10 College Football Programs with the Most Compelling QB Controversies
Who likes a good quarterback controversy?
Everyone, of course. Well, except fans of the team in question. It's so much easier when things are laid out nice and neat.
Of course, it doesn't always work like that. Whether there's turnover at the position or no clear-cut front-runner, quarterback competitions typically make up the most interesting offseason storylines.
Not all quarterback controversies have to be "bad" to be compelling, however. Ohio State has the most compelling offseason storyline of anyone because it has three quarterbacks who could take the Buckeyes to another national championship.
Which programs have quarterback questions to answer this spring and summer? The answers, along with Week 1 projections, are in the following slides. Teams on this list were selected based on projected spring rosters and incoming freshmen/transfers.
No. 10 Florida
Florida's headed in a new direction with first-year head coach Jim McElwain. There's a new offense, and possibly as a result, the chance that a new quarterback is starting in Week 1.
Treon Harris is a gifted athlete, but there's some question as to whether or not he's an ideal fit for McElwain's system. Redshirt freshman Will Grier, at 6'2" and 200 pounds per his official bio, seems more likely to fit into what McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier want to do.
However, Grier hasn't taken a single college snap. With a new coaching staff, spring and summer will be one big first impression for Grier. While all the dots connect on paper, McElwain and Nussmeier haven't been able to evaluate him fully.
The thing is, though, a clean slate might work in this case. Harris completed only about 50 percent of his passes last season and was a far more accomplished runner. While Harris can show improvement as a passer, the tape shows what it shows.
There's a lot of work for Harris to do in that department.
Projected Week 1 Starter: Will Grier
No. 9 Alabama
The sheer number of possibilities for Alabama's starting quarterback in 2015 alone are reason enough to put the Tide on this list.
It could be Florida State transfer Jake Coker (finally).
It could be Alec Morris.
It could be Cooper Bateman.
It could be David Cornwell.
It could even be freshman early enrollee Blake Barnett.
For all anyone knows, head coach Nick Saban could play more than one quarterback during the first couple of weeks. He's done it before.
Blake Sims, a former running back, was able to win the starting job over Coker last year. Granted, Sims had a nice year for the Tide, but does that also say anything about the signal-callers on the roster? Maybe, maybe not, but we'll find out in the next sixth months or so.
Alabama hasn't needed an experienced quarterback to compete for national championships, but with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin's aggressive approach, it does need someone who can sling it. If no one emerges? Well, that's a problem.
Projected Week 1 Starter: Jake Coker
8. Notre Dame
The thing is, Notre Dame wouldn't have a quarterback controversy if Everett Golson could hold on to the football. He couldn't, and Malik Zaire got the start against LSU in the Music City Bowl.
Because of that, Keith Arnold of Inside the Irish writes that Golson and Zaire make up a two-man race this spring:
With fumbles, poor decision-making and some plain bad luck plaguing Golson’s otherwise exceptional season, Brian Kelly chose Malik Zaire to be his starter for the Music City Bowl.
Zaire’s performance against LSU essentially rebooted a quarterback battle that at one point seemed near impossible for Golson to lose. But entering spring camp, it’s a two-man race to see who’ll get a chance to run a Notre Dame offense that should be the best of the last decade.
Golson has the experience but hasn't been the most consistent quarterback. Zaire lacks in the former category, but he played well in the bowl and has all the confidence in the world.
Now, that confidence has to translate into practice. Who will thrive under new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford?
Projected Week 1 Starter: Everett Golson
New Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh recently spent time with former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and former Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty in a pre-NFL combine workout. He probably wishes he could have kept one.
The Wolverines' quarterback situation is muddled at best. Yes, Shane Morris is a favorite to start. Yes, Russell Bellomy has transferred to UT-San Antonio, meaning the competition just got a touch smaller. Still, there will be an open competition this spring all the same.
Harbaugh could go in a number of directions at quarterback. The Wolverines are starting from scratch, so experience isn't necessarily an edge. It's not like Morris has a ton of experience anyway. Still, he has a tremendous amount of potential.
If there's one thing Morris needs, in my opinion, it's someone to really (REALLY) push him mentally and physically. He has the arm tools and everything still looks like it should work, but he needs to be pushed—because it's never happened before. Harbaugh's going to do that with him, and I'm sure that process has already started.
I still believe Morris is going to be the starting quarterback in 2015, and I don't think it'll be solely because he's the oldest player. That's not how Harbaugh works.
However, Morris does have a cannon for an arm and decent-enough mobility in the pocket. The physical traits are there, he just needs some more coaching.
Projected Week 1 Starter: Shane Morris
You hate to give a player too little credit, but what are the odds Tyrone Swoopes is Texas' quarterback in Week 1 at Notre Dame?
Swoopes will be entering his third year with the Longhorns in 2015, and it...just...hasn't...quite...clicked for the former 4-star recruit. Granted, he will be learning his third offense in three years, had his redshirt oddly burned as a freshman and was tossed into a starting role last year because of the career-ending concussion to David Ash.
That's a lot to overcome, and in some ways that's unfair to Swoopes.
The fact remains, though, that he has to show significant improvement this offseason to secure the starting job for next season. Swoopes will be battling with redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard in the Horns' new-look, "wide-open" offense. Incoming freshman Kai Locksley will join the battle later this summer.
Swoopes had an up-and-down season a year ago, so if he wins the starting job again, you'll be able to color plenty of folks incredulous. "Did Swoopes really improve, or is Texas' quarterback situation worse than previously thought?"
