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College Football's Top 20 Quarterback Battles to Watch in Fall Practice

Jeff Lockie

Jeff Lockie

With fall practice underway, the long offseason is almost over and college football’s 2015 season is officially around the corner. The final preparations for the upcoming year have started, and coaches spend fall camp trying to finalize depth charts and rotations for the opener.

While there’s no shortage of critical position battles in the fall, the quarterback position is going to generate the most interest among fans. And there’s plenty of big-name programs looking for a starter in fall camp. Of Athlon Sports’ top 10 teams for 2015, five of them appear on this list.

Related: College Football's Top 50 Players for 2015

Here’s a quick look at 20 key quarterback battles for the fall and a projected winner for each:

College Football's Top 20 QB Battles for Fall Practice

1. Ohio State

The Contenders:J.T. Barrett vs. Cardale Jones

Urban Meyer’s decision at quarterback got a little easier with the announcement that Braxton Miller would move to receiver in 2015. However, there’s still a tough decision ahead for the coaching staff. Do the Buckeyes stick with Jones after an impressive three-game stint to close last season? Or does Barrett regain the starting job after leading the Big Ten with an average of 314.3 total yards per game in 2014?

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Barrett

Related: College Football's Top 50 Players for 2015

2. Alabama

The Contenders: Jake Coker vs. David Cornwell vs. Alec Morris vs. Blake Barnett vs. Cooper Bateman

Five quarterbacks are listed as contenders, but all signs point to Coker and Cornwell as the frontrunners to replace Blake Sims. Coker was considered the favorite to start after transferring to Alabama from Florida State. However, Sims started all 14 games for the Crimson Tide in 2014. Cornwell was a four-star prospect and ranked as the No. 79 player in the 2014 247Sports Composite. He’s ready to push for the starting job after a redshirt year.

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Coker

Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2015

3. Oregon

The Contenders: Vernon Adams vs. Jeff Lockie

There’s a lot of intrigue surrounding the battle to replace Marcus Mariota. Adams is expected to arrive on campus in early August, but Lockie had a good spring and has a chance to capitalize off Adams’ late arrival this fall. Adams is a dynamic player and accumulated over 10,00 total yards in his Eastern Washington career. Adapting to a new offense and FBS competition will be the graduate transfer’s biggest challenges. Lockie completed 21 of 28 passes for 207 yards and one score in 2014.

Projected Starter for the Opener: Lockie...but Adams takes over during the season

Related: Pac-12 Breakout Players for 2015

4. Florida State

The Contenders: Everett Golson vs. Sean Maguire

Jameis Winston leaves big shoes to fill in Tallahassee. Maguire finished spring at the top of the depth chart, but Golson announced his intentions to transfer to Florida State in May. How quickly will Golson pickup Florida State’s offense? His mobility could be an asset behind four new starters in the trenches. Maguire has one career start (Clemson in 2014) and has passed for 455 yards and three scores over the last two seasons.

Projected Starter for the Opener: Golson

Related: Florida State 2015 Fall Camp Preview

5. LSU

The Contenders: Anthony Jennings vs. Brandon Harris

LSU has enough talent to win the SEC West, but the Tigers need more from the passing attack. In SEC games last season, LSU quarterbacks completed only 46.4 percent of passes and managed only seven passing scores. Jennings started 12 of the Tigers’ 13 contests last season, but there’s more upside with Harris.

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Harris

Related: SEC Quarterback Rankings for 2015

6. Georgia

The Contenders: Brice Ramsey vs. Greyson Lambert vs. Faton Bauta

Regardless of which quarterback takes the first snap for coach Mark Richt, Georgia is going to lean heavily on its ground attack and defense. New coordinator Brian Schottenheimer won’t change much in regards to the overall offensive approach, but a leader at quarterback needs to emerge this fall. Ramsey finished spring at the top of the depth chart, and Lambert transferred to Georgia after starting nine games for Virginia in 2014. Bauta is a dual-threat option and has completed 4 of 5 passes in two years of snaps.

