Previewing 2014 Fall Camp QB Battles to Watch
Not every quarterback battle was decided by the end of spring practice. Then again, what fun would that be? What would fans and media alike have to talk about?
Preseason quarterback battles are still going on all over the country as fall camp gets underway. Ideally, coaches would like to have those battles figured out sooner rather than later. The quicker one player emerges from the pack, the quicker the offense will know who to look to and the quicker it can come together.
To be sure, some quarterback battles will bleed over into the regular season. That's unavoidable.
Which quarterback battles will gain the most attention this August, and why? The answers are in the following slides.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.
When you're looking to replace a quarterback like AJ McCarron, who won back-to-back national championships, you're bound to make this list.
The battle appears to be narrowed to fifth-year senior Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. However, at SEC media days, head coach Nick Saban said, "This is an open competition, no doubt," per Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com.
Surprise, but the Crimson Tide have lofty expectations, including a national championship. The team is loaded again to make another run. With running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, the running game is there to take any pressure off of whoever starts under center. Wide receiver Amari Cooper is back to help in the passing game.
In short, the quarterback doesn't necessarily have to be the focal point of the offense. But it undoubtedly will be.
According to Scarborough, Coker is the "clear favorite." Coker lost out to Jameis Winston at Florida State, but after Winston won the Heisman, it's easy to see why there's little shame in that. However, Sims' athleticism gives the offense another dimension, not to mention he's a locker room veteran. As Saban explained, a two-quarterback system isn't out of the possibility:
It's not something that I would hope would happen. Is it something that I can totally rule out? Not really because I think the skill set of Blake Sims can create problems for a defense. If we wanted to utilize him to do that in some kind of way, I guess you could say that we could possibly have a two-quarterback system.
That would go against Saban's traditional stance on quarterbacks. Then again, so is adding a graduate transfer who could play right away. All of that adds another level of intrigue to this battle.
Maybe it's more clear-cut than Saban is willing to admit, but who anchors the Tide's offense will always be a storyline. This one just happens to be extra fascinating.
Texas A&M has to replace Johnny Manziel and has yet to officially name a starter. How could the Aggies not be on here?
Like Alabama, A&M appears to be down to a two-man race between sophomore Kenny Hill and early enrollee Kyle Allen.
Hill has the experience edge, however small it may be. As a freshman, he played in four games and threw for 183 yards and a score. But Allen is the blue-chip player, the No. 1 quarterback recruit for 2014, according to 247Sports.com.
Whichever player head coach Kevin Sumlin goes with, the expectations are high. In March, Bleacher Report's Amy Daughters pointed out that Sumlin has an impressive quarterback tree spanning more than two decades. The guy knows quarterbacks and he knows how to develop them early.
Experience, then, seems like a relative non-issue.
However, the overriding storyline for A&M in 2014 is whether the team will maintain its level of success post-Manziel. Given the attrition on defense over the offseason and a difficult SEC West schedule, the Aggies will be asking a lot from their quarterback—whoever it is.
The Tigers make it three SEC West teams with quarterback questions heading into preseason camp. That's just how the storylines unfolded.
It also means the West will be among the most compelling divisions anywhere in college football this year.
Incumbent Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris are the two quarterbacks battling it out for the opportunity to succeed Zach Mettenberger. As head coach Les Miles said during SEC media days, Harris is one of the freshmen he expects to make an impact this year.
"We're a team that will expect some of these freshmen to come in and play," Miles said, via B/R's Barrett Sallee. "(RB) Leonard Fournette, (WR) Malachi Dupre, (LB) C.J. Garrett and (QB) Brandon Harris, to name four freshmen that we would expect to have great impact on our season."
That's not a guarantee that Harris will start, but it is a ringing endorsement.
If Harris does win the job, it's likely the Tigers will be starting two key freshmen on offense: him and Fournette. That could mean some initial growing pains on offense, but it could also mean the Tigers' potential over the long run is scary.
The top two programs in the ACC, Florida State and Clemson, have their quarterback situations figured out. The Seminoles will obviously start Jameis Winston for the second straight year and Clemson has put its trust in fifth-year senior Cole Stoudt.
Miami, however, has the conference's highest-profile quarterback battle. At the forefront of it, believe it or not, is Kansas (and BYU) transfer Jake Heaps.
"I didn’t come here to be the backup," Heaps said in a recent teleconference (via Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald). "I made this decision for a reason. I came here to play, but you have to earn that. No one is going to give that to you, and that’s what I knew coming into this situation and that’s what I wanted."
Kevin Olsen and Brad Kaaya are the other potential options, with Ryan Williams sidelined because of an ACL tear. But given the way Miami is allowing Heaps to speak to the media, it's clear the coaching staff views him as a prominent voice.
Heaps has experience, something no other healthy option can really say. If he was brought in by head coach Al Golden, one would presume there's a good chance Heaps will play. If he doesn't, perhaps fans should be concerned about the Canes' quarterback play heading into the season.
LSU has quarterback questions, but so does the Tigers' Week 1 opponent, Wisconsin.
The Badgers' quarterback battle can be traced to the end of the 2013 season. Starter Joel Stave had, statistically speaking, a decent year with nearly 2,500 yards passing and 22 touchdowns. However, a shoulder injury in the Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina hampered his presence during spring practices.
Tanner McEvoy moved back to quarterback from safety and flashed impressive athleticism during the Badgers' spring game. However, head coach Gary Andersen said that Stave was a "full-go" during June and July. (h/t Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal.) As of right now, the two are splitting No. 1 reps.
The battle will come down to preseason practice and depends on a variety of factors. Stave must show he can take the next step as a pocket passer and make better decisions after throwing 13 picks a year ago. McEvoy, meanwhile, must prove he's mastered the playbook. If he has, one would think he has an edge given his running ability.
If plays break down, McEvoy would be the one coaches should want on the field.
Regardless of who wins the job, both players are crucial to the Badgers' chances this season. ESPN Wisconsin recently named McEvoy the third-most important player on the team.
Consider this an off-the-radar battle to watch.
Arizona was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 South, but the Wildcats have the conference's top quarterback battle. A pair of transfers from high-profile programs add to the intrigue, but if nothing else, Arizona will be on its fourth different quarterback in as many years.
According to Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com, "the frontrunners for the job would appear to be redshirt senior Jesse Scroggins, a former USC recruit, Jerrard Randall, a former LSU recruit, Connor Brewer, who transferred from Texas, and Anu Solomon, a redshirt freshman who was with Arizona all last season."
Head coach Rich Rodriguez said during Pac-12 media day that he didn't know who the starting quarterback would be, and that he may not know by Week 1. "Even if I knew I wouldn't tell you," Rodriguez told the Pac-12 Networks.
The race appears to be wide open, but a pecking order has to emerge sometime—if it hasn't already.