Quarterback may be the easiest position to look at for the upcoming season. The Red Wolves return two time 1st team All-Sun Belt Conference performer Ryan Aplin (6'1 210 RSR) at the QB position.
Aplin makes the transition to a new coaching staff much easier for both the players and the coaches. A fantastic leader, the 2011 SBC Offensive Player of the Year is a lock to run Malzahn's offense in 2012. And for Aplin, learning what a new offensive coordinator wants should be simple as he is breaking in his 4th during his tenure.
Aplin is an excellent leader and a savvy quarterback that has a good grasp on what this offense needs and he can keep the team on task throughout summer workouts, helping to prepare the Red Wolves for his senior campaign. Aplin is on the verge of breaking a number of career ASU records after having smashed a number of season records over the past 2 seasons.
Ryan should become the all time leading passer at ASU in 2012. He stands at 7,309 yards passing as well as 43 passing TDs, both of which put him second to Cleo Lemon's 8,887 yards and 48 TDs. The stat that is impressive to me is that Aplin currently stands fifth all time in A-State rushing TDs with 25. He can move into second behind Richie Woit's 57 TDs if he rushes for 9 TDs in 2012. Aplin finished 2011 with 10 rushing TDs and 2010 with 11.
That would put him just ahead of the top rushing quarterback in ASU history, Dwane Brown, who is tied with Reggie Arnold with 33 career rushing TDs. Now it is important to know that Aplin isn't perfect and he would be the first to say so. He needs to improve on his pre-snap reads as well as cut down on his interceptions (16 in 2011). But I am personally excited to see him work under new OC Rhett Lashlee, and believe he is primed for a great year.
The biggest question of fall camp at the quarterback position should be who wins the backup job. First impression is that it is Phillip Butterfield's (6'2 220 RSO) job to lose. Butterfield was a highly touted quarterback out of Lake Hamilton HS that originally was on his way to run Gus Malzahn's offense for the Tulsa Hurricanes. Things work out in funny ways and now Phillip has a chance to do just that, but for the Red Wolves.
However after a couple of knee surgeries and missing the 2011 season, Butterfield must prove that he is 100% and can be the backup in 2012. Coming off of the 2nd knee surgery, Phillip was the only scholarship backup QB this spring and really wasn't allowed to go full speed. Butterfield did practice however and should have the inside track to the backup job, having more experience at the collegiate level than the other candidates.
Hogan arrived on campus last fall as a high school quarterback that was expected to compete at wide receiver for ASU. After Butterfield's injury, Hogan moved to QB and was Freeze's emergency guy this fall, but fortunately wasn't needed and was able to redshirt.
Hogan has all the skills wanted in a spread QB, but after off season shoulder surgery, he was limited to learning the offense this spring in the classroom with no real on-field action. But for the guy that the former staff thought might be the most talented QB on the roster, the battle for the backup roll can begin when he is healthy this fall.
Knighten was a Parade All-American in high school at Pulaski Academy. Malzahn has compared him to Michigan's Denard Robinson. Knighten should be very comfortable in Malzahn's spread offense after running the Kevin Kelley attack at PA.
While it may be tough to come in right away and beat out guys with more experience, Fredi has a lot of athleticism and I wouldn't be shocked to see him in some "Rabid Wolf" sets this fall ala Kiehl Frazier at Auburn. Stegall might be the best athlete of the group. His size and speed are a very good fit for the type of quarterback that can be a major threat in Malzahn's offense.
It is difficult for any freshman to take over at a Division I school and lead them to a bowl. Fortunately Knighten and Stegall will not have to, so competing for the backup spot is a perfect scenario for the young Red Wolves. A player that I have yet to mention is Zach Davis (6'1 185 RFR). Davis, a walk on from Harrisburg, had a very good spring and an excellent Spring Game. Davis became the all time leading passer in Arkansas public school history while running his father's (Harrisburg Head Football Coach) version of the spread.
Aplin will be the man this fall. The only question is who will be the next in line. Throughout the season it may depend on how much the number two guy is needed. If it is for spot duty, it may be the safer more experienced choice.
If it is for a longer term solution (God forbid Aplin gets hurt) then perhaps the best playmaker wins the job. It is possible that the experienced guy is the best playmaker. It will take the fall camp for the coaches to make that decision.
As long as Aplin stays healthy, it may not need to be decided throughout the entire season. One thing for certain though is that when Aplin is gone, there will be a major battle for the QB job in the Spring 2013.