With spring practice getting ready to start for all 125 college football teams, quarterback battles will now take center stage. For most national title contenders – Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State, Stanford, Georgia, Notre Dame and Clemson – quarterback isn’t a question mark. However, there are a handful of teams that could be a conference title contender that enter spring practice with uncertainty under center.
Oklahoma State is Athlon’s early favorite to win the Big 12, and the Cowboys have three quarterbacks vying for the No. 1 job. Wes Lunt began 2012 as the starter but suffered a knee injury early. Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh each made starts in relief of Lunt, with Chelf impressing late in the season. The Cowboys could be a top-10 team next season, so identifying their starting quarterback is tops on head coach Mike Gundy's spring to do list. Outside of Oklahoma State, Arizona, Auburn, Florida State, Kansas State, Michigan State and Oklahoma are some of the other top teams with quarterback battles this offseason.
College Football's Top 15 Spring Quarterback Battles for 2013
The Candidates: Javelle Allen (FR), B.J. Denker (SR), Jesse Scroggins (JR), Anu Solomon (FR)
As Rich Rodriguez has proven from stops at West Virginia and Michigan, whoever is his starting quarterback is going to put up big numbers. Don’t expect that trend to stop in 2013, as Arizona looks to replace Matt Scott under center. Even though Scott is gone, having another offseason to work with Rodriguez and the coaching staff should be a huge boost to the entire offense. Denker came to Arizona via the JUCO ranks last season and made one start against Colorado, throwing for 136 yards and two touchdowns. He enters spring ball as the No. 1 quarterback, but redshirt freshman Javelle Allen and USC transfer Jesse Scroggins will get an opportunity to make a push. However, the competition will turn up a notch in the fall, as true freshman Anu Solomon arrives on campus. Solomon might be the best fit for the offense but lacks experience. Denker has the edge in experience within Rodriguez’s system, so he should finish spring as the No. 1 quarterback. However, this battle will likely extend into fall camp with Solomon having a good chance to steal the No. 1 spot.
Projected Spring Winner: Denker
The Candidates: Kiehl Frazier (JR), Jeremy Johnson (FR), Nick Marshall (JR), Jason Smith (FR), Jonathan Wallace (SO)
Auburn’s offense was a disaster last season. Gus Malzahn left to be the head coach at Arkansas State, prompting Gene Chizik to hire Scot Loeffler as the team’s new coordinator. Loeffler tried to switch the offense to a pro-style approach, which wasn’t a good fit for the personnel. Chizik and Loeffler were dismissed at the end of 2012, and Malzahn has returned to the Plains as the head coach. Three quarterbacks made starts last season, with Frazier leading the way with 753 yards passing, while Jonathan Wallace topped the stat chart with four touchdown tosses. Frazier and Wallace should be a better fit in Malzahn’s spread offense, but both will face competition from junior college recruit (and former Georgia defensive back) Nick Marshall, along with incoming freshmen Jason Smith and Jeremy Johnson. Marshall’s skill set is a good fit for this offense, but Frazier and Wallace have an edge in SEC experience. Don’t be surprised if this battle goes deep into fall camp.
Projected Spring Winner: Frazier
The Candidates: Kyle Boehm (SO), Allan Bridgford (SR), Jared Goff (FR), Austin Hinder (JR), Zach Kline (FR)
Although Bridgford made three starts last season, it’s anyone guess who will take the first snap for California this year. Adding to the drama is a new coaching staff and a new scheme, which has clouded the quarterback battle going into the spring. Bridgford was unimpressive in his limited work in 2012, finishing with 277 yards passing and three interceptions on 31 completions. Hinder came to Berkeley as a big-time recruit but has yet to throw a pass in game action. Kline ranked as the No. 4 quarterback prospect by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class, while Goff was rated as a four-star recruit by most scouting services in 2013. Considering the new scheme and overall inexperience of the returning quarterbacks, this battle may not be decided until the first snap of the season.
Projected Spring Winner: Kline
The Candidates:Jacob Coker (SO), Clint Trickett (JR), Jameis Winston (FR)
After a 12-win season and an ACC Championship, the Seminoles have momentum entering 2013. However, there are some significant personnel losses, including quarterback EJ Manuel. Trickett has two starts under his belt, as he threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-30 loss to Clemson in 2011. In a mop-up role in 2012, Trickett threw for 272 yards on 22 completions. While Trickett’s experience should give him the early edge, the coaching staff is excited to get a look at Winston – the No. 1 quarterback in the 2012 signing class. Coker has good size and intriguing ability, but he is probably behind Winston and Trickett entering spring ball. Trickett’s experience should give him an early edge, but Winston will be the quarterback as soon as Jimbo Fisher feels the Alabama native is ready to run the offense.