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Ramsey

Related: The SEC's Top Heisman Contenders for 2015

7. Ole Miss

The Contenders: Chad Kelly vs. Ryan Buchanan vs. DeVante Kincade

The Rebels have one of the SEC’s top defenses. Will the offense find the right answers at quarterback and running back to push for the SEC West title? Kelly – a former Clemson quarterback and junior college recruit – is the favorite to win the job, but Buchanan is slated to take the first snap in fall camp. Kelly is the team’s most talented option, while Buchanan and Kincade have the most experience within coach Hugh Freeze’s offensive scheme.

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Kelly

Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2015

8. Michigan

The Contenders: Jake Rudock vs. Shane Morris

Settling the quarterback battle is the top priority for new coach Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines have options, as Iowa transfer Jake Rudock and junior Shane Morris lead the way entering fall camp. Rudock passed for 2,436 yards and 16 scores as the Hawkeyes’ starter in 2014 but was supplanted as the No. 1 quarterback at the end of 2014. Morris completed 14 of 40 passes for the Wolverines last season. Freshmen Zach Gentry and Alex Malzone are wild cards to watch.

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9. Oklahoma

The Contenders: Baker Mayfield vs. Trevor Knight vs. Cody Thomas

Technically, this is still a battle. However, all signs point to Mayfield taking the first snap of the year for Oklahoma. The Texas Tech transfer passed for 2,315 yards and 12 scores with the Red Raiders in 2013 and is a good fit for new coordinator Lincoln Riley’s offense. If Mayfield struggles, Knight (2,300 yards and 14 TDs in 2014) is expected to rank No. 2 on the depth chart.

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Mayfield

Related: Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2015

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10. Texas

The Contenders: Tyrone Swoopes vs. Jerrod Heard

Coach Charlie Strong has already indicated Swoopes and Heard will see time in the opener against Notre Dame. The Longhorns are looking for improvement on offense after averaging only 21.4 points per game in 2014. Swoopes showed flashes of promise but finished with 11 interceptions and struggled in losses against TCU and Arkansas. Heard spent 2014 as a redshirt and is considered the more dynamic playmaker on the ground.

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Swoopes…but Heard takes over later in the season 

11. Florida

The Contenders: Will Grier vs. Treon Harris

The Gators struggled to find their offensive identity and rhythm under former coach Will Muschamp. While this offense appears to be on the right track under new coach Jim McElwain, Florida could have its share of ups and downs in 2015 with an inexperienced offensive line and question marks remain in the receiving corps. Quarterback play also has its share of uncertainty, as Grier – a redshirt freshman – is expected to supplant Treon Harris as the starter in 2015. Harris started six games in 2014 and finished with 1,019 yards and nine passing scores. Grier ranked as the No. 48 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite.

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Grier

Related: College Football's Top 50 Players for 2015

12. UCLA

The Contenders: Jerry Neuheisel vs. Josh Rosen

Experience versus talent. That’s the storyline set to unfold this fall at UCLA. Neuheisel joined the program in 2012 and worked as Brett Hundley’s backup last season, throwing for 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards against Texas. While Neuheisel was solid in relief of Hundley last year, he’s not the favorite to win the job. Rosen – the No. 12 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite – enrolled in time to compete in the spring and is expected to start the opener. 

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Rosen

13. Boise State

The Contenders: Ryan Finley vs. Brett Rypien vs. Thomas Stuart vs. Alex Ogle

Boise State usually has little trouble finding the next standout quarterback. Expect coach Bryan Harsin to find the right replacement for Grant Hedrick early in 2015, as Finley finished spring with an edge for the No. 1 spot. The Arizona native played in five games last season and completed 12 of 27 passes for 161 yards and two scores. Rypien – a four-star prospect – is an intriguing option for the future. Stuart could be Finley’s biggest challenger this fall.

