QB Battle Updates - No. 11-20
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QB Updates - No. 1 to 10
About five months ago, we dipped our toes into the always-topical quarterback clashes that were about to dominate headlines and discussions during spring drills. With the luxury of 15 practices per team, a smattering of off-field issues and a whole lot of transfers, right about now seems like a good time to revisit those competitions. Some have long been decided, while others have taken unexpected twists and turns.
One important addendum needs to be added to this subject—Notre Dame has a potentially explosive battle brewing in South Bend that wasn’t touched upon here in February. While Everett Golson was making all of the headlines upon his return from suspension, young Malik Zaire was preparing as if he was going to be the 2014 starter. Sure, it’d be a major upset if Zaire topped the depth chart for the Rice opener, but he’s given Brian Kelly and the coaches something to think about this summer.
What we said Feb. 22: Someone must fill the shoes of Blake Bortles a year earlier than anyone in Orlando would have preferred.
George O’Leary will audition three contenders, sophomore Justin Holman, redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo and incoming rookie Tyler Harris. Holman was last year’s backup, but he only attempted 14 passes. DiNovo was the Knights’ scout team player of the year. Harris is a three-star recruit who enrolled in classes in January. The trio expects to be joined in the summer by Orlando native Nick Patti, a mobile Boise State transfer who’s hoping to be available immediately.
Update: Bortles is in Jacksonville after the Jaguars picked him third overall in May’s NFL Draft. Patti is back home in Orlando trying to pick up the offense as quickly as possible. And whatever edge Holman might have at this time is so slim that O’Leary has refused to tip his hand in anyone’s direction. The Knights might not know their starter until just before boarding the flight to Dublin, Ireland to play Penn State.
What we said Feb. 22: The race to replace steady veteran Brendon Kay is about to get very interesting in the Queen City.
Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel was all set to travel the HOV lane to the top of the Bearcat depth chart. And he still might. But he’ll first have to go through Munchie Legaux who’s been granted an additional season of eligibility. Remember, Legaux beat out Kay last summer, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. The senior has 31 games of experience, while Kiel, the nation’s top quarterback recruit of 2012, has yet to attempt a pass in college.
Update: Kiel had his share of ups-and-downs during the spring, but left on high note by completing 17-of-22 passes for 300 yards in the spring game. It’ll be his job to lose this summer. However, it would be foolish—and premature—to conveniently dismiss a competitor, such as Legaux. While his knee was not at full strength for spring drills, he hopes to be ready for contact in August.
What we said Feb. 22: Four-star recruit Drew Barker is the future behind center in Lexington. Might he be the present as well?
The nation’s tenth-ranked hurler is already on campus, preparing for his first spring as a Wildcat. Trying to block his path to instant reps will be juniors Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow. Neither of the veterans trafficked in consistency a year ago, as they rotated in and out of the lineup. Smith was the far more consistent passer, tossing nine touchdowns and a pick, while Whitlow is a much better improviser outside the pocket.
Update: In April, the QB race in Lexington became a zero-sum game, as Whitlow transferred to Eastern Illinois, while sophomore Patrick Towles emerged as a legit starting candidate. Barker remains in the hunt, and Smith, who sat out the spring to recover from a shoulder injury, will be back in earnest in August. Towles started the spring game, for whatever that’s worth during Mark Stoops’ evaluation process.
17. Oklahoma State
What we said Feb. 22: This is clearly junior J.W. Walsh’s job to lose. Now he has to go out and make sure that doesn’t happen.
Walsh showed flashes in his first two seasons, especially as a scrambler. He also showed enough inconsistency to lose his grip on a starting job. The Cowboys need him to turn the corner in 2014. If he’s unable to deliver, Mike Gundy could consider strong-armed Arizona transfer Daxx Garman or precocious true freshman Mason Rudolph, who will be taking snaps during spring drills.
Update: Walsh shut the door on the competition in the spring, further tightening his grip on the starting job. Not only did he perform well, but he has the most experience, and his mobility will be necessary as the O-line gets a makeover. The more intriguing battle will be the one between Garman and Rudolph to see who leaves the bench in the event Walsh is hurt or reverts back to last year’s erraticism.
16. North Carolina
What we said Feb. 22: Junior Marquise Williams is the heavy favorite to be Larry Fedora’s next quarterback in Chapel Hill. But don’t count out redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky.
Williams played well after starter Bryn Renner was injured last fall, accounting for 21 touchdowns and just six picks as the Tar Heels went on a late tear. He brings the dual-threat elements to the spread that Fedora craves. Trubisky, though, won’t go away quietly. The 15th-rated quarterback from 2013 was hand-picked to excel in this attack, and he has the maturity to handle the pressure of running the offense.
Update: The Tar Heels have as good a situation at quarterback as any ACC team this side of Tallahassee. While Williams remains in the driver’s seat, Trubisky has played well enough this offseason for the staff to feel comfortable with either player in the huddle. Not only does Carolina boast outstanding depth at the most important position on the field, but Trubisky’s development eliminates any chance of Williams kicking back and resting on his frontrunner status.
