The career of the college football player is tragically short, with most seeing regular playing time for half of their eligibility, if they are lucky. This, of course, means there is a massive turnover of starters almost yearly. For the best teams, this usually doesn’t mean a whole lot, with the next batch of four and five-star recruits ready to jump in and carry on the school legacy. For the rest, it can be a matter of hoping seasoned backups or hotshot freshmen can jump in and fulfill their potential from day 1, or even an unrated recruit showing the recruiters that sometimes, one gets away.
In the Big Ten this year, we have four teams losing four multi-year starters at QB, while a couple of others will have part-time QBs battling out for the full-time gig. Throw in a couple of guys who hardly cemented their status last season, and we have quite the battle for the top spot on plenty of teams. Some spots have been effectively decided coming out of spring (or even before), and only a miracle fall performance can push another contender over the edge (look up Manziel, J), but most of the vacancies won’t be filled until August. So, who are the frontrunners, the main contenders, and the dark horses for each team? Read on and find out. As always, leave your opinions, objections and abuse in the comments section, or find me on Twitter.
Teams with set starters:- Illinois, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State.
Tre Roberson won the starting the job in camp last season, and started pretty hot, passing for 368 yards and 2 TDs, while rushing for 133 yards and another 3 scores, and showed nice improvement over his freshman year. Then, he broke his leg midway through the second game and missed the rest of the season. Now he’s back, and he has 10 starters back on offense to help him out. Roberson’s ability to make plays with both his arm and his legs makes him an enticing option, but he needs to shake off the rust to beat out the competition.
Carson Coffman looks to be the main contender, considering he started the other ten games and flashed the ability to run the offense. He passed for 2734 yards and 15 TDs, with 11 interceptions, and while he won’t beat anyone with his feet, he’s shown the savvy to run the offense and get the ball down the field. He threw 7 picks over the last three games, but also threw for 1035 yards and 5 TDs as the defense folded and he needed to make plays.
The third option is Nate Sudfeld, who’s tailor-made for the offense, and got to see some nice playing time backing up Coffman last season. In seven games he passed for 632 yards and 7 TDs, with just 1 interception. He’s a pro-sized, strong-armed passer, and has a good chance to push for a starting job in the fall after a fine spring game. The coaching staff has a tough decision ahead of them, but it looks like a “can’t lose” situation.
Likely Winner: Coffman, but Roberson’s running ability will get him playing time.
The Hawkeyes also have a three horse race, but unlike the Hoosiers, whoever wins the job won’t have a whole lot to work with. Sophomore Jake Rudock is the favorite to win the job after learning the offense behind graduated James Vandenberg the last two years. The problem is, his next snap for Iowa will be his first. He’s a nice-sized, dropback passer, who can the get the ball down the field. His accuracy and savvy give him the edge going into fall.
Former JUCO Cody Sokol is the main contender. He’s a big, tough, mobile quarterback, who’s no RGIII but can move the chains with his feet when the occasion arises. Like Rudock, he hasn’t thrown the ball for the Hawkeyes yet, but learned behind Vandenberg last season. The year survived him well, as the junior looks ready to step up and take the helm, assuming he can win the job. His mobility may give him an edge behind an offensive line that struggled in pass protection last season.
The final piece of the puzzle is CJ Beathard, who certainly doesn’t appear to be a third wheel. Beathard was a prolific high school quarterback who took a redshirt last season and ran the scout team. He’s another tall, pro-style passer, but he’s lean at 195 pounds, and it may serve him well to wait another year and pack on some weight (remember that OL?). He had the least impressive spring game, although he was okay, but head coach Kirk Ferentz is holding off on naming a starter until fall.
Likely Winner: Rudock, but Sokol may step in if the line has issues again.
After playing receiver for most of the season, Devin Gardner stepped in late when starter Denard Robinson was injured, and showed that the QB battle in Ann Arbor is almost academic. He passed for 1219 yards and 11 TDs, with 5 interceptions, while leading the Wolverines to a 3-2 finish. More importantly, they averaged almost 33 points per game in that stretch, whereas the offense was inconsistent under Robinson. He looks like the dropback passer Hoke wants for the offense, but has the mobility to move the chains with his feet (he ran for 7 TDs). He needs to improve some in camp, and any Heisman talk is premature, but it would be a surprise if he wasn’t the opening day starter (barring injury).
Freshman Shane Morris has only set foot on campus and is already expected to at least be the primary backup to Gardner. He is the star of the future at Michigan, but there is an outside chance he could play this season, especially if he tears up fall camp. He has a great arm, good mobility and is a willing runner, but he’s pretty lean coming out of high school and may want to keep that option as a last resort. Morris has yet to come close to reaching his potential, and a redshirt probably would serve him better. Still, you can’t beat learning on the job.
The final “option” is Russell Bellomy, but he won’t be available at the beginning of the season due to an ACL injury sustained in spring camp. He was highly touted coming out of high school, possessing all the required tools for the position, but he never displayed them during the season, completing 4 of 21 passes for 46 yards and 4 interceptions (no typos there), having a particularly bad day at the office against Nebraska. I believe Ohio State fans are rooting for Bellomy to start this season.
