Quarterback jobs are rarely won in the spring. That doesn’t, however, mean that long-lasting impressions can’t be made or seeds won’t be planted in the minds of coaching staffs. Promotions are up for grabs just about everywhere in 2007, and in places like South Bend, Columbus and Norman, the outcomes will reverberate far beyond the city limits.
25. Houston – All Art Briles has to do this year is replace Kevin Kolb, a four-year starter and the player that carried the Cougars to last year’s Conference USA championship. Houston relied on its quarterback way too much in the past, but that’ll change in 2007 as either sophomore Blake Joseph or redshirt freshman L.J. Castile takes control of the offense. Joseph has a strong arm, decent mobility out of the pocket and a valuable year as Kolb’s understudy. Castile brings an exciting blend of size and speed that’ll draw comparisons to a real raw Vince Young if he can avoid being moved to a skill position. One X factor is Al Pena who’s seeking an NCAA waiver to transfer from Oklahoma State without sitting out a season.
24. Utah – For the second straight off-season since Alex Smith left for the NFL, the Utes will hold auditions to determine who’ll start at quarterback. In 2006, junior Brian Johnson sat out the year to heal a badly injured knee, clearing the path for Brett Ratliff to win the job. Now Johnson will be looking to get back to 100%, while holding off strong-armed senior Tommy Grady who’s seen limited action since transferring from Oklahoma. Before getting hurt two years ago, Johnson was beginning to run the spread to perfection, smoking the Mountain West with his quick feet and accurate right arm.
23. Ole Miss – Last year, Ed Orgeron handed the starting job to Brent Schaeffer before the precocious junior-college transfer had even arrived on campus. This year, the coach is being a little more judicious in his approach, opening up the quarterback competition to include junior Seth Adams, a former walk-on that saw action in six games a year ago. Schaeffer was a mess in 2006, struggling with his reads and finishing last in the SEC in passing efficiency, but a second year in the system and with the Rebel receivers should help the senior’s development. Prized Texas transfer Jevan Snead takes over the offense in 2008.
22. Maryland – One-time can’t-miss prospect Jordan Steffy has the inside track on the job to succeed Sam Hollenbach provided he can stay healthy and prove he’s finally ready to take control of the Terp offense. The junior has the athleticism and knowledge of the system to remain on top until September. Steffy will have to fend off Josh Portis which will not going to be easy. A sophomore that transferred from Florida, he’s an athletic 6-4 and a great fit for Ralph Friedgen’s system if he can hone his footwork and timing with the receivers. Redshirt freshman Jeremy Ricker, who turned down offers from Oklahoma and Cal, has the best arm of the three, but is playing from behind at this juncture.
21. North Carolina – Senior Joe Dailey and sophomore Cam Sexton got a chance to run John Bunting’s offense in 2006 and failed miserably, combining to throw 11 touchdowns to a whopping 18 picks. Dailey will be tried at wide receiver this spring, further clearing the path for incoming blue-chip freshman Mike Paulus to have an immediate impact on the Tar Heel offense. The 6-5, 220-pound hurler is physically ready to compete, but needs to pick up the offense without the benefit of spring practice and prove to new coordinator John Shoop that he can limit his mistakes. Even if Sexton holds down the fort for the first few weeks, you’ll see lots of Paulus before too long.
NC State – Marcus Stone began 2006 as the starter, but he’s now a
tight end, leaving junior Daniel Evans, sophomore Harrison Beck and redshirt freshman Justin Burke to battle it out to
see who’ll be Tom O’Brien’s first quarterback in Raleigh. Evans looked
like the future for the Pack after engineering upsets of O’Brien’s
Eagles and Florida State, but regressed badly down the stretch. While
he doesn’t have a cannon, his maturity and leadership skills could be a
nice match with Dana Bible and the basic pro-style offense. Remember
Beck? He was the original Mitch Mustain whose quick exit from Nebraska
was accompanied by some ridiculously inane comments from his mom.
Assuming he’s matured, Beck has the best skill set of any State
quarterback, and is someone the program can build around for the next
three years. Burke will likely open at third string, but should not be
taken lightly. The former record-setting quarterback from Kentucky was
one of the most coveted pocket passer of the Class of 2006.
Colorado – Anyone who watched Bernard Jackson last year
saw a quarterback that looked real uncomfortable in Dan Hawkins’ new
West Coast offense, clicking on less than 50% of his passes in the Big
12’s worst passing offense. He returns a little wiser for his senior
year intent on holding off junior Nick Nelson and redshirt
freshman Cody Hawkins. Nelson is a transfer from Saddleback
Community College where he ran the shotgun spread offense and won lots
of games. His intangibles and rapid retention of the playbook have
really caught the staff’s attention. Hawkins, the coach’s son, is just
5-11 and 190 pounds, but he’s a playmaker and a natural leader which is
what offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is demanding in 2007.
