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The Key Starting Quarterback Situations
Wisconsin QB Joel Stave
Wisconsin QB Joel Stave
Posted Aug 28, 2013

Who won the big quarterback derbies? The update on who to watch.

Three weeks after sizing up some of the more compelling quarterback derbies of the summer, most of the duels have been decided. Some, however, are going to bleed into the start of the season, as coaching staffs opt to either keep opponents guessing or get a better look at their players during game situations.

While not every battle has a declared winner, weeks of practice have brought at least a little more clarity to each situation behind center.

- Key Quarterback Battles, Part 2

10. Kansas State
The race to replace Collin Klein in Manhattan became a whole lot more interesting on Signing Day. Yeah, the edge in experience still belongs to sophomore Daniel Sams, last season’s backup. Not only is No. 4 one of the country’s fastest quarterbacks, but he also earned valuable reps last fall, rushing for 235 yards and three scores.

The Cats spiced things up, though, with the signing of Jake Waters, one of the most coveted junior-college hurlers. The JUCO All-American at Iowa Western Community College completed 73% of his passes for 39 touchdowns and 3,501 yards, while getting picked just three times. Although Waters is about to endure a major step up in weight class, he has the blend of smarts and leadership to fit in quickly on a Bill Snyder team. How close is this competition just three weeks before the opener? Snyder used a coin toss to decide his starter for the spring game. Both quarterbacks are going to play this fall.

Aug. 27 Update: Despite facing a stiff challenge from Sams, Waters clearly played his way into a starting role this month. The JUCO transfer won’t splice opposing defenses with his legs the way Klein did and Sams can, but he gives the Wildcats their best passing quarterback in years.

9. Penn State
A new era at quarterback is set to begin in Happy Valley. With the graduation of Matt McGloin and the transfer of Steven Bench to South Florida, head coach Bill O’Brien has two new pupils to begin molding. Tyler Ferguson becomes the rare junior-college transfer to matriculate at Penn State, bringing a live arm and quick feet to the competition. While at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif. last season, he threw for 2,614 yards and 22 touchdowns in 10 games.

Of course, the battle wasn’t truly going to be on until blue-chipper Christian Hackenberg arrived in the summer. The five-star recruit resisted the temptation to back out of his original commitment, and will team up with O’Brien to give the Lions a formidable coach-quarterback marriage for the foreseeable future. While Ferguson practiced in the spring, he also missed almost a month of voluntary workouts, a lost opportunity in the quest to build some distance on Hackenberg.

Aug. 27 Update: One of the more fascinating battles of the offseason will remain in limbo a little while longer. O’Brien, who’d originally expressed a desire to name his starter midway through fall camp, might instead wait until kickoff before deciding between Ferguson and Hackenberg.

8. Wisconsin
Not only are the Badgers breaking in a new head coach, Gary Andersen, but they need to settle on a quarterback as well. Danny O’Brien, though, is no longer in the picture. The once-heralded Maryland Terrapin was a disappointment in 2012, getting benched in favor of former walk-on Joel Stave. Last month, O’Brien announced he’d be relocating once again, this time to Division II Catawba College in North Carolina.

Stave, who appeared in six games before breaking his collarbone, will be joined in the hunt by Curt Phillips and Tanner McEvoy. A sixth year of eligibility was granted to Phillips, who overcame three separate ACL tears to guide the Badgers down the stretch last season. He lost most of the mobility that Andersen craves in a quarterback, but he has no shortage of intangibles. McEvoy originally signed with Steve Spurrier at South Carolina before spending 2012 at Arizona Western College. He’s rangy, with just enough elusiveness to become a real wild card this month for the Badgers.

Aug. 27 Update: Like so many of his peers, Andersen has been in no rush to name his starter in the opener with Massachusetts. Stave probably has an edge, but both he and Phillips are expected to get Week 1 snaps.

