A month-and-a-half has elapsed since Alabama and LSU sent out the college football season. Fret not, those suffering from withdrawl, because spring football is around the corner (and is actually underway at a few programs, like Army).
Springtime may mean nothing more than practice time — I’ll spare you the beaten-to-death Allen Iverson drop — but the season is not without its brand of competition. Quarterback battles are perhaps the most intriguing facet of any spring ball season, and the 2012 slate has no shortage of them.
Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskell
Both were foisted into the spotlight as true freshmen after senior John Brantley went down with injury. Neither flourished. Jacoby Brissett went 18 for 39, throwing four interceptions to just two touchdowns. Jeff Driskell wasn’t better: 16 for 34 with two picks and zero scores.
The situation wasn’t ideal for either, though, and judging them based on their 2011 season would not be fair. It’s a clean slate for both these highly touted prospects, as Brent Pease takes over the offensive coordinator’s duties from Charlie Weis. The Gator offense under Weis seemed to lack direction. Pease inherited an offensive juggernaut from Bryan Harsin, but kept Boise State moving without a hitch (and despite losing two NFL caliber wide receivers from the season prior, Austin Pettis and Titus Young).
As discussed with Hail Florida Hail’s Bull Gator on The SaturdayBlitz.com Podcast, neither is a clear cut favorite entering the spring. One may not emerge until days before Week 1, either.
Jared Barnett and Steele Jantz
The man with what is unquestionably the best quarterback name (now that Trent Steelman’s graduated from West Point), Steele Jantz led Iowa State to an impressive enough start. The Cyclones beat rival Iowa in overtime, and outdueled Connecticut in a Tessitore Special. But Jantz struggled in Big 12 play, prompting Paul Rhoads to make the switch to freshman Jared Barnett. Barnett’s impact was felt instantly, as he pounded the Texas Tech defense for ISU’s first conference win.
Barnett seemingly had a lock on the starting job, but Jantz reemerged in the Pinstripe Bowl while Barnett struggled mightily. The two finished with very similar statistics. Jantz completed just 53 percent of his pass attempts, with 11 interceptions to 10 touchdowns. He did add nearly 22 yards per game rushing though, and scored on the ground twice. Barnett completed just 50 percent of his attempts, was intercepted as many times as he scored, and was slightly less effective as a ball carrier than Jantz.
Barnett’s flat performance in the Cyclones’ bowl game loss to Rutgers did put a punctuation mark on ISU’s quarterback discussion. That punctuation just happens to be a question mark.
Which leads us to…
Chas Dodd and Gary Nova
Greg Schiano had little recourse for trying to run an offense behind one of the worst lines in college football the last two seasons, but to swap quarterbacks with shocking regularity. Tom Savage lost his starting job to Chas Dodd midway through the 2010 season, and the same happened with Gary Nova getting snaps ahead of Dodd last season. Schiano
Kyle Flood was wholly ambiguous when asked who is the frontruner by ESPN.com’s Andrea Andelson:
We’re very fortunate we have two guys in the program right now in Chas Dodd and Gary Nova. They’ve won very big football games for us at Rutgers. It’s a unique position to be in. I’d much rather be in that position than any other. We’ve got spring practice to figure out the rest.
Case McCoy and David Ash
The commitment of Tyrone Swoopes to the Longhorns this past weekend might cast a shadow over UT’s quarterback play in 2012. His arrival is already met with great expectations, but in the meantime there are two veterans vying to lead this next season’s Horns.
Returners David Ash and Case McCoy split snaps through an 8-5 season, combining for pedestrian numbers — pedestrian at best. Ash struggled mightily passing, but was an effective rusher. McCoy’s size posed problems, aside from inspiring terror in all watching that one tackle would snap him in half.
Big 12 blogger David Ubben wrote “forget [...] McCoy,” and suggested a move strictly to Ash. Indeed, tailoring the offense solely to one or the other might prove the best move, but there are consequences for making the wrong choice.
Quarterback play has not been kind to UCLA football the last seven-or-so seasons, and a new regime brings more questions than answers. Jim Mora’s offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has shown a penchant for a multiple-receiver offensive formation much different from the rushing-based Pistol employed under Rick Neuheisel. That might leave much ballyhooed redshirt freshman Brett Hundley on the outside looking in of a quarterback competition that goes four deep.
Kevin Prince was the favorite of Neuheisel, but Prince was utilized mostly for his dual threat abilities. Prince’s passing ability has never appeared greater than simply adequate, so unless
Richard Brehaut might actually be the frontrunner; prior to breaking his leg, he threw six touchdowns to one interception, but his 55 percent completion rating doesn’t scream adept pocket passer. Brehaut has been an afterthought basically his entire collegiate career despite showing high potential. Perhaps Mazzone could be the man to finally unlock Brehaut’s abilities.
The Los Angeles Times reported this weekend that four star recruit T.J. Millweard is entering the fray, enrolling early specifically to acclimate to college (both academics and football). Millweard might be the closest to the NFL mold in terms of style and body type, but a true freshman has a decidedly uphill climb to success. Look no further than aforementioned Florida for evidence.
Mora’s declaration that whomever is tabbed starter will exclusively be The Guy puts a lot of pressure on all four.
Jordan Wynn and Jon Hays
New offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is just three years removed from quarterbacking the Utah offense himself, so he is uniquely qualified to know what Kyle Wittingham needs from his playcaller. He was definitive in an interview with ESPN.com Pac-12 beat writer Kevin Gemmell that Jordan Wynn would be the Utes’ No. 1 quarterback entering spring ball. However, Johnson did stress that the off-season would be a competiton with Jon Hays.
Hays was not particularly effective spelling an injured Wynn this past campaign, but he also wasn’t a detriment. In fact, UU finished strong with Hays behind center, winning five of its last six.
Wynn has been something of a pariah in certain circles, the necessary flip side to the oft invoked adage “the most popular guy in town is the back-up quarterback.” There were no shortage of Ute fans calling for Terrence Cain in 2010, and Hays last year. Said criticis got their wish because of injury, and weren’t necessarily vindicated; but they weren’t disproven, either.
The offense relied more heavily on the rush with both Cain and Hays playing quarterback, than with Wynn captaining the ship. Talented back John White (a player who should emerge as a dark horse Heisman candidate in this blogger’s estimation) emerged as the focal point of the offense when Wynn went down. Hays attempted fewer than 20 passes a game, while Wynn was just below 30.
Certainly the running game will play a crucial part in UU’s 2012 offense, but White will need an adequate passing game to flourish. Wynn has shown an ability to provide that when healthy, but needs to remain in the lineup to disprove his detractors.