Lane Kiffin is easily one of the most polarizing hires of the offseason. But don’t expect anything to be settled in spring practice for Alabama. Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is considered the frontrunner and is not slated to arrive until this summer. Sims has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster, completing 18 of 29 throws for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Cornwell enrolled early and is likely Alabama’s quarterback of the future. However, he is recovering from a knee injury, and it’s uncertain how much the coaching staff will push him this spring.
Projected Winner: Coker. Alabama doesn’t bring in transfers to sit on the bench. Sims may have the most experience in a Crimson Tide uniform, but Coker has more talent. Although he has yet to make a start in college, Coker has all of the attributes you want in a quarterback. Of course, he has yet to take a snap in the SEC, which is why Sims, Cornwell and Morris need to take advantage of the opportunities this spring.
The Candidates: Connor Brewer (SO-TR), Nick Isham (JR), Jerrard Randall (JR), Jesse Scroggins (SR), Anu Solomon (RS-FR)
What to Watch: Rich Rodriguez knows how to develop quarterbacks, so the winner of this job should have a big statistical season. But as spring practice opens, it’s anyone’s guess who takes the first snap for Arizona in 2014. There’s an interesting cast of candidates vying for time, starting with Texas transfer Connor Brewer and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon. Brewer did not play in his only season with the Longhorns, while Solomon spent last season learning behind B.J. Denker. Jerrard Randall started his career at LSU before transferring into the junior college ranks. Jesse Scroggins also started at a FBS school (USC) before a stop in junior college.
Projected Winner: Solomon. Projecting a winner here is nearly impossible. And this could be a situation where a couple of quarterbacks see time this year. Solomon has the most upside, and it’s only a matter of time before he claims the No. 1 spot.
The Candidates: Cole Stoudt (SR), Deshaun Watson (FR), Chad Kelly (SO)
What to Watch: Tajh Boyd will be missed, but Clemson’s offense will continue to perform at a high level with Chad Morris calling the plays. Morris has three talented quarterbacks to work with this spring, starting with incoming freshman Deshaun Watson. The Georgia native was the No. 41 national recruit in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled early to compete in spring practice. Stoudt has served as Boyd’s backup for the last three seasons and threw for 742 yards and eight touchdowns in that span. Kelly redshirted in 2012 and finished last season with 58 passing yards on 10 completions.
Projected Winner: Watson. Whether it’s Stoudt, Kelly or Watson at the top of the depth chart, Clemson is going to be explosive on offense. Watson is too talented to sit, but it wouldn’t be a total shock if Stoudt starts the opener against Georgia before giving way to the freshman later in the year.
The Candidates: Anthony Jennings (SO), Brandon Harris (FR), Hayden Rettig (RS-FR)
What to Watch: Breaking in a quarterback in the brutal SEC West is no easy assignment. But the good news for Les Miles and coordinator Cam Cameron is the new quarterback has a solid supporting cast at his disposal. Running backs Leonard Fournette and Terrence Magee will push for All-SEC honors, while the offensive line should be among the best in the nation. Sure, the receiving corps needs work, but LSU can push for 10 wins just on its rushing attack and defense. Cameron proved to be the right hire for the Tigers’ offense, as he developed Zach Mettenberger and brought improvement to the passing game. LSU may shift more to a run philosophy in 2014, especially if Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris wins the job. Jennings guided the Tigers to a comeback win over Arkansas in the regular season finale but didn’t play particularly well in the bowl (7 of 19 for 82 yards and one interception). Harris ranked as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback by 247Sports in the 2014 recruiting class, and he enrolled early to compete this spring. Rettig is a pro-style passer and ranked as the No. 10 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class.
Projected Winner: Jennings. The bowl game performance is concerning, but let’s not overrate one outing. Harris has the most upside of any quarterback on the roster. How quickly he gets acclimated to the offense will determine how long Jennings stays as the starter.
