College Football 2011: 10 Quarterback Battles That Could Make or Break a Team
“If you have two quarterbacks, you have zero quarterbacks.”
So the old saying goes. But what do you do when you're the coach of a team without a clear-cut starting quarterback? Do you start the young, untested freshmen in place of the shaky senior? Do you make a decision early and stick with it or do you let the combatants battle it out right up until week one?
Regardless of what a coach decides, it's clear that making the right decision can mean more wins, conference championships, and BCS bowl berths.
Making the wrong decision, however, can mean disaster.
There are several quarterback competitions around the FBS this summer, and the fortunes of these teams could very well ride on who is selected as the starter come fall.
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EJ Manuel vs. Will Secord vs. Clint Trickett
While many believe EJ Manuel will be the starter at Florida State come September, he does have some competition from Will Secord.
Manuel had a solid spring game, going 17-of-36 for 204 yards and a touchdown.
One concern was Manuel's two interceptions thrown in the game, and the fact that he completed less than half of his passes. Still, the coaching staff was impressed with his command of the offense.
Will Secord is right behind Manuel, and is guaranteed to be no lower than the No. 2 spot on the depth charts. He's also good enough to step into the starting role should Manuel falter, and there won't be a huge fall off in terms of ability from the quarterback position.
One dark horse candidate is true freshman Clint Trickett.
One of the top quarterback prospects to come out of Florida, Trickett enrolled early at FSU, and spent the spring learning the Seminoles system and playbook. If the name sounds familiar, it's because Clint in the son of FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett. That could be an added advantage to Clint because he's been around the program in one way or another for the past four years—something none of the other quarterbacks can boast.
If Manuel is as good as the hype, Florida State could be looking for a return to the BCS this season. If he's not, Secord or even Trickett would be a capable replacement, but it would be doubtful that FSU would have any shot at the ACC championship by that time, as it's unlikely Jimbo Fisher will take abandoning Manuel lightly.
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Zach Maynard vs. Brock Mansion vs. Allan Bridgeford
The initial depth chart for Cal has been released, and Zach Maynard is at the head of the class.
But head coach Jeff Tedford said that the competition will continue into fall camp, and both Brock Mansion and Allan Bridgeford were listed at the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. That means there's a possibility either one of them could supplant Maynard, and take the top spot. But for that to happen, the unlikely combination of Maynard having a really bad fall camp combined with either Bridgeford or Mansion have a stellar camp will need to happen.
Still, the fact that Tedford isn't betting the farm on Maynard being the starter come the first week in September is noteworthy.
Maynard should be sufficiently motivated to work on keeping his current top spot, while Mansion and Bridgeford will definitely be giving it their all come August in an attempt to show the coaching staff that they deserve playing time, either as the starter or as the sole No. 2 quarterback for the Bears.
Cal almost had a number of impressive wins last season, but falling just short against Arizona (10-9), Oregon (15-13), and Washington (16-13). Those three games were the difference between a bowl-bound 8-4 and the actual record of 5-7. Being able to close out your opponent and get that one last score in the close games would turn Cal into a perennial bowl team. Solid quarterback play will be a big step towards that goal.
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Taylor Martinez vs. Taylor Martinez vs. Brion Carnes
Why is Tayor Martinez listed twice?
Because there are two Taylor Martinezes.
The first Martinez is the David Banning kind of quarterback. Cool, calculating, smart, and usually very successful.
Then there's the second Martinez. The Hulk version ends up wrecking pretty much everything he touches.
Martinez definitely had an up and down season in 2010. At times (Kansas State), he looked like an absolute superstar. Then, he would look just awful (Texas A&M).
Consistency was completely lacking for the young Martinez. But now there's a new problem. Nebraska is switching to the spread offense under new offensive coordinator Tim Beck. Beck is also the quarterbacks coach, and being new, has no history with Martinez or Brion Carnes, the No. 2 quarterback at Nebraska.
This means that Beck isn't beholden to any one quarterback, and you can bet that if Beck sees the need for a change, a change will be made.
Don't expect the Cornhuskers to set their starting quarterback in stone until late in fall camp. Martinez is the odd-on favorite, but Carnes has a legit shot at the starting spot—especially if Martinez has an early bad game in 2011.
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James Franklin vs. Ashton Glaser vs. Tyler Gabbert
Coming into the spring, James Franklin was the presumptive starter after Blaine Gabbert decided to take his talents to the pros.
Now that spring ball is over, not much has changed at Mizzou. Franklin is still the presumptive starter, and unless things go south in fall camp, that will probably hold.
