Quarterbacks Turning Heads in 2018 College Football Spring Games
Notre Dame's Brandon Wimbush was one of several quarterbacks to throw for at least 300 yards in a spring game this year, even though he has never put up more than 280 yards in a regular-season game in his college football career.
That puts him near the top of the list of QBs who made waves with their play in the intrasquad scrimmages.
There's a saying in baseball that you can't win a pennant in April, but you sure can lose one. That goes for starting quarterback jobs in college football, too. Players who performed well in the past six weeks aren't guaranteed a gig in September, but they're better off than those who did poorly during the spring.
Frigid temperatures and snow storms impacted a lot of spring games this year. Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia and many others had to cancel their exhibitions because of the weather. But more than enough games took place for quite a few quarterback stat lines to catch our eye.
Joe Burrow, Ohio State
In an offseason full of College Football Playoff contenders with quarterback competitions, the most intriguing one might be at Ohio State. After what at times seemed like a decade-long stay in Columbus, J.T. Barrett is out of the picture, leaving a tight race for the starting gig between redshirt junior Joe Burrow and redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins. And don't rule out the possibility of redshirt freshman Tate Martell stealing the show.
Based solely on the spring game, it's looking like Burrow is the leader in the clubhouse.
Haskins had a decent day and finished 9-of-19 passing for 120 yards and two touchdowns, but Burrow's line was considerably better. The junior went 15-of-22 for 238 yards and a pair of scores. Both touchdowns came on deep strikes to Demario McCall—one for 50 yards and the other from 43 yards out.
Will it matter this time?
Burrow threw for three touchdowns in both the 2016 and 2017 spring games, but he barely saw the field in either autumn. In his college career, he has yet to appear in a game decided by fewer than 31 points, and never for more than a series or two.
But this is the first time that a job has truly been there for the taking.
Haskins and Martell still have several months to prove that they are more deserving of the job than Burrow, and the battle may linger into the first two weeks of the regular season, as the first two home games against Oregon State and Rutgers should be blowout wins for the Buckeyes. It might finally be Burrow's time to shine, though.
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Kelly Bryant did a fantastic job last season, leading Clemson to its third consecutive College Football Playoff appearance. However, there was always a strong possibility that he was just a stopgap between the end of Deshaun Watson's time with the Tigers and the beginning of the Trevor Lawrence era.
Lawrence has long been regarded as one of the best quarterback prospects of at least the past decade. 247Sports' composite rankings gave him a rating of 0.9999 as the No. 1 overall player in this year's class. And in his senior season at Cartersville, he threw 41 touchdowns with just one interception.
What transpired in Clemson's spring game only increased the likelihood that the true freshman steals the starting job away from the senior.
While Bryant struggled (8-of-15 for 35 yards with an interception), Lawrence was on point, going 11-of-16 for 122 yards and a touchdown. And that touchdown was a beaut, connecting with Tee Higgins on a 50-yard bomb that looked downright effortless. He also had a 54-yard strike to Higgins later in the game that was called back because he was first touched for a sack.
Where other teams on this list start with a few cream puff games to figure out their best option at QB, Clemson needs to put its best foot forward in early September. The Tigers play a road game against Texas A&M in Week 2, which might be the biggest challenge they face until at least the ACC Championship Game. If Lawrence continues to perform as well for the next four months as he did in Clemson's spring game, don't be surprised if he's the starter for that big showdown.
Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
Clemson's Week 2 opponent and new head coach Jimbo Fisher also have a big decision to make at quarterback in the next few months. Both Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel got a lot of playing time last season, and they both looked good in Texas A&M's spring game.
Mond—who started eight of A&M's 13 games last season—was crisp and efficient. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns. That's quite a change from what he displayed for most of last year. As a true freshman, his completion percentage (51.5) was by far the worst among qualified SEC QBs, and he only averaged one TD pass for every 28.4 pass attempts.
Starkel wasn't nearly as efficient, but he did put up one of the biggest yardage totals of any QB in a spring game. It didn't quite compare to his 499-yard, four-TD performance against Wake Forest in the Belk Bowl, but Starkel was 26-of-42 for 373 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
"There's no way that we can name a starter right yet," Fisher said, according to ESPN's Sam Khan Jr. "It's too early ... because we're just really now getting into the offense, as far as the fine-tuning and the nuances of it that really makes it go, because they just haven't had enough time to learn it."
Whichever way the Aggies decide to go, they'll have a quarterback talented enough to potentially lead them to at least 10 wins for just the second time in 20 seasons.
Mac Jones, Alabama
Much has been made about the colossal battle between Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts for Alabama's starting job, but could Mac Jones swoop in and claim it for himself?
Probably not, but his performance in the A-Day game was undeniably a big step in that direction.
Tagovailoa broke the index finger on his throwing hand in the first scrimmage of spring practice, so the lefty who carried the Crimson Tide to the national championship a few months ago did not appear in this game. Hurts—whose father recently told Bleacher Report's Matt Hayes that there's a good chance he will transfer if he isn't named the starter—struggled in the A-Day game and drew some criticism from Nick Saban on a hot mic. He had some nice scrambles, but he was just 19-of-37 for 195 yards with an interception.
Jones was dealing against Alabama's inexperienced secondary.
The redshirt freshman was 23-of-35 for 289 yards, two touchdowns and one pick. He had a 65-yard touchdown pass to Chadarius Townsend early in the second quarter (thanks to some dreadful tackling), as well as a 46-yard TD on a deep ball to Xavian Marks.
Tagovailoa is expected to be fully healthy by the time fall camp begins, but Alabama does have one heck of a third option if the presumed starter is still banged up or if the presumed backup does opt to become a "free agent."
