2011 Pre-Spring Preview
The Big QB Battles
All jobs are supposedly open in the spring. Wink, wink. Naturally, every coach craves competition and no one will be handed a job if he doesn't go out and earn it, but that doesn't mean every slot on a depth chart will feature an equal level of intensity, drama, and curiosity. Take the quarterbacks, for instance. Is Bryn Renner guaranteed to succeed T.J. Yates in North Carolina? Well, no, but it'll take a pretty big upset between now and the opener to keep him out of the lineup. Ditto James Franklin at Mizzou and James Vanderberg at Iowa.
Outside of SEC country, where Florida, Alabama, and LSU will be staging bare-knuckle brawls for the right to start behind center, this spring will be a little light on juicy quarterback competitions that impact the landscape of the top 10. Of course, that's not to suggest that there won't be a handful of entertaining battles taking place that heat up in April and bleed deep into the summer months.
11. Arizona State
Contenders: Brock Osweiler, Jr. vs. Michael Eubank, Fr.
Tale of the Tape: Everything opened up after the loss of Steven
Threet, who had to give up football after suffering concussion problems. The silver lining in Tempe is that Osweiler
shined in his brief appearances a year ago. In two games of relief work
against UCLA and Arizona, both victories, the 6-7 hurler threw for five
touchdowns and 647 yards without a pick. It sure looks as if he has the
necessary tools to excel in the league, but the Sun Devils are hoping
for Eubank, the team's top ranked recruit, to be the difference maker
the program has been missing. Eubank is big, strong, and very, very
talented. He'll get every shot this offseason to win the gig.
10. Penn State
Contenders: Robert Bolden, Soph. vs. Paul Jones, RFr. vs. Matt McGloin,
Tale of the Tape: What a long, strange trip it's been for Bolden since graduating from St. Mary (Mich.) Prep School. From becoming the rare rookie to start in Happy Valley to almost transferring in January, he's had an eventful debut. While his upside is unquestionable, he was predictably inconsistent last fall, throwing five touchdowns and seven picks before being sent to the bench. McGloin took over at the end of October, instantly infusing some stability into the offense. He was a revelation down the stretch, but got exposed by Florida in the Outback Bowl, throwing five picks and looking completely out of his league. The safer choice, he'll still need to withstand the challenge of Bolden, who has the obvious edge in physical ability. Although he'll be playing from behind in terms of experience, Jones shouldn't be forgotten. Rated even higher than Bolden coming out of Sto-Rox (Penn.) High School, he's raring to go after sitting out 2010 as a redshirt.
Contenders: Richard Brehaut, Jr. vs. Brett Hundley, Fr. vs. Kevin Prince,
Tale of the Tape: What a mess. In a microcosm for the entire program, the Bruins continue to face uncertainty at the most important position on the field. After finishing 118th nationally in passing efficiency a year ago, there's concern that no holdover on the roster is capable of changing that trend. Prince is the incumbent, but is still rehabbing from knee surgery and could miss spring ball. Even when healthy, he's hardly been the answer for maligned coach Rick Neuheisel. Brehaut was the emergency starter after Prince was injured, so he's no stranger to the huddle. However, he threw just six touchdowns in 229 attempts and is dabbling as a catcher on the baseball team this spring. Might this be an ideal situation for Hundley to win the job in his first season? The staff is certainly not going to prevent it. One of the nation's top recruits, who's being compared to a young Donovan McNabb, he's already on campus and not bashful about going toe-to-toe with his elders.
Contenders: Cody Green, Jr. vs. Taylor Martinez, Soph.
Tale of the Tape: Yeah, yeah, it's Martinez's job to lose. That's obvious after he tantalized the locals during a meteoric rise in his first season as the starter. However, he also got banged around, needs work as a passer, and had a couple of cameos in Bo Pelini's dog house. In other words, the door hasn't completely shut on a competition breaking out in Lincoln. It was only two years ago that Green was one of the nation's top quarterback recruits, a big athlete with a multi-dimensional skill set. He's been the backup the last two years, earning occasional snaps and starts along the way. Ideally, he'll push Martinez and help bring out the best in both players. Incoming freshman Bubba Starling already has the locals buzzing about his future with the program. However, he'd have to be something very special to unseat two veterans and earn the trust of the staff in such a short period of time.
Contenders: Allen Bridgford, Soph. vs. Austin Hinder, RFr. vs. Brock Mansion,
Sr. vs. Zach Maynard, Jr. vs. Beau Sweeney, Jr.
Tale of the Tape: Jeff Tedford is going to have options, as he works to find a successor to Kevin Riley. That could be a blessing or a curse. There's no obvious choice for the Bears and a need to thin the field quickly so the favorites get adequate reps in practice. Mansion is the vet, but he played poorly after Riley was injured, throwing just two touchdown passes and five interceptions in five forgettable games. He's eminently vulnerable. One of the more interesting contenders is Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo and the best all-around athlete of the group. A starter in the MAC in 2009, he threw 18 touchdown passes and rushed for 300 yards. Sweeney is on the verge of becoming a journeyman, and Bridgford and Hinder have yet to take a snap. Bridgford was a four-star recruit from the 2009 class and Hinder a three-star get from a year ago.
