Early Predictions for CFB's Most Intriguing 2022 Starting Quarterback Battles

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2022

Early Predictions for CFB's Most Intriguing 2022 Starting Quarterback Battles

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    Last night ended this year's college football season, but it's never too early to look ahead. Unless you're an Alabama or Georgia fan, you've already turned the page to the 2022 season.

    For many of you, that includes wondering who's going to call the shots under center.

    Like always, quarterback battles abound across the college football landscape, including high-profile ones that are still shaking out.

    For instance, Georgia's quarterback situation is up in the air and one worth watching, but there's just too much uncertainty swirling around Athens to make any predictions on next year. Will Stetson Bennett return for a sixth year? Will JT Daniels still be in the mix? If the Dawgs are ready to go a different direction, Gunner Stockton and Brock Vandagriff are talented, young options.

    Depending on where Caleb Williams ends up (in the SEC or at USC), there could be another battle squelched before it even starts.

    Several schools with blossoming battles already have the candidates on campus. Here are the ones worth watching with predicted victors.

Auburn Tigers

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    Once Bo Nix was injured and lost for the season, Auburn tumbled further into the abyss of offensive struggles with T.J. Finley at the helm.

    Now, favorite son Nix is off to Oregon to finish his career with new coach Dan Lanning's Ducks, and Bryan Harsin is forced to figure out what the next era of Tigers football is going to look like.

    While Finley already has put some of his resume on film, it's not exactly unimpeachable. He's big and talented and flashes at times, but his inconsistency is tough to overcome. Getting a commitment from 4-star Savannah, Georgia, signal-caller Holden Geriner was a big deal, and he is going to be in the mix to earn that job.

    But what better get for AU fans is there than a guy who already beat Alabama as a freshman? Former Texas A&M player Zach Calzada is heading to the Loveliest Village on the Plains to hopefully play the remainder of his career, and while he had an up-and-down season in 2021, there's plenty to like about his game.

    He lost the Aggies' starting job to Haynes King to start the season, but spent much of the year as the starter after King suffered an injury. He finished with 2,185 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

    This one is hard to predict, but Calzada looks like a guy who can develop into a dependable SEC quarterback.


    Prediction: Calzada

California Bears

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    With Chase Garbers off to the NFL, coach Justin Wilcox is looking for the next leader of the California Bears.

    It's been a difficult couple of seasons battling COVID-19 restrictions and dealing with uneven play across the board, but with a strong defense and some solid offensive pieces in place, the Bears could be on the cusp of building back to respectability.

    They definitely need to find a signal-caller, though.

    The future at the position is already expected to be on campus in either Kai Millner or Zach Johnson. But are they ready?

    If not, Wilcox found his bridge guy in Purdue transfer Jack Plummer. The former Boilermaker completed 68.5 percent of his passes last year for coach Jeff Brohm, with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. But with the team needing a spark, Brohm inserted Aidan O'Connell, and he never relinquished the job.

    Now, Plummer has returned closer to his Arizona home to play his final two years and try to build on his 26 career touchdown passes. 

    It's exciting to think about the prospects of one of those youngsters winning the job, but Plummer is steady with spurts of spectacular. He's probably going to be the guy.


    Prediction: Plummer

Cincinnati Bearcats

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    Perhaps no college football team in the country has to fill a more irreplaceable void at quarterback than Cincinnati.

    The Bearcats were the best story of this season, becoming the first Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoff behind the leadership of quarterback Desmond Ridder, who is now off to the NFL. Though they couldn't beat Alabama, they still proved they belong.

    Now, coach Luke Fickell has the unenviable task of replacing Ridder. That's not an easy task for a Group of Five program.

    They may turn to a familiar face.

    Former Bearcat Ben Bryant left the school to transfer to Eastern Michigan, where he was a starter for a 7-6 team in '21, throwing for 3,121 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Now, the graduate transfer is heading back to the Queen City for his final year.