The Candidates: Ryan Williams (SR), Brad Kaaya (QB), Kevin Olsen (RS-FR), Gray Crow (SO)
What to Watch: Is this the year Miami finally wins the Coastal Division? If a quarterback emerges, the Hurricanes should be picked as the favorite in the division. Ryan Williams has the edge in experience, starting 10 games at Memphis in 2010 and throwing for 2,075 yards and 13 touchdowns. He transferred at the end of his freshman season and has played in nine games over the last two years with the Hurricanes. Redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen (No. 6 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class) and true freshman Brad Kaaya (four-star prospect by 247Sports) will get every opportunity to push Williams for the starting job this offseason. Even though Williams might not be the most-talented quarterback on the roster, he has a good grasp on the offense and already has a year of experience starting at a FBS school.
Projected Winner: Williams. Again, this isn’t the flashiest choice, but Williams is capable of leading this offense. The battle between Olsen and Kaaya for the No. 2 spot will be intriguing, especially if Williams struggles or as both players position themselves for 2015.
The Candidates: Tommy Armstrong (SO), Johnny Stanton (RS-FR), Jamal Turner (SR), Zack Darlington (FR)
What to Watch: Armstrong was pressed into duty when Taylor Martinez suffered a foot injury last season. He started eight games and finished with 966 yards and nine touchdowns, while adding 202 yards and two scores on the ground. Considering it was first taste of action, Armstrong acquitted himself well for a redshirt freshman. He opens spring practice as the No. 1 option, but the job won’t be handed to him. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton is an intriguing option, while the coaching staff wants to get a look at receiver Jamal Turner under center. Turner is a wildcard to watch, and he may play just as a change-of-pace option.
Projected Winner: Armstrong. There’s no question Armstrong needs to play better, but with a full offseason to work as the No. 1 option, he should show significant improvement. If he doesn’t, Nebraska has capable options in Stanton and Darlington, while Turner’s progress will be interesting to watch.
The Candidates: Mason Rudolph (FR), J.W. Walsh (JR)
What to Watch: Developing quarterbacks has always been a strength for Oklahoma State under Mike Gundy, so it's possible the winner of this battle could be in the mix for all-conference honors in 2014. Walsh played extensively in 2013, throwing for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns. He also added 294 yards and three scores on the ground. Walsh has room to grow as a passer, but the edge in experience is clearly in his favor. Rudolph ranked as the No. 16 pro-style quarterback in the 2014 signing class by 247Sports and enrolled to compete this spring.
Projected Winner: Walsh. Take a look at the schedule for Oklahoma State. With Florida State in the opener, would the Cowboys let Rudolph start against one of the top defenses in college football? It’s certainly not out of the question for Rudolph to earn the starting job, but Walsh’s experience should allow him to at least open the year as the No. 1 option.
The Candidates: Trevone Boykin (JR), Foster Sawyer (FR), Grayson Muehlstein (FR), Zach Allen (RS-FR), Tyler Matthews (SO)
What to Watch: After finishing ninth in the Big 12 in total offense last season, TCU coach Gary Patterson made significant changes to his offensive staff. Doug Meacham was hired from Houston to call the plays, while former Texas Tech quarterback and assistant Sonny Cumbie also joined the staff as co-coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Boykin is TCU’s most experienced option, throwing for 3,252 yards and 22 touchdowns over the last two years. But will he stay at quarterback? Boykin is an excellent athlete, and if another quarterback emerges, Meacham could move him to receiver. Muehlstein and Sawyer won’t arrive until the summer but will be a factor in this quarterback derby.
Projected Winner: Boykin. This job won’t be settled in the spring, as the coaching staff needs to get an extended look at Sawyer and Muehlstein. For now, we will guess Boykin’s experience will pay off, and he wins the starting job this preseason.
