Predicting Winner of Every Major 2014 Spring QB Battle
Some of college football's best quarterbacks, including Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Alabama's AJ McCarron, have departed for the NFL, leaving several programs with some enticing QB battles coming through spring practice and fall camp.
While most of the battles will carry over through the spring and into fall camp, we'll take an early look at which players could be atop the depth chart when Week 1 rolls around.
Several skilled newcomers like A&M's Kyle Allen, Clemson's Deshaun Watson and LSU's Brandon Harris are enrolled early and ready to compete for starting jobs.
Can returners like Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill, Cole Stoudt and Anthony Jennings fend off the fresh faces?
Click on to see predictions for all of the major quarterback battles across the nation.
Note: All recruit rankings based on 247Sports Composite Ratings, unless otherwise noted.
Replacing: Tajh Boyd
Contenders: Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly, Deshaun Watson
Clemson will host one of the most intriguing quarterback battles of the offseason as it looks to replace longtime starter Tajh Boyd.
In fact, ESPN's Travis Haney (Insider subscription) named it the fourth most intriguing battle of the season.
Senior Cole Stoudt is the only quarterback with significant experience returning, making him the clear-cut leader going into the spring. He threw for 415 yards and five touchdowns without an interception last season, completing an impressive 79.7 percent of his passes.
While he looks poised to keep the Tigers winning next season, he'll still be challenged by a pair of blue-chip prospects.
Right now, it looks like the two quarterbacks of the future will be battling for No. 2 behind Stoudt, who should be the starter next year.
Predicted Winner: Cole Stoudt
Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes
Replacing: Stephen Morris
Contenders: Ryan Williams, Kevin Olsen, Brad Kaaya (Summer entry)
Miami senior quarterback Ryan Williams transferred from Memphis with intentions of eventually claiming the starting job.
That goal is within his grasp now and he stands as the favorite to win the Hurricanes' starting job and replace Stephen Morris.
All signs point to this being his job to lose, but Miami head coach Al Golden and offensive coordinator James Coley would still like to see some development in his mentality going forward, per Dieter Kurtenbach, Sun Sentinel:
"He's worked hard for this," Golden said. "I don't want to take him out of his personality, but he's going to have to be a little more vocal… He is who he is and we're happy about that."
"You want to see the transition to 'I'm the man,'" Coley expounded. "And I think it will come the more he plays. That's what I want to see him take advantage of — that when he's out there, there's no doubt. Even though he's comfortable, sometimes you have to be comfortable and vocal."
He'll be further challenged in the fall by newcomer Brad Kaaya, but it seems likely that the heralded recruit will wait and be groomed for at least a year.
Predicted Winner: Ryan Williams
Virginia Tech Hokies
Replacing: Logan Thomas
Contenders: Michael Brewer (Summer arrival), Mark Leal, Branden Motley
Logan Thomas has been at the helm for Virginia Tech for the last three seasons, leaving a bit of a strange situation for the Hokies.
VT has brought in a transfer gunslinger—Michael Brewer from Texas Tech. Brewer was expected to be the starter for the Red Raiders last year, but was passed up after injury issues.
He'll be eligible for the 2014 season once he graduates from TTU, and many expect that he'll eventually claim the starting job. He won't be in for spring practice, which will make for a tough road to the top.
However, his competition won't be all that stiff.
Mark Leal is the most notable and only experienced returner, but he wasn't great in his limited time on the field last year. He completed just over 50 percent of his passes and tossed two interceptions without a touchdown.
It'll be anyone's game, but once Brewer arrives, he should be able to win the job. He wasn't brought in to ride the pine.
Predicted Winner: Michael Brewer
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Replacing: Clint Chelf
Contenders: J.W. Walsh, Mason Rudolph, Daxx Garman
Oklahoma State hasn't really had a solid starter at quarterback since the departure of Brandon Weeden.
The Cowboys shuffled between Wes Lunt, Clint Chelf and J.W Walsh in 2012, and between Chelf and Walsh in 2013.
Chelf eventually claimed the job from Walsh last year, but now that he's gone, Walsh is the favorite to win the job.
However, it is far from a slam dunk. ESPN's Jake Trotter broke down the situation, saying that the job is Walsh's to lose, but he'll face some stiff competition from true freshman early enrollee Mason Rudolph:
If Walsh can reclaim his 2012 form when he overcame his arm strength constraints by completing intermediate passes while also making plays with his wheels, then he can regain a stranglehold on the position. Remember, Walsh led the Big 12 in the Adjusted QBR metric in 2012 and is capable of moving the chains at a high clip. But if the same 2013 issues persist, that could open the door for Rudolph.