    He'll battle third-year quarterback Evan Prater and talented incoming freshman Luther Richesson for the job. While Richesson has an exciting future, Bryant makes the most sense for a team hoping to compete for another AAC title. Look for Richesson to get a long look in mop-up duty as Fickell looks to the future, though.

    If Cincy doesn't get another transfer, Bryant should be considered the favorite.


    Prediction: Bryant

Clemson Tigers

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    It may be a stretch to say there's going to be a quarterback battle at Clemson in 2022 with returning starter D.J. Uiagalelei entrenched at the position.

    But this year was hardly a resounding recommendation for him to be a guaranteed starter for a team looking to compete for championships.

    In his first year following the Trevor Lawrence era, the 6'4", 250-pound California sophomore threw for 2,246 yards, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 66 percent of his passes. The Tigers went 10-3 but did not play in the ACC championship game.

    Still, coach Dabo Swinney told On3 Sports' Ashton Pollard that Uiagalelei will do an "amazing job" next year and "he'll by far be the best version of himself," so it sounds like the veteran coach is excited about the future.

    With 5-star Cade Klubnik coming in, Uiagalelei is going to be pushed. The All-American Bowl Player of the Year from Westlake High School in Texas had a huge year and capped it with an impressive showing in the all-star game. If Uiagalelei doesn't take a big step forward, Klubnik will steal the job.

    It would be a shocker for Swinney to award the job to Klubnik considering Uiagalelei's physical talent and ability to take the team to another level, but Uiagalelei's got to prove it. Look for him to keep the job at the start of the year, but the leash is going to be much shorter.


    Prediction: Uiagalelei

Florida Gators

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    One of the most intriguing quarterback battles in the country will set the tone for the Billy Napier era in Gainesville.

    When Ohio State transfer Jack Miller decided to head to the Swamp to complete his career, he joined a coach in Napier who recruited him early in his Arizona high school career when Napier was the offensive coordinator at Arizona State.

    So, the two have a familiarity, and it's obvious Napier likes his game enough to believe he was just buried behind superior talent in Columbus.

    But Anthony Richardson is already on campus for the Gators, and there is plenty to love about the dual-threat playmaker's upside. He was jerked around between the sideline and the field last year with Dan Mullen at the helm, and while he flashed at times, there was some inconsistency, too.

    These two players will be the top two contenders for the job, and they bring a totally different skill sets to the table. While Richardson looks more like the type of player Napier had at Louisiana-Lafayette in long-time starter Levi Lewis, the question remains if he can take care of the ball effectively.

    Miller has some athleticism, too, but he is much more of a drop-back passer. It's really just a matter of which direction Napier wants to go and who he tabs to be the team's offensive coordinator. Still, Richardson's talent is too much to dismiss.


    Prediction: Richardson

LSU Tigers

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    The Texas Bowl was all the evidence anybody needs to see this is going to be a complete rebuild for new coach Brian Kelly in Baton Rouge.

    While LSU has a lot of speed and talent, the Bayou Bengals simply don't have a team. And half of one even suited up in the 42-20 loss to Kansas State.

    Now, Kelly will focus his attention on trying to build the program back to the type of team that can win a national championship as it did in 2019. They've got a long way to go, but it starts with a very exciting quarterback battle.

    You can't forget about Garrett Nussmeier, who is the son of Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier, but it feels like this job is going to come down to returning senior Myles Brennan or 5-star quarterback signee Walker Howard.

    It's actually setting up to be an ideal scenario for Kelly, similar to the one he had in South Bend in 2021 when Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan was the primary starter, but he was able to bring along youngster Tyler Buchner with some extended spot play.

    Of course, the Irish's schedule was a lot easier than the one the Tigers are going to face in the SEC West. But whether it's Howard or Nussmeier who gets the situational looks, if Brennan can stay healthy (which he hasn't the past two years) he has an NFL ceiling and can help ease the team into the Kelly era.