The Candidates: Justin Worley (JR), Riley Ferguson (RS-FR), Joshua Dobbs (SO), Nathan Peterman (SO)
What to Watch: Butch Jones seems to have Tennessee back on track, but the Volunteers have a handful of glaring needs heading into 2014. Quarterback is one of those areas of concern, as four candidates will battle for the No. 1 spot. Worley has the most experience, but he completed only 55.6 percent of his throws in eight games last year. Joshua Dobbs played in five contests as a true freshman last season and threw for 695 yards and two touchdowns. He also recorded 189 yards and one score on the ground. Ferguson was dealing with a stress fracture in his leg and used a redshirt season in 2013.
Projected Winner: Dobbs. Keep a close eye on Ferguson this spring. The North Carolina native is healthy and ready to compete with Dobbs, Worley and Peterman for the starting spot. Dobbs didn’t play particularly well last season, but he was thrown into a difficult situation as a true freshman in the SEC. The winner of this job will be playing behind a line that has to replace all five starters.
The Candidates: David Ash (SR), Tyrone Swoopes (SO), Jerrod Heard (FR)
What to Watch: Charlie Strong is one of the top defensive minds in the nation, but he might spend a little extra time with the offense this spring. The Longhorns have an unsettled quarterback situation, and there could be an additional name in the mix if Max Wittek transfers from USC to Austin. Ash played in only three games last season, throwing for 760 yards and seven touchdowns. He was sidelined due to a concussion for 10 games, but he will participate in spring practice. Swoopes was the No. 12 quarterback in the 2013 signing class and played in six contests last year. Heard ranked as the No. 2 quarterback by 247Sports Composite in the 2014 signing class and is the future for Texas’ offense.
Projected Winner: Ash. This is a tough one to call. Are Swoopes and Heard ready to be a Big 12 quarterback? If Wittek lands in Austin, can he factor into the mix? Considering Ash has the most experience of anyone on the roster, he’s the safest pick to win the job.
The Candidates: Kyle Allen (FR), Kenny Hill (SO), Matt Joeckel (SR)
What to Watch: Johnny Manziel’s two-year playing career in College Station easily ranks among the best by a quarterback in the SEC during the BCS era. How will Texas A&M replace him? Well, you can’t exactly replicate Manziel’s production and leadership, but there are three intriguing candidates vying for time. Joeckel has the edge in experience, throwing 48 passes over the last two years in relief duty. Hill completed 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards in limited action last season. Allen – the No. 10 prospect in the 247Sports Composite – enrolled early to compete this spring.
Projected Winner: Hill. Flip a coin between Hill and Joeckel. Allen will eventually take the starting job, but it seems unlikely Texas A&M will start him on the road at South Carolina for his first start. Regardless of the winner, the Aggies have three solid options to run their high-powered offense.
The Candidates: Justin Holman (SO), Pete DiNovo (RS-FR), Tyler Harris (FR)
What to Watch: Blake Bortles could be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Needless to say, the trio of candidates vying to be UCF’s starting quarterback will have big shoes to fill. Tyler Harris enrolled early to compete this spring with sophomore Justin Holman and redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo. Holman played in three games last year and completed 9 of 14 passes for 75 yards and one score. Although the winner of this battle won’t equal Bortles’ production, UCF’s offense should still be among the best in the American Athletic Conference in 2014.
Projected Winner: Holman. This one is a coin flip. A slight edge should go to Holman since he has an edge in experience, but DiNovo will be tough to keep off the field.
The Candidates: Mark Leal (SR), Bucky Hodges (RS-FR), Chris Durkin (FR), Andrew Ford (FR), Michael Brewer (JR)
What to Watch: Logan Thomas is gone, and second-year coordinator Scot Loeffler enters spring looking for answers for an offense that averaged just 5.3 yards per play in ACC contests last season. Mark Leal is the frontrunner to replace Thomas, and he has played sparingly in his career. Leal completed 12 of 25 passes for 130 yards against UCLA in the Sun Bowl, which was his first extended chance at snaps for the Hokies. Hodges is another name to watch after he ranked as the No. 20 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class. But perhaps the name with the most intrigue is Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer. He won’t arrive until the summer, but Brewer was solid in limited action with the Red Raiders (440 yards, five touchdowns).
