Spring Preview 2010
The Top Quarterback Derbies
Yeah, we know, all jobs are open in the spring. Wink, wink. Sure, every coach wants competition and no one will be handed a spot 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 and curiosity. Take the quarterbacks, for instance. Is Garrett Gilbert guaranteed to succeed Colt McCoy in Texas? No, but it’ll take a pretty big upset between now and the opener to keep him out of the lineup. Ditto Landry Jones at Oklahoma and Dayne Crist at Notre Dame.
Unlike recent years, this spring won’t have a mess of really juicy quarterback competitions that impact the landscape of the top 10. Alabama, Ohio State, Boise State, Virginia Tech, Oregon, TCU, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Georgia Tech all have returning starters, and others, like Texas and Florida, pretty much know the direction they’re going. Of course, that’s not to suggest that there won’t be a handful of intriguing battles taking place that heat up in April and bleed deep into the summer months.
10.Venue: Oregon State
Contenders: Soph. Ryan Katz and Jr. Peter Lalich
Tale of the Tape: If the staff can do for the holdovers what it did for Sean Canfield a year ago, the Beaver passing game will be just fine. Katz has the inside track on the job, going 14-of-27 for 232 yards and a touchdown as the backup in 2009. He shows nice poise in the pocket and is accurate with his throws, rarely losing his cool or becoming erratic. He was recruited in 2008 to eventually take this job and lead the offense. Lalich actually has had more game reps, though none of them have come in Corvallis. He was a sporadic starter for Virginia before getting in trouble, getting booted, and transferring to Oregon State to get a fresh start. A 6-5, 230-pound former blue-chipper, he has the rifle and the raw physical ability to be a revelation if he keeps his act together. Of course, if former starter Lyle Moevao somehow gets a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, the dynamics of this competition will change dramatically.
9.Venue: Oklahoma State
Contenders: Sr. Alex Cate, RF Clint Chelf, and Jr. Brandon Weeden
Tale of the Tape: There are big changes everywhere on the Cowboy offense, beginning behind center now that Zac Robinson has graduated. Mike Gundy has a number of different choices to mull over in the spring and summer. Cate has the most experience in Stillwater, but when he got the start versus Colorado last November, he went 0-of-9 and an interception. Weeden took over and was much sharper, throwing a pair of scores and no picks while engineering a comeback win. A strong-armed former high draft choice of the New York Yankees, he looks like a nice fit for new coordinator Dana Holgorsen’s passer-friendly offense. Chelf has the longest road to travel, and could have problems holding off rookie Johnny Deaton, who arrives more heralded and is already on campus.
Contenders: TF Jake Heaps, RF James Lark, RF Jason Munns, and Jr. Riley Nelson
Tale of the Tape: It’s Nelson’s job to succeed Max Hall. Or is it? The veteran of the Cougar quarterbacks, he actually started eight games and was a captain for Utah State in 2006 before serving an LDS mission in Spain. Pretty rusty in his return, he picked up some valuable reps in blowouts, appearing in seven games and showing off his quick feet with 122 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Nelson’s biggest challenge will come from Heaps, who’s considered one of the top quarterback recruits from the most recent class. A polished passer, with a very accurate arm, he turned down offers from the likes of Oklahoma, LSU, Cal, and Florida State to play in Provo. Lark and Munns are a pair of one-time heralded recruits, who are looking to get acclimated again after long missions and years away from the game.
Contenders: Jr. Quinn Mecham and Soph. Kale Pick
Tale of the Tape: With Mark Mangino out and Turner Gill in, everyone has something to prove to a new set of coaches. That’s a plus for Mecham, who spent the last two seasons airing the ball out at Snow College in Utah. He put up huge numbers against junior college competition, throwing 75 touchdown passes, but drew the most praise for the intangible stuff. A proven winner, with a good feel for reading defenses, he went 19-2 as a starter for the Badgers. Pick, however, will not be easy to leapfrog this spring and summer. The heir-apparent to Todd Reesing when he signed in 2008, he brings a dose of escapability to the position, which Gill can appreciate, and throws the kind of soft, catchable ball that’ll make life simpler for the Jayhawk receivers.
Contenders: Sr. Taylor Potts and Sr. Steven Sheffield
Tale of the Tape: Mike Leach may be gone, but the quarterbacks remain a hot topic in Lubbock. Tommy Tuberville will have his choice of gunslinging seniors, either Potts or Sheffield. Potts was the starter for much of 2009, going 309-of-470 for 3,440 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 13 touchdowns. He failed, however, to close the door on Sheffield, who has a special knack of igniting the offense and the crowd. He impressed whenever his number was called, throwing seven touchdown passes in a rout of Kansas State and leading the Red Raiders to a comeback win over Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl. With an entirely new staff on board, both quarterbacks are back at square one, preparing to begin a duel that could last right up until the opening weekend.
