Athlon previews the key QB Battles.
Spring practice is the first look at all 128 college football teams for 2016, and every coaching staff has a long list of questions for their programs to answer during offseason workouts. While replacing key players in the trenches or rebuilding the secondary is critical to the success of any team, quarterback battles are always going to steal the offseason spotlight. This spring features several contenders looking to find the right answer under center, including Michigan, Alabama, Florida State, Michigan State and Notre Dame.
With spring practice underway across the nation, Athlon Sports is previewing some of the biggest storylines for the offseason workouts. Here’s a look at 25 of the biggest quarterback battles and the candidates vying for snaps.
College Football's Top 25 QB Battles to Watch in Spring Practice
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 1
Departed Quarterback: Jake Coker (263 of 393, 3,110 yds., 21 TDs, 8 INTs)
2016 Candidates: Blake Barnett (FR), Jalen Hurts (FR), David Cornwell (SO), Cooper Bateman (JR)
The Breakdown: This appears to be a two-man battle entering spring practice. Barnett was a five-star prospect out of high school and redshirted in his first season on campus. Bateman made one start last year and completed 37 of 52 passes for 291 yards and one score. Can Bateman’s experience win out over Barnett’s talent?
Predicted Winner: Barnett
2. Notre Dame
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 9
Departed Quarterback: None
2016 Candidates: Malik Zaire (JR), DeShone Kizer (SO)
The Breakdown: The Fighting Irish enters offseason workouts with two proven options at quarterback. Malik Zaire opened 2015 as the team’s No. 1 quarterback but suffered a season-ending leg injury against Virginia. Prior to the injury, Zaire completed 26 of 40 passes for 428 yards and four scores and rushed for 103 yards on 19 carries. Kizer started the final 11 games after Zaire’s injury and threw for 2,880 yards and 21 scores. He also rushed for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns. Having two proven quarterbacks is a good problem for coach Brian Kelly.
Predicted Winner: Zaire
3. Florida State
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 5
Departed Quarterback: None
2016 Candidates: Sean Maguire (SR), Deondre Francois (FR), Malik Henry (FR)
The Breakdown: Coach Jimbo Fisher is one of the nation’s top quarterback gurus. But after tutoring three first-round picks under center in Tallahassee, the Seminoles struggled to get consistent play at quarterback last year. Everett Golson and Sean Maguire combined for 3,325 yards and 22 scores, with Maguire finishing the season as the No. 1 quarterback. However, Maguire is nursing an ankle injury and won’t participate in spring ball. Maguire’s injury opens the door for two talented freshmen – Malik Henry and Deondre Francois. Maguire’s edge in experience might be enough to win the job in the fall. But it won’t be easy holding off Francois.
Predicted Winner: Maguire
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 6
Departed Quarterback: Jake Rudock (249 of 389, 3,017 yards, 20 TDs, 9 INTs)
2016 Candidates: Brandon Peters (FR), John O’Korn (JR), Shane Morris (JR), Alex Malzone (FR), Wilton Speight (SO)
The Breakdown: Can coach Jim Harbaugh have success for the second year in a row with a transfer quarterback? In his only year at Michigan, Iowa transfer Jake Rudock threw for 3,017 yards and 20 touchdowns. After sitting out 2015 due to transfer rules, former Houston signal-caller John O’Korn is the favorite to take the first snap in 2016. O’Korn was benched after a slow start in 2014 but threw for 3,117 yards and 28 scores in 2013. Morris has the most experience among the signal-callers in a Wolverine uniform and is back in the mix after a redshirt year. Peters – a four-star recruit – enrolled in time to compete in spring ball.
