While spring drills are employed for all kinds of reasons, absolutely nothing energizes a fan base more than a good old-fashioned quarterback competition. There may be openings all over the depth chart, but its the players vying to become the face of an offense, that will always command maximum attention.
The coach speak manual says that every job is up for grabs this time of year. Technically, that might be accurate. Realistically, though, there are a finite number of battles that’ll affect the races to titles and major bowl games in the fall. It’s during this time of the year, long before scores count, that edges are secured, jobs are seized and young stars begin to introduce themselves to an otherwise unaware public.
With that in mind, let’s preview the top quarterback battles that will scorch all through spring and into the fall.
Brandon Allen is gone following an underrated senior year with the Hogs, but running Bret Bielema’s offense might remain in the Allen family. Austin Allen, Brandon’s younger brother, is next in line after earning mop-up duty each of the last two years. A redshirt junior, he knows the attack better than any of the job’s contenders.
However, spring is a time for young players to blossom, and Arkansas boasts three former four-star quarterbacks: Rafe Peavey, Ty Storey and heralded USC transfer Ricky Town. Whoever emerges from the trio of rookies in April will get a shot to knock off Allen in August.
15. Virginia Tech
Who will be Justin Fuente’s first quarterback pupil in Blacksburg?
Considering how Fuente helped Andy Dalton and Paxton Lynch, an enormous opportunity exists for senior Brenden Motley, Trinity Valley (Tex.) Community College transfer Jerod Evans, sophomore Dwayne Lawson and true freshman Joshua Jackson. In all likelihood, the race winnows down this spring to Motley, who was shaky in six starts last year, and Evans, who was actually recruited hard by Fuente at Memphis. Evans is big and agile, with the raw talent base to finally give the Hokies a dangerous threat from behind center.
For those who may have forgotten, former Texas A&M flash in the pan Kenny Hill is in Fort Worth. He’s now out to prove he can still be a leading man in a major conference.Hill was a shooting star for the Aggies in 2014, throwing 21 touchdown passes in his first six games. Then he stumbled, was benched in favor of Kyle Allen and eventually released from his scholarship. Since becoming a Frog, he’s done everything by the books for Gary Patterson and the staff, all with an eye toward holding off sophomores Grayson Muehlstein and Foster Sawyer, who started last year’s Oklahoma game.
13. Texas A&M
This was supposed to be a duel between former blue-chip recruits Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. However, Allen is at Houston and Murray’s with Oklahoma, paving the way for Trevor Knight and Jake Hubenak to duke it out.Knight is a former Sooner who’ll be trying to resuscitate his career as an Aggie. In Norman, he flashed occasional bouts of potential, but was never going to unseat Baker Mayfield. Hubenak earned unexpected playing time following the Allen and Murray departures, including a Music City Bowl start. While Knight is more seasoned and mobile, Hubenak has a higher ceiling as a pocket passer.
Come hell or high water, Jim McElwain is going to find himself a quarterback in Gainesville.How bad is the offensive situation for Florida? No Gator quarterback over the last four years has finished higher than No. 10 in SEC passing efficiency. Neither Steve Spurrier nor Urban Meyer would approve.
Last year’s pitchers, Will Grier and Treon Harris, have transferred and changed positions, respectively. That leaves a pair of transfers, well-traveled Luke Del Rio and former Purdue Boilermaker Austin Appleby, and four-star rookie Feleipe Franks to challenge for what was once an esteemed position for the Gators.
11. Penn State
Now that the Christian Hackenberg era has ended with a whimper, it’s time to turn the page at quarterback in Happy Valley.The Lions will be noticeably unproven under center. Good thing new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is a veteran with a knack for working with young quarterbacks. He inherits sophomore Trace McSorley, redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens and true freshman Jake Zembiec, one of the top recruits from the most recent class.
McSorley will be installed as the early frontrunner. He provided a spark in the bowl game with Georgia, and his athleticism could add some wrinkles to Moorhead’s playbook.
Andrew Luck to Kevin Hogan to … Keller Chryst?It’s been a long time since the Cardinal lacked leadership at quarterback. Now, there’s cautious optimism that one of the team’s former four-star gems, Chryst or Ryan Burns, can take the baton and race with it in 2016.
Burns has been in the program a year longer, but Chryst will begin spring in the pole position. The son of longtime NFL coach Geep Chryst has already beaten out Burns once, winning the No. 2 job and the right to come off the bench in four Stanford routs.