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Finley

Related: Mountain West Predictions for 2015

14. Texas Tech

The Contenders: Patrick Mahomes vs. Davis Webb

Dynamic and high-scoring offenses are the norm at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are looking for more consistency this season after averaging 30.5 points per game in 2014. Regardless of which quarterback starts, it’s safe to assume Texas Tech will be among the Big 12’s best in scoring. Mahomes stepped into the starting lineup after Davis Webb was injured last year and finished with 1,547 yards and 16 touchdowns. Although the numbers don’t reflect it (104 yards), Mahomes has enough mobility to give the offense an added dimension on the ground.

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Mahomes

15. Louisville

The Contenders: Reggie Bonnafon vs. Will Gardner vs. Kyle Bolin

Only three quarterbacks made the contender list, but Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson and freshman Lamar Jackson also deserve a mention in this space. However, all signs point to Bonnafon as the team’s starter for the opener against Auburn. In 10 games last season, Bonnafon threw for 864 yards and five scores and rushed for 164 yards and five touchdowns. Could Jackson see time as a change-of-pace option?

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Bonnafon

Related: Louisville 2015 Fall Camp Preview

16. Kansas State

The Contenders: Joe Hubener vs. Jesse Ertz vs. Jonathan Banks vs. Alex Delton

Replacing Jake Waters won’t be easy for the Wildcats. However, don’t doubt Bill Snyder’s ability to quickly reload at the quarterback position. Former walk-on Joe Hubener is the favorite to start, but the junior has only eight career appearances and did not start a game at quarterback in high school. Sophomore Jesse Ertz, true freshman Alex Delton and junior college recruit Jonathan Banks are also in the mix.

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Hubener

17. Washington

The Contenders: Jake Browning vs. K.J. Carta-Samuels vs. Jeff Lindquist

Will coach Chris Petersen look to the future with his quarterback choice? Or will the second-year coach choose experience? Browning is the team’s most talented option, ranking as the No. 71 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite. The California native also enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. Carta-Samuels redshirted last season, while Lindquist played in 13 games (with one start) and finished with completions on 10 of 30 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown.

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Browning

Related: Pac-12 2015 Quarterback Rankings

18. Northwestern

The Contenders: Zack Oliver vs. Clayton Thorson vs. Matt Alviti

The Wildcats are hoping to find a spark on offense after averaging just 21.3 points in Big Ten games last season. A three-way battle at quarterback is set to unfold in the fall, and there’s not much separating the candidates. Oliver has the edge in experience, throwing for 367 yards and two scores last season. He also started the season finale after an injury sidelined Trevor Siemian. The edge in talent goes to Thorson or Alviti, and both quarterbacks bring the added threat of the run to the offensive attack.

Projected Starter for the Opener: Thorson

19. Rutgers

The Contenders: Hayden Rettig vs. Chris Laviano

Gary Nova had his share of ups and downs at Rutgers, but he finished his career on a high note, throwing for 2,851 yards and 22 scores in 2014. With Nova out of eligibility, and coordinator Ralph Friedgen moving into an advisor role, the Scarlet Knights have a few big question marks to answer this fall on offense. Rettig – a transfer from LSU – has more physical tools but did not play with the Tigers in 2013 and sat out due to NCAA transfer rules in 2014. Laviano worked as Nova’s backup last season and completed 11 of 28 passes for 107 yards and one interception.

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Projected Starter for the Opener: Laviano

20. Vanderbilt

The Contenders: Wade Freebeck vs. Johnny McCrary

After starting four quarterbacks last season, second-year coach Derek Mason wants to end the quarterback roulette in 2015. Finding a starter and giving that player a chance to develop and not look over his shoulder is a big priority for Mason and new coordinator Andy Ludwig. Freebeck was pressed into action as a true freshman last year and finished with just one touchdown and a 47.2 completion percentage on 72 attempts. McCrary led the team with nine touchdown tosses but also threw eight picks and completed 51.3 percent of his passes.

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Projected Starter for the Opener: McCrary