Trotter is right on. Walsh will, in all likelihood, begin the season under center. But if he falters, head coach Mike Gundy could be quick to give some time to the big-armed freshman from South Carolina.
Predicted Winner: J.W. Walsh
Replacing: Case McCoy
Contenders: David Ash, Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard (Summer arrival), Max Wittek (Potential transfer)
Whenever a quarterback leaves and a new coach arrives, a quarterback battle ensues.
David Ash has starting experience under his belt and some impressive production at times. However, he has been largely inconsistent while also facing some injury issues.
There's no question that he's the favorite to win the job, but he has two very talented quarterbacks behind him.
Tyrone Swoopes had his redshirt burnt late last year and looks like the quarterback of the future for the Longhorns. But could he be the quarterback of the present?
That answer might not come this spring. Even if Ash begins the season atop the depth chart, his leash could be short and Swoopes might take over.
Making the situation even more interesting is the impeding arrival of All-American recruit Jerrod Heard. From there, it could become even more muddled if Max Wittek heads to Texas from USC. He enjoyed his visit in February.
While Ash looks like the current front-runner, anything could happen between now and the fall.
Predicted Winner: David Ash
West Virginia Mountaineers
Replacing: Ford Childress
Contenders: Clint Trickett, Paul Millard, Skyler Howard
West Virginia had a quarterback battle that never really ended last year.
Paul Millard started the season at the helm but Ford Childress and Clint Trickett both started as the season went along. Injuries muddled the situation and set up another battle this offseason.
Childress has left the team but his slot has already been filled by early enrollee Skyler Howard, who was the No. 1 junior college dual-threat quarterback in the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Howard and Millard will likely be chasing Trickett, a former Florida State transfer, as the front-runner. Trickett fought through injuries and was the team's most productive quarterback through the season. With that in the rearview, offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson is still waiting for someone to take the job, per Doug Walp, The Daily Athenaeum:
I told them throughout last spring and really throughout fall camp – it really isn’t up to us (the coaches) to pick a quarterback. I know that sounds weird, but we’re going to give them the opportunity. Win the job. Make our job easy.
And I think that’s one thing that really as the course of last year’s camp went through, nobody made our job easy. Nobody rose up. And so that’s why we probably played as many kids as we played. We were trying to find who the best guy was, and nobody was sitting there raising their game up.
If last year's quarterback fiasco is any indicator, this battle is open to anyone, but Trickett looks like he is in the best position to win the job.
Predicted Winner: Clint Trickett
Contenders: Jake Rudock, C.J. Beathard
Jake Rudock was decent in his first year as a starter for Iowa last year, throwing for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns with 13 picks while leading the Hawkeyes to an 8-5 finish and Outback Bowl bid.
However, backup C.J. Beathard provided some nice sparks from his No. 2 role while Rudock was banged up last year.
His performance had many wondering if he could be next year's starter, and Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz addressed the issue, saying that he has confidence in both signal-callers, per Marc Morehouse, The Gazette:
The good news to me is right now we have confidence in both those guys, they both have proven that we can win games with them, put them out there as starters and win games with them. That being said, C.J. still has some catching up to do. Jake has really accelerated.
We’ll let them both compete. It’s only fair to both of them that the best guys start. . . . I expect both those guys to play better next year and compete even harder, so that is going to be a good thing for our football team.
While both will compete for the job, this is still Rudock's job to lose. He'll likely be the starter at the beginning of the season, where he'll stay unless he falters.
Predicted Winner: Jake Rudock
Replacing: Taylor Martinez, Ron Kellogg III
Contenders: Tommy Armstrong Jr., Johnny Stanton
It seems like Taylor Martinez has been quarterback at Nebraska for the last decade and started 2013 as the head man as expected.
However, injuries kept him out of action for much of the year and opened the door for Tommy Armstrong Jr. to show what he can do.
He showed much promise at times but wasn't completely ready to start. He accounted for 1,186 total yards and 11 touchdowns, but he also threw eight interceptions.
He'll have to improve that production while also fending off blue-chip redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton. The job is Armstrong's to lose, but anything is possible through the spring and fall.
Stanton has some high expectations, and if he meets those hopes, he could claim the starting role. But before that battle actually takes place, Armstrong is looking like the guy.
Predicted Winner: Tommy Armstrong Jr.
Contenders: Devin Gardner, Shane Morris
Devin Gardner was expected to lead Michigan to big things in 2013, but that didn't happen.
