College football's countdown to kickoff for the 2019 season has officially reached 25 days on July 30. With the milestone of 25 days to go until the first game of the season, Athlon Sports is marking this occasion with a look at the top 25 quarterback battles for the upcoming year. While some battles were settled in the spring and summer, plenty of high-profile competitions remain. Auburn, Mississippi State, Washington State, TCU and Miami are just a few of the battles that will be decided in the fall.
Defining which battles are settled or not can be tricky. For the purposes of this article, even though the coaches have indicated the job is not settled, we did not include Oklahoma, Ohio State, Washington, USC or Penn State. While the coaches have maintained each of those programs has an open battle, we feel the starters at each of those programs is clear going into fall practice.
College Football's Top 25 QB Battles for 2019
Contenders: Chris Robison (SO), Nick Tronti (SO), Cordel Littlejohn (R-FR), Justin Agner (JR)
FAU coach Lane Kiffin has three transfers – Robison, Tronti and Agner – vying for the starting job this fall. Robison started 11 games in 2018 but was suspended for the spring. He’s back with the team for 2019 and will be pushed by Tronti for the No. 1 spot.
Projected Winner: Robison
Contenders: Carson Strong (R-FR), Cristian Solano (SR), Malik Henry (JR)
Nevada improved their win total by five games in coach Jay Norvell’s second year in Reno but getting back to a bowl will require an answer to emerge at quarterback. Solano is 28 of 51 for 256 yards and four picks in his career and left spring as the favorite to start. However, Henry’s development is worth watching. The former Florida State quarterback isn’t short on talent.
Projected Winner: Henry
Contenders: Carter Bradley (R-FR), Mitchell Guadagni (SR), Cross Wilkinson (R-FR), Eli Peters (JR)
Toledo has a track record of producing high-scoring offenses, and it’s safe to assume that trend will continue in 2019. While the Rockets earn a spot on this list, it would be a surprise if Guadagni did not win the job. The Ohio native was off to a solid start (13 passing TDs and 428 rush yards) before suffering a season-ending injury in October.
Projected Winner: Guadagni
22. Georgia Tech
Contenders: Tobias Oliver (SO), Lucas Johnson (JR), Jordan Yates (FR), James Graham (R-FR)
Georgia Tech is undergoing a significant renovation this offseason, as new coach Geoff Collins is shifting the offense away from the option to more of a spread attack. The Yellow Jackets averaged only 9.7 pass attempts a game last fall but that number will certainly go up in 2019. Oliver ran for 876 yards as the backup to TaQuon Marshall in 2018, while Johnson did not play due to a foot injury suffered in fall practice.
Projected Winner: Johnson
Contenders: Brandon Peters (JR), Isaiah Williams (FR), Coran Taylor (R-FR), Matt Robinson (R-FR)
M.J. Rivers was poised to replace AJ Bush as the starting quarterback for the Fighting Illini, but he transferred at the end of spring. Coach Lovie Smith dipped into the transfer portal for a replacement and landed Peters to compete with three freshmen. Peters played in 10 games from 2017-18 and connected on 58 of 110 passes and four scores to three picks. Williams ranked as a four-star athlete in the 2019 signing class and will be an intriguing player to watch in fall practice.
Projected Winner: Peters
Contenders: Jawon Pass (JR), Malik Cunningham (SO)
Scott Satterfield was the top coaching hire of the 2018-19 carousel, and the former Appalachian State head coach should help Louisville’s offense take a step forward after managing only 19.8 points a game last fall. Pass and Cunningham shared the top spot on the depth chart released by the team prior to ACC Media Days, so the battle could go deep into fall practice. Pass ranked as the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the 2016 signing class and seems likely to rebound under the new staff after throwing for 1,960 yards and eight touchdowns to 12 picks last fall. Cunningham is a better runner as he led the team with 497 rushing yards and five scores last season. He also connected on 40 of 67 throws for 473 yards in limited snaps.
