As eyes turn to the 2014 season, Clemson is the place with the biggest shoes to fill at the quarterback position. While others face a tough task to replace stars moving to the next level or out of eligibility, it will be the Tigers that have the steepest mountain to climb in filling Tajh Boyd's shoes.
Big names all over the country are leaving holes on rosters at the quarterback spot. At Alabama, the post-A.J. McCarron era starts with some talented young guys fighting for the job. Derek Carr and David Fales leave gaping holes at Fresno State and San Jose State, respectively. Georgia and LSU got a taste of life without Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger to end the season and jump-start the replacement process.
Clemson's going to have a tougher time than any of those places.
With Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel leaving, two of the most discussed draft prospects will leave UCF and Texas A&M to their devices. George O'Leary will have to find his next guy, and Kevin Sumlin will choose his next successful quarterback.
Yet, it is Clemson that has the biggest shoes to fill.
Boyd was everything for the Clemson Tigers in 2013. He threw the ball around the yard, and he was the second-leading rusher for his team. The quarterback grew into the offense Chad Morris installed and truly made it his own. Boyd showed true command of the scheme, and Clemson's entire team prospered under the guidance of the stud quarterback.
Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and early enrollee Deshaun Watson will all compete to step in for Boyd. Stoudt won the backup job and has been the only quarterback with experience worth noting on the roster. The junior from Ohio was a 3-star pro-style prospect coming out of high school and certainly is not the threat to run that Boyd became in his final two seasons.
Kelly, the highly touted 4-star prospect from Buffalo, N.Y., saw limited time in 2013, throwing 17 passes. The nephew of Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, he was a highly recruited dual-threat quarterback who has not had a chance to show what he can do on the big stage. Morris' offense needs wheels at the quarterback position to maximize the production, and Kelly has to show that he can make it work with both the arms and the legs.
The newcomer to the bunch, Watson, is a 4-star prospect who sits as the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the nation. Many expect the big-time prospect to come in and win the job, growing into Boyd's role as the face of the program, something Watson mentioned this summer.
Whether it is Stoudt, Kelly or Watson, winning the Clemson Tigers quarterback job is just the start of the process of filling Boyd's shoes. Not only will the new man be tasked with replacing a high-level quarterback, but they have to make it all work with new faces in the backfield and on the edge. That is why the Clemson job is going to be the toughest fix for a new quarterback in college football.
It is not just about stepping into Boyd's shoes, but it's also about working with inexperience at the receiver and running back position. New receivers, new running backs and a new quarterback, in an ACC Atlantic with Jameis Winston returning to build on the BCS Championship success, will put immense pressure on Clemson's new signal-caller.
This Clemson job is going to be tough. Like many other places around the nation, the Tigers lost an elite quarterback, and in losing Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Roderick McDowell, Clemson also lost the pieces that help make a quarterback transition go smoothly. Morris will have his work cut out for him as he breaks in new players at the three positions that make his offense tick.