    Prediction: Brennan (with glimpses of the youngsters)

Michigan Wolverines

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    There are few hotter names out there for NFL jobs than Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, who is being mentioned as a top candidate for several teams.

    When you factor in the job he did leading his alma mater to the College Football Playoff this year, the fact he restructured his contract to take less money last offseason after a disappointing stretch and that he formerly had pro success as coach of San Francisco, Harbaugh has plenty of allure.

    If he sticks around Ann Arbor, he's going to have an important decision to make at quarterback between the two guys he shuffled this year.

    While Cade McNamara had a quality year as a game manager, he isn't the type of explosive talent who is going to jump off the film when you watch him. He did more than keep the seat warm for J.J. McCarthy to learn and grow, but now, you have to think the Wolverines have to give McCarthy a long, hard look to start.

    McCarthy's ability to run and his cannon arm can leave you "oohing" and "ahhing." There's a reason he was a former 5-star prospect, and his upside is such that he can be a superstar at Michigan who helps them keep competing for championships.

    Look for him to be too good to keep out of the starting lineup for coordinator Josh Gattis' offense in '22.

    Prediction: McCarthy

North Carolina Tar Heels

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    The immediate future of North Carolina's football team should be very much a focal point of the ACC conversation.

    A team expected to be in the mix for a conference title faltered a season ago, finishing 6-7 and 3-5 in a conference that wasn't known to be very deep or strong. Now, coach Mack Brown will have to replace three-year starting quarterback Sam Howell, who is off to the NFL.

    The Tar Heels are going to have plenty of talent, securing yet another top-10 class in the 2022 rankings. Brown is consistently proving he can convince kids to come to Chapel Hill, but what about taking the Heels to the next level?

    That's going to be the job of either Jacolby Criswell or Drake Maye.

    Criswell is a more of a dual-threat player, while the 6'5" Maye is a drop-back, big-armed passer whose dad Mark played at UNC, and his brother Luke was a standout hoopster for the Heels while another brother, Cole, won a national baseball title at Florida.

    After Howell was hurt, Criswell and Maye split reps in a 34-14 win over Wofford this season. "We've got a perfect setup for a quarterback controversy going forward," Brown joked afterward, according to the Fayetteville Observer's Chapel Fowler.

    This one is a toss-up right now, and it's going to be interesting to see how it shakes out this spring. Criswell has been in the program longer, but Maye's skill set is intriguing.


    Prediction: Maye

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Everybody is billing Notre Dame's starting quarterback job as another battle since fifth-year senior Jack Coan is out of eligibility, but it would be a surprise if anybody other than the favorite won the job.

    That would be rising sophomore Tyler Buchner, who played a lot already in '21 and flashed at times while being used as a "niche" player situationally.

    Coan was the man for the Irish this past year, but Buchner also played a lot.

    The first-year California native wound up with 634 total yards (336 rushing, 298 passing) and six touchdowns, and he looked terrific running the ball. The biggest questions for him are can he throw enough to be the full-time guy, and will he take a big leap mentally?

    The guess here is yes.

    With Tommy Rees still running the offense, he has a lot of familiarity with the guys on campus, and Buchner received more playing time this past year than the other major contender for the '22 job, Drew Pyne. The latter doesn't possess an elite skill set, but he's a great leader who has a quick release and understands the offense.

    Steve Angeli is coming in, too, and while he has a lot of talent, he's extremely raw and probably won't factor into the job. This feels like a situation where Buchner develops this offseason and wins in a landslide with Pyne emerging as a backup who plays a good bit, too.


    Prediction: Buchner

Oregon Ducks

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    On paper, it seems like a near-lock that Auburn transfer Bo Nix is going to be the starting quarterback in Eugene next fall. 

    While he had an up-and-down career at his dad's alma mater, Nix is a gamer and a leader who extends plays, makes things happen with his arm and feet and often sacrifices his body for the betterment of his team. He's very easy to like.

