With the turn of the calendar to August, fall practice is officially set to begin across the nation for all 125 college football teams.
Most teams are settled at quarterback, but there are a handful of programs still looking for the right answer heading into fall practice.
None of the top-10 teams in Athlon’s projected final top 25 will have a quarterback battle this fall, but top-25 teams like TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon State and Wisconsin need to settle on a starter over the next few weeks.
Although quarterback battles aren’t necessarily bad if they extend into the season, most coaching staffs would prefer to find the right answer before the first game.
College Football's Top Fall Practice Quarterback Battles
Matt Scott’s eligibility expired after the New Mexico Bowl, leaving a wide-open battle for Arizona’s job in the spring. B.J. Denker served as the backup last season and made one start (Colorado). Denker has the edge in experience, but he will be pushed by junior college transfer and former USC Trojan Jesse Scroggins, redshirt freshman Javelle Allen and true freshman Anu Solomon. Scroggins is recovering from a foot injury and is expected to be at full strength by the time fall practice opens. Solomon ranked as the No. 17 quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class by Athlon Sports. Denker’s edge in experience should pay off early in the year. However, the Wildcats could turn to Solomon or Scroggins by midseason.
Projected Starter for Opener: Denker
Gus Malzahn’s return to Auburn was expected to benefit Kiehl Frazier — who was recruited to the Plains by Malzahn — and Jonathan Wallace, as both quarterbacks struggled in last season’s pro-style attack. However, midway through fall practice, the outlook for the Tigers' quarterback battle has changed. Junior college recruit (and former Georgia defensive back) Nick Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson have ascended to the top of the depth chart. Marshall threw for 3,142 yards and 18 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,095 yards and 19 scores at Garden City Community College in 2012. Adapting as a junior college recruit to SEC play is never easy, but Marshall’s athleticism could at least give him a role as a change-of-pace option in 2013. Frazier moved to safety, but Wallace is expected to be in the mix at quarterback if Johnson or Marshall stumbles.
Projected First Game Starter: Marshall
The Golden Bears opened spring practice with seven quarterbacks vying for the starting spot. Redshirt freshman Zach Kline, true freshman Jared Goff and junior Austin Hinder finished as the top three options, but none has thrown a pass at the FBS level. Kline ranked as the No. 4 quarterback in the nation by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class, while Goff impressed in his first semester on campus. Hinder ranked as a top-20 national quarterback recruit in the 2010 signing class and completed 5 of 9 passes for 87 yards in the spring game. Whichever quarterback wins the job will be the triggerman for an offense that has potential to score plenty of points under new coach Sonny Dykes and coordinator Tony Franklin
Projected First Game Starter: Kline
Despite losing quarterback Collin Klein, Kansas State’s offense is still in good shape. The offensive line is among the best in the Big 12, and running back John Hubert is back after rushing for 947 yards last year. The receiving corps has plenty of talent, including Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson. Daniel Sams served as Klein’s backup in 2012, rushing for 235 yards and three touchdowns in limited work. Battling Sams for the top spot is Jake Waters, who ranked as the top junior college quarterback in the nation, throwing for 3,501 yards at Iowa Western Community College in 2012. Waters also set a NJCAA national record for completion percentage (73.3) in 2012. While Klein will be missed, the Wildcats should be solid on offense with either Sams or Waters at the controls.
Projected First Game Starter: Sams
The Spartans sorely missed Kirk Cousins last year, as the offense averaged only 20 points per game and ranked ninth in the Big Ten with 359.3 yards per game. Andrew Maxwell started all 13 games last season but completed only 52.5 percent of his throws and averaged just 200.5 yards per game. Connor Cook gave Michigan State’s offense a spark in the bowl game and is in the mix, along with Tyler O’Connor and true freshman Damion Terry. Cook gives the offense more mobility from the quarterback spot, but Maxwell’s experience should give him the edge for the opener.
Projected First Game Starter: Maxwell
Mike Glennon expired his eligibility after the Music City Bowl, leaving Pete Thomas and Manny Stocker fighting for the top spot on the depth chart this spring. Thomas finished spring ball as the No. 1 quarterback, but coach Dave Doeren added another name to the mix for the fall – Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell. Although Mitchell doesn’t have a ton of game experience (43 passes) from his time in Fayetteville, he is the best fit for an offense that plans to show more spread looks in 2013. It’s not easy to pickup an offense in a few months, but Mitchell should edge Thomas and Stocker for the top spot.