Predicted Winner: O’Korn
5. Michigan State
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 13
Departed Quarterback: Connor Cook (229 of 408, 3,131 yards, 24 TDs, 7 INTs)
2016 Candidates: Tyler O’Connor (SR), Damion Terry (JR), Brian Lewerke (FR)
The Breakdown: Connor Cook finished a stellar career in East Lansing with a 34-5 record as Michigan State’s starter. But Cook’s absence in one of the Spartans’ biggest wins last season (Ohio State) provided some insight into the quarterback battle for 2016. Both Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry received snaps in the win, with O’Connor completing 7 of 12 throws for 89 yards and a score. He’s the frontrunner to claim the starting job, but Terry’s mobility provides some extra intrigue and specialty packages for the offense.
Predicted Winner: O’Connor
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 14
Departed Quarterback: Kevin Hogan (206 of 304, 2,867 yards, 27 TDs, 8 INTs)
2016 Candidates: Keller Chryst (SO), Ryan Burns (JR), K.J. Costello (FR)
The Breakdown: Kevin Hogan wasn’t the flashiest or most prolific quarterback in the nation, but he was a great fit for coach David Shaw’s offense. With Hogan departing, the Cardinal is expected to turn to Keller Chryst – a top-100 recruit in the 2014 signing class. The California native completed 5 of 9 passes for 59 yards and one score in limited action last year.
Predicted Winner: Chryst
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 47
Departed Quarterback: None
2016 Candidates: Kai Locksley (FR), Shane Buechele (FR), Jerrod Heard (SO), Tyrone Swoopes (SR)
The Breakdown: Scoring points has been a problem for the Longhorns under coach Charlie Strong, and the team is headed in a new direction with Sterlin Gilbert coming from Tulsa to coordinate the offense. Gilbert is expected to implement a Baylor-like attack in Austin, but it will take at least a year to accumulate the right pieces. Finding a quarterback to fit this offense in 2016 is going to be a challenge. Swoopes and Heard bring plenty of mobility to the table and have the edge in experience. True freshman Shane Buechele has the best skill set for the offense. How quickly can he adapt to the FBS level?
Predicted Winner: Heard
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 33
Departed Quarterback: None
2016 Candidates: Sean White (SO), Jeremy Johnson (SR), John Franklin III (JR), Woody Barrett (FR)
The Breakdown: Considering Gus Malzahn’s track record, last year’s struggles on offense came as a surprise. Getting back on track on offense starts with finding a quarterback, and the Tigers have four candidates vying for snaps. Johnson and White combined for 11 touchdowns to 12 interceptions last season, while Franklin joins the competition from the junior college ranks. He’s the best fit for this offense but faces a tough transition to the SEC.
Predicted Winner: Franklin III
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 46
Departed Quarterback: None
2016 Candidates: Tanner Mangum (SO), Taysom Hill (SR)
The Breakdown: Similar to fellow Independent Notre Dame, BYU opens spring practice with two capable and proven options at quarterback. Hill had options to leave Provo as a graduate transfer, but he decided to return for his senior year and compete with Mangum for the starting job. Mangum stepped up for the BYU offense after Hill was lost for the rest of the 2015 season due to an injury in the opener against Nebraska. Mangum finished 2015 with 23 touchdowns and 3,377 yards on 267 completions. This battle may not be decided until the end of fall practice.
Predicted Winner: Mangum
10. Texas A&M
Pre-Spring Rank: 34
Departed Quarterbacks: Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray
2016 Candidates: Jake Hubenak (JR), Trevor Knight (SR), Nick Starkel (FR)
The Breakdown: The December transfers of Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray came as a surprise, which left Texas A&M with only one quarterback – Jake Hubenak – with experience for the Music City Bowl against Louisville. Hubenak performed admirably under the circumstances, completing 28 of 48 throws for 307 yards and two scores in a 27-21 loss. Help and depth is on the way in the form of Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight, while true freshman Nick Starkel joins the team in the summer. Knight has the edge in experience, but all three quarterbacks will be learning a new offense with the hire of Noel Mazzone as the program’s play-caller.
