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College Football's 20 Biggest Quarterback Battles for 2022

Cade McNamara, Michigan Wolverines Football

With the calendar flipping to August, the start of the 2022 college football season is officially less than 30 days away. And with the kickoff right around the corner, fall practice for all 131 teams will get underway to settle position battles, sort out the depth chart and see how key freshmen and transfers stack up in the lineup. Plenty of significant quarterback competitions weren't decided in the spring, including ones at Michigan, Clemson, Texas, Texas A&M, Auburn and LSU. Some of these may not be decided until Week 1 or a coach may not name an official starter until just prior to kickoff. However, some clarity to these battles is likely to come over the next few weeks.

Which undecided quarterback battles are likely to have the biggest impact on the college football season? Athlon Sports previews, ranks and projects the winner of the 20 biggest quarterback battles for 2022:

College Football's 20 Biggest Quarterback Battles for 2022

1. Michigan
Candidates: Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy

Usually a quarterback battle creates plenty of anxiety or uncertainty for a team going into a season. However, that’s not the case at Michigan. The Wolverines have two quarterbacks they can win with, and they might need both to push past Ohio State in the Big Ten East Division once again. McNamara started all 14 games last season and threw for 2,576 yards and 15 touchdowns. McCarthy saw snaps as the backup and change-of-pace option in 11 games and accounted for 640 total yards and seven overall scores. The sophomore dealt with a shoulder ailment in the spring but is not expected to have any lingering concerns this fall. McCarthy is more mobile, and has the edge in long-term upside as well as big-play ability (8.7 yards per attempt to 7.9 for McNamara). However, unseating McNamara won’t be easy this fall.
Projected Starter: McNamara

Related: Ranking All 131 College Football Teams for 2022

2. Clemson
Candidates:
DJ Uiagalelei and Cade Klubnik

With names like Trevor Lawrence, Deshaun Watson, and Tajh Boyd directing the offense, quarterback play has rarely been a concern for Clemson in the CFB Playoff era. However, the Tigers enter 2022 with major question marks at this position and elsewhere on offense –the receiving corps, play-calling and up front along the offensive line. High expectations surrounded Uiagalelei after he threw for 342 yards against Boston College and 439 yards at Notre Dame in ’20. However, Uiagalelei struggled in his first year as the full-time starter, throwing for 2,246 yards and just nine touchdowns to 10 picks. Among qualified signal-callers in the ACC, Uiagalelei ranked last in quarterback rating (108.7) and yards per pass attempt (6.0). New play-caller Brandon Streeter is tasked with getting Uiagalelei back on track, but the California native also needs more help from his supporting cast. If Uiagalelei stumbles again, Clemson has a better insurance policy in 2022. Klubnik – the No. 6 overall prospect in the ’22 signing class – is ready to play right away if needed.
Projected Starter: Uiagalelei

3. Texas A&M
Candidates:
Haynes King, Max Johnson and Conner Weigman

King replaced Kellen Mond as the No. 1 quarterback in College Station last year, but he was lost due to a Week 2 season-ending injury against Colorado. Prior to the injury, King showcased his potential with 292 passing yards and two touchdowns in the opener against Kent State – and also his areas of needed improvement with three picks on just 33 attempts. Johnson transferred to Texas A&M after playing 18 games at LSU the last two years. During that stretch, Johnson threw for 3,884 yards and 35 touchdowns to just seven picks. Weigman – the No. 2 quarterback recruit by the 247Sports Composite in the ’22 signing class – is the future for coach Jimbo Fisher. Can he make things interesting this fall?
Projected Starter: Johnson

Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2022

4. Texas
Candidates:
Quinn Ewers and Hudson Card

For the second year in a row, Texas coach Steve Sarkisian opens fall practice with an unsettled quarterback situation. Card and Casey Thompson battled for the job last season, with Thompson eventually emerging as the team’s No. 1 option. He transferred to Nebraska this offseason, but Card returns to compete with Ewers. In eight games last year, Card threw for 590 yards and five touchdowns and averaged just 7.1 yards per attempt. Although he has the edge in experience, holding off Ewers all year is unlikely. Ewers ranked as one of the top quarterback recruits of the modern era and reclassified into the ’21 signing class to start his college career early at Ohio State. The Texas native was on the field for two snaps with the Buckeyes and opted to return home to Texas this offseason. Ewers has too much talent and upside to be the No. 2 signal-caller. Even if Card wins the job this fall, it may not be long before Ewers is the No. 1 quarterback.
Projected Starter: Ewers

5. Pitt
Candidates:
Kedon Slovis and Nick Patti

Quarterback Kenny Pickett and receiver Jordan Addison led a Pitt offensive explosion to help guide the team to an ACC title and appearance in the Peach Bowl last year. However, Pickett now takes snaps for the Steelers, and Addison left the Steel City for a chance to play under Lincoln Riley at USC. Replicating last season’s offensive production (41.4 points a game) is probably out of reach for coach Pat Narduzzi’s squad, but with five starters back up front and experience at running back and receiver, the cupboard isn’t bare for the new quarterback. Patti has played in 17 games (with two starts) in the Steel City and passed for 458 yards and three scores. Slovis started 26 games at USC from 2019-21 and threw for 7,576 yards and 58 touchdowns to just 24 picks. However, after throwing for 30 touchdowns in ’19, Slovis’ numbers regressed in each of the last two seasons, including to 7.2 yards per pass attempt (down from 8.9 as a freshman). Even though Pickett’s production will be hard to replicate, steady play out of Slovis or Patti is more than enough to give Pitt a chance to win the ACC Coastal once again.
Projected Starter: Slovis

Related: Ranking the ACC Quarterbacks for 2022

6. Ole Miss
Candidates:
Jaxson Dart and Luke Altmyer

Just 11 starters are back for Ole Miss after a record-setting 10-3 mark last year, but coach Lane Kiffin dipped into the portal for help all over the roster and to minimize the rebuilding effort. Dart is one of those additions, as he arrived in Oxford after spending the 2021 season at USC. The Utah native played in six contests and threw for 1,353 yards and nine touchdowns and added 43 yards on the ground. Dart missed time due to a knee injury last year, but the No. 69 prospect from the ’21 class is at full strength this fall. Altmyer wasn’t as highly-touted out of high school but received valuable reps last year (20 of 37 for 192 yards) and pushed Dart in the spring. Dart’s talent is likely to win out, but Altmyer can’t be counted out.
Projected Starter: Dart

Related: Ranking the SEC Quarterbacks for 2022

7. LSU
Candidates:
Jayden Daniels, Myles Brennan, Garrett Nussmeier and Walker Howard

New coach Brian Kelly enters fall practice with a question mark at quarterback, but the Tigers certainly don’t lack for talent or options here. Daniels transferred to Baton Rouge after three years at Arizona State (6,025 passing yards and 32 TDs and 1,288 rushing yards), while Brennan (1,712 yards and 13 TDs) has showed potential in 18 appearances. However, Brennan missed the bulk of ’20 and all of ’21 due to injury. Nussmeier had a strong showing in the spring after completing 29 of 57 passes for 329 yards and two scores in four games last fall. Howard – the No. 40 overall prospect in the ’22 class – seems ticketed for a redshirt year. With LSU rebuilding up front, Daniels’ mobility could be an x-factor in this battle. However, when healthy, Brennan has been productive and is a better passer (60.2 percent completion rate).
Projected Starter: Brennan