Projected First Game Starter: Mitchell
After playing a part-time role the last two seasons, Blake Bell is the heavy favorite to be Oklahoma’s No. 1 quarterback in 2013. Bell has rushed for 24 touchdowns in his career but has thrown only 20 passes. While Bell has a lead over redshirt freshman Trevor Knight and sophomore Kendal Thompson, this job is far from settled – at least according to coach Bob Stoops. Knight had an impressive spring and also brings dual-threat ability to the offense. Could Thompson or Knight see time as a short-yardage or change-of-pace quarterback assuming Bell wins the job? Even though Bell needs to prove he can consistently beat defenses with his arm, the junior should be the No. 1 quarterback for Oklahoma.
Projected First Game Starter: Bell
Coach Mike Gundy has indicated that Clint Chelf will open the year as the No. 1 quarterback. But this battle could extend into the season. Chelf finished 2012 as the starter, throwing for 13 touchdowns over the final five games. Wes Lunt opened last year as the starter as a true freshman, but injuries kept him out of the lineup for most of the season, and he transferred this summer to Illinois. If he doesn’t unseat Chelf, J.W. Walsh could see snaps in special packages if he’s not the starter. Although Gundy insists the quarterback job is open, it’s hard to envision the first snap going to someone other than Chelf.
Projected First Game Starter: Chelf
The good news for coach Mike Riley is that the Beavers have two proven starting quarterbacks. The bad news? Neither played well enough last season or in spring practice to secure the top spot. Sean Mannion opened 2012 as Oregon State’s No. 1 quarterback, but a knee injury forced him out of action, which opened the door for Cody Vaz. Although Vaz isn’t as talented as Mannion, he seems to have the trust of the coaching staff and threw only three picks in 185 attempts. Mannion has the edge in talent and was voted as a team captain for 2013. Could that be a sign he is the preferred No. 1 quarterback for Oregon State?
Projected First Game Starter: Mannion
Steven Bench, the most experienced quarterback on the roster (with eight attempts) left the program after spring practice, creating a two-way battle to replace Matt McGloin. Junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson and true freshman Christian Hackenberg — the No. 13 recruit in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 — will do their best to impress coach Bill O’Brien during the fall. If Hackenberg is as good as advertised, O’Brien won’t hesitate to let the freshman play. Considering O’Brien’s history of tutoring quarterbacks, the winner of this job should have a big season in Happy Valley.
Projected First Game Starter: Hackenberg
Casey Pachall was on track to be one of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks last season, but he was suspended for the season after an off-the-field incident in early October. Pachall threw for 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns as TCU’s full-time starter in 2011. Trevone Boykin performed well in his first extended look at quarterback last season, finishing the year with 2,054 yards and 15 touchdowns. Boykin is the better dual-threat option, but Pachall is more experienced and has a good grasp of the offense. The senior is also is the better passer, which will allow TCU to stretch the field more than it did last year. Expect Pachall to win the starting job, but don’t be surprised if both quarterbacks see playing time in 2013.
Projected First Game Starter: Pachall
New coach Butch Jones inherits a Tennessee offense that has one of the best offensive lines in the nation, but is lacking proven talent at receiver and doesn’t have an established quarterback. Justin Worley holds a slight edge over the competition, as he has nine games of experience under his belt, including three starts in 2011. Worley has thrown for 738 yards and one touchdown so far in his career. Freshman Nathan Peterman pushed Worley for time in the spring, but true freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson will factor into the mix. Dobbs is the best fit for Jones’ offense, but is he ready to start the season opener?
Projected First Game Starter: Worley
Matt Barkley departs after throwing for 12,327 yards in his career, leaving true freshman Max Browne and sophomores Max Wittek and Cody Kessler competing for the No. 1 job. After Barkley suffered a shoulder injury against UCLA, Wittek started the final two games and completed just 28-of-60 passes. Kessler completed both of his attempts in mop-up duty last year, while Browne is one of the top quarterbacks in the 2013 signing class. Kessler had the better spring, but Wittek seems to be the preferred choice of the coaching staff. Regardless of whether it’s Wittek, Kessler or Browne under center, they will have one of the nation’s top receiving corps at their disposal.