Predicted Winner: Knight
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 26
Departed Quarterbacks: Will Grier, Treon Harris (moved to receiver)
2016 Candidates: Kyle Trask (FR), Feleipe Franks (FR), Luke Del Rio (SO), Austin Appleby (SR)
The Breakdown: The Gators are desperately looking for improvement in the passing game after averaging only 207.1 passing yards a game last season. Treon Harris is expected to move to receiver, leaving four quarterbacks vying for the first snap. Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio is the early favorite, but talented true freshman Feleipe Franks is one to watch in spring workouts.
Predicted Winner: Del Rio
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 19
Departed Quarterback: None
2016 Candidates: Jacob Eason (FR), Greyson Lambert (SR), Brice Ramsey (JR)
The Breakdown: One of the first tasks for new coach Kirby Smart was to ensure Eason kept his commitment to Georgia. Mission accomplished. The five-star recruit and No. 5 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite is expected to compete for the starting job this spring. Greyson Lambert is Eason’s biggest competition after completing 63.3 percent of his passes and 12 scores last year. Even though Eason lacks experience, he’s too talented to keep on the bench.
Predicted Winner: Eason
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 29
Departed Quarterback: Brandon Allen (244 of 370, 3,440 yards, 30 TDs, 8 INTs)
2016 Candidates: Austin Allen (JR), Rafe Peavy (SO), Ricky Town (FR), Ty Storey (FR)
The Breakdown: Dan Enos earned high marks for his first season in Fayetteville, as the Razorbacks led the SEC (conference-only games) with an average of 34.4 points a game. A couple of key pieces from last year’s offense are gone, including quarterback Brandon Allen after an underrated 2015 season. Austin Allen (Brandon’s brother) is the frontrunner to win the job in 2016 after serving as a backup for the last two seasons. USC transfer Ricky Town – a top-100 recruit in the 2015 signing class – is one to watch this spring.
Predicted Winner: Allen
14. Penn State
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 40
Departed Quarterback: Christian Hackenberg (192 of 359, 2,525 yards, 16 TDs, 6 INTs)
2016 Candidates: Tommy Stevens (FR), Trace McSorley (SO), Jake Zemblec (FR)
The Breakdown: Penn State’s offense has struggled under James Franklin, but there is reason for optimism in 2016. Sure, Christian Hackenberg is a talented quarterback and will be missed. However, the offense has more depth and overall talent than it has in recent seasons. McSorley worked as Hackenberg’s backup last year and completed 20 of 40 passes for 185 yards and two scores. With an offensive line struggling to maintain its pass blocks, a mobile quarterback like McSorley could be a valuable asset for Franklin. Stevens and Zemblec ranked as three-star recruits and should have the opportunity to push McSorley this offseason.
Predicted Winner: McSorley
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 49
Departed Quarterback: Jared Goff (341 of 529, 4,719 yards, 43 TDs, 13 INTs)
2016 Candidates: Ross Bowers (FR), Luke Rubenzer (JR), Chase Forrest (SO), Zach Kline (SR), Max Gilliam (FR)
The Breakdown: Jared Goff finished his prolific career in Berkeley on a high note (467 yards) against Air Force and ended the 2015 season with 4,719 yards and 43 passing scores. Chase Forrest (10 of 18 for 162 yards and 1 TD) spent last season as Goff’s backup and is the frontrunner by default. Bowers joins the mix after a redshirt year, while Gilliam enrolled in time to compete in spring practice.
Predicted Winner: Forrest
16. Arizona State
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 43
Departed Quarterback: Mike Bercovici (318 of 531, 3,854 yards, 30 TDs, 9 INTs)
2016 Candidates: Bryce Perkins (FR), Dillon Sterling-Cole (FR), Brady White (FR), Manny Wilkins (SO)
The Breakdown: The competition in Tempe is one of the toughest quarterback battles to get a read on this offseason. New coordinator Chip Lindsey has four talented options to choose from, but no quarterback on the roster has attempted a pass in a Sun Devil uniform. Wilkins worked as the backup to Bercovici last season and is the favorite by default. However, White was the highest rated quarterback of the group coming out of high school.
