Clemson Football: Breaking Down the Tigers' QB Competition

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistMarch 26, 2014

Clemson Football: Breaking Down the Tigers' QB Competition

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    Rising senior Cole Stoudt
    Rising senior Cole StoudtJoshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

    Replacing a star is never easy. That's just what Clemson must do in 2014 now that the school's all-time leading passer, Tajh Boyd, has graduated and will be on an NFL roster next fall.

    Boyd leaves Clemson with quite a legacy. In three full years as the starter, he finished with a record of 32-8, 57 school and ACC records and he shattered the conference record for career touchdown passes. He led the Tigers to three consecutive 10-win seasons and back-to-back bowl wins over perennial powers LSU and Ohio State, respectively. 

    To make matters worse, the best receiver in school history, Sammy Watkins, is gone, too. As is 1,000-yard rusher Roderick McDowell, left tackle Brandon Thomas and No. 2 receiver Martavis Bryant.

    Fortunately for the Tigers, the cupboard isn't bare at quarterback. Oh, and offensive coordinator Chad Morris is arguably the best in the country at his job.

    Senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and true freshman Deshaun Watson are competing this spring to see who can replace Boyd.

    All three players bring different strengths to the position and, unlike some quarterback competitions, this one is truly up for grabs and may not be decided until the week before the season opener at Georgia. 

    Who'll be the starting quarterback for Clemson in 2014? Here's an in-depth look at all three candidates and why each one has a legitimate chance to win the job. 

Senior Cole Stoudt

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    Cole Stoudt
    Cole StoudtTyler Smith/Getty Images

    Stoudt is the leader in the clubhouse, but partly because "somebody has to go out there first," head coach Dabo Swinney said, per Pete Iacobelli of the Associated Press. 

    That was likely just Swinney saying as little as possible, but there was probably a hint of truth in that statement.

    The coaches are clearly high on Stoudt. He's the most experienced passer on the roster. He spent the last three years as Boyd's primary backup, completing 72 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns versus only one interception.

    Keep in mind, Stoudt has still only attempted 119 passes, so it isn't as if he is the definitive answer at the position.

    Things are working in his favor, though. He has three years in the program, some game experience and most importantly has a good grasp on Morris' fast-paced spread offense.

    Stoudt has a strong arm and is a surprisingly good athlete at 6'5", 205 pounds. Stoudt's leadership appears solid, too. 

    Stoudt is the the odds-on favorite to take the field at Georgia on August 30. However, it is far from a given. 

Sophomore Chad Kelly

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    Chad Kelly
    Chad KellyTyler Smith/Getty Images

    Kelly certainly has the bloodlines. The nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, Chad Kelly is very talented in his own right.

    A redshirt sophomore, Kelly attempted just 17 passes last season, completing 10 in limited duty. He entered spring practice as a bit of a dark horse for the starting gig. Many believed that Stoudt was the automatic favorite, while others were enamored with Watson, the exciting young freshman.

    It's a good, low-pressure situation for Kelly. And from all accounts, he's been solid this spring. 

    After a recent practice, Kelly appeared to have the strongest arm of the bunch, per David Hood of Hood also noted that Kelly's passes had the most zip and he was the most accurate. 

    It's worth noting, though, that Kelly's passes weren't in live action. However, the coaches pay attention to every detail, and that's a positive for Kelly.

    Kelly is having a good spring, but he's still a bit of a long shot to start—at least vs. Georgia. 

Freshman Deshaun Watson

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    Watson is in a good position. Athletically, he is most similar to Boyd. Morris' offense doesn't require the quarterback to be athletic, but it does add another dangerous element to that side of the ball. 

    While Boyd was a good athlete, Watson is a tremendous athlete. He is bigger than Boyd (6'3", 205 lbs), faster and possesses a stronger arm. It's no wonder why the coaches wanted to get Watson in on the quarterback battle as soon as possible. 

    It's hard to imagine Watson starting the season opener against Georgia. However, would it be a surprise if Swinney decided to get Watson some snaps in Week 2 vs. South Carolina State?

    As tempting as it is to play Watson as a freshman, it may be more prudent if the coaches decide to redshirt the talented freshman. They have two good options in front of him and can have him use the redshirt year as a way to get acclimated to the college game.

    The coaches put Watson in this battle for a reason. They believe he can win the job as a true freshman. Expect him to provide the most highlight-worthy moments of the three, but he will likely make more mistakes, too.