Projected Winner: Pass
Contenders: Brandon Wimbush (SR), Darriel Mack (SO), Quadry Jones (R-FR), Dillon Gabriel (FR)
UCF has been hit hard by injuries at this position, as star McKenzie Milton is slated to miss 2019 due to the serious knee injury suffered against USF last November. Mack started the final two games of 2018 but suffered a broken ankle in July. Wimbush – a transfer from Notre Dame – likely has a clear path to the starting job with Mack sidelined indefinitely.
Projected Winner: Wimbush
Contenders: Riley Neal (SR), Deuce Wallace (JR)
Vanderbilt will miss quarterback Kyle Shurmur, but the offense is still in good shape thanks to the return of running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney. Neal transferred to Nashville after spending four years at Ball State. He threw for 7,393 yards and 46 touchdowns and ran for 1,363 yards and 15 scores in 34 appearances with the Cardinals. Wallace missed 2018 due to a suspension but attempted 22 passes as a reserve in 2017.
Projected Winner: Neal
Contenders: Peyton Ramsey (JR), Michael Penix (R-FR), Jack Tuttle (R-FR)
Sorting out this battle is the top priority for new play-caller Kalen DeBoer this spring. Ramsey threw for 2,875 yards and 19 touchdowns and connected on 66 percent of his throws last fall. However, he only averaged 6.4 yards per attempt and had five completions of 40 or more yards. Penix flashed potential (264 total yards) in three games but suffered a torn ACL against Penn State. Tuttle ranked as a four-star prospect in the 2018 signing class and left Utah during the season to transfer to Indiana. He was granted immediate eligibility and will push for the job in fall practice.
Projected Winner: Ramsey
16. North Carolina
Contenders: Sam Howell (FR), Cade Fortin (R-FR), Jace Ruder (R-FR)
With Nathan Elliott leaving Chapel Hill to be a graduate assistant at Arkansas State, along with Chazz Surratt moving to linebacker, the Tar Heels were quickly left with three freshmen competing for the job. That’s not necessarily bad news for coach Mack Brown, as all three options are talented – just largely unproven. Fortin played in three games last fall, completing 32 of 64 throws for 388 yards and one score. Ruder made one appearance and connected on four passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Howell – a four-star prospect – was a huge pickup in the 2019 signing class and enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. All three quarterbacks could see snaps for the Tar Heels this fall.
Projected Winner: Howell
15. Oklahoma State
Contenders: Spencer Sanders (R-FR) and Dru Brown (SR)
Good quarterback play is usually an annual staple at Oklahoma State under coach Mike Gundy. Despite Taylor Cornelius (3,978 yards and 32 TDs) departing, the Cowboys should be fine under center. Sanders – a four-star recruit in the 2018 signing class – seems to hold an edge over Brown (a transfer from Hawaii). Sanders had a prolific career on the ground and through the air at Ryan High School and finished 46-6 as a starter during his 52 starts. Brown started 22 games at Hawaii and threw for 2,785 yards and 18 scores in 2017.
Projected Winner: Sanders
14. Arizona State
Contenders: Dillon Sterling-Cole (JR), Jayden Daniels (FR)
Manny Wilkins leaves big shoes to fill in Tempe, but the winner of this battle inherits an experienced offensive line and running back Eno Benjamin. Sterling-Cole has attempted 57 passes in his two seasons of playing time, while Daniels ranked as the No. 35 overall recruit in the 2019 signing class.
Projected Winner: Sterling-Cole (at least for the opener)
Contenders: Tanner Morgan (SO), Zack Annexstad (SO)
Minnesota is a program on the rise in the Big Ten, and with improved play out of its quarterbacks, coach P.J. Fleck’s team should take another step forward after winning seven games last fall. Annexstad won the job as a true freshman walk-on and started seven contests overall. The Minnesota native completed 52.2 percent of his passes for 1,277 yards and nine scores. Morgan took over the starting job in late October due to an injury to Annexstad. He threw for 1,401 yards and nine touchdowns and went 4-2 as the team’s starter.