18. Pittsburgh – More than any other player in 2007, veteran quarterback Tyler Palko will be missed for what he brought to the Panther sideline, huddle and locker room. Palko’s caddy for the last two seasons, Bill Stull, is the front runner because of his experience and system knowledge, but has thrown just ten passes in his career. He’ll split snaps this spring with redshirt freshman Kevan Smith and incoming freshman Pat Bostick to determine a soft pecking order heading into the summer. Bostick is one of the highest-rated quarterbacks to ever sign with Pitt and has the tools to push Stull out of the favorite role.
17. TCU – The only thing that’s guaranteed in the battle to replace veteran Jeff Ballard is that the Frog offense will be handed over to an unproven underclassman. Sophomore Marcus Jackson and a trio of redshirt freshmen, headed by Andy Dalton, have already begun making their cases for the coaching staff this spring. Jackson can move the chains with his arm and legs, and picked up valuable experience in 2006 as Ballard’s backup. Dalton, however, has the edge as a pocket passer and has shown an aptitude for quickly retaining the Frog offense.
16. Oregon State – Beaver fans that were rooting for the Sean Canfield era to begin last year should get their wish in 2007. The 6-4 southpaw with the nice touch at all ranges is just a sophomore, making him the undisputed future of the Oregon State program. Last year’s backup to Matt Moore is the heavy favorite to be in the huddle when Utah visits Aug. 30. Just don’t tell sophomore Lyle Moevao, a feisty competitor who’s built more like a fullback than a quarterback. The 5-11, 230-pound junior college transfer has a good arm, dances well around the pocket and great leadership qualities. If, as many Beaver coaches hope, Moevao is the second coming of Jonathan Smith, Canfield won’t be the lock he seems to be five months before the start of the season.
15. Washington – Because potential franchise quarterback Jake Locker is involved, this could be the most important derby in recent Husky history. Fair or not, the redshirt freshman with the golden arm and the nifty moves outside the pocket is being labeled as a savior around Seattle provided he can beat out senior Carl Bonnell. Bonnell is clearly the more experienced of the two, however, he didn’t impress as Isaiah Stanback’s emergency replacement in 2006 and will miss spring following shoulder surgery. Unless he proves completely unworthy of the promotion, Locker is ready to become the face of the U-Dub program.
14. Minnesota – Bryan Cupito won’t be confused with any of the Viking quarterbacks, but he was a solid four-year starter for the Gophers and will be missed. His successor will come from a quartet of holdovers, most likely either junior Tony Mortensen or redshirt freshman Adam Weber. As Cupito’s backup in 2006, Mortensen will begin the race as the early favorite. He’s a nice package of size and mobility, needing only to show that he can throw with better accuracy. One of the gems of the 2006 recruiting class, Weber is a terrific all-around athlete with above average arm strength and the ability to hits his targets when rolling out in either direction.
13. BYU – The job of replacing John Beck is Arizona State transfer Max Hall’s to lose. The redshirt freshman looks downright prescient for leaving the desert for Deseret where one year on the scout team already has him poised for a starting gig. Cougar defensive players raved last year about the passing ability of Hall who hails from the same high school that produced Beck and is former Dallas Cowboy Danny White’s nephew. The job of knocking Hall from his perch is Snow College transfer Cade Cooper’s, particularly now that Jacob Bower has elected to transfer. A record-setting quarterback and the National Junior College Offensive Player of the Year, he’s accepted a promise from Cougar coaches that he’ll receive a scholarship as soon as one becomes available.
12. LSU – If someone other than former mega-recruit Ryan Perrilloux was the understudy in Baton Rouge, Matt Flynn would be the slam-dunk choice to succeed JaMarcus Russell. Even without an official anointing from Les Miles, Flynn is still the prohibitive favorite to be under center when the Tigers begin another season in September. A heady and talented senior, he has the total package to finish his college career with a huge season. Now in his third year, Perrilloux has to begin displaying some of the gifts that made him one of the most coveted quarterbacks of the Class of 2005. While he oozes physical ability, the sophomore might need an epiphany over the next five months to keep Flynn from finally becoming the starter.
11. Oregon – Whether or not Oregon can rebound from last year’s late-season swoon will depend heavily on the development of skittish seniors, Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf. Both had their opportunities to end the debate last fall, but instead raised more questions by tossing 18 combined interceptions to go along with 18 touchdown passes. An inconsistent receiving corps didn’t help the signal-callers, however, Mike Bellotti and new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly are in no mood for excuses. They want a quarterback that can make plays, while limiting the number of turnovers. Dixon is a multi-dimensional player with the greater upside, but if his consistency doesn’t improve real fast, Leaf will become the starter by default.
10. Clemson – Will Proctor was just slightly above average as the starter last year, so Clemson will happily turn the page and begin auditions for its next quarterback. Can’t-miss recruit Willy Korn is already on campus and no doubt the future at the position, but he’ll have to be otherworldly to win the job, particularly with Florida State looming on opening day. He may, however, be good enough to beat out junior Tribble Reese and redshirt freshman Michael Wade for the opportunity to back up likely starter Cullen Harper. The junior has an underrated arm and is poised at all times, but when Proctor was struggling last year, it has to mean something that Harper wasn’t given a chance to step in and contribute.