Projected Spring Winner: Trickett
The Candidates: Daniel Sams (SO), Jake Waters (JR)
Replacing Collin Klein is no easy task, but the Wildcats have two promising options on the roster. Sams played in eight games last season, throwing for 55 yards on six completions and adding 235 yards and three scores on the ground. He averaged 7.3 yards per rush, which ranked first on the team. Waters joins Kansas State from Iowa Western Community College after throwing for 3,501 yards and 39 touchdowns last season. As if those numbers weren’t impressive enough, he tossed only three picks on 333 attempts and is already enrolled and will participate in spring practice. Regardless of which quarterback wins the starting job, Kansas State should be in good shape to win at least eight games in 2013. Sams has shown dynamic ability as a runner but still has much to prove as a passer. Waters had an excellent career at Iowa Western Community College but he has to adjust to the speed of play at the FBS level.
Projected Spring Winner: Sams
The Candidates: Connor Cook (SO), Andrew Maxwell (SR), Tyler O’Conner (FR), Damion Terry (FR)
Replacing Kirk Cousins wasn’t expected to be easy, but most thought Michigan State would eventually find some stability under center. That wasn’t the case in 2012 as the Spartans averaged just 209.9 passing yards per game and finished with just 14 touchdown tosses. Maxwell started all 13 games, but the offense got a spark from Cook in the bowl game, which turned the position into an open competition this spring. O’Conner and Cook will get a chance to unseat Maxwell this spring, while Terry will join the competition in the fall. Terry is a dual-threat option, and his mobility could add a spark to a rushing attack that loses running back Le’Veon Bell, but he has some ground to make up in learning the playbook. Cook should push Maxwell for the job, but the guess here is the senior begins the year as the starter – on a very short leash.
Projected Spring Winner: Maxwell
The Candidates: Blake Bell (JR), Trevor Knight (FR), Kendal Thompson (SO)
Can Bell go from part-time player to full-time starter? That’s the big question in Norman this spring. If Bell can take his success in a part-time role and transform that into the course of a full season, Oklahoma won’t have much of a quarterback battle this spring. Bell has thrown for only 115 yards over the last two years but has rushed for 361 yards and 24 scores. Trevor Knight redshirted last season, but reports out of Oklahoma indicated he had an impressive year as the scout-team quarterback. Thompson is the third quarterback in the mix, but he did not play as a redshirt freshman last season. Make no mistake: This is Bell’s job to lose. If he stumbles, Knight figures to be Oklahoma’s starting quarterback this fall.
Projected Spring Winner: Bell
The Candidates: Clint Chelf (SR), Wes Lunt (SO), J.W. Walsh (SO)
Mike Gundy has a problem. But at least it's a good problem for a head coach to have. Oklahoma State has three quarterbacks that have shown the ability to win games. Lunt went into last season as the starter but a knee injury against Louisiana-Lafayette forced him to miss the next three games. Walsh replaced Lunt and threw for 415 yards and one touchdown in a win over Iowa State. However, Walsh suffered a knee injury in that game, forcing Gundy to go back to his true freshman. Lunt returned to the lineup against TCU on Oct. 27 but suffered an injury in the following week against Kansas State and didn’t play again until the bowl game. Chelf received the majority of his playing time in the second half of the year and was a pleasant surprise after starting the year No. 3 on the depth chart. He finished with 1,588 yards and 15 scores, which included 292 yards and four touchdowns in the 55-34 win over West Virginia. All three quarterbacks are proven winners and can lead Oklahoma State to a Big 12 title. If Chelf or Walsh win the job, should the Cowboys think about redshirting Lunt?
Projected Spring Winner: Lunt
The Candidates: Sean Mannion (JR), Cody Vaz (SR)
The Beavers were one of college football’s most improved teams last season, posting a 9-4 record after going 3-9 in 2011. Sean Mannion began last season as the starter, throwing for at least 270 yards in each of his first four starts. He also threw for 379 yards and two scores in a huge road win against UCLA in Week 4. However, Mannion was sidelined due to a knee injury in early October, which opened the door for Cody Vaz. Despite having little experience, Vaz proved to be more than capable of holding down the starting spot. He threw for 332 yards in a road win over BYU and 267 yards against Arizona State. Then in a role reversal, Vaz was bitten by the injury bug late in the year, which allowed Mannion to regain control of the job for the final three regular-season games of 2012. Vaz did return and started the Beavers' bowl game, but he struggled, throwing for only 194 yards and two interceptions. Mannion has the edge in talent, but this battle is virtually even.