15. Virginia Tech
What we said Feb. 22: Fifth-year senior Mark Leal’s erratic performance in the Sun Bowl—the start of a new era behind center or an indication that Tech needs to look elsewhere?
Leal is easily the most experienced of the Hokie quarterbacks, but there has to be a reason he couldn’t unseat Logan Thomas, even when Thomas was at his lowest point. In the Sun Bowl loss to UCLA, he often looked overwhelmed in the pocket. Leal will be challenged by a trio of touted true freshmen, Travon McMillian, Chris Durkin and Andrew Ford, who highlighted Frank Beamer’s latest recruiting class.
Update: Beamer went the free agent route to bolster his quarterback situation, landing a timely commitment from Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer. The 27th-ranked quarterback recruit of 2011 began last year as Kliff Kingsbury’s starter, but was derailed by a nagging back injury. While Brewer will need time to get up to speed with his new team’s personnel and playbook, neither Leal nor sophomore Brenden Motley looked in the spring as if he’s ready to build a wall around the spot atop the depth chart.
What we said Feb. 22: For the third straight year, Rich Rodriguez will be breaking in a new starting quarterback. He’ll have no shortage of options from which to choose.
The Wildcats could look at six or seven players this offseason, though the staff plans to whittle down the combatants pretty quickly. Most eyes will be on Anu Solomon, the highly-regarded 2013 recruit who redshirted last season, and Texas transfer Connor Brewer, the 11th-rated quarterback of 2012. Also in the mix are former USC Trojan Jesse Scroggins, former LSU Tiger Jerrard Randall and recent recruit Brandon Dawkins.
Update: While the Wildcats have additional clarity after auditioning their gaggle of quarterbacks, they still don’t have a definitive starter. If the season started today, Scroggins would most likely get the ball from RichRod, but competition will continue to be encouraged in early August. Arizona has had recent success with seniors as first-time starters, such as Scroggins, but that would also mean that the team would be right back in this same situation next spring and summer.
What we said Feb. 22: Tommy Armstrong did a fine job of filling in for an injured Taylor Martinez in 2013. Now he wants to succeed him on a full-time basis.
As a redshirt freshman, Armstrong went 6-1 in an emergency role, yet he hardly put the job in Fort Knox for the next three seasons. He still needs to improve in all phases, which is why the door might be open for talented redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton. Stanton is big and physical enough to run over defenders, a bona fide dual-threat in the mold of a young Jake Locker. His evolution as a pocket passer will go a long way toward determining whether he’s the starter or Armstrong’s caddy.
Update: Armstrong solidified his spot as the starter with a strong spring camp. The same cannot be said for Stanton, who’s now in a fight for the backup job. Yeah, Stanton has the advanced billing and considerable upside potential, but local walk-on Ryker Fyfe was one of April’s big storylines. If nothing else, the Huskers learned this offseason that they’re deeper at quarterback than most believed when last season ended. It remains to be seen, though, whether or not Armstrong is ready to take the attack to a new level.
What we said Feb. 22: Junior Joel Stave, the incumbent, did a lot of good things in 2013. He also tied for the most interceptions among Big Ten quarterbacks.
Stave is expected to take the next step in his evolution as the Badger front man. But what happens if he doesn’t? Junior Tanner McEvoy is moving back to offense for now after last year’s successful stint at safety, and sophomore Bart Houston was the nation’s seventh-rated quarterback prospect just two years ago. It’s worth noting that head coach Gary Andersen covets mobile passers, which is never going to be Stave’s forte.
Update: Stave vs. McEvoy has the plotlines to be one of the summer’s more intriguing and hotly-contested quarterback battles. McEvoy is gaining ground … and support from Badger fans tired of Stave’s inconsistency. McEvoy brings an exciting mix of skills to the competition, from his athleticism to his 6-6, 223-pound frame. One way or another, he has to be on the field, even if that means as a situational quarterback or back on defense. McEvoy offers too much potential to be buried on the sidelines.
What we said Feb. 22: An injury to Aaron Murray late last year gave the Dawgs a sneak peek of what life might be like after their record-setting passer. In 2014, they’ll spend an entire season with a green quarterback behind center.
Senior Hutson Mason performed admirably over the final three games, throwing four touchdown passes and two picks against Kentucky, Georgia Tech and Nebraska. While his experience in certainly a plus, he’s not out of reach for the up-and-coming kids, like sophomore Faton Bauta, redshirt freshman Brice Ramsey and newest recruit Jacob Park. Ramsey and Park were both four-star recruits ranked in the top 10 nationally at their position.
Update: What looked like a possible quarterback derby has now been downgraded to a battle for the backup job. Mason will not only be the heir to Murray’s job, but he possesses the accuracy and system to know-how to flourish in his final season of eligibility. His backup remains the key quarterback question in Athens. Bauta and Ramsey will begin fall camp neck-and-neck, while looking to get a jump on the competition to supplant Mason in 2015.
QB Updates - No. 1 to 10