Projected Winner: Annexstad
12. Wake Forest
Contenders: Sam Hartman (SO), Jamie Newman (JR)
Dave Clawson has a good problem on his hands this fall. The Demon Deacons have two talented (and capable) quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Sam Hartman started nine games and threw for 1,984 yards and 16 touchdowns before suffering a season-ending leg injury in November. Jamie Newman picked up where Hartman left off and went 3-1 in his four starts. He threw for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns to four picks and added 247 yards and four scores on the ground.
Projected Winner: Newman
11. West Virginia
Contenders: Austin Kendall (JR), Jack Allison (JR)
Not only are the Mountaineers looking to replace quarterback Will Grier and standout receiver David Sills, this team has to navigate a coaching change and tweaks to schemes on both sides of the ball. New coach Neal Brown has two transfers – Kendall (Oklahoma) and Allison (Miami) – competing for the starting job. Kendall completed 28 of 39 passes for 265 yards and three scores in eight appearances at Oklahoma, while Allison started the Camping World Bowl and finished 2018 with 23 completions for 352 yards and a score last year in Morgantown.
Projected Winner: Kendall
10. NC State
Contenders: Matthew McKay (SO), Devin Leary (R-FR), Bailey Hockman (SO), Ty Evans (FR)
Ryan Finley threw for 10,501 yards in his three years with the Wolfpack and leaves big shoes to fill in Raleigh. New co-coordinators George McDonald and Des Kitchings have four candidates vying for the job, with McKay exiting spring practice with a slight edge. He attempted only eight passes as the backup last fall and is regarded for his mobility. Leary was a four-star prospect in the 2018 signing class, while Hockman started his career at Florida State.
Projected Winner: McKay
Contenders: Jack Coan (JR), Graham Mertz (FR), Chase Wolf (R-FR), Danny Vanden Boom (SO)
Four candidates are listed above, but this is really a two-man battle between Coan and Mertz. Coan played in five games (with four starts) in 2018 and threw for 515 yards and five touchdowns to three picks on 56 completions. Coan also averaged 5.5 yards an attempt last fall. Mertz ranked as the No. 65 recruit by the 247Sports Composite in the 2019 signing class and arrived in time to participate in spring ball.
Projected Winner: Coan (but Mertz will play)
8. Boise State
Contenders: Chase Cord (SO), Riley Smith (R-FR), Jaylon Henderson (SR), Kaiden Bennett (FR), Hank Bachmeier (FR)
Brett Rypien will be missed, but Boise State has a strong track record of producing standouts at the quarterback position. Who will be the next star for coach Bryan Harsin? Bachmeier was a big-time pickup on the recruiting trail as a four-star prospect, but the frontrunner to replace Rypien is Cord. The sophomore played well in limited snaps (6 of 9 for 67 yards and 109 rushing yards) before suffering a torn ACL in 2018.
Projected Winner: Cord
Contenders: Ben Hicks (SR), Nick Starkel (JR)
Second-year coach Chad Morris significantly upgraded the quarterback depth chart in Fayetteville with the addition of Hicks and Starkel. Hicks played under Morris at SMU from 2015-17 and ended his career with 71 touchdown tosses for the Mustangs. In addition to his previous knowledge about the offense, Hicks enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. Starkel’s 2017 season was derailed by injury, but he still played in seven games and threw for 1,793 yards and 14 touchdowns. He worked as the backup to Kellen Mond in College Station last fall and comes to Arkansas with two years of eligibility remaining.
Projected Winner: Hicks (with Starkel winning the job in the season)
Contenders: Justin Rogers (R-FR), Max Duggan (FR), Mike Collins (JR), Alex Delton (SR), Matthew Baldwin (R-FR)
Injuries to Justin Rogers and Mike Collins prevented TCU from sorting out its quarterback battle in spring practice. The wide-open battle resumes this fall, with Kansas State transfer Alex Delton likely holding a slight edge to start the opener. Delton is a better runner than passer and has the most experience of any of the quarterbacks on the roster. The health of Rogers and the development of Duggan (No. 229 in the 247Sports Composite) will play a huge role in how this battle plays out this fall. Baldwin is appealing for immediate eligibility after transferring from Ohio State. However, he had offseason knee surgery and won’t participate at the start of fall practice.
