9 College Football Quarterback Battles That Will Last Through Fall Camp
Footballs are no longer in the air, music isn't blasting from speakers and coaches aren't barking out instructions anymore. Yes, that's right, the annual rite that is spring football is over for most colleges across America.
That means it's time for us to assess where the state of college football is across campuses nationwide. It also means the spotlight shines on the most important position on the field—quarterback.
While some programs got the answers they were seeking at quarterback, others have a rough and tumble battle ahead of them.
Let's take a look at nine quarterback battles that will likely last the distance.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Contenders: Everett Golson, Malik Zaire
This was always going to be a two-man race in South Bend, but not many expected this one to last beyond the spring. According to head coach Brian Kelly, though, that's exactly what will take place, via Lamond Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times:
I would like to have one quarterback because they both can run the offense. This is not about having one offense for one quarterback and another offense for the other... I should be able to figure this thing out. We should be able to get our players in a position where we can have a starting quarterback. I’ve been doing it long enough that I would hope I could figure it out come time to play Rice.
On Saturday, both Golson and Zaire impressed at times, but it was Zaire who put up the most impressive performance of the day. The young signal-caller completed 18-of-25 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns.
Golson wasn't too shabby either, throwing for 154 yards and adding a rushing touchdown.
There clearly hasn't been much separation all spring long between the two quarterbacks, and it's likely that this one could last well into fall. Look for the winner to be the man who's most consistently moving the team in fall camp.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Contenders: Brenden Motley, Mark Leal, Michael Brewer and Chris Durkin
This may be the easiest of races to call a battle heading into fall camp, and that's because most of the contenders weren't around for spring. In fact, only Brenden Motley was around this spring to take snaps, which could be why he's listed as the No. 1 QB on the depth chart as of now, according to Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times.
The increased reps could be an advantage to Motley, but there are a ton of talented and experienced options available to the Hokies in the fall.
Motley threw for 163 yards and a touchdown in the Virginia Tech spring game, leading the first team with some confidence. Yet, it may not be enough to win him the job come the fall.
Senior Mark Leal was injured this spring and has four years in the Va Tech offense, including extensive action in the Sun Bowl last season. He went 12-of-25 for 130 yards but had two interceptions and took three sacks.
Also in the mix will be incoming players Michael Brewer (transferring from Texas Tech) and Chris Durkin (true freshman). Both possess a good skill set, and if they can pick up the offense quickly they could be viable options, especially in Brewer's case.
With so many options available, this race easily will last all fall camp long. Virginia Tech takes on William & Mary to open the season, and there may not be a winner named before that matchup happens, or even after it.
Of all the quarterback battles going on, this one seems ripe to go on well into the season.
Contenders: Justin Worley, Riley Ferguson, Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman
Once again we've got a four-person derby going on for the starting quarterback job, this time at Tennessee. Judging by Saturday's spring game results, there hasn't been much in the way of separation either.
Justin Worley went 11-of-13 for 151 yards and a touchdown, showing the most accuracy of any quarterback. Yet, it was soon-to-be sophomore Joshua Dobbs who had the highlight-reel type plays.
He was 6-of-9 for 199 yards and three touchdowns, while also putting up 59 yards and a touchdown rushing.
Peterman was 8-of-11 for 81 yards and a touchdown, while redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson was 7-of-12 for 83 yards and a touchdown to go with the game's only interception.
With those kinds of numbers, it is easy to see why this battle hasn't had any separation between all four of the contenders. It will take time this fall to figure it out as well, unless someone really begins to jump out during summer workouts.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Contenders: Jacob Coker, Blake Sims
Coming into spring, there was an aura of inevitability about the quarterback position. Everyone was waiting for Florida State transfer Jacob Coker to ride in and save the day after AJ McCarron's graduation.
However, a funny thing happened on the way to anointing Coker as the starter—Blake Sims happened to burst onto the scene.
The senior quarterback showcased an arm to go with his running ability over the last two weeks, and it has to give the coaching staff some pause about just handing the job to Coker when he comes along this fall.
Going 40-of-62 for 515 yards and throwing five touchdowns in the final two scrimmages of spring ball (according to Alabama stats released after each scrimmage) will have a way of opening up some eyes. With that performance, Sims showed he was more than a runner with an arm—he looked like a complete quarterback.
Considering the uncertainty of what would happen at quarterback just a month ago, the fact that there is a chance for a real battle should be comforting to the coaching staff and fans alike.
Contenders: Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy
Spring camp began without Joel Stave available, and after a brief appearance, it ended without him as well. It meant most of camp was about sorting out a three-way battle for a challenger to Stave.
The clear winner was junior Tanner McEvoy, who took over as camp went on and showed some good things in a lackluster spring game. He hooked up with senior Kenzel Doe for a 27-yard strike early on during the practice portion of the spring game and showed an ability to move the chains with his feet.
While a 4-of-10 for 55-yard day doesn't seem like much, McEvoy looked like a competent quarterback and was dealing with a depleted offensive line and wide receiver group as well.
