Early Predictions for CFB's Most Intriguing 2021 Starting Quarterback Battles
If you walk around Hard Rock Stadium, you might find a few scattered pieces of confetti. Alabama is still celebrating the national championship, but college football's short attention span has us thinking about the 2021 season.
And, most specifically, quarterbacks.
According to DraftKings, 19 teams have odds of +5000 or better to win next season's national championship. Using that list as a guide, we've highlighted the teams most likely to hold a QB competition.
One important qualifier is that not every roster that's replacing a starter has much of a position battle. Alabama, Clemson and Florida each have an obvious heir as they lose Mac Jones, Trevor Lawrence and Kyle Trask, respectively, to the NFL.
Others to Know
New Starters but Clear Favorites
- Alabama: Bryce Young
- Clemson: D.J. Uiagalelei
- Florida: Emory Jones
The Wild Card
Miami quarterback D'Eriq King will be recovering from a torn right ACL. Without him, Tyler Van Dyke and Jake Garcia will compete for first-string reps in practice. King is expected back for fall camp, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
The Expected Starters
Georgia: Head coach Kirby Smart may call it a competition, but JT Daniels is the starter. He threw for 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns in four starts this past season. The actual competition is between Stetson Bennett IV, 2020 4-star recruit Carson Beck and incoming 5-star Brock Vandagriff for the backup job.
Indiana: Michael Penix Jr. helped the Hoosiers become a Top 10 team in 2020, collecting 1,645 yards passing and 16 total touchdowns in six starts. Though a torn right ACL ended his season and gave Jack Tuttle a chance, Penix is the starter when healthy.
As the replacement for Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, Myles Brennan had a frustrating 2020.
Although he threw for 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns, LSU dropped two of its first three games. And then, an abdominal injury kept him on the sideline for the rest of the season. Without him, the Tigers leaned on freshmen TJ Finley and Max Johnson.
But even though Johnson performed well down the stretch—he totaled eight scores in wins against Florida and Mississippi—this should still be Brennan's job to lose in 2021. His production and familiarity with the offense that Joe Brady disciples Jake Peetz and DJ Mangas are expected to install give him the edge.
Clearly, there is competition, but expect Brennan to guide the offense when LSU opens the season at UCLA on Sept. 4.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Three-year starter Ian Book is leaving for the NFL, and Notre Dame has several options to consider.
Internally, the Fighting Irish have 2020 4-star recruit Drew Pyne, 2019 3-star Brendon Clark and incoming 4-star Tyler Buchner. Plus, they recently added Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan, who missed 2020 with a foot injury but started 18 games for the Badgers.
While the young players have more exciting potential, Notre Dame most likely brought in Coan to start. He's not a dynamic playmaker but should be a steady presence and low-risk thrower for the Irish behind a rebuilt offensive line.
Coan serving as a stopgap also affords Pyne, Clark and Buchner a traditional year to develop, which 2020 didn't offer.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Considering only Alabama (six) and Clemson (six) have more College Football Playoff appearances than Ohio State, the Buckeyes have the most consequential QB competition in the nation.
And the race to replace Justin Fields is wide-open.
In the 2020 class, Ohio State added 4-star QBs C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller. Both players appeared in at most two games and scored a rushing touchdown each, but neither threw a pass. In other words, the only advantage Stroud and Miller have on incoming 5-star Kyle McCord is a year in Ohio State's system.
Granted, that's not an insignificant edge and probably means this is a Stroud vs. Miller debate. Because of their minimal in-game reps, predicting a winner is mostly a personal opinion. Stroud's development as a senior in high school, respectable mobility and experience make him the early front-runner in this key battle.
Penn State Nittany Lions
During the 2019 season, Sean Clifford accounted for 3,056 yards and 28 touchdowns while leading Penn State to an 11-2 record and Cotton Bowl win. It's understandable the Nittany Lions gave him every opportunity to play through mistakes in 2020.
There were plenty, though. Clifford tossed eight interceptions as Penn State started 0-5. Before Penn State toppled Michigan State and Illinois to end the season, he'd managed just 6.8 yards per attempt.
As a result, the Nittany Lions regularly involved Will Levis. They primarily used him as a runner but expanded his role to include passes in several games, notably against Nebraska and Iowa.
Penn State clearly wants Clifford to be the starter, and that should be the full expectation in 2021.
Nevertheless, it's fair to anticipate Levis will play significant snaps.
As four-year starter Sam Ehlinger heads to the NFL, Texas is entering a fresh era. The school hired Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian as head coach, and he'll have a new quarterback.
In all likelihood, that'll be Casey Thompson.
The dual-threat quarterback helped Texas cruise past Colorado in the Alamo Bowl, completing eight of 10 throws for 170 yards and four touchdowns after replacing an injured Ehlinger (shoulder). Thompson also tossed two scores against UTEP earlier in the year.
He enters the offseason as the favorite ahead of 2020 4-star recruit Hudson Card, who attempted three passes last season.
Texas A&M Aggies
After posting a 9-1 record and finishing just short of the College Football Playoff, Texas A&M has high expectations for 2021. That's largely because the defense will get back the bulk of its contributors, including rising stars DeMarvin Leal and Jaylon Jones.
Now, can they adequately replace quarterback Kellen Mond?
Frustrating though he could be, Mond totaled 2,576 yards of offense and 23 touchdowns to only three interceptions in the fall. That followed back-to-back seasons with at least 28 scores.
On recruiting hype along, King would be the choice. Given that he also served as Mond's backup in 2020, though, he deserves the front-runner label in this competition.
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