8. Cincinnati
Candidates:
Ben Bryant and Evan Prater

Desmond Ridder will be missed, but Cincinnati is still in good shape at quarterback. Prater – the No. 174 recruit in 2020 – has passed for 38 yards and rushed for 109 yards in limited snaps. The Ohio native has intriguing upside, but his path to the starting job got more complicated with the offseason return of Bryant. The Illinois native played at Cincinnati from 2018-20 before transferring to Eastern Michigan in ’21. In 13 games last year, Bryant threw for 3,121 yards and 14 touchdowns (68.4 percent). This battle is a toss-up, but Bryant’s edge in experience might be enough to claim the top spot prior to Arkansas. However, Prater’s upside and mobility should give him a chance to see extended time in ’22.
Projected Starter: Bryant

Related: College Football All-America Team for 2022

9. Oregon
Candidates:
Bo Nix and Ty Thompson

Looking for a fresh start after an up-and-down career at Auburn, Nix transferred with two years of eligibility remaining and landed in Eugene. The Alabama native was on track for his best season with the Tigers last fall but was lost due to injury for the team’s final three games. Prior to the injury, Nix threw for 2,294 yards and 11 touchdowns and added 168 yards and four scores on the ground. The Alabama native might not live up to his high school hype (five-star prospect), but his experience and playmaking ability should be an upgrade over Oregon’s quarterback room from ’21. If Nix struggles, Thompson – the No. 40 prospect in the ’21 class – would get the call to start. Thompson’s talent isn’t in doubt, but he needs more seasoning after playing in just three games last year.
Projected Starter: Nix

10. Auburn
Candidates:
T.J. Finley, Zach Calzada, Robby Ashford and Holden Geriner

Production and overall play at the quarterback spot are likely to decide how high Auburn can finish in the SEC West this fall. Finley started the final three matchups of ’21 after Bo Nix suffered a season-ending injury but was inconsistent with accuracy (54.7 percent) and averaged 6.5 yards per pass attempt for the year. The LSU transfer battled an ankle injury down the stretch and his play was clearly impacted. Calzada started 11 contests at Texas A&M last fall and threw for 2,185 yards and 17 touchdowns to nine picks. He was instrumental (285 yards and three touchdowns) in the upset of Alabama and later tossed three scores in a 27-24 loss to LSU. Calzada was limited in the spring due to injury but is expected to return at full strength this fall. Ashford – a transfer from Oregon – is the wild-card option after a solid performance in the spring game. Geriner – a four-star prospect in the ’22 class – has intriguing upside but is likely behind the other three names on the depth chart.
Projected Starter: Calzada

11. Iowa
Candidates: Spencer Petras, Joey Labas and Alex Padilla

The final numbers weren’t pretty for Iowa’s offense last year. In Big Ten matchups, the Hawkeyes averaged 176.8 passing yards a contest, 4.5 yards per play, and 23 points a game. Petras started 11 of the team’s 14 contests and paced the offense with 1,880 yards and 10 touchdowns to nine picks. The numbers weren't much better for Padilla (three starts). In nine overall appearances, Padilla threw for 636 yards and just two touchdowns. As a team, Iowa averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt. Redshirt freshman Joey Labas appears to be a clear No. 3 on the depth chart, so it might take a lot for him to see significant snaps over Petras or Padilla.
Projected Starter: Petras

Related: Ranking All 131 College Football Teams for 2022

12. Washington
Candidates: Michael Penix Jr., Dylan Morris and Sam Huard

Washington averaged only 21.5 points a game and 4.98 yards per play last season, so it’s not really a bold prediction to expect improvement. However, with new coach Kalen DeBoer and coordinator Ryan Grubb calling the shots, this should be among the most-improved offenses in college football. Helping the case for improvement are three intriguing candidates at quarterback. Penix – a transfer from Indiana – worked under DeBoer in Bloomington in 2019 and had arguably his best season. However, Penix’s last four years have ended early due to injury and his ability to stay healthy is a concern. Morris started 15 games for the Huskies over the last two seasons but has tossed nearly as many interceptions (15) as touchdowns (18). Huard – a five-star prospect in the ’21 class – played in four games last year but is a work in progress (22 of 42 for 241 yards). Penix’s experience within this offense likely gives him an edge to start in Week 1.
Projected Starter: Penix

