True Freshmen QBs Who Could Start Week 1 in 2020

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2019

True Freshmen QBs Who Could Start Week 1 in 2020

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    Alabama quarterback Bryce Young
    Alabama quarterback Bryce Young247Sports

    The majority of quarterback recruits are locked into their new programs now that the early signing period is over. 

    Most have been committed for a long time. Others—such as Ohio State's CJ Stroud and Oregon's Robby Ashford—made their decisions last Wednesday. 

    But who among them can step into the mix and be their team's new starter? Several Power Five programs have flashing Vacancy signs over that position, and the incoming youngsters will have the ability and opportunity to slide into the starting role.

    Enrolling early always helps, of course. So does having immense talent.

    Players such as Arizona State's Jayden Daniels, USC's Kedon Slovis, Boise State's Hank Bachmeier (before he injured his hip) and North Carolina's Sam Howell barely got their fall class schedules before they were thrust into leadership roles.

    You can bet several more will follow suit in 2020, even though this wasn't a banner year for signal-callers in the recruiting cycle.

    Factoring in the prospect's talent, ability and opportunity based on departures or inefficiency from the incumbents, let's look at a few signal-callers who could start right away as true freshmen in '20.

Harrison Bailey, Tennessee Volunteers

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    Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt's rebuild in Knoxville is going to go a whole lot smoother if he can get a next-level quarterback in-house.

    The Vols certainly believe they got that in Marietta (Georgia) High School quarterback Harrison Bailey, a 4-star prospect who had offers from most of the top teams in the country before choosing the Vols over Michigan.

    Though Tennessee also signed athlete Jimmy Holiday away from TCU who will start his career as a dual-threat signal-caller, Bailey has the ability to be special. He's a 6'4", 225-pound, big-armed quarterback who threw to 5-star Arik Gilbert all year. He led the Blue Devils to a state title.

    Even though the plan right now is for Jarrett Guarantano to come back to Knoxville for his final season, it's still a possibility he transfers. He was big for UT down the stretch, though, as the Vols battled back from a program low and 1-4 start to get bowl-eligible.

    Guarantano has the potential to have a huge senior season, but he also has failed to be consistent throughout his Tennessee career. Even after he locked down the starting job after losing it to freshman Brian Maurer midway through the year, Guarantano was shaky in the season-ending win over Vanderbilt.

    Pruitt believes in Guarantano, and the Vols want him to come back for his final season the way he said he would. But he'd better do more than he has so far throughout his career, because Bailey is waiting in the wings, and he is one of those polished players who could start right away.

    Even if Guarantano and Maurer are in that quarterback room, Bailey may be too good to keep off the field. He's probably the best dropback passer prospect UT secured since Erik Ainge. Bailey's ceiling is as high as any quarterback's in the country.

Jay Butterfield, Oregon Ducks

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    Handing the reins to a first-year quarterback is never easy, and that is especially the case when your program is playing at a high level. 

    Sometimes, though, the talent is too great to keep on the sideline.

    That could be the case with 4-star Oregon signee Jay Butterfield, who's from Brentwood, California. The 6'6", 202-pound prospect was the nation's third-ranked pro-style passer and has an elite arm.

    While Butterfield needs to add 20-30 pounds before he gets on the field, it's possible he can do so in a college strength-and-conditioning program.

    He will be vying—along with redshirt sophomore Tyler Shough and redshirt freshman Cale Millen—for next year's gig. He'll have huge shoes to fill after Justin Herbert leaves the Pac-12 champion Ducks. Though Herbert hasn't always been consistent, he has first-round NFL ability and made big plays throughout 2019.

    Alabama prospect Robby Ashford added his name to the mix after decommitting from Ole Miss on Dec. 10, and he could factor in, too, but Butterfield is more college-ready.

    Shough looked fine in mop-up duty in '19, completing 12 of 15 passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns, but that's not a ton of experience. All of the quarterbacks are talented, and coach Mario Cristobal will hold a wide-open competition, but Butterfield will get his chance to impress.

Jayden de Laura, Washington State Cougars

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    When Mike Leach sent an assistant coach to Honolulu to scout prospects, the recruiter watched St. Louis High School quarterback Jayden de Laura and immediately extended the first Power Five scholarship offer to the signal-caller.

    Others followed suit—including Ohio State and USC, according to the Spokesman-Review's Theo Lawson—but the 6'1", 190-pound 3-star prospect entered the fray to replace Anthony Gordon in next year's Air Raid attack for the Cougars.

    It's going to be a crowded room unless there's attrition.

