The kickoff to the 2012 college football season is just around the corner, but quarterback battles remain in full swing across the nation. Most national title contenders have settled on a quarterback, but Oregon - ranked by most experts in the top 10 - has yet to settle on a starter. Texas could push Oklahoma for the Big 12 title but needs to pick between David Ash or Case McCoy. And there's plenty of other intriguing battles outside of the top 10-15 teams in the nation, including Rutgers, Kentucky, Iowa State and Notre Dame.
College Football's Top 15 Quarterback Battles for Fall Practice
1. Oregon – The battle to replace Darron Thomas is college football’s most intriguing quarterback battle. The Ducks have the pieces in place to compete for a national title but need a quarterback to settle into the starting role. Sophomore Bryan Bennett began spring practice with an edge, especially due to his experience last year. Bennett threw for 369 yards and six touchdowns in limited work, while also adding 200 yards on the ground. Marcus Mariota redshirted last season but had a strong showing in the spring game, throwing for 202 yards and adding 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Although it’s never a good thing to replace a solid starting quarterback, the Ducks have to feel good about their options. Bennett and Mariota are both capable of leading Oregon to a Pac-12 title, it’s just a matter of settling on one. Don’t be surprised if both players receive starts, but Mariota’s edge in athletic ability eventually gets the nod as Oregon’s No. 1 quarterback.
Predicted Winner: Mariota
2. Texas – The gap between the Longhorns and Oklahoma for the No. 1 spot in the Big 12 has narrowed this offseason. The Sooners lost two offensive linemen, but all signs point to a return to full strength for running back Dominique Whaley. Texas averaged just 189.9 passing yards a game last season, and its quarterbacks threw 15 interceptions on 357 attempts. David Ash edged Case McCoy for the No. 1 spot late last year and finished spring practice with the starting nod. True freshmen Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet are in the mix, but the battle is expected to be between Ash and McCoy for the top spot. Considering Texas improved by three wins from 2010 to 2011, if Ash can give the Longhorns just a little more through the air, it’s not out of the question this team can win the Big 12.
Predicted Winner: Ash
3. Stanford – Just like Boise State and Kellen Moore, the Cardinal will find it impossible to replace Andrew Luck. In three seasons with Stanford, he threw for 9,430 yards and 82 touchdowns, while leading the program to two BCS bowl appearances. Vying to replace Luck are three candidates: sophomore Brett Nottingham, junior Josh Nunes and redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan. Nottingham completed 5 of 8 throws for 78 yards and one score last season, while Nunes dealt with a foot injury and did not record a snap. Hogan is a longshot to win the No. 1 spot, leaving Nottingham and Nunes as the two candidates battling to start. Both quarterbacks are inexperienced, but the Cardinal returns a solid offensive line and group of running backs for the offensive to lean on. Heading into the final days of fall practice, it’s a tight battle for the right to start in the season opener against San Jose State.
Predicted Winner: Nottingham
4. Notre Dame –If the Irish want to have any shot at winning 10 games and reaching a BCS bowl, they have to find an answer at quarterback. Tommy Rees started most of last season, finishing with 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns. However, he also tossed 14 picks and struggled in Notre Dame’s final two games. Rees is suspended for the season opener, leaving redshirt freshman Everett Golson, sophomore Andrew Hendrix and true freshman Gunner Kiel as the three candidates vying for the start against Navy. Hendrix played in five games last year, throwing for 249 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for 162 yards and one score on 25 attempts. Golson is an intriguing dual-threat option but has no game experience. Kiel rated as the No. 2 quarterback in the 2012 signing class by Athlon Sports but may need another year to develop.
Predicted Winner: Golson
5. Florida – Considering the offenses Florida fielded under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, it’s hard to understand how the Gators ranked 105thnationally in total offense and 71st in scoring last year. A multitude of problems appeared for Florida last season, starting with a lack of playmakers at running back and receiver, offensive line issues and trouble meshing with Charlie Weis’ system. New coordinator Brent Pease comes from Boise State and should be a much better fit in Gainesville. Sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are locked into a tight battle for playing time. Brissett threw for 206 yards and two touchdowns in limited work last year, while Driskel threw for 148 yards and two picks. Brissett is a better passer, while Driskel offers more on the ground. Driskel suffered a shoulder injury in fall camp, which could impact how this race plays out. Considering how close this battle is, it wouldn’t be a shock to see both players split snaps early in the year. Will Muschamp would like to settle on one quarterback, but this battle may extend into the season.
Predicted Winner: Brissett
6. Wisconsin – The Badgers are hoping another transfer can be the answer at quarterback in 2012. Russell Wilson’s only season in Madison was a huge success, leading Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl, while throwing for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns. Danny O’Brien spent the last two years with Maryland, throwing for 4,086 yards, 29 scores and 18 picks. He had a standout freshman season but struggled to adapt to a new offense in 2011. O’Brien doesn’t have Wilson’s mobility or ability to create plays on the run, but is better than his performance showed last year. Competing with O’Brien for the No. 1 spot is senior Curt Phillips and redshirt freshman Joel Stave. Injuries have hindered Phillips throughout his career, while Stave has no game experience. O’Brien may not be as effective as Wilson, but he should have a solid season and one that leads Wisconsin to the Leaders Division title.
Predicted Winner: O’Brien
7. Boise State –Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: It will be impossible to make Bronco fans forget Kellen Moore. There’s simply no way to replace 14,667 career passing yards and 142 touchdowns in one offseason. However, Boise State usually reloads without much trouble, which should keep the offense performing at a high level in 2012. Joe Southwick has the edge to start the season opener against Michigan State, and he has 400 yards and two touchdowns in two seasons as a reserve. True freshman Nick Patti is similar to Moore in size (5-foot-10, 187 pounds) and had a good showing in the spring. Redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea and sophomore Grant Hedrick are also in the mix but are behind Southwick and Patti for playing time.
