Early Predictions for CFB's Most Intriguing 2018 Position Battles

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2018

Early Predictions for CFB's Most Intriguing 2018 Position Battles

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The results of position battles are essential information when finalizing preseason predictions, and the 2018 offseason features a handful of marquee depth-chart fights.

    Not even the recent College Football Playoff qualifiers are immune to a major competition. The only CFP team with a clear-cut outlook, ironically, is the only program losing its quarterback.

    Our list focuses on schools ranked in Bleacher Report's super early Top 25, especially those with conference and/or national championship hopes in 2018.

    Although the final answer may change during the summer, the projections are how things stand leading into spring practice.

Texas Quarterback

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    The favorite

    Though he committed a couple of mind-numbing turnovers, Sam Ehlinger enters the offseason with a slight edge. Ehlinger threw for 1,915 yards and 11 touchdowns compared to seven picks as a freshman, adding a team-high 381 rushing yards.

         

    The challengers

    Shane Buechele started in 2016 and nearly hit 3,000 yards through the air, but an injury sidelined him early in 2017 and caused the roller coaster at the position. Plus, the Longhorns signed 4-stars Cameron Rising and Casey Thompson in this cycle.

         

    Early prediction

    It's reasonable to suggest neither holdover inspired much confidence last season. However, Ehlinger is a threat on the ground and escapes pressure in the pocket much better than Buechele. If Ehlinger can properly address some accuracy concerns, he'll claim the starting job to open 2018.

USC Quarterback

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The favorite

    In 2017, Matt Fink served as the backup to Sam Darnold. Now that the potential first-round pick is headed to the NFL, Fink is USC's only quarterback with college experiencethough nine career pass attempts and one rushing touchdown isn't much.

         

    The challengers

    Jack Sears, who took a redshirt, coincidentally replaced Darnold in high school. Both Fink and Sears will attempt to hold off JT Daniels, a 5-star prospect who reclassified from 2019 to 2018 and will arrive during the summer.

         

    Early prediction

    For good reason, Daniels will be the hyped candidate. But can he snatch the starting job despite not enrolling early? That doesn't happen often. Fink is our early choice, but a slow start to the season could push Daniels into the lineup.

Auburn Running Back

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    Michael Chang/Getty Images

    The favorite

    Because of injuries to Kamryn Pettway, Kam Martin finished 2017 as Auburn's second-leading rusher. The 5'10", 182-pounder collected 453 yards and two touchdowns, tallying 6.1 yards per attempt. As a freshman in 2016, Martin averaged 7.3 yards over 44 carries.

         

    The challengers

    Malik Miller posted 135 yards and Devan Barnett chipped in 79 last season, while JaTarvious Whitlow dealt with an ankle injury and redshirted. Asa Martin and Shaun Shivers are signed members of the 2018 recruiting class, and Harold Joiner is committed.

         

    Early prediction

    According to James Crepea of AL.com, running backs coach Tim Horton said he believes "five or six" players have a chance to start. In other words, this competition will take time. Kam Martin will likely secure the nod thanks to experience and explosiveness, but his slender build should lead to a normal No. 2 role for Miller.

Miami Quarterback

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    The favorite

    Malik Rosier set a Miami record with 3,588 yards of total offense and guided the Hurricanes to their first-ever ACC Championship Game appearance. His running ability provided a new dynamic to the offense. However, five shaky performances in the team's last six games have demanded an open competition.

         

    The challengers

    Last season's backup, Evan Shirreffs, has transferred. That decision created an additional opportunity for N'Kosi Perry, who redshirted in 2017. Four-star Jarren Williams enrolled early, joining Cade Weldon at the position.

         

    Early prediction

    While Perry is the fan favorite, there's a strong case for believing Rosier will begin the campaign behind center. Miami will challenge LSU at AT&T Stadium on Labor Day Sunday, so the tough matchup might lead to initial hesitancy in Coral Gables. But this should be Perry's job by the end of 2018.

Georgia Quarterback

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The favorite

    The unexpected signal-caller of Georgia's CFP run, Jake Fromm completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 2,615 yards and 24 touchdowns as a true freshman. He tossed just seven interceptions and picked up 79 yards with three more scores on the ground.

        

    The challengers

    Fromm ran 2016 starter Jacob Eason out of Athens. The former 5-star is likely headed to Washington, the flagship school in his home state, according to Adam Jude of the Seattle Times. But an early-enrolling 5-star, Justin Fields, provides a mobile element Fromm does not have. Fields will present a formidable test over the spring and summer.

        

    Early prediction

    Although we fully expect Fromm to retain his place on the depth chart, Fields' high school production cannot be ignored. Over the last two years, he amassed 4,448 passing yards, 2,131 rushing yards and 74 total touchdowns. Fromm is the starter, but an Eason-like situation is possible if Fields gets a chance.

Clemson Quarterback

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    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    The favorite

    Deshaun Watson left the keys in the Ferrari, and Kelly Bryant did an excellent job avoiding more than a fender-bender until the CFP. He collected 2,802 yards and 13 touchdowns through the air and scampered for 665 yards and 11 scores. Bryant was just 18-of-36 for 124 yards with two interceptions in the loss to Alabama, though.

         

    The challengers

    Barring transfers, Bryant will compete with a pair of recent 5-stars in Hunter Johnson (2017) and Trevor Lawrence (2018), as well as Zerrick Cooper and Tucker Israel. Lawrence broke Watson's Georgia high school records, and each of the other three has limited college experience.

         

    Early prediction

    There's a major fight brewing between Johnson and Lawrence in 2019, but it would be surprising if Bryant isn't behind center next year. Considering the level of talent the defense returns, Clemson basically needs a quarterback who will avoid horrible mistakes. Bryant already proved once he can fulfill that responsibility.

Ohio State Quarterback

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    The favorite

    Dwayne Haskins entered a handful of games in garbage time, and that experience became crucial. He preserved Ohio State's ill-fated CFP dreams with a 6-of-7, 94-yard showing at Michigan. The freshman ended 2017 completing 40 of his 57 attempts for 565 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.

         

    The challengers

    Two-time spring game star Joe Burrow may consider transferring, but he and Tate Martell would otherwise round out a three-way battle. Martell, who redshirted last season, was a highly respected 4-star in the 2017 class.

         

    Early prediction

    Burrow is on track to graduate in May, so a transfer is realistic if he doesn't lock down the No. 1 job during the spring. Since Haskins already bested Burrow for the backup job last year, that seems likely. Martell is the most dynamic runner, but Urban Meyer already trusts Haskins.

Alabama Quarterback

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    Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

    The favorite

    Good question. Is it the two-year starter who helped Alabama reach consecutive national championships? Or the backup quarterback who sparked a lifeless offense to win a title? We're inclined to favor Tua Tagovailoa, who tallied 636 yards and 11 touchdowns in scattered appearances as a freshman.

         

    The challengers

    In 2016, Jalen Hurts won a three-man quarterback battle, accounted for 3,734 yards and 36 touchdowns and guided the Crimson Tide to an SEC crown. Last season, he gathered 2,936 yards of total offense and was responsible for 25 scores.

         

    Early prediction

    The main criticism of Hurts entering 2017 was his shaky downfield passing. That weakness was on full display against Georgia andalong with his jumpiness in the pocketnecessitated the change to Tagovailoa. Unless Hurts develops his pocket presence and is more confident throwing deep, this is Tagovailoa's job to lose.

          

    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.