Projected Winner: Leal. Brewer is intriguing, but he is at a disadvantage since he won’t arrive until this summer. With a solid defense in place, the Hokies can contend for a Coastal Division title if a quarterback emerges this preseason.
The Candidates: Jeff Lindquist (SO), Cyler Miles (SO), Troy Williams (RS-FR), K.J. Carta-Samuels (FR)
What to Watch: At the end of the 2013 season, Cyler Miles appeared to be locked-in as Washington’s starting quarterback. However, he was indefinitely suspended after an off-the-field incident in early February. Considering Miles’ return is uncertain, it’s unlikely the Huskies will have much clarity at quarterback this spring. Lindquist and Williams will battle for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart with Miles out, while Carta-Samuels will arrive in the summer.
Projected Winner: Miles. Assuming he returns, Miles should be Washington’s starting quarterback. He was impressive in limited action last season, completing 37 of 61 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns. Miles ranked as the No. 5 quarterback in the 2012 signing class by Athlon Sports, so there’s no question about his talent. However, if he misses all of spring practice, how quickly can he catch Lindquist and Williams for the No. 1 spot in a new offense?
The Candidates: Skyler Howard (SO), Clint Trickett (SR), Paul Millard (SR), William Crest (FR)
What to Watch: Although coach Dana Holgorsen would like to see some clarity at this position, it’s unlikely the Mountaineers will find many answers in spring practice. Clint Trickett is out due to shoulder surgery, Howard is still learning the offense after one year in the junior college ranks, and Crest won’t arrive on campus until this summer. Considering the uncertainty surrounding the other three candidates, Millard will have a chance to stake his claim for the starting job in spring practice. Howard threw for 3,151 yards and 33 touchdowns in his one season as Riverside City College’s starting quarterback.
Projected Winner: Millard. Junior college recruits are hit or miss, so it’s tough to know what to expect from Howard in his first season in Morgantown. However, if Millard or Trickett struggles early in the year, Howard or Crest should get an extended look this season. For now, the edge here should go to Millard, especially with a full spring to work with the No. 1 offense.
Is there a battle?
Jeff Driskel returns after missing nine games due to a leg injury. Will new coordinator Kurt Roper help Driskel live up to his lofty recruiting hype? Or will the Gators turn to incoming freshman Will Grier (No. 2 pro-style quarterback by 247Sports)?
Devin Gardner failed to have the breakout year most expected in 2013, but his supporting cast didn’t give him much help. Shane Morris started the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and ended 2013 by throwing for 261 yards on 29 completions. Can Gardner pickup where he left off against Ohio State? Or will Morris push Gardner for the job?
Despite Marquise Williams finishing 2013 on a high note, coach Larry Fedora insists the quarterback job is open. Redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky is a talented option, but it would be a surprise if he beats Williams for the starting spot.
Gary Nova started the first 10 games for the Scarlet Knights last season but was benched in favor of Chas Dodd for the final three. Dodd has expired his eligibility, and Nova hopes to use an offseason under new coordinator Ralph Friedgen to hold onto the starting job. Redshirt freshman Chris Laviano, sophomore Blake Rankin and junior Mike Bimonte will push Nova for time this spring.
Cody Kessler seemed to get better with each snap last year, and he finished 2013 on a high note by throwing for 345 yards and four touchdowns against Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Although Kessler is a solid option for new coach Steve Sarkisian, redshirt freshman Max Browne will get a chance to unseat him this spring. Browne ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100.
Joel Stave started all 13 games for the Badgers last season and finished with 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns. But he isn’t guaranteed the starting job this year. Wisconsin needs more from its passing attack, and the coaching staff will take an extended look at Bart Houston, true freshman D.J. Gillins and Tanner McEvoy, who will shift back to quarterback after spending last year at safety. Will Stave hold on once again? Or has McEvoy made enough progress to make a push for the top spot?