Likely Winner: Gardner. UM may risk a walk-on reserve until Bellomy is healthy, while redshirting Morris. Fall camp will decide.
Poor old Andrew Maxwell had the thankless task of replacing fan favorite Kirk Cousins, but any sympathy/tolerance he received early evaporated quickly when he failed to improve over the course of the season. It certainly wasn’t all his fault, a young receiver corps struggled equally, but Maxwell still must shoulder much of the blame. He flashed some moments that suggested he had turned the corner, but it turned out to be more a case of peeking around the corner. He passed for 2606 yards and 13 TDs against 9 interceptions, and he possesses the necessary equipment, but he has to show early this season that he is ready to grow up and take charge.
Maxwell’s “loss” may be Connor Cook’s gain. The sophomore didn’t do a whole lot to endear himself to fans last season, that is, until he led a game-winning 90-yard drive in the bowl game against TCU’s stingy defense. He’s similar in style to Maxwell, if a little more mobile, but lacks experience. That changed when Maxwell was injured in camp, and Cook took the lion’s share of the first team reps, including playing for both teams in the spring game. It’s no secret that he too has to improve to have a realistic shot at beating out Maxwell, but he has to grasp his opportunity with both hands, or languish for another year on the bench.
Likely Winner: Maxwell, but HC Mark Dantonio may have a quick hook this season if he doesn’t progress.
With Marqueis Gray running out of eligibility and Max Shortell transferring, the job is likely to be Philip Nelson’s to lose, but there is some competition. Nelson was cast into the fire as a freshman last season, and while he wasn’t amazing, he certainly showed enough to suggest he can be the guy here for the next few years. His stats weren’t amazing – 49% complete, 873 yards and 8 TDs and interceptions – but he played like a seasoned vet and stood tall even when things weren’t going so well. He was outstanding in the spring game, and should have better weapons at his disposal this season.
Mitch Leidner also had a fine spring, but isn’t likely to beat out Nelson this season. The redshirt freshman has great size, and can flash his inner-Tebow when the need arises. Leidner also has a great arm, and is a good fit for the offense, but he lacks game experience and will be a backup this season.
Likely Winner: Nelson – it’s a competition in name only.
With the graduation of surprise star QB Matt McGloin and the unsurprising transfer of Steven Bench, the Nittany Lions are left starting from scratch at quarterback. The top contender is true freshman Christian Hackenberg, the top-ranked pocket passer in the nation coming out of high school. He has everything required – strong arm, smarts etc – to not just be a great passer in college, but at the pro level too. The only thing he lacks is experience, and he won’t get that until he steps on the field. He will make his fair share of rookie mistakes, but he is the immediate future of Penn State football.
The only curveball could come from TYler Ferguson, who was one of the top JUCO QBs. He’s not as polished as his rival, and can look a bit unorthodox at times, but he knows how to make plays and can be dangerous if he finds his rhythm. He has the edge on Hackenberg in one respect – he signed in time for spring camp and will be more familiar with the offense going into fall. He played well in the spring game too.
Likely Winner: Hackenberg – as inevitable as death.
Is this the year Rob Henry finally gets his chance after some bad luck the last few seasons? The senior has had injury issues (torn ACL), and has been caught in the mix with Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve since, but he has shown some ability to move the ball, both through the air and on the ground. This dual-threat ability, coupled with his experience could stand him in good stead as he battles a bunch of freshmen for the starting gig. He needs to improve his accuracy and consistency as a passer though.
His main opponent is Danny Etling, a heady true freshman who has the skills to win the job from day 1. He’s a dropback passer who has the smarts and accuracy to go with a decent arm. Purdue are switching to an offense that may better suit him too. If the Boilermakers bite the bullet and start Etling, it could be a tough season, as many skill-position starters on offense are gone.
Likely Winner: Purdue have a new coach, and what do they say about new coaches and their recruits?
This time last year, the Badgers were sitting pretty with big “free agent” signing Danny O’Brien ready to carry on where Russell Wilson left off. Four games into the season, redshirt freshman Joel Stave was starting, and he showed he could play. He broke his collarbone against Michigan State, but had thrown for 1104 yards and 6 TDs, with just 3 interceptions, in Wisconsin’s run-focused offense. He missed the rest of the season but was ready to go in spring, where he likely won the starting job with a great spring game. He’s got the size, the arm, enough mobility to keep the Badger offense ticking over when the rushing yards are hard to come by.
The other option is senior Curt Phillips, who had done practically nothing in his career right up until the time Stave was helped off the field against the Spartans. He came of the bench and threw for 540 yards and 5 TDs, against 2 interceptions, en route to Wisconsin’s B1G championship and Rose Bowl appearance. Phillips is a solid passer with fine size, and while he’s no option superstar, defenses have to keep an eye on him to prevent him from taking off on passing downs.
Likely Winner: Phillips started the spring game, but won’t be able to Stave (sorry!!) off his opponent in the fall.