Remember that head coach Charlie Strong and Co. have offered scholarships to 11 quarterbacks in the Class of 2016.
Projected Week 1 Starter: Jerrod Heard
5. Texas A&M
Texas A&M's quarterback "controversy" could be a delayed one.
Freshman Kyle Allen started the final four games of last season and has the inside track on the No. 1 job this spring. It's all coming together for Allen, the former No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the 2014 class who initially lost out on the starting job to Kenny Hill.
However, it's what awaits Allen this summer, 5-star Kyler Murray, that makes things interesting.
Like Allen, Murray was touted coming out of high school. The Texas high school football star went 42-0 as a starter and is an accomplished two-sport athlete in baseball as well.
Though Murray is shorter than Allen by about four or five inches and weighs about 20 pounds less, both quarterbacks have excellent arms and mobility. Could Murray surpass Allen on the depth chart in a matter of weeks?
It's possible. Murray was impressive in person last summer at the Elite 11 camp at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, and he's been given rave reviews universally. Still, Allen has playing experience and will have a couple of spring practices under his belt before Murray ever steps on campus.
Projected Week 1 Starter: Kyle Allen
How grad transfers impact some of these quarterback battles might not be known until the end of spring. However, Oregon already has an idea of how a new signal-caller will affect its quarterback race.
Not only is Vernon Adams Jr. vying to succeed Marcus Mariota, he's taking the unconventional path by moving up a level from Eastern Washington.
Adams was prolific with the Eagles, accounting for nearly 11,000 yards and 121 total touchdowns in his career. However, because of the timing of his decision coupled with his graduation date, Adams won't be able to join the Ducks until later this summer.
Additionally, he has been barred from working out with his now-former Eastern Washington teammates. That leaves him in no-man's land as he prepares for the next stage in his career.
"It's tough not being with either Oregon or Eastern and not having guys pushing you to be better," Adams told Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports. "But it's the motivation you got to have. You got to want it. And me going to Oregon, I really want it and I want to do it for my son and I want to do it for my family."
Can Adams play catchup on the fast track while guys like Jeff Lockie get in important spring reps? Adams wasn't guaranteed the starting job with Oregon, but you have to like his chances. Where he ends up on the depth chart will be a major discussion point.
Projected Week 1 Starter: Vernon Adams Jr.
What a difference a year makes. More specifically, one game.
We're approaching the territory where Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight could become college football's version of the "One-ders"—the poorly named one-hit wonder of "That Thing You Do!" fame.
Outside of his miraculous Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama, Knight hasn't developed the way he could have. There's no denying his mobility, but the passing hasn't been there. Injuries have been part of the problem, but now Knight has a new offensive coordinator: Lincoln Riley from East Carolina.
Riley will implement an Air Raid base, so it'll be interesting to see how Knight fits with the new plan, if he fits at all. Unlike last year, Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield is eligible to compete for the starting job.
There was a mild quarterback controversy last spring when Mayfield outplayed Knight in the Sooners' spring game, but since Mayfield had to sit out the '14 season, it was a moot conversation.
Not this time.
The most popular player can be the backup quarterback. There wasn't a realistic option last season because of Blake Bell's move from quarterback to tight end. This time around, the backup has an actual chance of leapfrogging the incumbent.
Projected Week 1 Starter: Baker Mayfield
How bleak is LSU's quarterback situation? It could be controversial if either Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris is named the starter.
Developing quarterbacks has been an issue for LSU under head coach Les Miles. Times were especially tough in 2014, when the Tigers had the 116th-best passing offense in all of major college football, per cfbstats.com.
You can be a run-first offense, but there has to be some semblance of efficiency in the passing game to counter. There wasn't any.
Jennings completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw only 11 touchdowns to seven interceptions—and he was the best option. Harris has the athleticism to make him more of a running threat, but he couldn't move the chains enough to leapfrog Jennings.
According to Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com, LSU's quarterback situation isn't as dire as you'd think. It's true that the Tigers return two quarterbacks who have experience, but there's so much for each to prove. On top of that, it's not clear if Miles will pursue a grad transfer who could push for the No. 1 job.
This one might not be solved for a while.
Projected Week 1 Starter: Brandon Harris
1. Ohio State
Though, to be fair, labeling Ohio State's quarterback battle as a "controversy" is a bit like debating the merits of pizza, barbecue and fried chicken. They're all amazing (not to mention KFC will find a way to combine them into a "triple down" capable of decreasing life expectancy by 50 years, but that's hardly the point).
Digressing, there won't be a quarterback battle more closely watched this offseason than the one going on in Columbus with Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller. (B/R colleague Ben Axelrod gives his case for and against each candidate.)
Only one of the three—Jones—should be healthy enough to fully participate in spring practices. Barrett is recovering from a fractured ankle, and Miller missed all of last year with a shoulder injury. That means there shouldn't be much competition per se in the spring; rather, it's during the summer months that the competition might heat up.
Assuming every quarterback decides to stay, that is.
Miller specifically has been at the center of numerous transfer rumors, though he tempered them in January when he said, "Privilege and honor to be part of this team. Guess what, we've got another year to do it. So go Bucks." (h/t Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch.)
Still, any one of the three could transfer after spring drills. If that happens, Ohio State would lose a potential Heisman candidate capable of winning a ton of games. Whoever lands said quarterback would get instantly better.
Projected Week 1 Starter: Cardale Jones
Ben Kercheval is a Lead Writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.