Quarterback battles were all the rage this spring, as seven teams entered spring with unsettled quarterback situations and four more—Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri—were breaking in known commodities who entered their first full spring practice sessions as the No. 1 guy.
One of the more intriguing battles was at Kentucky, where Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and Drew Barker began the spring sharing first-team snaps, and Maxwell Smith waited in the wings recovering from shoulder surgery.
That four-man battle dropped down to three mid-spring, when Whitlow announced that he is transferring from the program.
That left Towles, Barker and Phillips fighting it out for supremacy.
Towles is a 6'5", 236-pound redshirt sophomore with a big arm who came to the program under former head coach Joker Phillips as part of the class of 2012 as a 4-star prospect. He completed just 19 of 40 passes for 233 yards, one touchdown and tossed one pick in his one season of action in 2012, but he has the skills to be successful in the system employed by second-year head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown.
Phillips is a 6'2", 222-pound redshirt freshman from Signal Mountain, Tennessee. The former 3-star prospect is another pro-style signal-caller who is accurate underneath and has improved this spring, according to Kentucky's official athletics site.
There's a problem, though; the hotshot newcomer has a lot of the same attributes as both Towles and Phillips, but with more upside.
Barker, a 6'3", 216-pound true freshman early enrollee who was also a 4-star prospect, also has the big arm, is accurate downfield and has tremendous pocket presence for his experience. Barker, who hails from Hebron, Kentucky, was the centerpiece of Stoops' first full recruiting class, which finished 22nd in the nation, according to 247Sports.com.
Who should be the No. 1 signal-caller in the Bluegrass State?
It should be Barker.
The biggest benefit of enrolling early is becoming acclimated, which is something that Barker accomplished in a hurry.
"You could've watched some of those other guys and thought, 'OK, they're young; they're making some mistakes,'" Brown told Ben Roberts of the Lexington Herald-Leader last week. "Well, Drew, you would've thought he was here for a year, he'd been here for a while."
Barker is Brown's guy.
He has all the tools to be successful in this air-raid system—particularly on short and intermediate routes. When he takes something off, he doesn't lose accuracy. That's very important in any system, but particularly in a pass-heavy scheme that relies on the quarterback to move the chains more than other systems.
Plus, this staff can afford to take its lumps with a freshman if it benefits the team long-term.
Kentucky is coming off its second straight 2-10 season, but with momentum generated from Stoops' second year at the helm and an unusually strong recruiting class. But unlike other schools where a "win now" mentality exists, Stoops and his staff have the luxury of patience—something that will be even more prevalent if a true freshman takes the snaps.
He's the future of the program at quarterback.
Because of that, let him learn on the job. Learning the college game is important for any quarterback, but learning what not to do is even more critical to a young quarterback's development.
Kentucky can afford to gamble a bit at quarterback, so trot out Barker and see what happens. Who knows? Stoops could catch lighting in a bottle.