Spring football is starting. For a number of major programs, including all four who participated in the first College Football Playoff, figuring out who will start at quarterback will be the prime concern. Here is a look at 15 QB competitions that could help define the 2015 college football season. Your random 2015 freshman who steps up to win the Heisman could be here.
Ohio State… Urban Meyer faces a QB conundrum, albeit an awesome one. J.T. Barrett had a promising first season as a starter. Cardale Jones won a B1G and national title with freakish physical tools. Braxton Miller beat out both last season, intended to be his senior-year Heisman campaign. Miller has the most experience. Jones is healthy and may have the most upside. Any of the three becomes a Heisman front-runner entering 2015.
Oregon… Marcus Mariota departs. Filling that hole may define the Mark Helfrich era. Transfer Vernon Adams could be the one-year stop gap. The FCS Player of the Year threw for 475 yards and seven TD against Washington last year and ran up more than 500 total yards and six TD on Oregon State the year before. That was playing with FCS teammates. If Adams does not work out, Oregon may call on last year’s backup Jeff Lockie, touted redshirt freshman Morgan Mahalak or true freshman Travis Waller.
Alabama… Blake Sims leaves. Here is where recruiting well comes into play. Big-armed FSU transfer Jacob Coker is a presumptive favorite with junior Alec Morris. Alabama also has Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and true freshman Blake Barnett in the discussion. All three were Top 100 overall recruits. Sims stepped in last year and finished Top 10 in yards/attempt and passer rating. QB is a question mark for Alabama. That’s not the same as a weakness.
Florida State… FSU won seven one-score games in 2014. Next year, they lose the probable No. 1 overall pick in Jameis Winston. Unlike when his predecessors Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel left, there’s no obvious replacement. Sean Maguire nudged past Clemson during Winston’s suspension last year. Redshirt freshman J.J. Consentino has a gifted arm. Jimbo Fisher also signed two highly-rated QBs in the 2015 class coming in as true freshmen. The choice may not be as important as the rest of the team coalescing around him.
Baylor… Bryce Petty finished Top 5 nationally in yards/attempt the past two seasons. Nick Florence and RG3 did so the two years before that. QB at Baylor may be plug in and play at this point. Last year’s backup, redshirt junior Seth Russell, is the presumed favorite. Baylor folks are high on him. Though, five-star freshman Jarrett Stidham enrolled in January. He’s probably the best recruit Art Briles has brought to campus. Either way, expect Baylor to score points.
LSU… This is a classic Les Miles quandary. LSU’s skill talent is scary. But, the Tigers have nothing resembling a polished quarterback. Sophomore Anthony Jennings completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in 2014. Freshman Brandon Harris, a Top 100 overall recruit, could not beat him out last year. The track record of QB development under this regime is…not promising. The ceiling rises dramatically if LSU lands a ready-made transfer. As of this writing, that’s still an “if.”
Notre Dame… Jimmy Clausen is not walking through that tunnel. Everett Golson started 2014 hot, then became turnover prone. Malik Zaire took his job by season’s end, though Golson still played. Both will get a fresh start under new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford. Zaire may have the greater upside. Golson will be the more polished passer. Given what happened in the bowl game and Brian Kelly’s track record, don’t be surprised if the Irish find a role for both players next year.
Georgia... Brian Schottenheimer takes over the offense from Mike Bobo. His first mission will be finding a QB. Hutson Mason was a one-year stop gap between Aaron Murray and…someone. Redshirt sophomore Brice Ramsey, a former high four-star recruit, won the backup job last year. Jacob Park, another high four-star recruit, is in the mix after redshirting last season. So is dual-threat athlete Faton Bauta. Georgia should be the SEC East favorite. Though one says that every year.
Ole Miss… Ole Miss was national title caliber last season, on defense. The offense never really found its rhythm. Maybe better QB play can change that? Chad Kelly arrives from JuCo, after being booted by Clemson. He’s still on the team after reaching a plea deal, following a notable bar fight in Buffalo. Two class of 2013 QBs Devante Kincade (dual threat) and Ryan Buchanan (pro-style) will also get a crack at the job. The winner may be keeping the seat warm for five-star recruit Shea Patterson, who arrives in January.
UCLA… Brett Hundley leaves. Now, Jim Mora must make his own way. The competition is straight forward. Jerry Neuheisel is a senior with wicked dance moves, who knows the offense. Polished freshman Josh Rosen, the nation’s top recruit, enrolled early in January. Asiantii Woulard, a redshirt sophomore, is in the mix as well. He’s a former Elite 11 MVP, but did not beat out Neuheisel for the backup job last year.
Michigan… The last regime tried to turn Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner into drop back passers. Jim Harbaugh should do better. Michigan has the ingredients for a far more successful 2015. Harbaugh added QB options for the future. The trouble is Michigan will be stuck with Brady Hoke’s projects for next season. Shane Morris has not developed, yet. Redshirt freshman Wilton Speight and true freshman Alex Malzone have not played a snap of college football. If one of the three is viable, this staff will get the most out of him. But, that’s no guarantee.
Oklahoma… The Sooners hired East Carolina’s Lincoln Riley, one of the nation’s hottest offensive coordinators. They have a four-way battle afoot. Last year’s starter Trevor Knight, who has had an up and down time, returns. So does backup Cody Thomas, who quit baseball. Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield is eligible this year. So is former four-star recruit Justice Hansen, who redshirted last year. Bob Stoops has not had a QB finish Top 25 in yards/attempt since Sam Bradford left.
West Virginia… Dana Holgorsen wins (or fails) with quarterback play. William Crest, a four-star freshman, won the backup job in 2014 before a medical redshirt. Junior Skyler Howard started two games last season. The Mountaineers have a fifth-year senior in Paul Millard. They also have two freshman who enrolled early. One is David Sills, who Lane Kiffin offered as a 13-year-old. The other, who we will be pulling for, goes by “Chugs.”
Boise State… The Broncos must replace Grant Hedrick, who led the nation in completion percentage as a senior and ranked Top 10 in yards/attempt. A stable transition will be imperative, as Boise loses its offensive coordinator and virtually its entire run game. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Finley saw action as last season’s backup. Undersized Tommy Stuart and redshirt freshman Alex Ogle are options. Four-star freshman Brett Rypien, who spurned six power five offers, enrolled in January. Which one can help Boise lock down that non-power five bowl slot?
South Carolina… The Gamecocks have been blessed with relatively proficient quarterback play with Stephen Garcia, Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson. This is the most unstable the position has been in a long while. Returning QBs have a combined eight passing attempts in college play. The inside track seems to belong to Connor Mitch, a 2013 recruit who was last year’s backup. But, it’s Steve Spurrier. So, who knows?