Prediction: Harper, with Korn lurking around the corner
9. Wisconsin – Yes, fifth-year senior Tyler Donovan is a heavy favorite to replace ultra-steady John Stocco at quarterback, but he is not a lock. While he’s played well as the backup the last two seasons, his arm strength is questionable, slightly cracking open the door for Kansas State transfer Allan Evridge to make a bull rush toward the top of the depth chart. He has junior eligibility, starting experience in Manhattan and a better skill set than any other Badger quarterback. That said, Wisconsin has proven for years that it doesn’t need a prolific passer to win plenty of football games which is another reason Donovan, the safest pick, will get the nod.
8. Virginia Tech – Junior Sean Glennon’s grip on the starting job is a loose one after last year’s 11-touchdown, 11-interception season that was capped by a second-half meltdown in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. He is the safe choice, but whether he’s the best choice will depend on the development of sophomore Ike Whitaker, the more gifted—and greener---of the two primary contenders. Over the years, the Hokies have been at their best when the quarterback is unpredictable and versatile, two adjectives that do not describe Glennon. Whitaker, conversely, is a 6-4 dual-threat with enough upside and support from the rest of the team to offset his limited experience in Blacksburg.
7. Boise State – Whoever follows in the footsteps of Bart Hendricks, Ryan Dinwiddie and Jared Zabransky will get an unbelievable opportunity for the national exposure that inherently comes with being the Boise State quarterback. The quartet of eager candidates includes senior Taylor Tharp, junior Bush Hamdan, sophomore Nick Lomax and redshirt freshman Mike Coughlin. Tharp has the most experience and the added benefit of being Zabransky’s roomie the last two years, but doesn’t have off-the-charts physical traits to pull away from the field. Hamdan has the best combination of arm strength and mobility, offsetting concerns about whether he’s got the poise and demeanor to lead this team. Lomax and Coughlin are tall pocket passes who can throw the ball a mile, but have no experience with the Broncos. The last two times Boise had quarterback derbys, the young gun surprised the long-time vet.
6. UCLA – Unlike most schools that are replacing a departed senior, UCLA is embroiled in a quarterback controversy because both juniors Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan are talented enough to start for a lot of programs. The job was Olson’s for the first five games until he sprained his knee in a win over Arizona, essentially ending his season. Cowan struggled from time to time, but got better as the season wore on, displaying a strong arm, good mobility and the intangibles to keep Olson on the sidelines even after his knee had healed. Karl Dorrell’s assertion that a healthy Olson would get the ball is going to get tested from spring practice right up until the starter has his first bad game of 2007.
5. Florida State – While Drew Weatherford is the incumbent, does the arrival of new offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher give a boost to Xavier Lee? It probably doesn’t hurt to have a new talent evaluator with a clean slate. Neither junior has been particularly consistent since arriving from high school as heralded prospects which is why the competition is wide-open. Until one of the two can prove he’s capable of consistently sparking the once-prolific Seminole offense, this debate is not going to die around Tallahassee or any place else where the sport is discussed.
Miami – One of new head coach Randy Shannon’s first really big
decisions will be to decide on his quarterback for 2007. Much like the
situation up in Tallahassee, the Miami offense has been
uncharacteristically feeble the last couple of seasons, putting pressure
on the quarterbacks to perform. Senior Kyle Wright has all the
tools to be the next big thing in a Cane hurler, but has yet to live up
to expectations. That’s created an opportunity for junior Kirby Freeman who finished well in Miami’s bowl game and refuses to go
down without a fight. The two contenders have not been chummy of late
which adds spice to an already delicious competition.
3. Oklahoma – If Sooner fans weren’t happy with Rhett Bomar last year, they’re going to loathe him this fall. Bomar got himself booted from the program, leaving Oklahoma in a precarious situation behind center. This from a school that appeared loaded at quarterback just a few years ago. Paul Thompson was terrific in 2006, but he’s out of eligibility, leaving the offense with a trio of kids that have two games and two passes of experience between. On seniority alone, junior Joey Halzle rates an edge over true freshman Keith Nichol and redshirt freshman Sam Bradford, both of whom are more decorated than the former junior-college transfer. One extra year as the backup helps, however, Bradford and Nichol have vast upsides and are already competing for the job this spring. Halzle should get the nod in September, but will be real vulnerable if he stumbles and one of the freshmen matures overnight.
1. Notre Dame – Just how good is Charlie Weis as a developer of young quarterbacks? We’ll have a much better idea in a couple of years. Brady Quinn is off to the NFL, meaning one of four really green and really gifted quarterbacks is going to see his Q rating skyrocket later this summer. While extremely short on experience, the depth chart will be jammed with former four and five-star blue-chip recruits. The standard-bearer is true freshman Jimmy Clausen, last year’s top-ranked high school quarterback who’s already on campus competing for the job. Is he good enough to start right away? You bet. As a sophomore, Evan Sharpley is long in the tooth, relatively speaking. However, seniority alone won’t get it done in a deep field. Redshirt freshmen Demetrius Jones and Zach Frazer would be the future at most other schools. Jones is the most athletic quarterback, making huge strides since arriving in South Bend two years ago. Frazer is the longshot of the group. Sit back and enjoy because this one is about to get real interesting.