Projected First Game Starter: Wittek
Junior Paul Millard (34 pass attempts), Florida State transfer Clint Trickett and redshirt freshman Ford Childress are battling for the right to replace Geno Smith. Millard backed up Smith the last two years and most of his playing time was in mop-up duty. Childress is the son of a former NFL lineman and was ranked as the No. 18 quarterback in the nation by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class. Trickett joined the team following spring practice after three seasons in Tallahassee. He started two games in 2011, which included an impressive performance at Clemson (336 yards). Millard has the most experience in coach Dana Holgorsen’s system, but Childress might have more upside. However, the addition of Trickett has added another element to the battle, and the junior certainly wasn’t brought in to hold a clipboard.
Projected First Game Starter: Trickett
Curt Phillips stabilized Wisconsin’s quarterback play last season after an injury sidelined Joel Stave and Danny O’Brien was benched due to ineffectiveness. But Phillips could be the odd man out this season, as Stave turned in a solid spring, and junior college recruit Tanner McEvoy is the best fit for new coach Gary Andersen’s offense. Stave threw for 1,104 yards and six scores last season but doesn’t offer anything on the ground. McEvoy is a dual-threat who could thrive in coordinator Andy Ludwig’s attack. However, he will need some time to learn the offense, as well as adjust to the competition level in the Big Ten.
Projected First Game Starter: Stave
Others to Watch
Houston’s offense took a step back last year after the departure of quarterback Case Keenum and coach Kevin Sumlin. Piland had a good performance against Louisiana Tech (580 yards) but finished the year with 12 picks and completed 57.1 percent of his throws. He will be pushed by JUCO recruit Billy Cosh, sophomore Bram Kohlhausen and incoming freshman John O’Korn.
The Hoosiers have three quarterbacks capable of leading this team in 2013. Sophomore Tre Roberson missed most of last year due to a leg injury, while Cam Coffman and Nate Sudfeld played well in relief. Indiana ranked second in the Big Ten in total offense and regardless of which quarterback wins the job, should be one of the best in the conference once again.
The Hawkeyes offense ranked 11th in the Big Ten in scoring last year, and none of the quarterbacks on the roster have played a snap in an Iowa uniform. Sophomore Jake Rudock is the favorite, but he will be pushed by junior Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard.
Coach Mark Stoops’ decision to hire Neal Brown as his offensive coordinator should pay dividends for Kentucky in 2013. But for Brown to move the Wildcats out of the SEC cellar in scoring offense, a quarterback needs to emerge. There’s no shortage of candidates, with sophomore Jalen Whitlow owning a slight edge over Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles heading into the fall.
New coach Darrell Hazell wants to settle on a No. 1 quarterback this fall, with senior Rob Henry and freshmen Danny Etling and Austin Appleby vying for snaps. Henry has seven career starts at quarterback but none since 2010. Etling was one of Purdue’s top recruits and impressed in spring practice.
After averaging just 20.6 points a game in 2012, there’s plenty of room for USF’s offense to improve this year. New coach Willie Taggart has attempted to bolster South Florida’s quarterback issues by adding Penn State transfer Steven Bench this summer. Bench will compete with senior Bobby Eveld, sophomore Matt Floyd and true freshman Mike White this fall.
Ryan Nassib won’t be easy to replace, but Syracuse has three intriguing candidates competing for time. Drew Allen is eligible immediately after transferring from Oklahoma, while sophomore Terrel Hunt adds a dual-threat option to the offense, and Charley Loeb was the backup to Nassib last year.
Michael Brewer was considered a heavy favorite to win the job in the spring, but true freshman Davis Webb impressed the coaching staff. Is there really a battle here or is this a motivational tactic to push Brewer?
Coach Mike London indicated sophomore David Watford will open fall camp as the No. 1 quarterback, but redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert is expected to push for time. Watford redshirted in 2012 after throwing for 346 yards as a true freshman in 2011.
Junior Connor Halliday heads into the fall with an edge over redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca and true freshman Tyler Bruggman. Halliday threw for 1,874 yards in limited action last year, but he needs to cut down on his mistakes and complete a higher percentage of his passes.
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