Of all the lists that Auburn expected to be on in March, this was not one of them.By all accounts, Jeremy Johnson was going to evolve into Gus Malzahn’s next star pupil in 2015 and a Heisman contender no later than this fall. Uh-uh. Johnson flopped and then-rookie Sean White wasn’t quite ready, so the Tigers are once again auditioning quarterbacks in search of consistency.
Johnson and White are back, both scrapping for redemption. They’ll be joined in the hunt by speedster John Franklin III, who’s already made stops at Florida State and East Mississippi Community College.
Yeah, yeah, this is Seth Russell’s job. But Russell suffered a serious neck injury just a few months back, and Jarrett Stidham might have the best arm talent in Waco.If Russell is 100%, he’s likely winning the job, while Stidham learns from the on-deck circle for one more year. Russell was on point for Art Briles before getting hurt. However, what if the incumbent is rusty or not quite at full strength during the offseason? Stidham is massively talented, and he already bagged three starts in Big 12 games before going down with an injury of his own in November.
7. Michigan State
The Spartans will have enormous shoes to fill this spring, those of three-year starter Connor Cook.Fortunately for Mark Dantonio, he has two players at his disposal who’ve been in the system, fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor and fourth-year junior Damion Terry. O’Connor would seem to have the slight advantage, serving as Cook’s caddy in 2015 and even starting the Ohio State game. But Terry is no slouch in this head-to-head matchup. And his ability to make plays with his legs could help narrow the divide that currently exists with O’Connor.
6. Florida State
The Seminoles are loaded entering spring. However, quarterback is a position of potential concern.Life after Jameis Winston was mostly a mixed bag last year. Notre Dame import Everett Golson was okay for a while, but Sean Maguire eventually passed him on the depth chart. The senior has the experience and arm strength to build some daylight in March and April. However, Jimbo Fisher has been stockpiling blue-chippers the past few Signing Days, including Deondre Francois in 2015 and Malik Henry, who’s already on campus and ready to compete.
Jacob Eason is undoubtedly the future in Athens. He might be the present as well.This race between Eason and senior Greyson Lambert could look a lot like last year’s at UCLA between Josh Rosen and Jerry Neuheisel. If Eason is ready, Kirby Smart won’t hesitate to give him the ball and get the era started right away in Week 1. Lambert, meanwhile, is a pretty good insurance policy, since he’s the incumbent starter.
Junior Brice Ramsey could enter the discussion, too, though he has ground to make up. If Smart anoints his rookie, he can take solace that Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will join him in the backfield.
Charlie Strong won’t survive in Austin tf the Longhorns aren’t more consistent in the passing game. Over the last three seasons, Texas has thrown 41 touchdown passes and 32 interceptions. That’s won’t cut it these days, particularly in the Big 12.
Fingers are crossed that sophomore Jerrod Heard can take the next step after being more effective as a runner than passer in 2015. Tyrone Swoopes is back for his senior year, and is in the mix. Strong is open to all possibilities, meaning no limits will be placed on the kids, Kai Locksley, Matthew Merrick and Shane Buechele.
After having success with a transfer quarterback, Iowa export Jake Rudock, in 2015, Jim Harbaugh could follow a similar path this fall.Former Houston Cougar John O’Korn has the inside track to supplant Rudock. The start of O’Korn’s career was upside down, marked by a Freshman All-American debut followed by a sophomore slump. If he can become the next quarterback to flourish under Harbaugh, he has the arm talent to become an instant Big Ten star. If not, the Wolverines could turn to sophomore Wilton Speight or Shane Morris, the senior with two starts and a career marked by unfulfilled expectations.
Another year, another quarterback competition for Nick Saban to sort out in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide will have a new leader in the huddle for a third year in a row, with a trio of untested players lining up to follow one-and-done starters Blake Sims and Jacob Coker.
Redshirt freshman Blake Barnett is a dichotomy, uber-talented yet the greenest among the contenders. Cooper Bateman has starting experience, but does he have staying experience after failing to hold the job last fall? This will be a pivotal spring for third-year sophomore David Cornwell, who’s yet to take a snap and hopes to make his move.
1. Notre Dame
The Irish might have the best quarterback duo in the country. And as such, the best offseason quarterback derby belongs to them as well.Malik Zaire ran Everett Golson out of South Bend last year. But after the franchise suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2, a new franchise was born. DeShone Kizer laid a tremendous foundation for the future, accounting for 31 touchdowns while performing with poise and potential. Zaire is raring to go. Kizer will be even better with 11 starts in the vault. Brian Kelly must find a way to maximize both players, with a lefty-righty switch becoming a distinct possibility in 2016.