NCAA Quarterback Battles: Who's Winning?

Preview 2014 - Scout's College Football News editors breakdown the arms races across the country.

Preview 2014

QB Battle Updates - No. 1-10

By Richard Cirminiello  

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- 2014 QB Battles - No. 11 to 20

About five months ago, we dipped our toes into the always-topical quarterback clashes that were about to dominate headlines and discussions during spring drills. With the luxury of 15 practices per team, a smattering of off-field issues and a whole lot of transfers, right about now seems like a good time to revisit those competitions. Some have long been decided, while others have taken unexpected twists and turns.

One important addendum needs to be added to this subject—Notre Dame has a potentially explosive battle brewing in South Bend that wasn’t touched upon here in February. While Everett Golson was making all of the headlines upon his return from suspension, young Malik Zaire was preparing as if he was going to be the 2014 starter. Sure, it’d be a major upset if Zaire topped the depth chart for the Rice opener, but he’s given Brian Kelly and the coaches something to think about this summer. 

10. Washington
What we said Feb. 22: For the first time in three years, the Huskies are staging a quarterback battle. And a new coach will be overseeing the competition.

Chris Petersen inherits a lot of youth—and uncertainty—behind center. Keith Price is gone, and in his place are sophomores Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams … maybe. Miles, the only player other than Price to take snaps in 2013, was suspended indefinitely in February for a violation of team rules. Williams is brimming with ability and potential. He’s a playmaker, with the contagious demeanor and winning attitude needed to convince a new staff that he’s ready to lead.
Update: The Huskies have enjoyed a good offseason so far at the quarterback position. Lindquist performed well in the spring, well enough to build some distance on Williams. But the best news came when Miles wasn’t charged for his role in an altercation, and was subsequently reinstated by Petersen on May 14. Miles has the most experience and the best immediate upside among the contenders, which should lead to the starting nod at some point in the next month.

9. Tennessee
What we said Feb. 22: Three Vols threw at least 20 passes in 2013. Head coach Butch Jones would prefer to use far less of a rotation this fall.

Tennessee has plenty of offensive unknowns, such as who secures the five openings up front and for whom will they be blocking? The race will be wide-open after senior Justin Worley and sophomores Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman combined to throw 12 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. While Worley showed the potential to be a steady hand before injuring his thumb on Oct. 26, he’ll now be facing three kids, including touted redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson, who are no longer wide-eyed rookies.
Update: Ferguson decided to transfer at the end of May, and Peterman struggled to get reps during the spring. Jones will decide this summer between Worley and Dobbs, with the former holding a considerable lead at this stage of the offseason. Worley is healthy again, surrounded by better skill position talent than in 2013 and coming off a good overall offseason. He’s the most sensible one-year solution as the Vols continue to develop their young hurlers for the future.

8. Miami
What we said Feb. 22: Youth or experience? It’s the choice Al Golden will face this offseason.

Stephen Morris did not have a great finale for the Hurricanes. He’ll still be missed by the program in 2014. This is likely a head-to-head matchup between senior Ryan Williams and redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, though incoming freshmen Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier will look to seize opportunities as well. Williams is a journeyman with experience at both Memphis and Miami. The program can survive with him, but it’s really hoping that Olsen can play like the quarterback who was ranked No. 4 nationally on last February’s Signing Day.
Update: It sure has been an eventful past few months for the Cane quarterbacks. Williams was well on his way to copping the starting job when he tore his ACL in April. Olsen started the spring game, but failed to impress, prompting the team to sign well-travelled Jake Heaps on June 15 to bolster depth. But don’t sleep on Williams. He’s had an Adrian Peterson-like recovery, which just might have him ready for the opener. It’s a longshot, but stay tuned.

7. LSU
What we said Feb. 22: The attrition has already begun at a position that’s going to get plenty of scrutiny now that Zach Mettenberger is NFL-bound.

Just a few days ago, junior Stephen Rivers announced that he’s transferring in a move that’ll thin out the number of competitors. Heading the pack is sophomore Anthony Jennings, who got extensive reps after Mettenberger went down in the Nov. 29 Arkansas game. Breathing down his neck in the spring and the summer will be redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig, senior Rob Bolden and hotshot recruit Brandon Harris, a four-star early enrollee.
Update: The race to replace Mettenberger was interesting back in February. As fall camp quickly approaches, it’s become downright fascinating. Jennings is still the man to beat based on his experience. But Harris delivered an eye-opening spring game, and has gone on to add muscle and further hone his passing skills with the help of quarterback mentor George Whitfield. It’s quite possible that both he and Jennings play this season, which explains why Rettig has decided in June to continue his playing career at Rutgers.

6. Clemson
What we said Feb. 22: There’s no easy way around it. Tajh Boyd will really be missed by Clemson this season.

One way or another, it’s going to be a transition year behind center for the Tigers. Senior Cole Stoudt is more of a stopgap player, a longtime backup who’s more likely to be steady than spectacular. Dual-threat sophomore Chad Kelly was third on the depth chart a year ago, returning from a torn ACL to earn snaps in blowouts in 2013. The future likely belongs to true freshman Deshaun Watson, the country’s third-ranked quarterback in February. He has already enrolled in spring classes.
Update: Clemson has clarity at quarterback as the 2014 campaign rapidly nears. Stoudt appears ready to lead the offense after playing well in the spring. Yeah, Watson is still peering over Stoudt’s shoulder, but he’ll use this season more as a table-setter for 2015 than as a chance to seize control of the offensive ship. Kelly was dismissed from the program in April, only to be replaced two weeks later by Stanford transfer David Olson, who’ll add much-needed veteran depth as the No. 3 on the depth chart.