Projected Spring Winner: Mannion
The Candidates: Steven Bench (SO), Tyler Ferguson (SO), Christian Hackenberg (FR)
The Nittany Lions went from having one of the worst quarterback situations in the Big Ten to one of the best by the end of 2012. Matt McGloin thrived under new coach Bill O’Brien, throwing for 3,271 yards and 24 touchdowns, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Despite the departure of McGloin, with O’Brien’s tutelage and a solid supporting cast, the Nittany Lions shouldn’t slip too far on offense. Steven Bench completed 2 of 8 passes for 12 yards last season and opens spring practice as the frontrunner. Tyler Ferguson enrolled in January after spending one season at the College of the Sequoias. During his one season in the JUCO ranks, Ferguson threw for 2,614 yards and 22 touchdowns. While Bench and Ferguson will get a chance to impress this spring, the battle really won’t get underway until Christian Hackenberg arrives this fall. Hackenberg ranked as the No. 13 overall prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and is regarded as a perfect fit in O’Brien’s offense. Bench figures to hold onto the job in the spring, but all bets are off when Hackenberg gets to campus.
Projected Spring Winner: Bench
The Candidates: Trevone Boykin (SO), Casey Pachall (SR)
The battle to be TCU’s quarterback is one of the most intriguing in college football this spring. Pachall was the starting quarterback through the first four games of 2012 but was suspended from the team after a DWI arrest. Before he left the team, Pachall threw for 948 yards, 10 touchdowns and only one pick. Trevone Boykin was set to play some snaps at running back before Pachall’s suspension but proved to be a quality fill-in at quarterback. Boykin finished the year with 2,054 yards passing and 15 touchdowns, while rushing for 417 yards and three scores. Pachall gives TCU’s offense more of a downfield threat in the passing game, while Boykin is a better dual-threat option. Pachall is the right pick to start for TCU – and could lead the Horned Frogs to a Big 12 title in 2013.
Projected Spring Winner: Pachall
The Candidates: Joshua Dobbs (FR), Nathan Peterman (FR), Justin Worley (JR)
New coach Butch Jones has quite a task ahead of him this year. Not only do the Volunteers lose quarterback Tyler Bray, but receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter and tight end Mychal Rivera also depart. Worley made three starters in relief of Tyler Bray in 2011 and played in five games in 2012, throwing for 134 yards and two picks on 23 attempts. Peterman ranked as a four-star prospect by Rivals coming out of high school, while Dobbs was one of the key members of Tennessee’s 2013 recruiting class. Dobbs is a good fit for Jones’ spread attack but needs time to adjust to the FBS level. Worley’s experience should pay off and help him win the starting gig this spring.
Projected Spring Winner: Worley
The Candidates: Max Browne (FR), Cody Kessler (SO), Max Wittek (SO)
The Trojans got an early look at their quarterback battle for 2013 when Matt Barkley suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against UCLA. Wittek started the final two contests and finished with 388 yards passing and three touchdowns, but he also threw five picks and completed just 52.2 percent of his throws. Wittek will open spring practice as the starter, but Browne and Kessler will get every opportunity to unseat him. Browne ranked as the No. 1 quarterback in the 2013 signing class by Athlon Sports and enrolled early to participate in spring practice. Wittek’s experience has to give him an early edge, but he is probably just keeping the seat warm until Browne is ready.
Projected Spring Winner: Wittek
The Candidates: Ford Childress (FR), Paul Millard (JR)
Whether it’s Childress or Millard taking snaps for West Virginia next season, don’t expect the Mountaineers to stray far from their pass-first attack. The receiving corps needs to be rebuilt thanks to the departure of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but West Virginia should still be one of the top passing offenses in the Big 12. Childress is an impressive prospect, standing 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, and has excellent bloodlines as his father (Ray) earned five trips to the Pro Bowl during his NFL career. Millard threw 34 passes backing up Geno Smith over the last two years and is still a virtual unknown. Millard has the edge in experience, but Childress has more talent and should claim the starting job.
Projected Spring Winner: Childress
The Candidates: Jon Budmayr (SR), Bart Houston (FR), Tanner McEvoy (JR), Danny O’Brien (SR), Curt Phillips (SR), Joel Stave (SO)
Despite three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances, change is coming to Madison in 2013. Head coach Bret Bielema left for Arkansas, and former Utah State coach Gary Andersen takes over. The Badgers won’t change much on offense, but expect Anderson and coordinator Andy Ludwig to make a few tweaks. O’Brien, Phillips and Stave each started games last season, with Phillips finishing the year as the No. 1 option. O’Brien was a disappointment after transferring from Maryland, while Stave was a pleasant surprise but was lost for the final four regular-season games due to injury. McEvoy joins Wisconsin in the fall, after spending the first part of his career at South Carolina and then Arizona Western College. His athletic ability is a plus in Ludwig’s scheme but he lacks experience on the FBS level.