Others to Watch
Steve Addazio and coordinator Ryan Day are essentially starting from scratch on offense. Quarterback Chase Rettig, running back Andre Williams and receiver Alex Amidon have expired their eligibility. The coaching staff moved Josh Bordner to receiver, and Florida transfer Tyler Murphy arrived to compete in spring practice. Competing with Murphy will be redshirt freshman James Walsh and true freshman Darius Wade. Although the Eagles are replacing a lot of talent on offense, the line returns a solid foundation, and running back Myles Willis played well in a limited role last year.
Derek Carr guided Fresno State to a Mountain West title last season and finished his career with 12,842 passing yards. Needless to say, the next quarterback has big shoes to fill. Brian Burrell, Myles Carr, Zack Greenlee, Colin Kearon and incoming freshman Kilton Anderson are the options to replace Carr, with Greenlee and Burrell having an edge over the rest of the competition.
Bill Cubit was one of the top assistant hires last season, providing a spark for an Illinois’ offense that averaged just 16.7 points a game in 2012. Nathan Scheelhaase has expired his eligibility, but the cupboard isn’t bare for Cubit. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt is considered the favorite, while Aaron Bailey and Reilly O’Toole will compete for time. Although the coaching staff has hinted the job is open, it would be a surprise if Lunt does not take the first snap for the Fighting Illini.
Remember that old cliché about quarterbacks? If you have two you don’t have a starter? Well, forget about that when looking at the Hoosiers’ offense. Coach Kevin Wilson should have no trouble using both of his quarterbacks in 2014, as Nate Sudfeld threw for 2,523 yards last year, and Tre Roberson combined for 1,551 total yards. Although a two-quarterback system is never ideal, Sudfeld and Roberson each bring something different to the table. Will one end up with the full-time job? Or will Wilson continue to rotate Sudfeld and Roberson?
The Jayhawks have struggled to find answers under center in Charlie Weis’ two years in Lawrence. Jake Heaps ranked as one of the top high school quarterbacks in the 2010 signing class, but he has yet to reach his potential and finished 2013 by completing just 49 percent of his passes and tossing 10 picks on 261 passes. Montell Cozart’s dual-threat ability is intriguing, but his completion percentage also needs some work (36.5). UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard was the No. 19 pro-style quarterback by 247Sports in the 2012 signing class. He has yet to take a snap in a FBS game.
The Wildcats certainly aren’t short on options. Maxwell Smith (1,276 passing yards in 2013) and Jalen Whitlow (1,490 total yards) are the top returning passers, but all eyes in Lexington are on true freshman Drew Barker. The Kentucky native ranked as the No. 6 pro-style quarterback by 247Sports and enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. Whitlow and Smith have the edge in experience, but Barker’s upside may win out in the fall.
Teddy Bridgewater is gone. However, Bobby Petrino certainly knows how to coordinate an offense and develop quarterback, so there’s not a ton of concern about the options under center for Louisville. Will Gardner is the favorite to replace Bridgewater after completing 8 of 12 passes for 112 yards and two scores. If he struggles, redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin appears to be the next option.
Derek Mason’s first assignment as the Commodores’ head coach is to sort out the battle between sophomore Patton Robinette and redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary. Robinette started three games last season and finished 2013 with 642 passing yards and four touchdowns. McCrary was the No. 16 dual-threat quarterback by 247Sports in the 2013 signing class and spent last season as a redshirt behind Robinette and Austyn Carta-Samuels.
Improving upon last year’s dismal 2-10 record will largely depend on how much improvement Virginia gets out of its quarterbacks. David Watford finished 2013 with 2,202 yards, eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He enters spring on the hot seat, but backup Greyson Lambert also struggled last season (33 of 75, 340 yards, 2 INTs). Sophomore Matt Johns and incoming freshman Corwin Cutler will push Lambert and Watford for snaps.