Predicted Winner: White
17. Virginia Tech
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 37
Departed Quarterback: Michael Brewer (126 of 216 for 1,703 yards, 13 TDs, 7 INTs)
2016 Candidates: Dwayne Lawson (SO), Brenden Motley (SR), Jerod Evans (JR)
The Breakdown: Two freshmen – Joshua Jackson and Jack Click – are in the mix, but all signs point to this battle becoming a three-man race in spring ball. Motley has the edge in experience over Lawson and Evans, passing for 1,155 yards and 11 touchdowns on 92 completions last year. But Motley could be facing an uphill battle to win the starting job this spring under new coach Justin Fuente. Evans ranked as the No. 50 junior college prospect by ESPN, while Lawson (a four-star prospect) has the most raw talent.
Predicted Winner: Evans
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 15
Departed Quarterback: Cody Kessler (298 of 446 for 3,536 yards, 29 TDs, 7 INTs)
2016 Candidates: Max Browne (JR), Sam Darnold (FR)
The Breakdown: USC is listed as a “quarterback battle” here, but all signs point to Browne as the clear favorite to replace Cody Kessler. Browne – a five-star prospect in 2013 – worked as Kessler’s backup in each of the last two seasons and completed 8 of 12 throws for 113 yards last year. Darnold ranked as a four-star prospect from the 2015 signing class and took a redshirt season in his first season on campus.
Predicted Winner: Browne
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 22
Departed Quarterback: Trevone Boykin (4,187 total yards and 40 total TDs)
2016 Candidates: Zach Allen (JR), Foster Sawyer (SO), Grayson Muehlstein (SO), Kenny Hill (JR), Brennen Wooten (FR)
The Breakdown: Trevone Boykin leaves big shoes to fill in Fort Worth, but TCU appears to have a capable replacement in Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill. In 2014, Hill threw for 2,649 yards and 23 scores with the Aggies but transferred after losing the job to Kyle Allen. Zach Allen, Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein will have a shot to compete for the starting job this spring. However, it’s unlikely Hill is unseated from the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.
Predicted Winner: Hill
20. Mississippi State
Team Pre-Spring Rank: 39
Departed Quarterback: Dak Prescott (4,381 total yards and 39 TDs)
2016 Candidates: Damian Williams (JR), Nick Fitzgerald (SO), Elijah Staley (SO), Nick Tiano (FR)
The Breakdown: Replacing arguably the best player in school history won’t be an easy task for coach Dan Mullen. However, the Bulldogs have some intriguing options in place. Damian Williams started one game for the Bulldogs in 2013 and used a redshirt season in 2015. Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley are promising sophomores and gained valuable reps in limited snaps last year. This battle could go deep into the fall.
Predicted Winner: Fitzgerald
21. Boise State
Brett Rypien is coming off a stellar debut as a freshman last season, but Ryan Finley will have a chance to compete for the job.
The Utes should have a strong ground attack and offensive line, but big question marks remain about the passing game. Junior college transfer (and former Washington signal-caller) Troy Williams has the early edge over intriguing freshman Tyler Huntley and junior Brandon Cox.
The Badgers have a two-man race to replace Joel Stave. Senior Bart Houston has waited his turn in Madison and is the favorite to start over redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook.
24. Kansas State
Injuries hit Kansas State’s quarterbacks hard last season, but this unit is in better shape going into the 2016 season. Jesse Ertz opened 2015 as the starter and was lost for the year due to a knee injury in the opener. Joe Hubener saw the bulk of the snaps the rest of the season and returns to compete for the job, along with freshmen Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson.
Jeff Brohm’s high-powered offense needs a new signal-caller after Brandon Doughty expired his eligibility following the Miami Beach Bowl win over USF. Two transfers – Mike White (USF) and Tyler Ferguson (Louisville) – will push Nelson Fishback for the starting job.
Others to Watch: South Carolina, Oregon State, Bowling Green, Toledo, Memphis, Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech, Cincinnati, NC State, Colorado, Rutgers, Nebraska, Maryland, Indiana, Boston College