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Will Blake Sims start at Alabama?
Less than a month remains to the start of the 2014 college football season, and with fall camps opening, positions on every depth chart are up for grabs.
While battles on the offensive line, defense and receiving corps are important, the quarterback situations across all FBS teams get the most attention in the fall.
There are a handful of top 25 teams searching for answers under center, including Alabama, LSU, Washington and Wisconsin.
Additionally, a program like Texas A&M is searching for a replacement for Johnny Manziel, and offensive guru Rich Rodriguez is searching for answers under center at Arizona after sthe spring provided little clarity.
Here’s a look at the top 10 quarterback battles for the fall, along with a handful of others to watch in 2014:
College Football’s Top 10 Fall QB Battles to Watch
For the first time since 2011, the Crimson Tide enter a fall with uncertainty at quarterback. AJ McCarron graduated after throwing for 9,019 yards over the last four years, and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin didn’t find an answer in the spring. However, Florida State transfer Jacob Coker arrived on campus this summer, and the Mobile, Ala., native is expected to win the job. Coker threw for 295 yards in a relief role with the Seminoles over the last two years but has the talent to be one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC. If Coker does not secure the No. 1 spot, Blake Sims or redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman will start. Sims threw for 167 yards as McCarron’s backup last year and is more of a dual threat than Coker.
Projected Winner: Coker
Rich Rodriguez is regarded as one of college football’s top offensive minds, but he has his work cut out for him this offseason. Arizona opened spring practice with seven quarterbacks vying to replace B.J. Denker and went into the offseason with little clarity under center. Senior Jesse Scroggins has a slight edge over redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, Texas transfer Connor Brewer and junior college recruit (and former LSU quarterback) Jerrard Randall. None of the four frontrunners has ever taken a snap during a regular-season game for the Wildcats. Solomon has the most upside of any quarterback on the roster, but Scroggins likely has the best grasp of the offense. Randall is a wildcard to watch after spending two years at LSU and one at Northeast Mississippi Community College. This battle could continue deep into the season.
Projected Winner: Scroggins
With a stingy defense and a rushing attack that will be among the best in the SEC, LSU won’t ask too much of its quarterback in 2014. And that’s a good thing considering that the Tigers have very little experience at the position. Sophomore Anthony Jennings played sparingly as Zach Mettenberger’s backup in 2013, completing 13-of-29 passes for 181 yards. Jennings led LSU to a last-minute victory over Arkansas and guided the Tigers to a 21–14 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Despite his edge in experience, Jennings failed to separate from true freshman Brandon Harris in the spring. Harris was a top-100 recruit in the 2014 signing class and has intriguing dual-threat ability. Jennings may open the year as the starter, but Harris will eventually take the starting spot.
Projected Winner: Harris
Ryan Williams was expected to replace Stephen Morris, but the senior suffered a torn ACL in spring practice. Williams is slated to return sometime during the year, but it’s unlikely he will be ready by the opener. Needing immediate help at quarterback, the Hurricanes brought in transfer Jake Heaps to play in 2014. Heaps struggled at BYU and Kansas (27 interceptions in three years), but the senior has experience and is likely to take the first snap of the season with redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen suspended for at least one game. Touted true freshman Brad Kaaya could push Heaps, Williams and Olsen for snaps depending on how fast he learns the offense. Olsen — the brother of former Miami standout Greg Olsen — had the inside track to start. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and redshirted last season. Kaaya also ranked as a four-star recruit and went 23–3 as a starter in high school. Kaaya has the most upside, but all signs point to Heaps taking the first snap of the year versus Louisville.
Projected Winner: Heaps
After losing four games by a field goal in 2013 and finishing No. 8 in the Big 12 in scoring, coach Gary Patterson decided to start over on offense. New co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie plan to upgrade the passing attack and speed up the tempo in 2014. Junior Trevone Boykin has thrown for 3,252 yards and 22 scores over the last two years, but he could move to receiver to accommodate Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel. The senior is eligible immediately after leaving College Station this spring. Joeckel completed 22 of 37 passes for 293 yards with the Aggies last year and should have a grasp on the offensive scheme after running a similar offense at Texas A&M.
