Natalie Behring

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  • With spring sessions in full swing, some of the biggest quarterback jobs up for grabs will not be settled until fall practice rolls around.
By Joan Niesen
March 26, 2019

It’s the heart of spring practice season, with some teams just getting started and other teams in offseason mode after wrapping up ahead of the pack. For the quarterback battles set to define the weeks leading up to Labor Day Weekend, there are few answers at this early stage, but there are plenty of talking points. Several top programs’ “open” QB competitions are foregone conclusions—think Ohio State and Justin Fields, Florida and Feleipe Franks, Penn State and Tommy Stevens—but for many more, coaches are only beginning their information-gathering this spring. Here’s a look at some of the biggest jobs that are up for grabs:

Arizona State: Jayden Daniels, Ethan Long, Dillon Sterling-Cole, Joey Yellen

The Sun Devils finished spring practice earlier than anyone, in late February, and their quarterback battle will continue into fall camp. Replacing Manny Wilkins, Arizona State’s starter for the past three years, won’t be a simple decision. All four competitors for the job have arm strength in spades and a ton of talent. Redshirt junior Dillon Sterling-Cole backed up Wilkins in 2016 and last season, and although it seemed likely he’d yield to one of the three touted freshmen who enrolled this spring, he’s still very much in the mix after dropping 25 pounds and turning heads at the spring game. The freshmen (Daniels, Long and Yellen) still very much have their chances to start, too, and Herm Edwards and his staff haven’t said much to indicate which, if any, might have an edge.

Auburn: Joey Gatewood, Bo Nix, Cord Sandberg, Malik Willis

Nix is a five-star incoming freshman who enrolled early this spring, and as the No. 2 overall QB in the class of 2019 according to the 247Sports composite rankings, he provides the most interesting wrinkle in what looks to be a wide-open race at Auburn. He’ll have to prove his dual-threat skills can play up right away, but his competition isn’t exactly loaded with experience: Willis, a junior, got limited reps as Jarrett Stidham’s backup the past two seasons, and Gatewood, a sophomore, has attempted just one pass and racked up three rushes for 28 yards last year. Both Willis and Gatewood have reputations as excellent athletes, but they have to prove this spring what they can do with their arms. The underdog in the race is Sandberg, a 24-year-old former MLB prospect vying for a chance to make a mark in another sport. After a 3–5 record in SEC play last fall, don’t expect Gus Malzahn to let age or experience hold him back from picking the quarterback who gives the team the best chance to win right away.

Boise State: Hank Bachmeier, Kaiden Bennett, Chase Cord, Jaylon Henderson, Riley Smith

The departure of four-year starter Brett Rypien feels like the end of an era. In his time as the Broncos’ quarterback, Rypien racked up 13,578 yards, 90 touchdowns and just 29 interceptions. His backup from a year ago, Cord, is in the mix, but he tore his ACL last fall and won’t be able to state his case for the job until fall camp. For now, then, the spotlight is on a freshman (Bachmeier) and a senior (Henderson). Bachmeier, the No. 6 pro-style QB in the class of 2019 who enrolled early this spring, is emerging as an early favorite for the job, impressing with his arm. Henderson is also getting first-team reps, and although he took over as Rypien’s backup last year after Cord was injured, he has thrown just one pass in his career and is almost as much of a mystery as his freshman competition. Smith, a redshirt freshman, is also in the mix, although he seems like the longest shot of the bunch.

Florida State: James Blackman, Alex Hornibrook

Blackman took advantage of the new redshirt rule last fall after playing in just four games, to the dismay of some Seminoles fans who wanted to see him replace Deondre Francois later in the season. Most presumed he’d overtake Francois for the starting job in 2019 even before Francois was dismissed from the team in February, but Hornibrook, the former Wisconsin starter, threw a bit of a wrench into that plan when he announced in March that he was transferring to Tallahassee. As a graduate student, Hornibrook has immediate eligibility, and he intends to challenge Blackman for starter’s reps. Hornibrook has dealt with accuracy issues in the past, and neither he nor Blackman are threats with their legs. Regardless, adding him to the roster gives the Seminoles some depth they desperately needed after coach Willie Taggart failed to reel in a quarterback for the second consecutive signing class.

Georgia Tech: James Graham, Lucas Johnson, Demetrius Knight, Tobias Oliver, Jordan Yates

Georgia Tech’s offense is undergoing a complete overhaul in the post-Paul Johnson era, and while new coach Geoff Collins won’t swing the Yellow Jackets all the way to a pro-style offense, the flexbone is a thing of the past. So is quarterback TaQuon Marshall, currently auditioning as a receiver for the NFL. To replace him, the team has a pretty open field, although only three of the five vying for the job will compete this spring. (Incoming freshmen Knight and Yates did not enroll early.) Redshirt junior Lucas Johnson looks primed to get first-team reps in spring ball; he missed last season with a foot injury but seems to be on track to participate this spring. Oliver, who was the Yellow Jackets’ backup in 2018, will also get a crack at the job, although the evolution of Georgia Tech’s offense could favor the sophomore Johnson, who is considered to have the best arm of the group.

