- The level of quarterback movement nationwide makes it hard for anyone to have reliable backups, but these teams at least have something.
At the most important position in football, the teams with a quarterback they can trust have the best chance of sustained success, and the teams who don’t have that tend to end up on the losing sidelines or sitting at home for the biggest games of the postseason.
As a result, programs never stop recruiting quarterbacks, bringing blue-chip talent in behind entrenched starters to be developed for future seasons. But players who fall behind in a quarterback competition have a relatively new alternative option to sitting further down the depth chart: the transfer portal, where players interested in switching schools can gauge the interest of other programs around the country. This season, as many as two dozen teams will have a transfer quarterback on the roster who wasn’t around last season.
The trend has turned the tables on what is expected of a team’s quarterback depth chart: It’s now a luxury to have a somewhat comfortable backup situation, in which the team’s chances wouldn’t be doomed if QB1 was unavailable. The quarterback situations at these eight schools will be fascinating case studies for how having multiple quasi-reliable options at such a critical position keep ambitious teams out of survival mode this year.
Starter: Trevor Lawrence
Backup of note: Chase Brice
The defending national champions are sitting pretty at quarterback thanks to Trevor Lawrence, who will provide stability and a slew of highlights for at least the next two years. If anything unfortunate happens to the presumptive first pick in the 2021 draft, then Clemson can turn to Chase Brice, as it did at one critical moment in 2018.
Before they ran through the rest of the ACC with relative ease last season, the Tigers were on the ropes when Lawrence was injured in a September game against Syracuse, the week after 2017 starter Kelly Bryant had left the program to preserve his redshirt. It was Brice, a former three-star recruit who was content to open the season as the third-stringer, who saved Clemson’s bacon by engineering a game-winning 94-yard, fourth-quarter drive. The Tigers are the heavy favorites to repeat no matter who is at quarterback because of the talent at other positions, but Brice has shown that he can shine as a temporary stand-in for one of the best players in the country.
Starter: Tyler Huntley
Backups of note: Jason Shelley, Drew Lisk
Tyler Huntley and Jason Shelley both had bright moments as the starter for the Pac-12 South champions. Huntley played in nine games before a broken collarbone ended his season, leaving Shelley to get the Utes to the finish line. Huntley is back healthy and fully entrenched as QB1, so that leaves Shelley battling with junior Drew Lisk and Texas transfer Cameron Rising for backup snaps. The crowded quarterback room hasn’t been an issue so far and no one is heading to the transfer portal just yet. Things are looking up in Salt Lake City for another run at a division crown.
Starter: Darriel Mack Jr.
Backups of note: Brandon Wimbush
Because of the horrific knee injury to McKenzie Milton, Darriel Mack Jr. took center stage in UCF’s AAC title game win and Fiesta Bowl loss to LSU, but his starting spot is no lock, as Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush will push Mack until Josh Heupel makes a final decision before the opening weekend. Wimbush appeared in 20 games for the Irish and can provide valuable experience and leadership but that doesn’t make up for him being a below average passer. No matter which way Heupel goes, the Knights should be among the favorites to claim the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six slot.
Starter: Shea Patterson
Backups of note: Dylan McCaffrey, Joe Milton
Is this the year that the Wolverines finally get over the hump, beat Ohio State, make an appearance in the Big Ten title game and compete for a national title? Jim Harbaugh certainly hopes so, and Shea Patterson’s second and final year in Ann Arbor provides a window of opportunity, but he will have to prove himself all over again in new coordinator Josh Gattis’s offense. Highly touted third-year Dylan McCaffrey is waiting in the wings, along with sophomore Joe Milton, who saw garbage-time work in the season-ending losses to Ohio State and Florida.
Starter: Feleipe Franks
Backups of note: Emory Jones, Kyle Trask
At times in 2018, Feleipe Franks looked to be a lost cause, earning boos in his home stadium before he turned it on by season’s end to lead the Gators to an impressive Peach Bowl victory over Michigan. Despite that success, Franks hasn’t done enough to stop looking over his shoulder, as Emory Jones has been coming on strong in his second year on campus and Trask has stuck around after losing 2018’s quarterback battle. Head coach Dan Mullen could stick with Franks knowing if times get rough, he has a veteran option in Trask and a potential spark plug in Jones.
Starter: Ian Book
Backup of note: Phil Jurkovec
The Fighting Irish found their quarterback of the future in Ian Book, who took over for Wimbush mid-season and led them to an undefeated regular season and a playoff berth. Book’s backup this season is Phil Jurkovec, a touted rising redshirt sophomore who certainly looks the part at 6'5" and 225 pounds but who struggled so much this spring that offensive coordinator Chip Long said of his two top quarterbacks, “One’s on advanced calculus, the other one is still getting past algebra right now.”
Irish head coach Brian Kelly had glowing praise for Jurkovec when he signed two years ago, and despite the bumps in his development, Notre Dame still expects him to be ready when called upon this fall.
Backups of note: Tate Martell, N’Kosi Perry, Jarren Williams
Miami head coach Manny Diaz’s first quarterback competition comes down to two dual-threat options in N’Kosi Perry and Ohio State transfer Tate Martell, along with redshirt freshman Jarren Williams, a former four-star recruit. The winner of this offseason’s battle has to contend with a porous offensive line, which means new coordinator Dan Enos may have to prepare multiple people to run his offense.
Starter: Tua Tagovailoa
Backups of note: Mac Jones, Taulia Tagovailoa
Instead of having Jalen Hurts back up Heisman frontrunner Tua Tagovailoa for a second year, the job looks like it will fall to redshirt sophomore Mac Jones and Tagovailoa’s younger brother Taulia to keep the ship rolling. Jones, who famously outshined Hurts in Alabama’s 2018 spring game, could see plenty of early reps to get acclimated if Alabama continues its early-season tradition of blowing teams out by halftime.