The Wolverines struggled throughout the year and Gardner's production wasn't anywhere near expectations. He threw 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and was sacked countless times. However, much of that was out of his hands.
The quarterback battle will steal the headlines, but the offensive line is the biggest question mark.
Regardless, Morris showed some promise in his appearance in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl while Gardner was injured.
Even still, this is Gardner's job to lose for now, and Morris stands as the quarterback of the future. The only thing likely to keep Gardner out of the No. 1 slot on the depth chart is injury.
Predicted Winner: Devin Gardner
Contenders: Joel Stave, Tanner McEvoy, Bart Houston, D.J. Gillins
Joel Stave was decent in his second year as the starter for Wisconsin, but his development wasn't quite as strong as expected.
He threw for nearly 2,500 yards and 22 touchdowns with 13 interceptions to complement an outstanding UW rushing attack.
However, with several talented quarterbacks behind him on the depth chart, there's no guarantee that he'll have a third season as starter or as a redshirt junior. He'll be pressed by junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy, who played last year at safety, as well as a pair of touted recruits: redshirt sophomore Bart Houston and early enrollee freshman D.J. Gillins.
As Jesse Temple of Fox Sports reported, head coach Gary Andersen said the job belongs to Stave, but he'll have to work to keep it:
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen can say all he wants that Stave is the team's starter -- "It's his spot to lose," Andersen said earlier this month -- but the fact remains that this spring will provide an open competition under center between Stave, Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy and perhaps even freshman D.J. Gillins.
"They all want to play," Andersen said. "There's a lot of quarterbacks, but there's only so many reps to go around. That is a definite challenge and something we're still in the middle of constructing as we move forward to spring ball."
The situation will come to light as the battle carries through the fall, but Stave remains the front-runner at the start of the spring.
Predicted Winner: Joel Stave
Replacing: Keith Price
Contenders: Cyler Miles (Suspended), Jeff Lindquist, Troy Williams, K.J. Carta-Samuels (Summer arrival)
A month ago, Washington's quarterback situation was hardly in question.
Even with new head coach Chris Petersen arriving, the Huskies were expected to move forward from the Keith Price era with sophomore Cyler Miles at the helm.
Miles looked more than capable in relief of Price last year, throwing for 418 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. However, as Stephen Cohen of the Seattle Post Intelligencer reported, Petersen announced that Miles will remain suspended for the spring after an alleged assault on the night of Super Bowl XLVIII.
That leaves the situation in flux with sophomore Jeff Lindquist and freshman Troy Williams as the only scholarship quarterbacks on board for the spring. They'll be joined by highly-touted recruit K.J. Carta-Samuels for fall camp, and perhaps by Miles if he returns.
And if he returns, Miles should be able to win the job. If not, there's no telling what might happen.
Predicted Winner: Cyler Miles
Contenders: Cody Kessler, Max Browne
It's another year and another quarterback battle for the USC Trojans.
Cody Kessler emerged as USC's signal-caller last year under Lane Kiffin and remained at the helm under interim head coach Ed Orgeron. However, now that Steve Sarkisian has taken over, the situation is uncertain.
With Max Wittek transferring out, Max Browne remains as Kessler's top competition.
Browne was the No. 1 quarterback in the nation in the 2013 class and is undoubtedly the more physically gifted of the two contenders.
He'll ride that reputation and physical prowess against Kessler's experience. Kessler threw for just shy of 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions last year.
Sarkisian might be just the type of coach who would tab a player like Browne as his guy and move forward by making an early stamp on the program.
Predicted Winner: Max Browne
Alabama Crimson Tide
Replacing: AJ McCarron
Contenders: Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod, David Cornwell, Jacob Coker (Summer entry)
The Alabama quarterback race is as crowded as any across the country going into spring practice and lacks a truly dominant contender.
Blake Sims has the most experience, but spending the last two seasons as AJ McCarron's No. 2 didn't allow him much playing time. He has thrown for just 244 yards and two touchdowns for his career, but the senior does add a running element, as evidenced by his 355 yards and two scores on the ground.
While several contenders are behind him, the two most notable are Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell. Bateman will be a redshirt freshman and was the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in 2013. Cornwell was 2014's No. 4 pro-style QB and enrolled early to compete for the job.
Both are talented but Cornwell, at 6'5", 240 pounds, might ultimately have the higher ceiling. Both will have a tough time winning the job this year, though, especially considering the impending arrival of Florida State transfer Jacob Coker.