Miami: Tate Martell, N’Kosi Perry, Jarren Williams

Martell, who left Ohio State when Georgia’s Justin Fields elected to transfer to Columbus, received an NCAA waiver granting him immediate eligibility on March 19, making him the favorite for the Miami job. A season ago, the Hurricanes struggled on offense with Perry and Malik Rosier splitting time under center. Competing with him are Perry, whose inconsistency last year as the backup and off-field stumbles have left him an uphill road back to the field, and Williams, a strong passer who redshirted a year ago and may surprise some people this spring.

Oklahoma State: Dru Brown, Brendan Costello, Spencer Sanders, Shaun Taylor

Oklahoma State will start its third quarterback in as many seasons next fall under new offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson, who was hired away from Princeton when Ohio State hired away Mike Yurcich. Brown, is a graduate transfer senior from Hawaii who sat out last year; Costello is a true freshman; Sanders redshirted a year ago after being Mr. Texas Football in 2017; Taylor was lightly recruited out of high school in Fort Worth before walking on and redshirting last year. The field is relatively open, but barring a surprise the top two spots should come down to Brown and Sanders.

TCU: Michael Collins, Alex Delton, Max Duggan, Justin Rogers

Shawn Robinson decided to transfer to Missouri this winter, leaving the starting job open after a tough 2018 at the position in Fort Worth. Delton, Duggan and Rogers will split reps this spring, with Collins set to return from injury in the summer. For now, the field is wide open. Delton is a graduate transfer from Kansas State, never won a starting job in Manhattan but appeared in 20 games and can be dangerous with his legs. Duggan, another dual-threat guy, redshirted as a freshman last year. Rogers—perhaps the biggest name of the group—was the No. 3 dual-threat QB in the class of 2018, but he’s battled through a series of injuries and hasn’t played a full season since his junior year of high school.

UCF: Darriel Mack, Brandon Wimbush

UCF is waiting to see whether McKenzie Milton, the quarterback who led it on its 25-game winning streak, can return for his senior season in 2020 after he suffered a gruesome knee injury in the final game of the regular season. In the meantime, it needs to determine who will start this fall: Mack, who filled in admirably for Milton in the AAC title game and the Fiesta Bowl, or Wimbush, the graduate transfer from Notre Dame. Both have the skill set to thrive in coach Josh Heupel’s offense, though it remains to be seen how well Wimbush will acclimate.

Virginia Tech: Hendon Hooker, Knox Kadum, Quincy Patterson, Ryan Willis

After former starter Josh Jackson transferred to Maryland, the Virginia Tech quarterback job became completely up for grabs. Hooker also flirted with the transfer portal but ultimately decided to try his luck against Patterson and Willis. Hooker ripped off a 69-yard touchdown run against William & Mary in 2018 but didn’t complete a pass all year. Patterson entered for a few series as a true freshman but was able to preserve his redshirt. Willis, a transfer from Kansas, started 10 games last year, going 4–6 but doing just enough to extend the program’s FBS-leading bowl streak. Kadum won’t be on campus until the summer, and he’s not expected to factor into the 2019 competition.

West Virginia: Jack Allison, Trey Lowe, Austin Kendall

Under new coach Neal Brown, West Virginia must replace Will Grier, the Florida transfer who starred in 2017 and ’18. Allison, Grier’s backup, started for the Mountaineers in their loss to Syracuse at the Camping World Bowl. A rising junior, he completed 17 of 35 pass attempts in that game for 277 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Lowe, a redshirt freshman, played in one game last year and rushed for nine yards. Kendall, who played behind Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray at Oklahoma, is a graduate transfer with two years of eligibility remaining. It sounds like no player yet has an edge, and Brown is in no rush to determine a starter this spring.

Wisconsin: Nate Carter, Jack Coan, Graham Mertz, Danny Vanden Boom, Chase Wolf

After Hornibrook’s departure to Florida State, Wisconsin will have a new Week 1 starter for the first time since 2016. The two most intriguing contenders to watch are Coan and Mertz. In 2018, Coan started four games for the Badgers, completing 60% of his passes for five touchdowns and three interceptions. Wisconsin went 3–2 in games in which he appeared, including a Pinstripe Bowl blowout of Miami. Mertz, meanwhile, was wrapping up a high school career in which he was named 2018’s Gatorade football player of the year in the state of Kansas. As a senior, he passed for 3,886 yards and 51 touchdowns. Imagining an arm like his in Wisconsin’s offense is as confusing as it is exciting.

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