Still, Ashton Glaser is a very capable quarterback, but lacks the experience Franklin gained as Gabbert's backup last season.
There's also redshirt freshman Tyler Gabbert. If he's anything like his big brother, Blaine, then Tyler could be a secret weapon for the Tigers—either in 2011 or down the road.
One of Missouri's strengths has been their quarterback play. Unfortunately, the Tigers won't have an easy task in simply replacing Gabbert. Most of the offense is back for 2011, and that will certainly help Franklin, assuming he retains his position as the top QB at Missouri through fall camp.
Still, one can't help but wonder how good this team would have been if Gabbert had decided to stay for his senior season at Missouri.
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Jacory Harris vs. Stephen Morris
When spring practice starter, the Miami depth chart at quarterback had unknown walk on Spencer Whipple up on top.
Clearly head coach Al Golden was saying a few things.
First, Golden isn't married to the idea of Jacory Harris starting at quarterback. Secondly, Harris, and Stephen Morris better step up their play if they hope to be named the starter for 2011.
Jacory Harris had a disappointing 2010 season. When he needed to take the game into his own hands, he most often dropped it. But when the 'Canes had options on offense, Harris was a perfectly decent quarterback, and even showed glimpses of being pretty darned good. But if you want your team to be successful, you need a quarterback that can step up and win a game, even if he has to drag the rest of his team along with him.
Harris probably isn't that guy—at least he wasn't that guy in 2010.
Harris threw almost too many interceptions to count in 2010, and if he wants to keep his starting job, he absolutely must cut down on completed passes to the defense.
When Harris was yanked last season, Morris stepped in a looked solid, but probably because there were a lot more plays involving running the ball when Morris was under center.
Harris will probably be the starter come fall, but don't be surprised if Golden sits him at the first sign of trouble.
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Jordan Jefferson vs. Jarrett Lee vs. Zach Mettenberger
When spring practices began, the talk was all about the quarterback position at LSU. Would Jordan Jefferson be the go-to guy in 2011? What about fellow senior Jarrett Lee? Could sophomore Zach Mettenberger challenge the upperclassmen for a starting spot?
As practices progressed, there were mountains of reports about improved play from all of the quarterbacks. Jefferson was making strides in his game, and it looked as if he was serious about keeping his starting position. Mettenberger was nipping at his heels as he proved to be a pleasant surprise to the coaching staff.
Then came LSU's spring game. If Jefferson had make huge improvements in his game, it wasn't apparent, as he went 4-of-14 passing, one interception, two fumbles, and he was sacked twice.
Mettenberger was an impressive 5-of-8 with a touchdown in his spring outing.
It's only thing made clear by LSU's spring game is that the quarterback situation in Death Valley is anything but.
LSU is certainly going to be a darn good team in 2011. But getting solid quarterback play may mean the difference between an SEC title (and possible BCS title game berth) and second or third place in the SEC-West.
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Matt McGloin vs. Robert Bolden
Joe Paterno has an interesting dilemma on his hands in Happy Valley.
He has two starters from last year both returning. Robert Bolden began the 2010 season as the Nittany Lions' starter, but was sidelined after an injury. McGloin then stepped into the starting role, and performed better than many thought he would.
As Bolden's injury healed, he wanted his starting job back, but JoePa stuck with McGloin, and before long, Bolden threatened to transfer.
Long story short, Bolden is still a quarterback at Penn State, and competing to earn back his starting position. It probably helped some that McGloin had an absolutely terrible game against Florida in the Capital One Bowl at the end of last season.
Penn State's stock in the Big Ten's Leaders Division got a huge boost this week after the implosion in Columbus. Finding a consistent quarterback that can ably guide the Lions' offense could mean the Leaders Division will come down to Wisconsin and Penn State for a trip to the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.
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Garrett Gilbert vs. Case McCoy vs. Connor Wood vs. David Ash
As the rest of the nation snickered, Texas fans watched in horror as their beloved Longhorns went 5-7 in 2010.
After a host of new faces came in on the coaching staff, it was clear than there needed to be some major work done in Austin during the offseason. As spring approached, Mack Brown closed all spring practices to the media.
Beyond that, Mack Brown has limited his own availability, and his interviews have often been terse. When asked about almost anything, Brown responds by saying he doesn't respond to media rumors.
Coach Brown, if you seal off your program from the media, what else does the media have? Brown conveniently created an environment where he doesn't have to say anything to the media or talk about anything but the topics he chooses.
