It’s August, which the start of the season is almost here. To refresh everybody who might still be thinking about the Women’s World Cup, baseball or NFL training camp, this college football season begins earlier than usual, with the first game between Miami and Florida kicking off Aug. 24 in Orlando. It’s a week before the originally scheduled date, and the Week 0 change was made to accommodate ESPN’s scheduling as part of the network’s season-long celebration of 150 years of college football.
Before we get there though, there’s fall camp, which starts this week for most programs across the country. With those first practices come deeper looks into key position battles, how new coaches are implementing schemes, the way transfers are adapting to their new teams, and of course, lots of play-by-play practice tweets.
Not everything will be resolved this month. But as competition heats up and depth charts are released, we’ll get answers to some pertinent questions (many of which pertain to so many different quarterbacks) over the next few weeks leading into Week 1.
Here are some of the things we’ll be keeping an eye on as practices begin:
Who will win Miami’s QB battle?
Manny Diaz’s first season as Miami’s head coach hinges on picking the right starting quarterback. Competition has already started among N’Kosi Perry, Jarren Williams and Ohio State transfer Tate Martell. Earlier this week, Perry and Martell went one-on-one in the Oklahoma drill—which is either one creative way to earn your spot or to totally injure your new starter before he’s even won the job. And according to South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde, Martell put Perry on the ground.
Martell is the favorite to win this battle after receiving an NCAA waiver granting him immediate eligibility. He left the Buckeyes once Georgia’s Justin Fields transferred there. But fall camp has only just begun and Martell hasn’t won anything yet—except for some early swag points. Perry, a redshirt sophomore who struggled last season, is his top competition and Williams refuses to be overlooked.
Regardless of what happens here, all three players are in good hands with new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, whom Diaz lured away from Alabama. As Nick Saban’s quarterbacks coach/whisperer last season, Enos tutored Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa and Oklahoma transfer Jalen Hurts. Enos is a proven QB guru and regardless of which player becomes Miami’s starter, everybody will benefit from his coaching.
What about the other QB competitions trudging on around the country?
There are several Power 5 programs that enter camp with some QB uncertainty. We’re not including the likes of Fields and Ohio State or Jalen Hurts at Oklahoma in this category because although they also have to win their jobs, they’re more of a lock than guys at other places. Hopefully, these schools will have more clarity by the end of camp.
At Auburn, Gus Malzahn has two freshmen vying for the job heading into camp. Joey Gatewood is a 6’5”, 237-pounder that has a little experience in the Tigers’ offense having thrown one pass and carrying the ball three times for 28 yards last season. Meanwhile, newbie Bo Nix, the son of former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix, was the No. 1 dual-threat prospect in the 2019 class and has been on campus since the spring. Neither appears to have a significant edge right now, but someone needs to pull ahead fast with the Tigers facing Oregon in Week 1.
After taking advantage of the redshirt rule last season and playing just four games, James Blackman seems to be the clear leader to take over at Florida State. But he’s competing with Louisville transfer Jordan Travis and Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook during camp, so the job isn’t his yet.
Things at Wisconsin got complicated when Hornibrook left for FSU in the spring, and now the Badgers will have a new season-opening starter for the first time since 2016. The QBs in play here this August are 6’3” 205-pound true freshman Graham Mertz and Jack Coan, who played in a handful of games last season, including the Pinstripe Bowl rout of Miami. Though there’s a whole camp of competition to go through, Mertz appears to have the edge right now.
On another QB note, there are transfers everywhere. How are they adjusting to new teams?
More than a dozen quarterbacks went through the transfer portal this offseason and will be wearing new uniforms this fall. Guys like Martell (Miami), Hurts (Oklahoma) and Fields (Ohio State) had the summer to get acclimated with their new teammates, strength coaches and playbooks. But now comes one of the more challenging parts of joining a new program: having patience as you go through inevitable growing pains while learning the offense and taking reps during camp.
Not to mention, these guys—and others, like Jacob Eason (Washington), Brandon Wimbush (UCF), Austin Kendall (West Virginia), etc.—haven’t secured the starting jobs at their new schools yet. As Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said at Big 12 media days last month, it would send the wrong message to the entire team if a coach automatically declared a new guy the starter without going through some kind of competition.
“That wouldn’t be good for the [quarterback] room and certainly not good for the rest of the team with other position battles going on,” Riley said. “In a team game, competition is the most important thing there is. I don’t care if Joe Namath walks into our room right now, he’s gotta win the job.”
How is Ohio State adjusting with a new QB and a new coach?
First-year Ohio State coach Ryan Day’s immediate success hinges on new quarterback Fields. Day hasn’t officially named the Georgia transfer his starter yet—semantics, really—but it’s inevitable that he will succeed Dwayne Haskins. By going out and getting Fields, Day risked depleting his QB depth and that’s exactly what happened, with both Martell and Matthew Baldwin promptly transferring for better opportunities.
Day filled in for Urban Meyer for three games last season, but 2019 is the real deal. He’s the Buckeyes' new man and knows what’s at stake. He clearly believes that Fields, the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2018 class with three years of eligibility remaining, has the right talent, skill and leadership necessary to lead this program into a new era. After all, as offensive coordinator Day guided Haskins to the most productive season by a quarterback in Big Ten history when he passed for 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns last year.
So now that fall camp is here, we’ll get a small glimpse into Day and Fields’s relationship and set (or temper) expectations for the new-look Buckeyes this fall.
What does Clemson’s defensive line look like?
It’s never easy replacing starters, much less five of them all from the same position group. And with Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Bryant and Albert Huggins all in the NFL now, that’s what’s on tap for Clemson. The Tigers undoubtedly had the most ferocious defensive line last season. The group allowed a nation-best 2.51 yards per carry and only eight rushing touchdowns, and a second-best 4.19 yards per play. In its national title victory, the group held Alabama to 14 total points, the least amount of points the Tide had scored dating back to the 2017 Iron Bowl.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has a whole month to reload and get some less experienced players acclimated into his system. And there should be no doubt he’ll do it. So now is a good time to get wise and become familiar with names like Xavier Thomas, Nyles Pinckney, Tyler Davis, Justin Foster, K.J. Henry and Logan Rudolph as they compete for playing time in the rotation during camp.