Predicted Winner: Southwick
8. Texas A&M – With a new coaching staff, conference and starting quarterback, the Aggies will be dealing with a lot of changes for the 2012 season. Kevin Sumlin was one of college football’s top head coaching hires, but he has a tough task ahead of him this year, especially with the move to the SEC and a young quarterback taking over. Jameill Showers finished spring practice atop the depth chart but has very little experience after throwing just five passes in relief duty last year. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel is a better dual-threat option and is off to a strong start in fall practice. Sophomore Matt Joeckel has no game experience but threw for 3,145 yards and 40 touchdowns as a senior in high school. True freshman Matt Davis has the most upside of this group but likely needs a year to develop. Although Showers entered fall No. 1 on the depth chart, Manziel made enough of a push to win the job and was named Texas A&M's starting quarterback for the season opener against Louisiana Tech.
Named Winner: Manziel
9. Auburn –A year after winning the national championship and owning one of college football’s top offenses, the Tigers slipped to 100thnationally in total offense and 70th with 25.7 points per game. Replacing Cam Newton was no easy task, especially with three inexperienced candidates vying for time. Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley combined for 16 touchdowns but also threw nine picks and failed to complete more than 60 percent of their throws. Kiehl Frazier played in all 13 games as a true freshman last season but completed only 5 of 12 passes for 34 yards. He made more of an impact on the ground, rushing for 327 yards and three scores. Gus Malzahn departed for Arkansas State, and Gene Chizik hired Scot Loeffler to coordinate the offense. Loeffler is bringing more of a pro-style attack to Auburn, but do the Tigers have a quarterback to execute the passing attack? With Trotter leaving after the 2011 season, it’s a two-man battle between Frazier and Moseley. Although Moseley has the edge in experience, Frazier should take the first snap for Auburn in 2012.
Predicted Winner: Frazier
10. Rutgers – After winning four out of their last five games in 2011, the Scarlet Knights are one of the favorites to win the Big East title. However, there’s a new coach (Kyle Flood) and a quarterback battle. Chas Dodd has 15 career starts, while throwing for 3,211 yards and 21 touchdowns during that span. Gary Nova started five games as a true freshman last year and finished with 1,553 passing yards and 11 touchdowns. Dodd has the edge in experience, but Nova has more upside and his arm strength should help Rutgers stretch the field more. Although Nova may have a few growing pains, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the field.
Predicted Winner: Nova
11. Arizona State – New coach Todd Graham struggled to get his high-octane offense on track at Pittsburgh and could have similar issues if the Sun Devils can’t find a quarterback. Three candidates are locked into a battle for playing time: Redshirt freshman Michael Eubank and sophomores Mike Bercovici and Taylor Kelly. Kelly and Bercovici each played in two games last year, combining for seven pass attempts and 46 yards. Eubank has the most potential (and is the best fit for the offense) but doesn’t have any experience. Kelly was thought to be the odd man out exiting spring practice but is making a push for playing time this fall. Even if Kelly manages to edge the other two candidates for the starting nod, expect Eubank to start the most games for Arizona State in 2012.
Projected Winner: Eubank
12. Virginia – The right to be Cavaliers’ No. 1 quarterback wasn’t expected to be much of a battle at the end of the 2011 season. Michael Rocco held off David Watford early last year and finished by throwing for 312 yards in the bowl game against Auburn and 238 yards and one score in the upset victory over Florida State. However, Virginia landed Alabama transfer Phillip Sims, and the former Crimson Tide quarterback was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. Although Rocco has the edge in experience, Sims has more long-term upside and could be difficult to keep off the field.
Predicted Winner: Rocco
13. Iowa State – Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett had their moments last season, but neither quarterback could gain enough of an edge to claim the outright starting spot. Jantz led Iowa State to a 3-0 start but lost the job to Barnett halfway through the year. Barnett finished 2011 with 1,201 passing yards and six scores, while leading the Cyclones to an upset victory over Oklahoma State. Although the position is unsettled, Paul Rhoads should feel confident that he has two options who can help to lead Iowa State back to a bowl game. It’s possible both quarterbacks play in 2012, but Barnett’s upside could be the deciding factor.
Predicted Winner: Barnett
14. Cincinnati – The Bearcats got an early look at 2012 when Zach Collaros missed three games late last season due to a leg injury. Cincinnati’s offense wasn’t the same without Collaros but did manage to score at least 30 points in two out of the three games in his absence. Munchie Legaux made three starts last season and finished with 749 passing yards and five scores, while adding 185 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. However, he threw four picks and completed just 47.4 percent of his throws. Pushing Legaux for time in the spring was senior Brendon Kay, but he has very little experience. Freshmen Bennie Coney, Patrick Coyne and Trenton Norvell have upside but will be longshots to ascend to No. 1 on the depth chart. Even though Legaux needs some work as a passer, he should get better with more experience and his rushing ability will be a valuable asset for Cincinnati.
Predicted Winner: Legaux
15. Kentucky – With an 11-14 record through his first two years in Lexington, Joker Philips is on the hot seat. The Wildcats probably need to win five or six games to save his job, and their success in 2012 will largely hinge on whether or not they can find a quarterback. Maxwell Smith stepped into a tough situation last year, starting three games late in the season as a true freshman, finishing with 819 yards and four touchdowns. He also tossed four picks, including two in a 19-10 loss to Georgia. Morgan Newton entered last year as the starter but struggled mightily, throwing for 793 yards and seven picks, while completing just 47.7 percent of his throws. The wildcard to watch is true freshman Patrick Towles, ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Kentucky by most recruiting services.
Predicted Winner: Smith
by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
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