Fall camp means many things in college football, but quarterback battles often take center stage. Some coaches prefer to tab new starters during spring practice. Others wait until days before kickoff. Either way, a number of new quarterbacks across the country will undoubtedly steal the spotlight thisyear.
During spring practice we offered our first list of new starting quarterbacks, including Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson, Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici and Baylor’s Seth Russell. Since then, a number of fresh faces have emerged. Here are eight names to watch as kickoff inches closer.
Montell Cozart, Kansas
New Kansas coach David Beaty thought he’d have a returning senior at quarterback in his first season in Lawrence, but Michael Cummings suffered a knee injury during spring practice. The job was then claimed by Cozart, a dual threat who started the first half of last year under former coach Charlie Weis but never found a rhythm with the offense. Cozart could be the talent Beaty and offensive coordinator Rob Likens need to implement their version of the Air Raid, but the junior will have to be more consistent. He completed just 50% of his throws with five touchdowns and seven picks last season. Expect a learning curve for the Jayhawks’ new leader in an offense that returns just two starters.
Ryan Finley, Boise State
Finley takes the reins of a Group of Five squad hoping to again contend for a New Year’s Six bowl. The redshirt sophomore backed up the departed Grant Hedrick last season and saw brief action in five games, completing 12 of 27 passes for 161 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Finley also looked sharp this spring and threw for 196 yards in the Broncos’ spring game. If he can efficiently operate an offense that returns eight other starters, Boise State—which also brings back eight starters on defense—should be the favorites in the Mountain West.
Skyler Howard, West Virginia
Dana Holgorsen not only lost quarterback Clint Trickett during the off-season, but also stellar receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford. Howard, West Virginia’s next starting quarterback, will have to hope other playmakers step up. The former junior college transfer stepped in for Trickett late last season to throw for 829 yards and eight touchdowns in the final three games. Howard was especially effective in the Liberty Bowl against Texas A&M, passing for 346 yards and three scores. A healthy Rushel Shell at running back could ease Howard’s transition, but the new passer still has to lead West Virginia on road trips to Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma.
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
It wasn’t long ago that Trevor Knight was viewed as Oklahoma’s future at quarterback. But Knight fell short of expectations in 2014, tossing 14 touchdowns against 12 picks, and the Sooners tabbed Mayfield as their new starter this week. Coach Bob Stoops hopes Mayfield will be a better fit in new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s Air Raid attack; Mayfield threw for 2,315 yards as a walk-on freshman in a similar offense at Texas Tech in 2013. Now he'll be tasked with sparking improvement from last year's 8–5 campaign to get Oklahoma back in contention for a Big 12 title.
Connor Mitch, South Carolina
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier spent much of the off-season lamenting his uncertain quarterback situation. But this week the Head Ball Coach finally named redshirt sophomore Mitch the Gamecocks’ new starting signal-caller. Mitch isn’t a seasoned veteran, having thrown only six passes in college. But he will have All-SEC receiver Pharoh Cooper at his disposal, as well as senior tailback Brandon Wilds. The real question is whether South Carolina's defense can give Mitch any help. Without it, Spurrier’s squad might not bounce back from a disappointing seven-win season.
Josh Rosen, UCLA
It seems there was method behind UCLA coach Jim Mora’s madness last week when he lit into Rosen, a true freshman, in front of reporters. This week Mora finally anointed Rosen as the Bruins’ new starter. The top quarterback and No. 2 overall recruit in the class of 2015, according to Rivals.com, Rosen passed for 8,473 yards and 90 touchdowns during his time at St. John Bosco (Calif.) High. That explains the hype surrounding UCLA’s newcomer, who takes over a squad returning running back Paul Perkins and 16 other starters. Now Rosen must lead the Bruins on road games against Stanford, Utah and Pac-12 South favorite USC.
Nick Stevens, Colorado State
When Colorado State coach Mike Bobo picked Stevens as his new starting quarterback earlier this month, the first-year coach said Stevens gives the Rams exactly what they need. "The main thing was consistency," Bobo said, according to The Denver Post. "You need a guy that's going to be consistent every play and get us in the right play.” Stevens inherits the unenviable task of replacing record-setting quarterback Garrett Grayson, but he saw some action as Grayson’s backup last season, completing 15 of 25 passes for 136 yards and one touchdown in five appearances. The good news is the Rams’ new starter will have one of the best receivers in the country at his disposal in Rashard Higgins. Plus, Bobo, a former offensive coordinator at Georgia, has produced several stellar passers in his career.
Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
Most Notre Dame fans are probably excited for what their new quarterback has in store. Zaire shined in the Irish’s 31–28 win over LSU in the Music City Bowl, earning bowl MVP with 192 yards of offense and two touchdowns. Former starter Everett Golson endured a turnover-prone campaign in 2014 and opted to transfer to Florida State in May, leaving Zaire as the primary weapon under center. Now Zaire takes over a team returning 16 starters, including wideout William Fuller and running back Tarean Folston. Stability at quarterback will be key as the Irish try to navigate a brutal schedule.