5. Michigan
What we said Feb. 22: Coordinator Doug Nussmeier was lured away from Alabama to transform the Wolverine offense … beginning with the quarterbacks.

Yeah, Devin Gardner showed flashes as a junior, but not with enough consistency to be considered an iron-clad lock to regain his job. A foot problem didn’t help, to be sure, and it needs to be monitored in the spring. Sophomore Shane Morris just wants a chance to compete. He started the bowl loss to Kansas State, showing hints of the physical prowess that helped make him the third-ranked quarterback of 2013. It’s Gardner’s job to lose, but Morris has all of the tools—both tangible and intangible—to pull an upset in August.
Update: Gardner wasn’t supposed to do much in the spring as he continued to recover from last year’s broken foot. Instead, he wound up participating in all 15 practices, sans limitations. Ahh, the power of competition. Morris continues to get better, and he’s going to lead this offense at some point in his promising Wolverine career. But it still looks as if this is Gardner’s team, provided he can continue to make strides with his accuracy, decision-making and overall consistency.

4. Texas
What we said Feb. 22: Charlie Strong has a lot on his plate in his first year in Austin. Rifling through the quarterback candidates is high on his priority list.

David Ash would seem to be the obvious choice for a new coach, but the up-and-down senior missed almost all of 2013 with a concussion, an injury that’ll have UT fans holding their breath this fall. Ash has been cleared for contact in the spring, when he’ll go head-to-head with sophomore Tyrone Swoopes, the 2013 mega-recruit who elicited non-stop comparisons to former ‘Horn Vince Young. A possible wild card is USC transfer Max Wittek, who loved his visit to Texas earlier in the month. Wittek has a big arm and two years of eligibility left.
Update: In all likelihood, it’ll be Ash’s job to lead the Longhorn offense for as long as he can stay healthy. The new staff hasn’t echoed the same sentiment, but it’d prefer to hand the ball to a seasoned veteran over a couple of unproven kids, Swoopes and rookie Jerrod Heard. The flirtation with Wittek was just that, with the former USC hurler failing to impress the brass in Austin. For Texas to compete in the Big 12 in Strong’s debut, it needs Ash on the field for as many games as possible.

3. USC
What we said Feb. 22: When Max Wittek announced in February he’d be transferring, the battle to become Steve Sarkisian’s first quarterback at Troy was boiled down to junior Cody Kessler vs. redshirt freshman Max Browne.

Kessler is the incumbent, finishing his first season as the starter with 20 touchdown passes and seven picks. The new staff is confident he’ll continue to improve with more reps. However, Browne has an even higher ceiling, an enticing blend of maturity, smarts and arm talent. Sark was unable to land Browne a year ago, but he’s thrilled to have inherited him with the Trojans. This shapes up as a protracted competition that might not produce a winner until just before the season starts.
Update: For the second straight year, Kessler took charge of the quarterback race to hold off a more ballyhooed teammate. Last year, he beat out Wittek, and this year he’s remained ahead of Browne. In fact, he’s had a terrific offseason, quickly picking up the nuances of the offense to draw the praise of Sark and the coaching staff. To Browne’s credit, he hasn’t eased up in his pursuit of playing time, which will help to keep both players sharp and hungry this summer.

2. Alabama
What we said Feb. 22: Transfer Jacob Coker is about to succeed AJ McCarron for the second time in his athletic career. Done deal, right? Probably.

Coker decided that he’d prefer to head home to Alabama rather than compete with Heisman winner Jameis Winston. Makes sense. He’ll have to first clear two hurdles, though, before becoming the Tide quarterback. Coker has to earn his Florida State degree at the end of this semester, and then he has to beat out quarterbacks who’ve actually been at ‘Bama for a year or longer and participated in spring drills. Senior Blake Sims is the veteran, while Cooper Bateman was one of the hottest recruits of the 2013 class. Spring camp will serve as a semifinal round, with the leader facing off with Coker in the summer.
Update: One step down. One to go. Coker earned his FSU degree, paving the way for him to become immediately eligible in Tuscaloosa. The next phase of his Bama career, earning the starting role, is pretty much a foregone conclusion. Coker’s former head coach, Jimbo Fisher, dubbed him the best quarterback Nick Saban will have had in college, and none of the Tide holdovers stood out in the spring. The transfers of Luke Del Rio and Parker McLeod leave Sims and Bateman to compete this summer for the No. 2 spot.

1. Texas A&M
What we said Feb. 22: A moment of silence for the folks in Aggieland. Johnny Manziel is no longer on campus.

Manziel was in College Station for far too short a period time as far as A&M fans are concerned. The silver lining is that head coach Kevin Sumlin has recruited the position well since coming over from Houston. The Aggies will be young, but they will not be short on exciting talent. Senior Matt Joeckel brings a veteran feel and stability to the position, while sophomore Kenny Hill and true freshman Kyle Allen have considerable upside potential. There’s a very good chance that a new A&M star will be born this offseason, with both Hill and Allen capable of contending for the honor.
Update: It’ll take a little longer for Sumlin to decide on Manziel’s heir. One thing that’s certain is that either Hill or Allen will get the nod for the South Carolina opener. Joeckel has since moved on to TCU, while Hill was suspended in the spring for public intoxication. Hill will be back, and he’s now the most experienced option, but his absence created more opportunities for Allen to earn snaps in April. And Allen is the type of hard-working, dedicated sponge who’s capable of making the most of the chances he’s been given.

- 2014 QB Battles - No. 11 to 20


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