It’s their turn now: quarterbacks

One of the best aspects of the college game is that no matter how many players graduate or leave early to move on to the next level, at the end of the day the football program remains — and readies itself for the next season with a new batch of emerging talent.

With the 2010 NFL Draft in the books and the spring football season coming to a close on college campuses across the nation, the National Football Post takes a look at some of the players who will be replacing the marquee names drafted two weeks ago.

First in the series will be a look at the quarterbacks who will become household names by the time opening kickoff arrives on Thursday, Sept. 2.

Landry Jones, Oklahoma: How difficult will it be to replace the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft? For Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, it actually shouldn’t be too overwhelming since the signal-caller stepped in twice for Sam Bradford last year after the new St. Louis Ram suffered shoulder injuries. While he displayed his youth on occasion, particularly in losses to Nebraska and Texas Tech, Jones’ performances against Kansas State and Texas A&M in the regular season, along with his season-closing Sun Bowl effort against Stanford, showed he’s capable of leading the Sooners’ offense with a full offseason of work under his belt. He’s already showed that he could make all the throws necessary to win in the Big 12. Now, Jones must become more decisive in the pocket, especially in road games, and become a better decision-maker and cut down on his 14 interceptions. Knowing that he’s the leader of the offense, having a running back in DeMarco Murray who should help keep defenses honest — if he stays healthy — and expecting improved play from his receivers and offensive line, Jones will put points on the board in Norman, Okla. If the Sooners miss out on a BCS berth again this year, quarterback play will not be the reason.

2009 stats:</strong> 261 completions in 449 attempts (58.1 completion percentage) for 3,198 yards with 26 TDs and 14 INTs.

John Brantley, Florida: John Brantley replacing Superman? Heck, anyone stepping in for perhaps the greatest college football player of all time? A near-impossible task. However, do not sleep on Brantley, who looked confident and seemed to have a nice command of the huddle while throwing for 201 yards and two scores on 15 of 19 passing in Florida’s spring game. Brantley won’t replicate Tebow’s style of play, as he is more of a pure passer than a bruising bull, but he’ll be able to utilize the weapons around him and engineer a productive Gators offense week after week. The main concern for him may be the youth of the skill players, though wide receivers Carl Moore, Andre Debose and Deonte Thompson did impress during the spring showcase. Production out of the backfield from Jeffrey Demps and Emmanuel Moody will be crucial to keeping the Gators from third-and-longs, and it will be interesting to see just how much freshman quarterback Trey Burton and tight end Jordan Reed are used out of the shotgun in the single-wing offense. If Brantley is prolific in early-season non-conference contests and shows that he’s capable of directing a more pass-oriented offense, how much experimentation will head coach Urban Meyer and coordinator Steve Addazio employ during league play?

2009 stats: 36 completions in 48 attempts (75.0 completion percentage) for 410 yards with 7 TDs and 0 INTs.

Dayne Crist, Notre Dame: It’s safe to say that even with Notre Dame having the same love/hate dynamic as the N.Y. Yankees and Duke basketball, new quarterback Dayne Crist won’t be as despised as Jimmy Clausen — either by college football fans or NFL personnel. But will Crist grasp the spread offense as easily as Clausen understood Charlie Weis’ pro style? So far, so good for Crist and the Fighting Irish under new head coach Brian Kelly. Finally adjusted to the quick-paced practices and expanding playbook, Crist was steady in the team’s spring game, completing 20 of 31 passes for 172 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. While he was overshadowed by backup walk-on Nate Montana, the fact that Crist was on the field just six months after having surgery to repair a torn ACL was the most important news to come out of spring drills. Michael Floyd, Tai-ler “T.J.” Jones and Theo Riddick give him weapons at the wide receiver spot, and Notre Dame fans could finally see a revived rushing attack this year with Armando Allen and intriguing sophomore Cierre Wood. Throw in one of the best tight end prospects in the nation in Kyle Rudolph, and Irish fans may actually starting predicting a Heisman Trophy in Crist’s future.

2009 stats: 10 completions in 20 attempts (50.0 completion percentage) for 130 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT.

Garrett Gilbert, Texas: The fate of the Texas Longhorns’ 2010 season will likely come down to how well the team runs the football and how the defense adjusts to losing key personnel to the NFL. But that doesn’t mean quarterback Garrett Gilbert doesn’t face high expectations as he prepares to replace longtime starter Colt McCoy. The sophomore should be ready after being pressed into action in the BCS National Championship game against Alabama after McCoy was injured. The former national high school player of the year and son of a former NFL quarterback tossed two second-half touchdowns before the Crimson Tide pulled away. He returned this year to throw three TDs in the spring game and showed he could make a variety of throws, displaying accuracy and poise in the pocket. The 6-4, 215-pounder has a cannon of an arm but will need help from a refocused rushing attack and a reloaded offensive line. With Jordan Shipley gone, the Longhorns hope to get immediate contributions in the receiving game from some of their 2010 signees. Bottom line: Gilbert should be able to steer the Longhorns successfully through the Big 12, and the team will once again be in the running for a BCS berth because the defensive staff always brings in top-level talent.

2009 stats: 30 completions in 66 attempts (45.5 completion percentage) for 310 yards with 2 TDs and 4 INTs.

Dan Persa, Northwestern: Because of the type of offense run by the Wildcats, whoever is under center would have a chance to succeed. But that doesn’t diminish the value of Dan Persa, who seemed to really embrace his leadership role on offense during spring practice. Because the ‘Cats lose Mike Kafka’s ability to run the ball, the team can’t afford another disappointing season from the running backs after finishing 95th in the nation in rushing average in ’09. Can sophomore Arby Fields and junior Jacob Schmidt help keep the heat off Persa in the passing game? With the offensive line returning intact, the coaching staff is hopeful of an improved ground game, which should open up the field for Persa.

2009 stats: 20 completions in 34 attempts (58.8 completion percentage) for 224 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs.

Matt Simms/Tyler Bray, Tennessee: Who would have ever thought that losing Jonathan Crompton would turn out to be a concern for t he Volunteers? But that’s exactly the case in Knoxville as Crompton’s improved play during his senior year under former coach Lane Kiffin has made Derek Dooley’s decision at the quarterback position the primary storyline all spring in camp. Whether junior college transfer Matt Simms or freshman Tyler Bray lines up under center, he will be in store for a rugged SEC campaign. All indications are that Simms, the son of former N.Y. Giants star Phil Simms and brother of NFL quarterback Chris Simms, will ultimately win the job, but the coaching staff has used the spring to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of both signal-callers in order to see what they’ll have to work with in preseason camp. My feeling is that both players will see the field in the fall.

Other notable quarterbacks stepping into starting roles:

Nathan Stanley for Jevan Snead at Ole Miss
Kevin Newsome/Matt McGloin/Paul Jones for Daryll Clark at Penn State
Zach Collaros for Tony Pike at Cincinnati
Kale Pick/Jordan Webb for Todd Reesing at Kansas
Brandon Weeden for Zac Robinson at Oklahoma State
Skylar Jones for Riley Skinner at Wake Forest
Geno Smith for Jarrett Brown at West Virginia
Tino Sunseri for Bill Stull at Pittsburgh
Ryan Katz for Sean Canfield at Oregon State
Riley Nelson/Jake Heaps/James Lark/Jason Munns for Max Hall at BYU

Note: The Nate Costa/Darron Thomas battle for the right to replace Jeremiah Masoli at Oregon did not make the list because Masoli is still enrolled in school.

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