7. TCU
Last year, Casey Pachall battled personal demons. This season, he plans to win the battle for the job he left behind upon entering a drug and alcohol rehab facility. The senior is back in school and back with the team, looking to get both his life and his career on track. If he stays clean and can shake off more of the rust that existed in the spring, there’s little doubt who’ll be in the huddle when the Frogs make the short trip to Arlington to face LSU on Aug. 31.

If, however, Pachall stumbles—on or off the field—TCU knows what it has in sophomore Trevone Boykin. Despite being pressed into action, the 6-2, 215-pounder laid a solid foundation by accounting for 2,471 yards and 18 touchdowns. In an ideal world, Pachall picks up where he left off, and Boykin takes the baton for 2014 and 2015. Head coach Gary Patterson has been coy about officially naming a starter, hinting that Boykin will see the field in some capacity.

Aug. 27 Update: Patterson hasn’t tipped his hand whether Pachall or Boykin will get the start in Saturday night’s showdown with LSU. Conventional wisdom says it’s still Pachall’s job, but Boykin could be used in spots as a change-of-pace.

6. Tennessee
New head coach Butch Jones would love to have had Tyler Bray behind center during the transition year, but probably had a hunch he’d be starting from scratch at the position. It's essentially a two-man competition, unless one of the rookies, Riley Ferguson or Joshua Dobbs, shocks Knoxville this month.

In one corner is the veteran, junior Justin Worley, who played some a year ago, yet failed to impress in spot duty off the bench. While he's the favorite to open against Austin Peay, he didn't do enough in the spring to remove the "OR" between his name and that of redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. Peterman is uniquely positioned to make a run at the opening. His skill set and agility fit what Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian look for at the position. It can't hurt that while at Cincinnati, Jones offered a scholarship to Peterman, a good omen for the young quarterback.

Aug. 27 Update: Worley has won the crowded four-way competition in Knoxville, and he’s expected to start this week versus Austin Peay. The junior’s experience and ability to protect the ball gave him the upper hand in a very tight race.

5. Oklahoma State
And then there were two. So intense and tight is the competition in Stillwater that Wes Lunt opted to transfer to Illinois to be closer to home--and closer to a starting gig when he becomes eligible in 2014. The Cowboys got whacked with injuries in 2012, as they attempted to replace Brandon Weeden. The upshot? Three different quarterbacks received significant snaps to provide the program with instant depth entering this fall. Wes Lunt had won the job as a ballyhooed true freshman, but head and knee injuries stunted his growth.

In Lunt’s place, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf combined for 35 total touchdowns, while throwing only nine interceptions. Walsh is the best athlete of the trio, rushing for 290 yards and seven scores. Chelf finished the season on a tear through the air. The Cowboys will present new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich with two unique and complementary options, both of whom are expected to play in 2013.

Aug. 27 Update: Apparently, Mike Gundy disagrees with the old adage suggesting that a team with two quarterbacks really has none. The coach and his staff plan to use both Walsh and Chelf this week against Mississippi State in the hopes of leveraging the unique skills of both players.

4. Auburn
First-year head coach Gus Malzahn didn’t inherit a lot of ready-made talent at the quarterback position. It’s a good thing he’s the offensive mastermind who helped transform unknown Chris Todd into an Auburn record-setter back in 2009. The Tigers were dreadful through the air a year ago, producing eight touchdown passes and 15 picks.

Malzahn will attempt to once again catch lightning in a JUCO bottle with the signing of dual-threat Nick Marshall out of Garden City (Kans.) Community College. The one-time Georgia Bulldog is a phenomenal all-around athlete, much the way Cam Newton was on the Plains in 2010. The veterans are Jonathan Wallace, who started the final four games of 2012, and Kiehl Frazier, a Malzahn disciple with the best grasp on the playbook. Four-star Jeremy Johnson has arrived with a high ceiling ... and plenty to learn. Malzahn will look to establish a pecking order and separate the quartet in an expeditious manner this summer.

