2015 college football QB battles: An early look at expected new starters following spring practice.
College football lost a good chunk of quarterback star power this off-season. The last two Heisman Trophy winners—Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston—left Oregon and Florida State, respectively, and those players are vying to become the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. But they weren’t the only notable signal-callers to depart campus. UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Alabama’s Blake Sims and Baylor’s Bryce Petty, among others, likewise left their schools searching for new starters.
Many quarterback races won’t be decided until August, but a few have already been settled. Which newly anointed passers might emerge as stars? Here is a rundown of eight expected new starters, listed alphabetically, to watch in 2015.
C.J. Beathard, Iowa
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz tabbed Beathard as the starter after a TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Tennessee, a move that opened the door for Jake Rudock’s transfer to Michigan. Beathard played in nine games in 2014, but started only one (a 24-10 win over Purdue on Sept. 27), and completed 52 of 92 attempts for 645 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. Now he has full control of an offense that might look different in ’15. That’s because Hawkeyes' coaches want to utilize the redshirt junior’s dual-threat ability. "We'll incorporate a little bit using his legs because he has the ability to run,” coordinator Greg Davis said last week.
Kurt Benkert, East Carolina
The Pirates entered the off-season without Shane Carden, the program’s all-time leading passer. He leaves big shoes to fill, but coach Ruffin McNeil hopes redshirt sophomore Benkert can slide in comfortably. The quarterback played in just three games last fall, completing 8 of 10 passes for 58 yards with one interception. But he has done well this spring and is more of a dual-threat than his predecessor. Benkert is also turning heads in the weight room. “I think Kurt threw up 370 on bench press and 340 on power clean. He’s breaking all the records,” receiver Isaiah Jones told The East Carolinian. The Pirates hope to have another star.
Mike Bercovici, Arizona State
Bercovici played in eight games last fall, and started three, in place of the injured Taylor Kelly. He threw for 1,445 yards with 12 touchdowns and flashed immense potential in his first start against UCLA: He set school records for completions and attempts by going 42 of 68 for 488 yards with three scores and two interceptions. Now Bercovici takes over a team that returns 16 total starters, and he isn’t afraid of some lofty expectations. Along with teammates D.J. Foster and Jordan Simone, Bercovici released a statement in February proclaiming that “no one will ever compete harder for this community than the 2015 Sun Devils.”
Jeremy Johnson, Auburn
Gus Malzahn wasted no time anointing his new starter at the end of Auburn’s spring practice. That’s because Johnson is as close to a proven commodity as a team usually gets in a backup. He played in seven games in 2014, including starting the opener against Arkansas while Nick Marshall served a first-half suspension and going 12 of 16 for 243 yards with two touchdowns. Johnson looked equally sharp over the past few weeks and completed 14 of 22 attempts for 252 yards with two scores in the program's spring game. The Tigers return only four starters on offense, so Johnson’s emergence and production will be key.
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Rudolph entered the 2014 season planning to redshirt, but ended it as Oklahoma State’s starter. Mike Gundy thrust Rudolph into the lineup against Baylor on Nov. 22, and the freshman responded, completing 13 of 21 passes for 281 yards—the most ever by a Cowboys’ player in his debut. Rudolph then led an overtime win against rival Oklahoma and a Cactus Bowl victory over Washington. The 6’4” passer gives an offense that returns seven other starters some stability.
Seth Russell, Baylor
Russell isn’t the Bears’ official pick to succeed Petty, but Art Briles has made it clear who his No. 1 guy is. "Somebody is going to have to beat out Seth Russell for the QB job,” Baylor’s coach said in February. Russell passed for 804 yards with eight touchdowns while spelling Petty in 2014, giving him a leg-up on sophomore Chris Johnson and incoming freshman Jarrett Stidham this spring. Russell has a strong arm and good speed—he has reportedly been clocked at 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. If Briles has confidence in his new starter, the Bears might not miss a beat; they return 17 total starters, including eight on offense.
Thomas Sirk, Duke
The Blue Devils’ new quarterback may be known more for his feet than his arm: Sirk led Duke with eight rushing touchdowns last year while backing up Anthony Boone. Meanwhile, Sirk attempted only 14 passes for 67 yards with three scores, but coach David Cutcliffe has praised Sirk’s ability. “He’s got great arm strength,” Cutcliffe told reporters last week. The question is, how will Sirk fare in an offense that returns just six starters? Cutcliffe has also noted that fellow passers Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre could play in certain situations.
Darius Wade, Boston College
Wade might only be a sophomore, but he enrolled early last spring and split reps with eventual starter Tyler Murphy. That experience has paid off. Steve Addazio tabbed Wade as the Eagles’ starter last week, though he acknowledged the door isn’t shut for sophomore Troy Flutie—Doug’s nephew—and incoming freshman Elijah Robinson. Still, Wade seems to be the immediate future for Boston College. “As spring wore on, he really started to make great plays and manage the offense properly,” Addazio told reporters last week, “so we're excited about Darius.”