On the flip side, Stave's injury history and latest setback with his shoulder can't be ignored in the battle either, and that's a huge advantage to McEvoy, as long as he stays healthy as well.
Look for Stave to battle hard for his starting job once he's able to throw again, but don't be surprised to see McEvoy win this one before the LSU game to open the season.
Having an ability to do anything in the run game with the quarterback is more Gary Andersen's style, and that screams for McEvoy to pull out a hard-fought win for the starting job.
Contenders: Patrick Towles and Drew Barker
There may have been a four-way battle for the quarterback position coming into spring ball, but the good news for Mark Stoops and the Kentucky offense is that there appears to be some separation in that group.
Kentucky is nine practices into its spring season and already Stoops is mentioning two names above the rest—redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles and early entrant freshman Drew Barker.
After the scrimmage this past Saturday, Stoops singled the pair out for praise.
"Patrick (Towles) is improving, he's throwing some balls we all know he has the arm talent to execute," said Stoops, via Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal. "I feel like Drew (Barker) is doing some good things for a young guy out there. Again, that's not dismissing the other two guys. They did some good things as well."
It is interesting that the head coach is singling out his true freshman quarterback for public praise this early on in his career. Could it mean Barker is at the head of the group?
Considering Barker is just a freshman with nine practices under his belt and already receiving high marks, it's hard to not see him competing well into the fall for this wide-open job.
Contenders: Munchie Legaux and Gunner Kiel
This feels a bit like cheating, considering Legaux isn't yet back from the horrific leg injury he suffered last season, but the reality is that he won't be handed the starting job once he's back this fall.
After spring ball, it is clear that the much talked about Gunner Kiel is more than just hype. He showed in Cincy's spring game that he's the real deal as a quarterback, throwing for 300 yards and helping to put up 24 points in just one half of football.
Wide receiver Shaq Washington took notice of his performance during Saturday's spring game, but also noted it wasn't close to Kiel's best effort.
“That’s amazing, and this probably wasn’t even his best practice," said Washington, via Cincinnati's athletic website. "There’s a lot more room for improvement as a unit and as we get more comfortable going into the summer."
Kiel could be a star for the Bearcats, but Legaux adds another level with his overall athletic ability. If Legaux is healthy, expect this to be a hard decision for head coach Tommy Tuberville and his offensive coaching staff.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Contenders: Wes Lunt, Aaron Bailey and Reilly O'Toole
Heading into the spring, it appeared likely that Wes Lunt and Aaron Bailey would battle it out for the starting job. After spring ball, though, there is a three-way race for the job, as senior Reilly O'Toole stood tall and is right in the mix heading into the fall.
O'Toole made people notice him on Saturday during the spring game, going 12-of-17 for 126 yards and two touchdowns. His offensive coordinator, Bill Cubit, sure was happy with the results.
"I'm really happy for him," Cubit said, per Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune. "He's managing the game. He knows where everybody's at. I like what I saw."
He did that while the bigger name, Lunt, had one of his worst performances of the spring. Lunt went a horrible 6-of-16 for 99 yards and an interception.
Aaron Bailey wasn't much better on the day, going 9-of-13 for just 43 yards, while also not being able to show off his rushing ability, thanks to the rules of the game (one touch equalled a tackle on quarterbacks).
Head coach Tim Beckman has always been one to be a bit cheeky in how he handles battles like this publicly, and that means no one knows exactly who is winning this battle.
Given the different skill sets and the incoming talent this summer, the quarterback competition is far from over.
Contenders: Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris
Most assumed sophomore Anthony Jennings would compete and beat freshman Brandon Harris rather handily in a spring "battle," yet that isn't exactly how it worked out.
Instead, the spring game gave us every indication that it could be Harris who is ahead of Jennings heading into fall camp.
Harris threw for three touchdowns and ran for another while completing 11-of-28 passes for 195 yards. He also ran for 61 yards on three carries, including the TD run.
Sure, the completion percentage was low, but the explosive plays were high for Harris, much more so than for Jennings, who went 9-of-17 for 157 yards. Jennings also threw two interceptions and had no touchdown passes.
After the game, head coach Les Miles had praise for Harris' abilities.
“He made some really big plays and nice passes,” Miles said, via LSU's athletic department. “He threw the ball at times extremely well. But he also made some mistakes. It was certainly reviewed very positively by us.”
Miles also made it clear that the battle will continue on into the fall, and that he's comfortable with both quarterbacks leading the offense out against Wisconsin to open the season, via LSU's athletic department:
We think that both guys are pretty good, and we would like to think that they would continue to improve and be well beyond where they are today. I think both guys are good enough to be our quarterback. At times, I think the two guys played better than that in the spring. I think the game itself was a little more emotional because it was in the stadium.
LSU will have an interesting choice and not a lot of margin for error if it wants to get back in the national championship picture this season. Fall will go a long way in determining who's the right answer at quarterback in Baton Rouge, La.
Andy Coppens is a college football featured columnist. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndyOnCFB.
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