    Gordon overloaded stat sheets in 2019, and he became the second consecutive senior to shine for Wazzu, following in the footsteps of graduate transfer Gardner Minshew II, who took his mustache magic to the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

    Leach will have plenty of options to replace Gordon. Cammon Cooper, a 4-star recruit in 2018, will get his chances, as will redshirt junior John Bledsoe and Gunner Cruz. But de Laura adds another element to the competition with his dual-threat ability.

    Leach proved this year after elite FCS transfer Gage Gubrud didn't beat Gordon that the best player will win the job. De Laura could be an electrifying presence in that offense.

    He hails from the same high school that produced Marcus Mariota, Tua Tagovailoa, Timmy Chang and former Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser, and he has all the tools to be the next productive college signal-caller from that program.

Luca Diamont, Duke Blue Devils

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    Don Diamont may have made his name in the soap opera game while starring in The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful, but his boys made their names in another game: on the college gridiron.

    Zander played for the Indiana Hoosiers before he retired and took on a real estate career, and now it's Luca's turn. He may wind up being the most talented of the bunch.

    Though he's only a 3-star prospect, the Venice, California, pro-style passer had offers from Alabama, Indiana, North Carolina, Missouri, Ole Miss and others. He wound up signing with Duke, though, where the 6'3", 185-pound quarterback will learn under David Cutcliffe.

    Diamont has terrific size and ability, and Duke's offense will prepare him for the NFL. Can he become the next Peyton Manning, Eli Manning or Daniel Jones (all of whom studied under Cutcliffe)? Maybe, but for 2020, Diamont would settle for being the next starting Duke signal-caller.

    After a frustrating 5-7 season, the Blue Devils want to get back to a bowl, but finding a quarterback is the most important part of the equation. Cutcliffe is bringing in a smaller class, but Diamont has the potential to make an instant impact.

    When Jones left for the New York Giants after the '18 season, senior Quentin Harris was waiting to replace him. That's not the case this year, as Chris Katrenick and Gunnar Holmberg are the only two viable returning options.

    That means there's a wide-open door for Diamont, but we'll have to cue the angsty expressions on this cliffhanger and cut to an offseason-long commercial break in true soap-opera style before finding out the answer.

Ben Finley, North Carolina State Wolfpack

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Another ACC program without a proven quarterback entering the 2020 season is North Carolina State, which, like Duke, suffered a disappointing campaign.

    During a dismal 4-8 season, none of the quarterbacks Dave Doeren trotted out there were effective. The best, by default, was Devin Leary, who threw eight touchdowns and five interceptions but completed just 48.1 percent of his passes.

    Matt McKay, Bailey Hockman and Thayer Thomas put up "meh" numbers too. McKay won't be part of next year's equation, as he entered the transfer portal.

    A familiar name is potentially coming to help Doeren get off the cusp of the hot seat.

    The Wolfpack signed 3-star Paradise Valley, Arizona, quarterback Ben Finley. Finley chose NC State over Arizona, Arizona State and others. He is the younger brother of former Wolfpack star and Cincinnati Bengals fourth-round draft pick Ryan Finley.

    If the younger Finley can produce the same numbers his brother did, there may just be a program resurrection in 2020. The older brother was an All-ACC performer after he transferred from Boise State.

    "We're two different people, and I'm going to create my own path," the younger Finley told the News & Observer's Chip Alexander. "But there's always been that brotherly competition, and I have a chance to beat him at something again."

    It's that kind of friendly, competitive attitude that could be an inroad to the position.

Ethan Garbers, Washington Huskies

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    Speaking of legacies, there's another familiar name heading to a Pac-12 program. Ethan Garbers isn't going to his older brother's school, but he is at least staying in the same conference.

    He has the potential to be the better player of the duo too.

    The Corona Del Mar High School prospect from Newport Beach, California, is a 6'3", 193-pound signal-caller whose older brother, Chase, threw for 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns for Justin Wilcox's Cal Bears this year as a sophomore while battling injuries.

    Chase has the potential to be a great player if he can stay healthy, and younger brother Ethan may have the higher ceiling.

    A lot of his opportunity to play right away hinges on Jacob Eason's NFL decision. He has until January 20 to finalize a choice but told reporters he was "focused on playing Boise State" ahead of Saturday's Vegas Bowl.

    When Eason arrived and won the job, Colson Yankoff transferred to UCLA and Jake Haener left for Fresno State. The quarterback room is much thinner, and if Eason departs, it will leave Garbers to battle Jacob Sirmon and 2018 4-star recruit Dylan Morris.

    Neither of those guys has a ton of experience, so Garbers will have a shot.

    Is it an uphill battle to be the first quarterback to take a snap for the Huskies as they look to rebound in 2020? Sure. But with new head coach Jimmy Lake calling the shots, it's a clean slate for everybody, and that may even include the inconsistent Eason if he returns.

    Garber could seize the job.