6. Ohio State
Contenders: Joe Bauserman, Sr. vs. Taylor Graham, RFr. vs. Kenny Guiton,
Soph. vs. Braxton Miller, Fr.
Tale of the Tape: Okay, so this is a temp job until Terrelle Pryor serves his five-game suspension, but it's no less important to the Buckeyes' 2011 fortunes. Someone will need to keep the scarlet and grey ship afloat during the early stages of the season. Bauserman is the sensible choice since he's a senior and was the backup a year ago. While he's not going to necessarily carry a team for you, he's safe, and Jim Tressel has shown a tendency to be loyal to his upperclassmen. Miller is the wild card and the heavy favorite to be the starter in 2012. A mega-recruit who highlighted Tressel's latest haul of high school talent, he operates as if he's channeling former Ohio State dual-treat Troy Smith. And he's already matriculated, which will help flatten the maturation process. Graham and Guiton, last year's third-stringer, are the longshots, on the outside looking in until either can prove otherwise.
Contenders: Jacory Harris, Sr. vs. Stephen Morris, Soph.
Tale of the Tape: Has Harris run out of second chances at Miami? After looking like one of the game's future stars as a rookie in 2008, he simply hasn't progressed up to expectations. Although he's played a ton of football for the program, he's also become a liability with 39 interceptions, leading all active quarterbacks at the FBS level. Having worn out his welcome with the old staff, a new ensemble of coaches affords him an opportunity to make a good first impression. Morris got a crash course in his debut out of Monsignor Pace (Fla.) High school, throwing seven touchdowns and nine interceptions in almost half a season. Predictably erratic, he did earn crucial experience and showed enough to be optimistic about his future. Beyond the physical ability, he performed with notable poise for such a young player. It'll be up to Al Golden and his assistants to transform one of these ‘Canes into a more consistent quarterback.
Contenders: A.J. McCarron, Soph. vs. Phillip Sims, RFr.
Tale of the Tape: One way or the other, Nick Saban is going with a youth movement behind center. There's no question that McCarron will begin spring as the favorite. Last season's backup to Greg McElroy, he appeared in 12 games and threw three touchdowns without a pick. Plus, the staff really likes his total package of accurate throws and on-field leadership. There's a real good chance he's going to win plenty of games in Tuscaloosa. However, it would be premature to simply hand him the job so quickly, especially with what's lurking behind him. Sims isn't your garden variety redshirt freshman. The coveted five-star prospect, he was considered by many to be the nation's top high school quarterback a year ago. While not as big as McCarron, he, too, can fit the ball into tight windows and gets good zip on his throws. He's just gifted enough to make this a tighter competition than most are expecting.
Contenders: Joe Brennan, RFr. vs. Jon Budmayr, Soph. vs. Curt Phillips,
Tale of the Tape: One of Bret Bielema's biggest priorities over the next six months will be to determine the heir-apparent to ultra-steady Scott Tolzien. While Phillips is the veteran, he's also recovering from a torn ACL from a year ago, and will not be available to the Badgers in the spring. One of the most heralded quarterbacks to ever sign with Wisconsin, he still has high hopes of fulfilling lofty expectations once that knee gets back to 100%. While Phillips heals, Budmayr, last year's No. 2, will continue to get as many snaps as possible with the first team offense. In many ways the prototypical Badger quarterback, he's not very big, but can make plays and lead like a veteran. Although last year's minutes weren't especially meaningful, preparing as the backup will help him in this quest. Brennan spent last fall, his first in Madison, getting stronger and getting a better grasp of the offense.
Contenders: Jordan Jefferson, Sr. vs. Jarrett Lee, Sr. vs. Zach Mettenberger,
Tale of the Tape: After finishing 107th nationally in passing a year ago, the Tigers needed an infusion of talent under center. Enter Mettenberger. Oddly enough, he was in this piece last February, but as a member of Georgia. Since then, he got booted out of Athens and spent a year at Butler (Kans.) Community College, throwing 32 touchdowns and four picks. At 6-5 and 250 pounds, he's an easy target in the pocket, but can uncork and reach any LSU speedster on a fly pattern. Purely as a passer, he represents an immediate upgrade from Jefferson and Lee, last year's starter and caddy, respectively. Both are experienced and Jefferson will hurt you with his legs, but they combined for only seven touchdown passes in a dozen regular season games and were wildly inefficient when it mattered most. Mettenberger is an ideal addition to the mix to push these two veterans outside their comfort zones.
Contenders: John Brantley, Sr. vs. Trey Burton, Soph. vs. Jeff Driskel,
Fr. vs. Jordan Reed, Soph.
Tale of the Tape: First-year head coach Will Muschamp isn't short of options, but does he have a quarterback he can ride with confidence for four months during the season? Brantley was supposed to be that kind of player a year ago, an assumption that never panned out. A raging disappointment, he finished 89th nationally in passing efficiency, threw more picks than touchdowns, and contemplated a transfer at the end of the season. Still, he's the best passer in Gainesville, and the presence of new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis lends hope for a turnaround. Burton and Reed both played extensively as freshmen, but were used more for their athletic ability than for their arms. The pair combined for 16 rushing scores and only three through the air, all from Reed. Driskel is on campus, eager to show that he's more than just the future at the position. He had his choice of schools, and has the tools to become the next great Gator passer.