Projected Spring Winner: Stave
Other Spring Battles to Watch
The Candidates: Brandon Allen (SO), Brandon Mitchell (JR), Taylor Reed (SO)
Allen made one start in relief of Tyler Wilson last year (Alabama) and finished 2012 with 186 yards passing. He is considered a heavy favorite to start for new coach Bret Bielema, but Mitchell (if he moves back from receiver) and Memphis transfer Taylor Reed will also get a chance this spring.
Projected Spring Winner: Allen
The Candidates: Chris Johnson (FR), Bryce Petty (JR), Seth Russell (FR)
All signs point to Petty easily winning this job, but considering Baylor’s recent success, his progress in spring practice is worth watching. Johnson ranked among the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the class of 2013 and enrolled early to participate in spring ball.
Projected Spring Winner: Petty
The Candidates: C.J. Brown (SR), Perry Hills (SO), Caleb Rowe (SO), Ricardo Young (JR)
Injuries hit Maryland’s signal callers hard last season, as linebacker Shawn Petty was forced to move under center for the final four games. The Terrapins are in better shape this year, but this battle likely won’t get underway until fall practice when Rowe, Brown and Hills should all be back to full strength. Young started his career at Virginia Tech and transferred to New Mexico in 2011. The Washington, D.C. native is Maryland’s healthiest quarterback this spring and is familiar with coordinator Mike Locksley’s offense.
Projected Spring Winner: Young
The Candidates: Manny Stocker (SO), Pete Thomas (JR)
New NC State coach Dave Doeren was one of the offseason’s top hires, but the former Northern Illinois coach has a huge question mark under center. Thomas started two years at Colorado State where he threw for 4,269 yards and 18 touchdowns, while Stocker threw two passes in mop-up duty in 2012.
Projected Spring Winner: Stocker
The Candidates: Trey Anderson (SO), Tra’von Chapman (FR), Tom Savage (SR), Chad Voytik (FR)
Tino Sunseri wasn’t the most popular quarterback in Pittsburgh history, but he did finish his senior year with 3,288 yards and 21 scores. Replacing Sunseri appears to be a four-man race, including former Rutgers and Arizona quarterback Tom Savage. Voytik and Anderson will be the top competition for Savage in the spring, and the coaching staff is excited to see Voytik after a year of learning, as he was one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation in the 2012 signing class.
Projected Spring Winner: Savage
The Candidates: Bobby Eveld (SR), Matt Floyd (SO), Mike White (FR)
Not only was Skip Holtz’s time at South Florida one of the most disappointing tenures of the BCS era, he isn’t leaving a ton of talent under center. Eveld had an eventful 2012, as he was supposed to redshirt but an injury to B.J. Daniels forced him into action. Unfortunately for the Tampa native, he was lost for the season after getting injured in his only game. Floyd tossed five picks over the final three games, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see White finish the 2013 season as USF’s No. 1 quarterback.
Projected Spring Winner: Floyd
The Candidates: Ashton Broyld (SO), Terrel Hunt (SO), John Kinder (JR), Charley Loeb (SR)
As if breaking in a new coaching staff wasn’t enough of a challenge in Syracuse's first season of ACC play, the Orange also have to find a replacement for All-Big East quarterback Ryan Nassib. Broyld is an intriguing athlete, while Loeb was the top backup last year.
Projected Spring Winner: Loeb
The Candidates: Austyn Carta-Samuels (SR), Johnny McCrary (FR), Patton Robinette (FR)
Whether or not the Commodores can keep their recent success going will largely depend on what happens under center. Jordan Rodgers wasn’t the most prolific quarterback but he provided valuable leadership. Carta-Samuels was the Mountain West’s Freshman of the Year in 2009, made 11 starts in '10 with Wyoming and one with the Commodores last year. Robinette was Tennessee’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2011.
Projected Spring Winner: Carta-Samuels
The Candidates: Greyson Lambert (FR), Phillip Sims (JR), David Watford (SO)
Sims finished the year as the starter, but all bets are off this spring with a revamped offensive staff. Watford is an intriguing dual-threat option, while Lambert was a top-25 quarterback coming out of high school. Even in a new system, Sims should have the edge this spring.
Projected Spring Winner: Sims
The Candidates: Austin Apodaca (FR), Tyler Bruggman (FR), Connor Halliday (JR)
Mike Leach’s debut season in Pullman didn’t go according to plan. The Cougars expected to have a high-powered offense but averaged only 20.4 points a game. The quarterback position deserves part of the blame, and there’s an open competition this preseason. Halliday played well in a loss against UCLA (five touchdowns) but tossed almost as many interceptions (13) as he did scores (15). Apodaca and Bruggman are intriguing and could get a look if Halliday struggles.
Projected Spring Winner: Halliday
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