Deuce Hogan, Iowa Hawkeyes

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    There were good and bad things for the Iowa Hawkeyes during Nate Stanley's three-year starting tenure, but even though he didn't quite develop the way he could have, the strong-armed signal-caller will be difficult to replace from a sheer talent perspective.

    Coach Kirk Ferentz's team was a handful of points away from having a special season this year, and the Hawkeyes put together a strong recruiting class.

    Highlighting that group was 6'4", 197-pound Grapevine, Texas, native Deuce Hogan, who participated in the Elite 11 and The Opening this past summer.

    Hogan is only a 3-star prospect on 247Sports, though he's rated higher by other services. He is a better prospect than that. His senior season at Faith Christian School ended in the state semifinals at the hands of Trinity Christian.

    Elijah Yelverton, another Iowa commit, plays tight end for Trinity.

    Though they didn't win the title, Hogan threw for 2,363 yards, 29 touchdowns and just six interceptions while completing more than 58 percent of his passes. Georgia, Tennessee, Iowa State, Colorado, Baylor and others offered him scholarships, but Hogan committed to Ferentz early in the process.

    He will have to battle with Spencer Petras for the starting gig, but Petras will be entering his redshirt sophomore season with just 11 pass attempts in his college career.

    With the Texas product coming in, the Hawkeyes may wind up with a true freshman starter. It will be fun to watch Hogan develop.

Max Johnson, LSU Tigers

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    Credit: 247Sports

    It won't be easy to replace Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow next year, but the LSU Tigers must move on. They just hope they're doing so following a national championship.

    Backup Myles Brennan has been subpar in his mop-up duty behind Burrow, and if you read the LSU message boards, fans have already decided he isn't the answer. It's probably too early to tell that, but Brennan needs to play a lot better.

    Coach Ed Orgeron may look to the transfer market, too, where Stanford's K.J. Costello sits. If Georgia loses Jake Fromm a year early, Kirby Smart could look that direction too. Everybody is wondering if Houston's D'Eriq King will leave the Cougars, but LSU will have options.

    Peter Parrish could factor into LSU's 2020 quarterback race too.

    But 4-star pro-style passer Max Johnson is a guy you should watch for. The Oconee County (Georgia) product is the son of former Florida State and NFL quarterback Brad Johnson and the nephew of former UGA and Miami coach Mark Richt.

    None of that will matter in the Bayou Bengals' quarterback race, but those bloodlines could produce a quality prospect. The left-hander looked the part in high school, where he is coming off a huge senior season.

    Will Orgeron hand the job to a true freshman? That would be a tall order, especially considering how terrific this offense has been this year. But even though there will be a drop-off from Burrow, the Tigers must find somebody who can keep things heading in the right direction.

    Maybe Johnson is the guy.

Chubba Purdy, Florida State Seminoles

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    With offensive-minded Mike Norvell taking over a Florida State program that was mired in mediocrity (and worse) during Willie Taggart's near-two-year tenure, the Seminoles have plenty to fix on that side of the ball.

    It starts at quarterback, where James Blackman rotated with graduate transfer Alex Hornibrook this year—and neither seized control of the job.

    Blackman told 247Sports' Brendan Sonnone he would contemplate his future with the program after Dec. 31's Sun Bowl, and Louisville transfer Jordan Travis could factor into the equation, especially if Blackman isn't part of it. Hornibrook, of course, will be out of eligibility in 2020.

    It was vital that Norvell had late recruiting success, and he did, grabbing a commitment from 3-star Georgia prospect Tate Rodemaker. But the big flip came on early signing day when Louisville Cardinals commit Chubba Purdy jumped to the 'Noles.

    Purdy is the younger brother of Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy and is a 4-star dual-threat quarterback whose athletic ability and upside could see him win the battle to be Norvell's first quarterback in Tallahassee.

    Purdy is from Gilbert, Arizona, and he was a late find by Norvell, who sold him quickly on being the new face of his program. Of course, Rodemaker has just as good of a shot to win the spot, and Travis' athleticism will be intriguing.

    But Purdy could grab that job. The new coaching staff likes him, and Norvell wants his guy running his system. 

Brendon Lewis, Colorado Buffaloes

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    It seems like Steven Montez has been at Colorado forever, but he is out of eligibility, so the Buffaloes have to move in a different direction.

    The next big thing in Boulder may be Brendon Lewis.

    The dual-threat signal-caller from Melissa, Texas, is a 6'3", 209-pound playmaker. The Buffaloes have done a good job of recruiting the Lone Star State recently, getting several quality players from there, including receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. Lewis may be the next.