Projected Winner: Delton (at least for the opener)
5. Florida State
Contenders: James Blackman (SO), Alex Hornibrook (SR)
Florida State makes the cut as a battle to watch, but it would be a surprise to see Hornibrook edge Blackman for the starting nod. Blackman started 12 games after an injury to Deondre Francois in 2017 and made four appearances (with a start) in a redshirt year last fall. In Blackman’s start versus NC State, the Seminoles had one of their best offensive outputs of the 2018 season. The sophomore is also more mobile than Hornibrook, which is a necessity considering the question marks up front. Experience and depth is in short supply at the quarterback position for coach Willie Taggart, which is why Hornibrook was a key pickup this offseason. He threw for 5,438 yards and 47 touchdowns in three years with the Badgers.
Projected Winner: Blackman
4. Washington State
Contenders: Gage Gubrud (SR), Trey Tinsley (SR), Anthony Gordon (SR)
Mike Leach should push the right buttons under center and keep Washington State’s offense among the best in the Pac-12 once again. Tinsley and Gordon worked as the backup to Gardner Minshew last fall and attempted a combined 14 passes in limited time. While Tinsley and Gordon have the edge in experience, Gubrud wasn’t brought in to be a backup. During a four-year stint at Eastern Washington, Gubrud recorded 9,984 yards of total offense and tossed 87 scores through the air.
Projected Winner: Gubrud
3. Mississippi State
Contenders: Tommy Stevens (SR), Keytaon Thompson (JR)
Second-year coach Joe Moorhead is looking to jumpstart Mississippi State’s offense after this unit averaged only 19.3 points a game in SEC play last fall. Thompson worked as the backup to Nick Fitzgerald over the last two years and made two starts during that span. The Louisiana native has shown flashes of promise and has a solid stat line (846 yards and 8 TDs through the air with 672 yards and 10 TDs on the ground). However, Thompson’s completion percentage is only 47.6 over 50 completions. Stevens comes to Starkville after spending four years at Penn State, including the 2016-17 stretch under Moorhead. The Indiana native is a good athlete but has never attempted more than 27 passes in a season.
Projected Winner: Stevens
Contenders: Tate Martell (SO), N’Kosi Perry (SO), Jarren Williams (R-FR)
New coach Manny Diaz made one of the offseason’s top assistant hires by picking Dan Enos as Miami’s offensive coordinator. Enos spent 2018 at Alabama and was a successful play-caller at Arkansas from 2015-17. The Michigan native has been regarded for his work with quarterbacks and was instrumental in helping Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts develop in Tuscaloosa last fall. Enos has three interesting quarterbacks pushing for the job. Martell – an Ohio State transfer – threw for 269 yards and ran for 128 in limited time with the Buckeyes last fall and was ruled immediately eligible as a transfer for 2019. Perry paced Miami’s offense with 1,091 yards and 13 touchdown passes but had plenty of room to improve (50.8% and 5.7 YPA). Williams – a four-star recruit in the 2018 signing class – used a redshirt year last fall. This battle is wide open going into fall practice.
Projected Winner: Perry
Contenders: Joey Gatewood (FR), Bo Nix (FR)
Considering the hot seat talk surrounding coach Gus Malzahn, the development of this position will be critical for Auburn’s season in 2019. Nix rated as the No. 33 overall recruit and a five-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite and arrives at Auburn after accounting for 161 touchdowns in his high school career. Gatewood played in one game as a true freshman and took a redshirt year in 2018. Both quarterbacks are mobile and bring a different dimension to the offense than last season’s starter (Jarrett Stidham) brought the offense. Nix is considered a better passer.
Projected Winner: Gatewood (but Nix will play a lot)