Finally, it took a rumor reported by ESPN that Garrett Gilbert had been privately told he'd be the starter in 2011 by Texas coaches.
Brown decided it was a good opportunity to violate his “I hate the media” rule, and talk to ESPN about the rumor.
By the way, ESPN and the University of Texas are preparing to jointly launch the Longhorns Network this September. Maybe that little tidbit had something to do with Brown's no-media exception?
Anyway, Brown denied the rumors, saying that no player had been talked to about any possible position on the depth chart.
Brown also went on to say that he's looking forward to see the progress each quarterback makes in August.
Since Brown won't give anybody other than now-financially-linked-to-Texas ESPN any insight into his thought process for the 2011 quarterback job, all we have left is inference.
The fan base seems to be split on Gilbert. Was he to blame, at least partially, for last year's embarrassment? Some say yes, some say no. Should Case McCoy, little brother to UT's all-time winningest quarterback, get a shot to start for the Longhorns? What about redshirt freshman Connor Wood or true freshman David Ash?
All four quarterbacks played in the Texas spring game. Gilbert showed some improvement in reading defenses, but he also displayed many of the same problems that plagued him in 2010. Of particular concern is Gilbert's penchant for picking one receiver, staring at him, and throwing the ball to him regardless of the coverage. He also still has a habit of seriously under-cooking some of his passes.
McCoy had the only touchdown pass of the day, and completed nine of his 11 passes for 124 yards. Easily the most impressive and effective quarterback—at least during the spring game—McCoy went a long way towards convincing people he should get an opportunity to start of the Longhorns.
Both Ash and Wood played as well, and had solid, if uninspiring outings.
It's highly likely we won't know who's starting for the Longhorns until the days leading up to their opening game against Rice.
It's also highly likely that Texas's hope for a rebound season will have a great deal to do with who starts under center.
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Clint Moseley vs. Barrett Trotter (vs. Russell Wilson?)
How do you replace a player like Cam Newton?
The simple answer is you don't.
Moseley is a very talented athlete. He's not huge, but he's bigger than Trotter. He also can throw the ball down field pretty accurately, and has the ability to beat the defense deep if his receivers can get past the secondary. There are some lingering questions about his attitude, though. Some unconfirmed reports have him as a likely transfer should be not be named Auburn's starter.
Trotter is a very mobile quarterback who can beat you with his arm or his legs, but he suffered an ACL tear in practice in 2009. His obvious advantage is his experience at Auburn and his familiarity with the system.
But everything mentioned here was thrown into doubt just a few days ago when, at the annual SEC spring meeting, head coach Gene Chizik implied that he'd be open to accepting a transfer quarterback and starting whoever that is in 2011. Rumors published by The Birmingham (Alabama) News have former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson visiting Auburn. Wilson still has one year of eligibility remaining.
It's clear Auburn won't be the same team we saw in 2010. There are so few starters returning from last season that even season ticket holders will be reaching for their programs.
Quarterback play isn't the only thing Auburn needs to figure out this season, but it's probably the area where we'll see the biggest drop off. Heck, if Cam Newton left the Green Bay Packers, there would be a big drop off, so don't feel too bad, Auburn fans.
Phillip Sims vs. AJ McCarron
Phillip Sims was one of the most highly touted recruits of the signing class of 2010. After spending his redshirt season watching and learning, and he's now ready to suit up on Saturdays.
AJ McCarron is the frontrunner to replace Greg McElroy. He's not seen much game action, but reports he is supposedly showing signs of leadership and taking control of the offense under his on-field direction.
Crimson Tide fans may be surprised to find that McCarron has a cannon for an arm the likes of which hasn't been seen in a quite a few years. His strength is an obvious asset, and if he's able to combine that with accuracy in a game situation, he could become very, very dangerous and one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC.
Sims had a solid spring, and it's likely he'll be pushing McCarron to the limits in fall camp. But we still haven't seen too much from this youngster.
It's probably comforting for Nick Saban to know that he has two potential weapons at quarterback. The problem may be that Sims is darn good, and if he doesn't see some playing time in 2010, it will be difficult to keep him in Tuscaloosa—especially if McCarron, who is just a sophomore, cements his position as the Alabama starter for the next three seasons.
Alabama will start 2011 at or near the top of most Top 25 polls. With lofty expectations that have become the norm at Alabama, expect the starting quarterback—whoever that may be—to be an integral cog in the quest to recapture the SEC championship. Failure at the quarterback position in 2011 is not an option for Alabama—if they want to return to the BCS, that is.