    Throw in he's reuniting with former offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham, and you've got to believe new coach Dan Lanning would be wise to start his era with the Ducks with a proven leader making plays at quarterback, especially considering Nix can play two more seasons.

    But don't forget about the two elite youngsters former coach Mario Cristobal recruited to Eugene, either. Ty Thompson from the '21 class and Jay Butterfield from the '20 class have exceptional ability and could be terrific players once they develop.

    Thompson, especially, looks like a future star. As of now, he's going to hang in Oregon at least for the spring and battle Nix for the starting job. There's an outside chance he wins it, and while it shouldn't be the only factor in the decision, Lanning should at least consider the program's future if it's close.

    The best-case scenario for Ducks fans is Nix wins the job, and Lanning convinces Thompson he can learn and develop another year before taking the starting job the following season. But patience isn't something you see a lot of anymore with the portal in play.


    Prediction: Nix

Penn State Nittany Lions

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Sean Clifford is returning for another season at Penn State, and even though getting a steady senior back is big news for the floor of the quarterback position, it's time coach James Franklin started looking at the ceiling.

    Incoming 5-star freshman Drew Allar represents the sky-high possibilities for the Nittany Lions.

    The big-armed, 6'4.5", 232-pound native of Medina, Ohio, has all the talent you want on the next level, and he's arguably the best quarterback prospect in the entire 2022 class. At the least, he's got a higher ceiling than most, and he can be special if he develops the way he should under offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.

    Christian Veilleux is another intriguing, young prospect for the Nittany Lions who got some run this year when Clifford was on the sideline and already has time in the system, so you can't count him out.

    But the past two seasons have been two extremely disappointing for Penn State. With so much high-caliber talent coming in the '22 class on an already young team, why would Franklin turn to a guy who is going to be gone in 2023 and who hasn't proven he can operate an offense at a high level?

    So, on the surface, Clifford looks like the obvious choice because he's a steady veteran. But if Franklin isn't on the hot seat, he should let Allar come in, learn the system and have Yurcich tailor the offense to fit the things Allar can do. He's the ideal player to run the scheme.

    The future starts now in Happy Valley. If Allar is anywhere close to Clifford and Veilleux, give him the reins.


    Prediction: Allar

TCU Horned Frogs

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    Few are talking about the pending quarterback battle in Fort Worth, but with new head coach Sonny Dykes calling the shots, things could get interesting under center for the Horned Frogs.

    Max Duggan is still a Frog, and he's had a stellar career calling the shots at the position. A season ago, he threw for 2,048 yards, 16 touchdowns and just six interceptions while running for 352 more yards.

    But does he fling the ball around well enough to win the gig again?

    Dykes told Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Drew Davison the battle was wide-open, and he's looking for accuracy and a strong decision-maker.

    Oklahoma transfer Chandler Morris is the other possibility to unseat Duggan, and he's definitely an interesting option to watch. Though he's only 5'11", Morris is known as being an accurate passer, and he played at Highland Park High School in Dallas, so you know Dykes is very familiar with him.

    The coach was formerly at SMU and heavily recruited locally. Interestingly enough, Morris is the son of Chad Morris, who preceded Dykes as the Mustangs' head coach.

    Morris probably fits what Dykes wants to do a little more, but Duggan is a veteran who has made a lot of plays for the Frogs. If he can throw the ball well enough, he will hold off Morris in this race and keep his job. Duggan's shortcomings are throwing the deep ball and pocket presence, and the former isn't really a tenant of Dykes' offense. So, advantage Duggan.


    Prediction: Duggan

Texas Longhorns

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    Everybody knows how the 2022 Texas Longhorns quarterback race is trending.

    This year's primary starter, Casey Thompson, transferred to Nebraska when it was announced Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers was coming back to the Lone Star State, because the writing is on the wall. 