13. North Carolina
Candidates:
Drake Maye and Jacolby Criswell

Sam Howell’s 10,283 career passing yards and 92 touchdowns won’t be easy to replace, but North Carolina isn’t exactly hurting for quarterback talent. Criswell – a four-star prospect in the ’20 signing class – has appeared in 10 games over the last two years and passed for 195 yards on 16 completions and added 94 yards on 16 carries. Maye was a touted prospect in the ’21 haul (No. 56 overall) and looked sharp in limited snaps (7 of 10 for 89 yards and 62 rushing yards). This battle was close in the spring, so a split of snaps early on wouldn’t be a surprise.
Projected Starter: Maye

14. Texas Tech
Candidates:
Tyler Shough, Donovan Smith and Behren Morton

High-powered passing attacks are nothing new to Texas Tech. However, after finishing sixth in the Big 12 for three consecutive years (2019-21) in scoring, the offense in Lubbock might be ready for take-off this fall. New play-caller Zach Kittley arrives at Texas Tech after directing high-octane passing attacks at FCS Houston Baptist and WKU, and the offense doesn’t lack for candidates to start in ’22. Shough – a transfer from Oregon – started the first four games (872 passing yards and six TDs) last year before a season-ending injury. Henry Colombi replaced Shough, but Donovan Smith eventually took over the job in late October. The Nevada native showed intriguing upside in his limited time as the starter, throwing for 1,188 yards and seven touchdowns and rushing for 155 yards and three scores. Morton – the No. 147 prospect in the ’21 class – is primed to push for snaps after a redshirt season. Regardless of which player wins, Texas Tech should be in good shape at quarterback this fall.
Projected Starter: Shough

Related: Grading the New Coach Hires for the 2022 Season

15. Nebraska
Candidates:
Casey Thompson, Chubba Purdy, Logan Smothers, Heinrich Haarberg

A battle is technically ongoing this fall in Lincoln, but it would be a major surprise if Thompson doesn’t claim the job for the opener against Northwestern in Ireland. Thompson played in all 12 games at Texas last year, leading the Big 12 with 24 touchdown passes and throwing for 2,113 yards over 165 completions. The Oklahoma native enrolled in time to participate in spring practice, which allowed him to gain valuable reps under new coordinator Mark Whipple. Smothers started one game last year but could be pushed by Purdy for the No. 2 spot.
Projected Starter: Thompson

16. SMU
Candidates:
Tanner Mordecai and Preston Stone


The Mustangs return one of the AAC’s top quarterbacks (Mordecai), but he’s not guaranteed the job. That’s due to the continued development of Stone, who ranked as the No. 111 overall prospect in the ’21 signing class. Mordecai threw for 3,628 yards and 39 touchdowns and ran for 202 yards and two scores in his first year on campus after transferring in from Oklahoma last season. Stone is talented, but the guess here is Mordecai will be tough to unseat.
Projected Starter: Mordecai

17. TCU
Candidates:
Max Duggan and Chandler Morris

Major changes are coming to Fort Worth in 2022. Long-time coach Gary Patterson was let go during the ’21 season, with former analyst Sonny Dykes (and Louisiana Tech, Cal and SMU head coach) taking over. Although the Horned Frogs produced plenty of good offenses under Patterson, defense was the focal point of this team. The team's identity is likely to shift to offense under Dykes, and the first-year coach has two promising options to choose from under center. Duggan played in 32 games and passed for 5,920 yards and 41 touchdowns from 2019-21. Despite battling a foot injury last year, Duggan averaged nine yards an attempt and connected on 63.9 percent of his throws in 10 appearances. Morris played in four games (with two starts) last fall and delivered a standout performance (531 total yards and three scores) versus Baylor. The winner of this battle should put up huge numbers in Dykes’ scheme. The guess here is Duggan’s experience wins out this fall.
Projected Starter: Duggan

Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2022

18. UCF
Candidates:
John Rhys Plumlee and Mikey Keene

Despite losing standout quarterback Dillon Gabriel to injury in the third game of 2021, the Knights still found a way to average 31.9 points per contest and finish 9-4 in coach Gus Malzahn’s debut. Keene wasn’t expected to play many snaps as a true freshman last year, but Gabriel’s injury pressed him into the starting role. The Arizona native connected on 63.6 percent of his passes for 17 touchdowns and 1,730 yards. He should benefit from a full offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback, but he will have to hold off a charge from Plumlee. The Mississippi native had a breakout freshman season with 1,023 rushing yards and 12 scores but worked as the No. 2 quarterback behind Matt Corral in ’20 and played some receiver in ’21. Plumlee is a work in progress as a passer (53.8 percent at Ole Miss). However, his ability to make dynamic plays on the ground will be hard to keep on the sidelines.
Projected Starter: Plumlee

19. Missouri
Candidates:
Brady Cook, Jack Abraham, Sam Horn and Tyler Macon

More production out of the passing game is needed for Missouri to reach a bowl in 2022. The Tigers threw only eight touchdowns and averaged 203.3 passing yards in SEC games last season. Also, Missouri passers averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt in conference play. Connor Bazelak opted to transfer to Indiana this offseason, and coach Eli Drinkwitz pursued options in the portal, eventually landing Jack Abraham from Mississippi State. Cook started the bowl game in place of Bazelak and connected on 27 of 34 passes for 238 yards and one score. Macon recorded snaps in three games (193 total yards) and made a start against Georgia. Horn – a four-star prospect from Georgia – is the wild-card (and best long-term) option to watch this fall.
Projected Starter: Cook

T-20. WKU
Candidates:
Jarret Doege and Austin Reed

Replacing Bailey Zappe (5,967 yards and 62 TDs in 2021) won’t be easy for the defending C-USA East Division champs. Not only must Zappe be replaced, but the Hilltoppers also lost coordinator Zach Kittley – the architect of WKU’s high-powered passing game – to Texas Tech. Both Doege and Reed arrived in Bowling Green via the transfer portal this offseason, with Doege likely having an edge in the battle going into the fall. Doege passed for 10,494 yards and 79 touchdowns from 2017-18 at Bowling Green and 2019-21 at West Virginia. Reed transferred to WKU after guiding West Florida to the Division II national title in ’19.
Projected Starter: Doege

T-20. Louisiana
Candidates:
Chandler Fields, Lance LeGendre and Ben Wooldridge

The development of Louisiana’s quarterback room and offense under coach Michael Desormeaux is likely to decide whether or not this team wins the Sun Belt West Division for the fifth year in a row. Levi Lewis departed following the 2021 season, capping a career that saw him accumulate more than 10,000 yards of total offense. Fields played in 13 games as Lewis’ backup over the last three years but attempted only 22 passes in that span. LeGendre – a transfer from Maryland – has yet to record a snap with the Ragin’ Cajuns but played in six games with the Terrapins from 2019-20. Wooldridge has also yet to play at Louisiana after seeing limited time at his previous stop (Fresno State).
Projected Starter: Fields

Other QB Battles to Watch in Fall Practice

USF: Gerry Bohanon vs. Timmy McClain
Virginia Tech: Grant Wells vs. Jason Brown
Duke: Riley Leonard vs. Jordan Moore
Georgia Tech: Jeff Sims vs. Zach Gibson
Illinois: Tommy DeVito vs. Art Sitkowski
Western Michigan: Jack Salopek vs. Stone Hollenbach vs. Mareyohn Hrabowski
Nevada: Nate Cox vs. Shane Illingworth
South Alabama: Carter Bradley vs. Desmond Trotter
Troy: Peter Costelli vs. Gunnar Watson vs. Quayde Hawkins

Podcast: Pac-12 vs. Big 12 continues. Is a 16-team playoff coming? What would the CFB Playoff look like if it had a 12-team format in 2022?