Projected Winner: Joeckel
Butch Jones enters his second season in Knoxville looking for more consistency at the quarterback position. The Volunteers had three different players start under center last year, with Justin Worley leading the team with 1,239 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. Nathan Peterman played in four games, while Joshua Dobbs started four games as a true freshman. Tennessee closed spring practice without a declared No. 1, but Worley held a small edge over Dobbs and Peterman. Dobbs has the edge in talent, while Worley’s experience is valuable for a team in transition. Both quarterbacks could play significant snaps this season.
Projected Winner: Worley
Johnny Manziel was the starting quarterback for only two seasons, but he left big shoes to fill in College Station. Matt Joeckel’s post-spring transfer left true freshman Kyle Allen and sophomore Kenny Hill battling to replace Manziel. Allen is regarded by some as the top quarterback recruit in the nation and enrolled early to compete in spring practice. Hill has a small edge in experience, completing 16-of-22 passes for 183 yards last season. Although Allen is regarded as a pocket passer, he does have good mobility. However, Hill is the better runner, rushing for 2,305 yards in his last two seasons in high school. With the opener at South Carolina, could Sumlin choose Hill due to the edge in experience? Even if Hill starts the first game, it won’t be long before Allen takes over the No. 1 spot.
Projected Winner: Allen
Chris Petersen’s first spring practice at Washington was filled with uncertainty at quarterback. The transition from Keith Price to Cyler Miles was expected to be seamless. However, Miles was suspended for spring practice after an off-the-field incident and will miss the opener against Hawaii. The sophomore was reinstated to the team in May, but Troy Williams and Jeff Lindquist already have a head start for the No. 1 job, as both quarterbacks had live reps in a new offense this spring. Miles proved he was capable of being a standout quarterback in the Pac-12 in limited action last year. The sophomore is behind heading into the fall, but Miles is Washington’s best quarterback.
Projected Winner: Miles
Joel Stave has thrown for 3,598 yards and 28 touchdowns over the last two years, but he is locked in a battle with Tanner McEvoy for the starting job this offseason. Stave suffered a shoulder injury in the Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina and was limited in the spring. That allowed McEvoy, who started his career at South Carolina but transferred to Arizona Western after one year, to close the gap. In his first year with the Badgers, McEvoy made 11 appearances at safety. The junior moved back to quarterback in the spring, where his athleticism could be an asset for an offense looking for a spark under center.
Projected Winner: McEvoy
As expected in Blacksburg, the Hokies will have one of the nation’s top defenses in 2014. But after averaging 22.8 points in eight ACC contests last year, the offense is a work in progress. Logan Thomas is gone after an up-and-down career, leaving a host of candidates to contend for the starting job. Mark Leal has thrown 48 passes over the last three years and opened spring as the favorite to replace Thomas. However, sophomore Brenden Motley had a strong showing in the spring, and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer will arrive in the summer. Brewer was limited in Lubbock due to a back injury last season.
Projected Winner: Brewer
Others to Watch
Coach Tim Beckman and coordinator Bill Cubit maintain the starting quarterback job is open, but all signs point to Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt as the team’s No. 1 passer. Lunt threw for 1,108 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman with the Cowboys in 2012 and sat out 2013 due to NCAA transfer rules. Senior Reilly O’Toole and sophomore Aaron Bailey are fighting to unseat Lunt this fall.
The Wildcats are making progress under second-year coach Mark Stoops, but improvement may not come in the form of wins in 2014. Finding a quarterback is the top priority for Stoops, as four candidates are fighting for time. True freshman Drew Barker, sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and junior Maxwell Smith are in the mix, with Towles finishing the spring at the top of the depth chart. Barker is the team’s most-talented passer and will be tough to keep off the field in 2014.
The Tar Heels offense didn’t miss a beat after Bryn Renner was lost for the year due to a shoulder injury against NC State. Williams moved into the starting lineup, and North Carolina went 4-1 over the final five games. Williams has good mobility and improved as a passer last year. He will be pushed by redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky this fall.