Malik Willis and Joey Gatewood, Auburn
Not all of the quarterbacks on this list turned heads in a good way.
With Jarrett Stidham limited throughout the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, Auburn's other quarterbacks were given a proper opportunity to battle for the job of primary backup.
Good heavens, Auburn fans better pray Stidham makes a full recovery and stays healthy.
As a whole, Auburn's quarterbacks corps was 15-of-39 for 90 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. More than half of those yards (46) came on a ridiculous juggling catch by Marquis McClain. Aside from that fourth-quarter reception on a pass from presumed fourth-stringer Wil Appleton, the longest completion of the day went for 15 yards. Only three passes resulted in a gain of more than eight yards.
Rising sophomore Malik Willis will probably be No. 2 on the depth chart, but he only went 8-of-20 for 45 yards. Still, that was better than true freshman Joey Gatewood, who was 4-of-12 for zero yards and was sacked for a safety in the first quarter.
Ian Book and Brandon Wimbush, Notre Dame
Notre Dame had one of the best rushing attacks in the nation last season, but that unit has been decimated by graduations, early entrants to the NFL draft and dismissals. All signs point to this being a more pass-heavy campaign for the Fighting Irish.
Fortunately, it looks like they are in great shape to make that transition, as both Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book played well in their spring game.
The duo combined for 633 passing yards in a high-scoring affair. Wimbush was 19-of-33 for 341 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Book wasn't far behind at 17-of-30 for 292 yards and a score.
Wimbush ran the ball a ton last year, finishing with 804 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. In this game, though, head coach Brian Kelly stood in the backfield and threatened to whistle the play dead if Wimbush took off and tried to create with his feet. He didn't look entirely comfortable in the pocket, but he did have an excellent 64-yard touchdown strike to Miles Boykin.
Book had a mighty fine deep ball of his own, finding Chase Claypool for an 85-yard score.
As far as where the competition stands, Kelly gave Indy Star's Laken Litman a little bit of information after the game:
"I think it's pretty clear that Brandon went out and got a chance to go with the first group and Ian played with the second group," Kelly said. "You know, that's not etched in stone, but that's the way they've been trending. I don't think there was anything today that changed that, but we know Ian Book can win for us.
"So it's 1A and 1B."
Jack Richardson, Stanford
The past few months have been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for Stanford's cavalry of quarterbacks. Keller Chryst announced in January that he would be leaving the program as a graduate transfer. (He later chose Tennessee.) Returning starter K.J. Costello missed the entire spring with a hip injury while presumed primary backup Davis Mills also missed the past two months with a knee injury.
That left the Cardinal with Jack Richardson and nothing else, and the rising redshirt sophomore has yet to attempt a pass in a regular-season game.
He had a terrific spring, though, punctuated by a strong showing in the April 14 intrasquad scrimmage. Richardson completed 21 of 30 passes for 179 yards and two scores.
The preferred walk-on was financially rewarded for his effort, too. After the game, head coach David Shaw called Richardson and his parents and announced that he was getting put on scholarship, according to John Devine of the Monterey Herald.
"I didn't expect that," Richardson said. "I got a little emotional. It was such a special moment. I have worked so hard to achieve this. Yet, there is so much more work ahead [of] me."
Tristan Gebbia and Adrian Martinez, Nebraska
Tanner Lee surprised a fair amount of people by declaring for the NFL draft after just one season with the Cornhuskers. He threw for 3,143 yards and 23 touchdowns last year, but most of us assumed he would be back at Nebraska and even better in 2018.
Instead, Scott Frost will need to break in a new quarterback in his first year after the undefeated campaign at UCF.
The good news is the young guys look great.
Redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia had a fine spring game, completing 12 of 17 attempts for 125 yards and a pair of Touchdowns. From a pure passing perspective, he was the star of the day.
Factor in the rushing, however, and incoming freshman Adrian Martinez looks like the man to beat for the starting job. Martinez was efficient with his arm, throwing for 114 yards and one touchdown while completing 10 of his 13 passes. But he was lethal with his legs, leading all Cornhuskers with 60 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
For someone who missed his entire senior season of high school with a shoulder injury, Martinez didn't look rusty in the slightest. And given how much success Frost had last year with dual-threat McKenzie Milton running the offense, Martinez might be the unofficial leader of this race heading into the summer.
Brett Kean, South Florida
Over the past three seasons, Quinton Flowers had a combined total of 11,612 passing and rushing yards with 112 touchdowns. He led the Bulls from four straight years of bowl-absent obscurity to the best three-season stretch in program history.
But now what?
With Flowers out of the picture, rising redshirt junior Brett Kean and redshirt sophomore Chris Oladokun have been battling for the starting gig without anything close to a clear favorite. And the spring game didn't do a whole lot to change that, as both QBs threw for exactly 127 yards and two touchdowns.
However, Kean did so on six fewer passing attempts with no interceptions to Oladokun's one. Kean also had the prettiest pass of the afternoon, connecting with Darnell Salomon on a 43-yard flick up the left sideline. He later added a one-yard TD to Tyre McCants. Kean is already establishing a rapport with what figure to be South Florida's top two receiving targets now that Marquez Valdes-Scantling is gone.
"We're still in the evaluation process," Charlie Strong said after the game, per Rodney Page of the Tampa Bay Times. "Both of them can make throws. Both can operate the offense. That's what we're looking for.''
"We're both pushing each other and helping each other out," Kean said. "If I'm in and Chris sees something I didn't, he'll let me know, and vice versa."
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.