Quarterback is easily the position with the most pressure in any college football season. Whether it’s a quarterback fighting to keep a starting job, replacing a standout from the prior season or just looking to elevate their overall play, signal-callers will be securitized and watched closely all offseason.
With spring practice underway, quarterback play is under the spotlight and battles across the nation are up for grabs. Which 15 quarterbacks head into 2015 with big expectations as they replace a big name? And which quarterbacks are fighting to hold onto the job this offseason?
Here are 15 names to consider as names on the hot seat (for various reasons) in 2015:
Six Quarterbacks on the Hot Seat…Fighting to Remain a Starter
Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech
Brewer experienced his share of ups and downs in 2014, and the pressure is on the Texas native to take a step forward. In 13 games last season, Brewer threw for 2,692 yards and 18 scores and led the Hokies to an upset win over Ohio State. However, he also tossed seven picks in ACC play, passed for only 80 yards in a loss to Miami and threw for 126 yards and one interception in a 6-3 defeat against Wake Forest. Virginia Tech has one of the nation’s best defenses, and a talented group of skill players returning in 2015. If Brewer cuts the number of interceptions and plays with more consistency, the Hokies can challenge for the Coastal title. If Brewer stumbles, Brenden Motley appears to be next up on the depth chart.
Jake Coker, Alabama
Coker was expected to win the starting job after transferring from Florida State to Alabama last season. However, Blake Sims held off Coker for the No. 1 spot and threw for 3,487 yards and 28 scores. With Sims expiring his eligibility, the job is Coker’s to lose this spring. The senior will see competition from freshmen David Cornwell and Blake Barnett and junior Alec Morris. With an elite defense and rushing attack, Alabama doesn’t need Coker to be an All-SEC passer. But can he deliver with the game on the line and make enough timely throws to elevate the Crimson Tide into the national title?
Anthony Jennings, LSU
According to the recruiting rankings, LSU has one of the SEC’s best rosters. But even with a roster loaded with raw talent, the Tigers won’t contend for the West Division title unless the quarterback play improves in 2015. Jennings completed only 48.9 percent of his passes last season and finished 2014 by averaging only 110.4 yards in SEC contests. Jennings is locked into a tight battle for the starting job, as sophomore Brandon Harris ranked as the No. 75 prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite and played in eight games last year.
Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
Settling the quarterback job is the top priority for new coordinator Lincoln Riley. The Sooners have ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in passing offense in back-to-back seasons and averaged only 184.8 yards through the air in conference contests in 2014. Knight appeared to be a rising star after his performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but he finished with just 14 touchdowns to 12 interceptions last year. Knight will be pushed by Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas this spring. Can he find the form that propelled the Sooners to a bowl win over Alabama at the end of the 2013 season? Or will Knight lose the battle to start under center?
Joel Stave, Wisconsin
Defense and the stellar play of running back Melvin Gordon led the way for Wisconsin last season. The Badgers averaged only 150 passing yards in Big Ten games, with Stave throwing for 1,350 yards and nine scores. He also tossed 10 picks and completed 53.4 percent of his passes. Even though Gordon is off to the NFL, the rushing attack should be strong with Corey Clement in a full-time role. But how much of a difference will new coach Paul Chryst make with the passing attack? Tanner McEvoy moved to defensive back, leaving Bart Houston, D.J. Gillins and freshmen Alex Hornibrook and Austin Kafentzis as candidates to push Stave for the starting job. The sluggish passing game isn’t all Stave’s fault, as Wisconsin has to develop more weapons at receiver this offseason.
Tyrone Swoopes, Texas
A similar storyline is set to unfold at Texas in coach Charlie Strong’s second season. The Longhorns will be strong on defense and enter the year with question marks on offense. Swoopes finished 2014 with 2,409 passing yards and 13 scores and added 262 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Texas plans to make a few tweaks to its offense in 2015, which includes utilizing the quarterbacks more on the run. Swoopes will be pushed for time by redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard this spring and needs to show marked improvement in order to stay at the top of the depth chart for 2015.
Five Players Under Pressure At National Title Contenders
Vernon Adams, Oregon
Replacing a Heisman Trophy winner is never easy. However, that’s the task ahead for Oregon coach Mark Helfrich this offseason. Adams is transferring from Eastern Washington but won’t arrive on campus until this summer. The California native was one of the top players on the FCS level over the last three seasons and should be a good fit in the Ducks’ high-powered offense. Adams is a dynamic playmaker and could be one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks in 2015. How quickly will he pickup the offense and adjust to play on the FBS level?
Jeremy Johnson, Auburn
All signs point to Johnson as the next breakout star at quarterback. The junior is at the controls of coach Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense and played well in limited action through the first two seasons of his career. Johnson is a different quarterback than his predecessor Nick Marshall. The Montgomery native is a 6-foot-5 pocket passer with a cannon for an arm. Johnson certainly isn’t a statue in the pocket, but the quarterback runs under Marshall likely won’t be as prominently featured in 2015. If Johnson lives up to the hype, Auburn could win the SEC title and rank among the four teams for a playoff bid.
Sean Maguire, Florida State
Maguire has the monumental task of replacing Jameis Winston after one of the best two-year runs by a starting quarterback. While losing Winston to the NFL was a huge blow to Florida State, coach Jimbo Fisher is one of the top offensive minds in the nation and a noted quarterback guru. Maguire made his first career start against Clemson last season, completing 21 of 39 passes for 304 yards and one score. The New Jersey native is expected to claim the starting job this spring and will have a strong supporting cast at his disposal in 2015.
Brice Ramsey, Georgia
Out of the quarterbacks in this section, Ramsey is the one with the least amount of job security. The sophomore entered spring as the frontrunner to replace Hutson Mason but will face competition from Jacob Park and Faton Bauta. In eight games last season, Ramsey completed 24 of 39 passes for 333 yards and three scores. Will Ramsey emerge as the favorite under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer? The Bulldogs have one of the nation’s top running backs in Nick Chubb, along with a defense that should be better in coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s second season. Contending for a national title could hinge on how quickly Georgia settles its quarterback situation.
Seth Russell, Baylor
Russell saw significant action last year, which included one start while Bryce Petty was dealing with a back injury. In eight appearances, Russell completed 48 of 85 throws for 804 yards and eight scores. Coach Art Briles is one of the best in the nation at finding and developing the next star at quarterback, and Baylor’s offense won’t miss much of a beat with Russell under center. However, if he stumbles, Jarrett Stidham – the No. 38 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite – will be ready to push for snaps.
Not in Danger of Losing the Starting Spot…But Has to Play Better
Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
If Armstrong develops as a passer under coach Mike Riley and Nebraska’s new offense, the Cornhuskers can win the Big Ten’s West Division in 2015.
Kevin Hogan, Stanford
Hogan turned in two solid performances at the end of 2014, and it’s critical for Stanford’s offense to shoulder more of the load in 2015 with several key players departing on defense.
Mitch Leidner, Minnesota
Leidner is a good fit for Minnesota’s offense with his mobility (452 yards and 10 scores in 2014), but he has to improve his completion percentage (51.5).
Maty Mauk, Missouri
Mauk completed only 48.9 percent of his passes in SEC games last season. Improving that number is critical to Missouri’s hopes of winning the East once again in 2015. However, the Tigers must replace their top three receivers from last year.