There’s plenty of new faces stepping into key roles on offense in 2014, as the Cowboys return just four starters from last year’s group. Despite the turnover, coach Mike Gundy and coordinator Mike Yurcich should keep this offense among the best in the Big 12. J.W. Walsh left spring with an edge over true freshman Mason Rudolph and junior Daxx Garman. Walsh needs to develop as a passer, but his mobility could be an advantage behind a rebuilt offensive line.
As the Scarlet Knights enter Big Ten play, coach Kyle Flood is hoping Ralph Friedgen can push the right buttons for the offense. Friedgen has been out of football for three years but was highly regarded for his work at Maryland and Georgia Tech. Gary Nova had his share of ups and downs during his career and tossed 14 picks last year. Nova will be pushed by junior Mike Bimonte and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano.
New coach Derek Mason opens his first fall practice with six quarterbacks vying for snaps. LSU transfer Stephen Rivers, redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary and sophomore Patton Robinette are considered the favorites, with true freshmen Shawn Stankavage and Wade Freebeck and junior Josh Grady just behind. Rivers should push for the starting job, but he has little experience from his time at LSU.
Finding consistent quarterback play is a must for the Cavaliers to push for a bowl game in 2014. David Watford struggled in 2013, throwing 15 interceptions to only eight touchdowns. Sophomore Greyson Lambert pushed ahead of Watford in the spring and is expected to win the job in the fall. Lambert completed 33 of 75 passes for 340 yards and one touchdown last year.
First-year coach Dave Clawson opens fall practice with significant uncertainty at quarterback. Kevin Sousa moved from receiver to quarterback in the spring, while sophomore Tyler Cameron is the team’s most experienced option. True freshmen Travis Smith and John Wolford could earn playing time if Sousa and Cameron struggle.
Top Battles Outside Power 5 Conferences
The Cardinals have 19 victories over the last two years and should be in the mix for the MAC West title despite the loss of a few key players. Sophomore Ozzie Mann completed 2 of 9 passes for 29 yards last season and opens the fall as the No. 1 option. He will compete with redshirt freshman Jack Milas and true freshman David Morrison.
Derek Carr departs Fresno State after throwing 50 touchdown passes and 5,083 yards in 2013. Replacing Carr’s production is impossible in 2014, but the Bulldogs should remain in the mix to win the Mountain West. Duke transfer Brandon Connette, junior Brian Burrell and redshirt freshman Zack Greenlee are battling to replace Carr, with Connette and Burrell considered the frontrunners. Connette scored 27 touchdowns with the Blue Devils last year.
Jordan Lynch leaves big shoes to fill in DeKalb after recording 4,800 total yards in each of the last two years. Three candidates – junior Matt McIntosh and sophomores Drew Hare and Anthony Maddie – are vying for snaps in the fall. McIntosh completed two passes for 54 yards, while Hare rushed for 68 yards last season.
Garrett Gilbert closed out his collegiate career by guiding the SMU passing offense to a No. 1 rank in the American Athletic Conference. Gilbert has expired his eligibility, but the cupboard isn’t bare for coach June Jones. Sophomore Neal Burcham is the frontrunner and started the final two games of 2013. Burcham will face competition from junior college recruit (and former Texas A&M signal-caller) Matt Davis.
The Rockets – Athlon’s pick to win the MAC West in 2014 – have a three-way battle to replace Terrance Owens. Alabama transfer Phillip Ely, sophomore Logan Woodside and redshirt freshman Michael Julian are battling to start, with Woodside owning a slight edge due to his experience in four games last year.
New coach Bob Diaco inherits an offense that averaged only 20.6 points per game in 2013. Diaco’s job in turning around the offense got tougher in the summer when running back Lyle McCombs was dismissed. Sophomores Tim Boyle and Casey Cochran and senior Chandler Whitmer will battle to start this fall. Cochran threw for six touchdowns to no interceptions in the final two games of 2013 and enters the fall with an edge on Boyle and Whitmer.
Blake Bortles departed for the NFL after leading the Knights to a 12-1 mark last year. Replacing Bortles won’t be easy, but UCF can lean more on its defense and rushing attack with a young quarterback under center. Sophomore Justin Holman left the spring with an edge over redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo and Boise State transfer Nick Patti. Holman completed 9 of 14 passes for 75 yards and one score last year.