Aug. 27 Update: Marshall caught on quickly this month, flashed playmaking ability and pulled away to become Malzahn’s first quarterback as the Auburn coach. Marshall can be a little raw, but also possesses the athleticism and pop that this offense has been craving since Newton left.

3. Florida State
Okay, so maybe current Buffalo Bill EJ Manuel never fully reached expectations in Tallahassee, but Seminoles fans are sure to miss the long-time starter in 2013. In his wake will be the program’s first serious quarterback derby in almost a decade. The battle for playing time was supposed to be a classic study of experience versus upside potential. But junior Clint Trickett decided following spring to transfer to West Virginia, where he'll vie for the Mountaineers' opening.

Trickett's decision had a lot to do with the emergence of redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, who exploded onto the scene with his spring performance. The mega-recruit from 2012 showcased his arm, athleticism and poise in a statement that he's ready to become one of the game's emerging young stars. Standing in Winston's way will be 6-6, 227-pound sophomore Jacob Coker, who has performed as if he's unaffected by the hype surrounding his more heralded teammate.

Aug. 27 Update: A few days ago, head coach Jimbo Fisher made it official when he named Winston as his starter for 2013. In other anticlimactic Florida State news, Chief Osceola will be this year’s team mascot.

2. Oklahoma
Yes, Blake Bell is the heavy favorite to evolve from situational runner to full-time successor to Landry Jones. But he will have to earn it this spring and summer. As the Belldozer, the 6-6, 254-pound battering ram provided a unique option for the Sooners staff. His ability to connect downfield, though, is shrouded in mystery since he’s rushed for more career touchdowns (24) than he’s attempted passes (20).

Just in case Bell leaves the door open, redshirt freshman Trevor Knight is liable to zip through it with a monster August. He regularly turned heads on the scout team as a rookie with his quick release, strong arm and improvisational skills. When Oklahoma needed someone to mimic Collin Klein, Geno Smith and Johnny Manziel in practice, it was Knight who earned the role. Bob Stoops is in no hurry to name his starter, opting instead to get a good look at both Bell and Knight in practice.

Aug. 27 Update: In a move that few outside of Norman saw coming, Knight has ascended to the top of the Oklahoma depth chart. Yeah, there will certainly be specific packages designed for Bell’s running ability, but the staff felt that Knight was the more complete quarterback of the pair.

1. USC
For the first time since 2009, Matt Barkley is not a part of the USC program. Let the battle for the quarterback vacancy ensue. In fact, it already has, though a starter won’t be anointed until later this month.

Three contenders are fighting for one of the highest-profile jobs in college football. Sophomore Cody Kessler was the third-stringer in 2012, but he was the sharpest of the quarterbacks in the spring. The 6-1, 215-pounder is not the prototypical Trojans passer, a little scrappier than he is statuesque. However, Kessler moved the offense in April, throwing an accurate ball, and showing good footwork and energy. He’s made this more of a competition than many anticipated before spring began.

Sophomore Max Wittek looks more like the vintage Troy hurler. He’s 6-4 and 235 pounds, with the strongest arm of the challengers. Heck, he’s already successfully succeeded Barkley once, as the quarterback of Mater Dei (Calif.) High School. Wittek also has the edge in experience, starting the Notre Dame and Sun Bowl games, going 36-of-69 for 388 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. True freshmen don’t compete in their first year for this caliber of job. Max Browne, though, is not your average rookie. The 6-5, 215-pounder is the total package at the position, from his size and his throwing motion to his poise and leadership skills. He graduated early from high school in order to participate in spring drills, but still has a long way to go before narrowing the gap on a pair of third-year sophomores.

Aug. 27 Update: No one knows for sure who’ll be Troy’s quarterback this season, including Lane Kiffin. The coach plans to use the first few games against as a quasi-exhibition season, auditioning Kessler and Wittek against live competition.

- Key Quarterback Battles, Part 2