As Marq Burnett of the Anniston Star (h/t Columbus Ledger-Enquirer) mentions, many believe Coker is the favorite to win the job. However, Coker won't have much time to become accustomed to the offense and the culture at 'Bama, as he won't arrive until the summer.
While Coker is the trendy pick, don't be so quick to think Nick Saban will hand the reins to a quarterback who has only been in Tuscaloosa for a couple of months.
Predicted Winner: Blake Sims
Replacing: Zach Mettenberger
Contenders: Anthony Jennings, Brandon Harris, Rob Bolden
Zach Mettenberger's late-season injury was heartbreaking, but it did provide backup Anthony Jennings an opportunity to show his skills.
Jennings was brilliant in engineering a comeback win over Arkansas to close the regular season. He then followed that up with a poor performance (7-of-19, 82 YDS, 0 TD, 1 INT) in the Outback Bowl against Iowa.
That rough game opened the competition, and the sophomore will face a tough challenge from incoming freshman Brandon Harris, who enrolled early as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the 2014 class.
Harris is very skilled and looked strong in his appearance in the Under Armour All-American game. Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune broke down what makes Harris a legitimate threat to Jennings' starting role:
Harris possesses better arm strength, something offensive coordinator Cam Cameron values highly. That's what makes his NFL style offense function most efficiently. Without the threat of the deep ball, safeties play closer to the line of scrimmage. Harris also had the intangibles to learn on the run and make the same leap Jennings made.
Jennings should enter the season as the starter, but if the Outback Bowl version of Jennings shows up more than the one that beat Arkansas, Harris' time could come sooner rather than later.
Predicted Winner: Anthony Jennings
Contenders: Justin Worley, Joshua Dobbs, Nathan Peterman, Riley Ferguson
Tennessee loaded up with a deep and talented recruiting class that will bring in some much-needed help at the skill positions.
The biggest question remaining: Who will start under center?
Four contenders will be in the battle and all will have a shot at the starting role, leaving head coach Butch Jones anxious to witness the fight, per Patrick Brown of the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
"I'm excited, because it's going to be a heck of a quarterback battle all spring," Jones told Brown.
Senior Justin Worley is the most experienced of the bunch, but he'll be coming off thumb surgery that ended his 2013 season. Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman both have seen limited time on the field, but as Brown opined, Ferguson might be the one to watch:
That's the only quarterback Tennessee didn't use last season: Ferguson. The Charlotte resident likely would have replaced Worley ahead of Dobbs in Tuscaloosa if not for a fractured tibia suffered in practice. Given Tennessee's struggles at quarterback last season, Ferguson is the most intriguing of the quartet, simply because what he brings to a game setting isn't known. He consistently demonstrated in practice last year that he has the strongest arm of the Vols' options at the position, and he's a good enough athlete to handle some of the quarterback runs that are part of the Vols' power spread offense. Tennessee's coaches liked the future for both Dobbs and Ferguson, and the latter is a wild card in the race this spring.
While each contender brings something to the table, Worley is the front-runner, simply because of his experience.
Predicted Winner: Justin Worley
Texas A&M Aggies
Replacing: Johnny Manziel
Contenders: Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen
It's ironic that Johnny Manziel wears size-15 shoes, because he has also left some humongous figurative shoes to fill at Texas A&M.
Three quarterbacks will be vying to replace the Heisman Trophy winner: senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and true freshman early enrollee Kyle Allen.
All three bring something completely different to the competition, as A&M offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital explained to ESPN's Sam Khan Jr.
Joeckel brings experience and consistency. Spavital told Khan that he likes Joeckel because he makes very few mistakes and plays within himself, rather than trying to be Manziel.
Hill is a bit more like Manziel: undersized but athletic. That might give him a slight leg up, as he was running the first-team offense for some of the team's bowl prep while Manziel was off at award ceremonies.
Allen is the wild card of the bunch. He was the No. 1 quarterback and No. 10 overall prospect in the 2014 class and enrolled early to contend for the job. As Spavital told Khan, his presence for the spring will help him in the race for the starting spot:
That's huge. Just him being here now, he can compete. We're not going to announce a starter until fall, about two weeks or a week-and-a-half before the game. It's going to give him an opportunity to go through our installation four times and play some live scrimmages in the spring and get acclimated to the speed and then also have a good summer and go into fall camp.
It'll easily be one of the most interesting battles in the country, and all three have a legitimate chance at the job. However, the early nod goes to the athletic Hill.
Predicted Winner: Kenny Hill