5.Venue: Ole Miss
Contenders: RF Raymond Cotton and Soph. Nathan Stanley
Tale of the Tape: The early departure of Jevan Snead has Houston Nutt searching for his successor a year sooner than he anticipated. Stanley is looking to move up one rung of the ladder after serving as the backup and attempting 23 passes last fall. Like Snead, he’s comfortable sitting in the pocket and distributing the ball, but can also tuck it and run for the sticks if necessary. Although Cotton is a year behind in experience, he might have a higher long-term ceiling than Stanley. At 6-4 and 220 pounds, he has great measurables, with the big arm to get the ball downfield and the speed to burn defenses on designed runs. He possesses an exciting blend of skills that could go on display if he picks up the offense fast enough.
4.Venue: Penn State
Contenders: TF Paul Jones, Soph. Matt McGloin, and Soph. Kevin Newsome
Tale of the Tape: Newsome was the backup to Daryll Clark a year ago, so it’s his job to lose, but it’s not as if he has an insurmountable lead. Big, strong, and athletic, the comparisons to former Nittany Lion QB Michael Robinson are inevitable. Although last season’s 10 appearances will help, the true sophomore still has a lot to learn as a passer in this offense. Jones is to the 2010 class what Newsome was to the 2009 haul. He’s already on campus, and at 6-3 and 225 pounds has the thick frame to handle a step up in competition. He has a strong and accurate arm, and, like a young Donovan McNabb, is tough to bring down once he leaves the pocket. The sleeper of the group is McGloin, a former walk-on and the No. 3 quarterback a year ago. While not nearly as heralded as Newsome or Jones, he doesn’t figure to go away without a good challenge.
Contenders: TF Tyler Bray, Jr. Matt Simms, and Sr. Nick Stephens
Tale of the Tape: Stephens sure has put in his time in Knoxville, entering his fifth year in the program. Having started six games in 2008, he has a clear edge in experience and will begin spring as the favorite to replace Jonathan Crompton. He didn’t exactly mesh with Lane Kiffin’s staff, so the arrival of Derek Dooley offers a chance to make a strong first impression. Simms began his career at Louisville before transferring to junior-college and attempting to get his career back on the right path. He has kind of a funky delivery, which the staff will get a closer look at in March and April. Although Bray is the future at the position for Tennessee, he’s not ruling out being the present as well. The 6-6, 195-pound Californian has been on campus since mid-December, trying to add weight and digest as much as possible in order to avoid being redshirted.
Contenders: Sr. Neil Caudle, and Jr. Cameron Newton
Tale of the Tape: Whomever wins this derby gets the keys to an offense that helped make erratic Chris Todd look like an all-star in his final year. Oh, and the Tigers’ top three receivers return, including playmaker Darvin Adams. That alone should provide extra motivation for the three quarterbacks in contention. Newton easily has the most upside of the trio. A 6-6, 245-pound former Florida Gator, he spent last season fielding a bunch of offers at Blinn (Tex.) College. Especially in this attack, he has all of the physical tools to blossom into a very special player. As he enters his fifth year in the program, Caudle’s calling card is his experience. While he won’t wow you with his body of work, he does have a nice grasp of Gus Malzahn’s system.
Tyrik Rollison was one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks of 2009, but had a long way to go to catch the front-runners. He
had the least experience and further stunted his growth by getting
suspended last December and missing the bowl trip, and now he's gone
leaving the program.
Contenders: RF Zach Mettenberger and RF Aaron Murray
Tale of the Tape: While no one in Athens is banking on the second-coming of Matt Stafford this quickly, a small learning curve from the freshmen would be awfully nice. At 6-5 and 230 pounds, Mettenberger is a classic pocket passer, with the arm strength to make all the throws, including hitting a streaking A.J. Green in stride. Can he, however, avoid the rush, an incessant concern in the SEC? For Murray, that’s not so much of a problem. Easily the more athletic of the two, he’s able to extend plays when the pocket collapses and make throws on the move. Plus, he has a quick release and good zip on his throws, performing with the poise and confidence of a more seasoned hurler. Which second-year freshman has come further since bowl practices? Spring drills will begin to answer that in Athens.