    One source close to Thompson told the Austin American-Statesman the quarterback felt there was "too much politics" involved in the quarterback race, according to USA Today's Brian Davis. But Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian would be wise to play the top option regardless of talent, particularly given the quick trigger on coaches there.

    Texas has Hudson Card still on campus, too. He originally won the job this past year until he was replaced by Thompson. Also, 4-star California signal-caller Maalik Murphy replaced Ewers in UT's class after Ewers decommitted from the '22 class, reclassified and enrolled at Ohio State.

    Ewers was formerly the No. 1-ranked player in this year's class, and when he reclassified, he was re-ranked as the top player in the '21 class, too. The 6'3", 206-pound former Southlake High School signal-caller couldn't beat out C.J. Stroud in Columbus and decided to come closer to home.

    That's huge news for a Longhorns program needing positivity after a forgettable season. With Ewers having four seasons of eligibility remaining, he's the perfect building block around which all these exciting, young players can grow.

    It would be a shocker if anybody but Ewers got the first snap.


    Prediction: Ewers

Texas A&M Aggies

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    Jimbo Fisher's 2022 recruiting class is the kind of haul that can turn a program around, so there's a lot of excitement around College Station—even if the Aggies had as many frustrating moments as great ones in 2021.

    Yes, they beat Alabama at Kyle Field, but they also finished 8-4 and .500 in the SEC in their first season trying to replace Kellen Mond at quarterback. 

    For much of the year, Zach Calzada led the way after Haynes King's injury, and now Calzada is off to Auburn while King is back and ready to battle for the job. He's going to find a couple of guys with diverse skill sets waiting for him in the race, which makes this one of the most unpredictable decisions for any team.

    LSU transfer Max Johnson followed his brother, Jake, to College Station. He threw for 2,815 yards, 27 touchdowns and six interceptions in a strong sophomore season for a bad Tigers team.

    Then there's 5-star Conner Weigman coming in as part of the '22 class, and Fisher thinks he's the best quarterback in the country, according to 247Sports. The 6'2", 208-pound quarterback is hearing the type of praise Fisher doesn't dish out too often.

    But King already won this job once. He's got a big arm, and he also has the type of mobility Fisher loves in his quarterback. While Weigman also has some athleticism, he isn't as quick as King. Johnson is only a drop-back passer, even though he has the best numbers and the most SEC experience.

    This one's a toss-up. It would be a surprise to see a true freshman beat out two veterans with so much potential, and while Johnson should get plenty of playing time, a young team may need King's mobility to move the pocket and extend plays.


    Prediction: King

Washington Huskies

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    One of the most underrated hires of a crazy coaching-carousel season happened when Washington replaced Jimmy Lake with Fresno State coach Kalen DeBoer.

    DeBoer's offensive acumen is strong, and it didn't take him long to turn around the Bulldogs with former Huskies signal-caller Jake Haener calling plays. Now, DeBoer is in Seattle, where the offense has been a major problem the past couple of years.

    Dylan Morris is a two-year starter and the incumbent at the position, though he hasn't done anything on the field that is going to scare anybody away. Then, there is former 5-star Sam Huard, whose father Damon and uncle Brock were stars at U-Dub back in the day. Huard has the skill set to be a star.

    Entering into that mix is Michael Penix Jr., who enjoyed some brilliant moments as Indiana's quarterback the past two years but suffered season-ending injuries both years. Penix has been great at times, throwing for 3,039 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions combined in 2019 and '20.

    This past year, he struggled mightily before another injury ended his season.

    Morris' days as the starter appear to be numbered. The likely starter is either going to be Penix with his ability to scramble around, move the pocket and make plays, or Huard, a pure passer DeBoer can mold into a future star. Both are probably going to get plenty of run, ultimately.

    But DeBoer will ride the veteran first.


    Prediction: Penix (with Huard sprinkled in)


    All stats courtesy of CFBStats and Sports ReferencePlayer and recruiting class rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

    Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.