    He was offered by several schools, including Kansas, Mississippi State, Boston College, Washington State, North Texas and others, but he wants to play his college ball for coach Mel Tucker, as he told 247Sports' Adam Munsterteiger:

    "I think (head) coach (Mel) Tucker is building a phenomenal program and I think it'll be a blessing for me to be part of that and help get the team where he wants it to be, to be competing for championships in the Pac-12. He is getting a bunch of good players. You see the recruits we have and how he is leading the program, we are building a great program. I feel like I can thrive and be successful in (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks) coach (Jay) Johnson's offense."

    Lewis isn't the most polished passer, but he has a ton of athletic ability and could do a lot of things with the ball in his hands. He will compete for the starting job with Tyler Lytle and Blake Stenstrom after Sam Noyer entered the transfer portal.

    After Montez's inconsistency, does Tucker want a more traditional dropback passer? If so, Stenstrom may be the guy. If they want to stay with an athletic player, Lewis has a chance.

Ken Seals, Vanderbilt Commodores

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    Few Power Five teams had worse quarterback play in 2019 than the Vanderbilt Commodores. Following the graduation of Kyle Shurmur, neither Riley Neal nor Deuce Wallace did a good job.

    With Neal out of eligibility, there's plenty of playing time up for grabs.

    It may go to 3-star Texas signal-caller Ken Seals, who committed to Derek Mason's Vanderbilt program over offers from Cincinnati, Kansas, Florida Atlantic, Boston College and others.

    The year before Seals arrived as Weatherford High School's starting quarterback, the Kangaroos were 0-10, but he led them to back-to-back playoff appearances. He hopes to do the same at Vanderbilt.

    "It's definitely something I've experienced before," Seals told the Star Telegram's Rick Mauch. "And just like here, I can guarantee you no other team is going to outwork us."

    According to Mauch, Seals threw for 5,714 yards and 53 touchdowns in two seasons and set several Weatherford passing records. He will need to be a much better quarterback than those the 'Dores featured in a one-dimensional 2019 season that saw them take little pressure off running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn.

    Wallace will have something to say about the starting job, but Mason needs to shake things up before a season when he probably will be coaching for his job. Seals may be just the guy to do it. If he can work his way up the ladder and start the first game, his high school numbers could translate to the SEC.

    That won't be easy, but the Commodores need to move in another direction.

Jeff Sims, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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    The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets made recruiting noise with coach Geoff Collins' first full class this year, and the best prospect of the haul may be former Florida State quarterback commit Jeff Sims.

    The 4-star signal-caller decommitted from the Seminoles after they hired Norvell in early December, and the Sandalwood High School quarterback from Jacksonville, Florida, will head to Atlanta to play, choosing the Jackets over Maryland.

    James Graham was not productive enough as a starting quarterback this past year for him to scare off any recruits. Sims has a fairly clear path to playing time if he can play up to his potential as the nation's seventh-ranked dual-threat quarterback.

    Sims will compete with Tucker Gleason to try to improve the Yellow Jackets' 123rd-ranked passing offense from this season after Graham completed just 45.1 percent of his passes in 2019.

    It was never going to be an easy turnaround for Collins, who took over Paul Johnson's triple-option offense and turned it into a more modern style. The Yellow Jackets took plenty of lumps in the ACC this past year, but they also did some good things, showing recruits a turnaround was possible.

    That paid off with the signing of Sims, one of the biggest prizes of any non-Clemson ACC team. Collins seems well on his way to rebuilding the program.

Bryce Young, Alabama Crimson Tide

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    There is a huge asterisk by Bryce Young's name. If Tua Tagovailoa returns for his senior season in Tuscaloosa and is healthy, there's basically zero chance Young or anybody else starts besides one of the best quarterbacks ever to play college football.

    But if Tagovailoa heads to the NFL after suffering a season-ending hip injury, the spot opens up.

    Mac Jones has done a terrific job in relief of Tagovailoa this year, and he will be the odds-on favorite to keep the gig. Taulia Tagovailoa also has a ton of potential, and he'll have a say after Tua leaves.

    But don't count out Young. 

    You may be wondering why Young is on this list but a guy like Georgia's Carson Beck isn't. It's because Young is a next-level athlete whose game is similar to Kyler Murray's. A player like that is difficult to keep on the sideline.

    The 5-star Mater Dei High School star dual-threat quarterback was the top-ranked quarterback in the country and the No. 6 overall player, and he is the kind of playmaker who can shock everybody by stepping in as a first-year player and revolutionizing an offense.

    Nick Saban proved with Jalen Hurts he isn't scared to play a true freshman. Tagovailoa didn't begin his career as the starter, but he came on at key moments later in the year.

    Young would have to do unreal things to unseat Jones and leap ahead of the younger Tagovailoa in this arms race, but he is capable of doing that. He is perhaps the most electrifying offensive weapon in this year's class.


    Recruit rankings via 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.