Top preseason quarterback battles to watch
Preseason camps are getting into full swing all across the country, and no position on the football field is as important as quarterback, a spot in which competition is often fierce at some of the major programs in the country.
Let's take a look at some of the most intense battles taking place under center among all of the FBS teams, including at Oklahoma State, Oregon State and Wisconsin.
USC: The Trojans lost longtime starter Matt Barkley, who threw for 12,327 yards in his career in Los Angeles. So sophomores Max Wittek and Cody Kessler are competing with true freshman Max Browne for the starting gig. Wittek started the final two games of the 2012 season when Barkley suffered a shoulder injury, and he completed less than 50 percent of his throws. Meanwhile, Kessler reportedly had a slightly better spring and Browne remains the most intriguing because he was one of the top quarterbacks in the 2013 signing class. If I had to pick the winner, I think Lane Kiffin will tab Wittek, and he should settle in nicely with Marqise Lee and spring star Nelson Agholor at receiver as well as Silas Redd at tailback. The early season schedule is soft, with the Trojans playing Hawaii, Washington State, Boston College and Utah State. So the winner of the derby will have a chance to settle in nicely.
US PRESSWIRECan Sean Mannion stave off Cody Vaz for the starting job in Corvallis?
Oregon State: The Beavers have a very good problem on their hands with two proven starting quarterbacks able to lead the offense. However, Mike Riley is going to have to decide on a No. 1 between Sean Mannion, who was the starter until a knee injury sidelined him last fall, and Cody Vaz, who doesn't have as big of an arm as Mannion but who was a bit more consistent last season when he stepped into the starting role. He only tossed three interceptions, so he is the safe choice. But Mannion is the more talented of the two and will be a team captain this fall.
Auburn: The hiring of Gus Malzahn was huge for the Tigers because he was the team's OC when a lot of the current players were already on The Plains. But Auburn's success in 2013 will depend a lot upon the play it gets at quarterback, where Kiehl Frazier should be improved under the coach who recruited him. Jonathan Wallace also played last season but struggled like Frazier in the pro-style scheme. The one wild card in this competition is junior-college transfer Nick Marshall, who threw for over 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns while rushing for over 1,000 yards and 19 scores last season. Frazier and Wallace have the experience, but Marshall is an intriguing athlete. True freshman Jeremy Johnson is also in the mix.
Tennessee: Butch Jones has done a wonderful job on the recruiting trail thus far in his short time in Knoxville, but a lot of that momentum will be stunted if the Volunteers have a poor 2013 season. The Vols lost a ton of talent on offense, but the O-Line will be one of the best in the country. Justin Worley, who has nine games of experience (three starts in 2011), has the edge over freshman Nathan Peterman and true freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson. But Peterman looked solid in spring, and Dobbs would be a great fit for Jones’ offense.
Wisconsin: The Badgers had to do a lot of quarterback shuffling last season but still were able to earn a berth to yet another Rose Bowl in what turned out to be the final season for Bret Bielema in Madison. Now, new head coach Gary Andersen will have to choose between Curt Phillips, Joel Stave and junior-college transfer Tanner McEvoy. Phillips was solid last year after Stave was injured and Danny O’Brien was ineffective. But Stave had a strong spring, and McEvoy is a dual-threat who is an ideal fit for what Andersen wants to do offensively. However, will the JUCO transfer be able to master the offense quickly?
Penn State: Bill O'Brien did a marvelous job last season working with Matt McGloin, whose numbers far surpassed his previous seasons in Happy Valley under the tutelage of the former NFL offensive coordinator. Now, the second-year Nittany Lions head coach has to find a new starting signal-caller after Steven Bench, who was the most experienced quarterback on the roster, left the program after spring practice. Junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson and true freshman Christian Hackenberg, who was one of the top players in the Class of 2013, are the two combatants. O’Brien won’t have a problem playing a true freshman if he is the best prepared for the job. No matter who wins the gig, he should be in store for a productive season.
Cal: While the Golden Bears have plenty of depth at quarterback, the main signal-callers vying for the starting job are redshirt freshman Zach Kline, true freshman Jared Goff and junior Austin Hinder. None has FBS experience, but the winner of this derby should be productive in the new offense being run by head coach Sonny Dykes and coordinator Tony Franklin. When I talked to Dykes this past spring he really praised the leadership skills of Kline, who was one of the best players in the Class of 2012. Hinder possibly could get the initial nod, but the future of this program is Kline.
Oklahoma State: With Wes Lunt sitting out a season at Illinois after leaving Stillwater, the Cowboys will be looking at Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. It appears that Chelf will enter the first week as the No. 1 after finishing the 2012 season as the starter and playing very well over the final five games. I would expect Walsh to play at some point, even if special packages are designed for him because he adds the running element that fits the no-huddle. Mike Gundy has stated that the job is open, but Chelf seems to be positioned for that season opener against Mississippi State.
Arizona: Rich Rodriguez walked into a perfect situation in Tucson last year when he inherited Matt Scott, who was coming off of a redshirt season. Scott was an ideal dual-threat for Rich Rod's offense. But the former West Virginia and Michigan head coach is looking for someone to take the baton from Scott, and the options are B.J. Denker, former USC Trojan Jesse Scroggins, redshirt freshman Javelle Allen and true freshman Anu Solomon. Denker was the backup last season and made one start, but Scroggins is an intriguing talent. However, he missed spring drills while recovering from a foot injury. Solomon could be the most talented of the bunch, but Denker’s experience edge should land him the job for Week 1.
West Virginia: Dana Holgorsen has a tough decision to make between junior Paul Millard, Florida State transfer Clint Trickett and redshirt freshman Ford Childress. Millard, who has 34 pass attempts under his belt, was the backup to Geno Smith the past two years, while Childress may have the most talent of the bunch. But the real wild card is Trickett, who arrived in Morgantown after spring practice. Millard may have the most experience in Holgorsen’s system, but Trickett didn't arrive to just sit on the bench.
Other races to watch
Kansas State: Perhaps no one player was as important to his team over the last few seasons as Collin Klein, who was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2012. With the big dual-threat QB no longer in Man hattan, Daniel Sams will try to stave off Jake Waters, who was arguably the top JUCO quarterback in the nation last season. Sams served as Klein’s backup in 2012, and his dual-threat talent should win him the job.
NC State: First-year head coach Dave Doeren was looking at Pete Thomas and Manny Stocker to fill the void left by Mike Glennon, but Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell was added to the mix. Mitchell is probably the best fit for the spread-like attack, but will he pick up the terminology fast enough?
Kentucky: Who will run Neal Brown's scheme in head coach Mark Stoops' first season in Lexington? I think Jalen Whitlow has the edge over Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles.
Indiana: The Hoosiers are loaded at the position, with Tre Roberson, Cam Coffman and Nate Sudfeld all good enough to lead an offensive attack that ranked second in the Big Ten in total offense in 2012.
Purdue: New Boilermakers head coach Darrell Hazell has a tough decision to make between senior Rob Henry and freshmen Danny Etling and Austin Appleby. Henry has seven career starts, but Etling was one of Purdue’s top recruits and impressed in spring.
Oklahoma: Despite Bob Stoops maintaining that this is an open race between Blake Bell, redshirt freshman Trevor Knight and sophomore Kendal Thompson, the Belldozer should win the job. He will surprise opponents with his arm this fall.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes need drastic improvement on offense after ranking 11th in the Big Ten in scoring last year. Sophomore Jake Rudock will battle junior Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard for the starting nod.
Dave Miller, the college football editor and writer for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.