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The QB battles that will define 2018

The QB battles that will define 2018

Alabama’s decision whether to start Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa isn’t the only high-profile QB competition heading into the 2018 season. Here’s a look at teams still debating which player will take charge of the offense, with everything you need to now, including the competitors, the projected Week 1 starter and the Tua factor, a breakdown of what happens to the backups.

Alabama Crimson Tide

The competitors: Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa

What you need to know: Get used to the phrase “to be determined.” Nick Saban is going to use it a lot to describe the quarterback battle. While all momentum seems to be with Tagovailoa given his performance in the national championship game and his ability as a passer, that doesn’t mean that Saban has ruled out Hurts. The junior has been through the fire before, is a gifted runner who threw only one interception last season and has a 26-2 record as a starter that can’t be ignored. Expect Hurts and Tagovailoa to compete into the first few games of the season before a starter is named.

Projected Week 1 starter: Hurts

The Tua factor: Don’t expect a quarterback by committee. After a starter is named — we’re thinking Hurts takes the first snap on offense due to seniority, not because he’ll be ahead of Tagovailoa in the race — the backup will likely look to play in four games or less in order to redshirt and preserve a year of eligibility when he transfers. — Alex Scarborough


Clemson Tigers

The competitors: Kelly Bryant, Trevor Lawrence

What you need to know: When spring practice began, Bryant was the clear No. 1 with two former top recruits hoping to play catch-up. One of them, Hunter Johnson, left for Northwestern. The other, Lawrence (last year’s No. 2 overall recruit), seems to have closed the gap considerably. Bryant has proven he can lead Clemson to the playoff, but Lawrence has demonstrated he’s a quick learner, and his overall talent might be as high as that of Deshaun Watson. Oh, and Dabo Swinney is already on record saying Lawrence is ahead of where Watson was at this stage.

Projected Week 1 starter: Bryant remains the de facto No. 1, but it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Lawrence isn’t the starter at some point, if not Week 1.

The Tua Factor: Swinney mentioned this offseason that there’s real consideration of a two-QB system, but it might be that, if Lawrence wins the job, there’s a role in a wild-cat scenario for Bryant, who’s an exceptional runner with good command of the defense. The only thing scarier for opposing teams than Lawrence’s potential might be having to prep for both QBs. — David M. Hale


Florida Gators

The competitors: Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask, Emory Jones

What you need to know: Dan Mullen isn’t buying the theory that Dan Mullen needs a mobile quarterback to succeed. “Alex Smith, when we got to Utah he wasn’t a very good runner,” he said. “Chris Leak was not a runner, and he was the MVP of [the BCS championship].” So, no, you shouldn’t rule out Franks just because he doesn’t run an eye-popping 40-yard dash. While he certainly needs to improve his accuracy and decision-making, he’s athletic enough to run the offense. If he can cut down on the turnovers that plagued him last season, he could fend off Trask and Jones.

Projected Week 1 starter: Franks

The Tua factor: Given that Franks is more in the mold of a pocket passer, it might be beneficial to use the more athletic Jones in certain packages to give defenses a change of pace. — Scarborough


Florida State Seminoles

The competitors: James Blackman, Deondre Francois

What you need to know: Francois started all of 2016 and appeared to be a rising star before sustaining a season-ending knee injury in the 2017 opener against Alabama. Enter Blackman, a true freshman who helped get Florida State to seven wins. New coach Willie Taggart will finally get an opportunity to see a completely healthy Francois when fall practice opens, and the competition between him and Blackman should be intense, with Bailey Hockman also in the mix. It’s hard to say whether any quarterback has the edge right now, especially since Francois couldn’t do much in the spring. But Taggart made it clear at ACC Kickoff that any off-field troubles Francois had are in the past, and he’s eager to see his most veteran quarterback compete.

Projected Week 1 starter: Francois

The Tua factor: No matter who ends up starting for Florida State, the Seminoles will have a luxury not many teams have: an experienced backup capable of winning games. And if last season is any indication, having a backup who can be called upon at any time to go in and play is vastly important and shouldn’t be overlooked. The backup will have a big role on this team. — Andrea Adelson


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Georgia’s offseason has been anything but boring with Jake Fromm’s freak injury and competition with Justin Fields for the starting QB spot.

Georgia Bulldogs

The competitors: Jake Fromm, Justin Fields

What you need to know: It’s a competition, but not much of one. Fromm, who threw 24 touchdowns and just seven interceptions and led Georgia to overtime of the College Football Playoff National Championship, isn’t about to be replaced anytime soon. But when Fields, the former No. 1 overall recruit, came on board, it created a buzz. And who can blame Bulldog fans? Fields is ubertalented, and the Bulldogs are only a year removed from everyone saying they were crazy to think that another true freshman, Fromm, would beat out the incumbent, Jacob Eason, and that obviously happened.

Projected Week 1 starter: Fromm

The Tua factor: Even if he’s not the starter, Fields will be ready to step in when called upon. In the meantime, look for coaches to create roles for him that utilize his ability as a runner. — Scarborough


LSU Tigers

The competitors: Myles Brennan, Joe Burrow, Justin McMillan, Lowell Narcisse

What you need to know: Ed Orgeron came out of spring calling it “very equal” between Brennan, McMillan and Narcisse, but then the Tigers added Burrow, the former Ohio State backup, as a graduate transfer (whom Ed O has dubbed “a game-changer” and a “difference-maker”). Translation: Nobody wowed the staff in spring. The competition is still wide open in theory, but Burrow chose LSU because he’ll have a great chance to start. The glowing praise coming not just from Orgeron but from Burrow’s former coach, Urban Meyer, and his former Buckeye teammates even after his departure are telling. He also has the most playing experience of the four; Brennan is the only other competitor who has attempted more than one collegiate pass, with 24 attempts last year.

Projected Week 1 starter: Burrow

The Tua factor: Don’t expect four scholarship QBs to remain on the roster once the depth chart shakes out. If McMillan, a fourth-year junior, doesn’t win the job, he could potentially exit as a graduate transfer. Brennan, a sophomore, is one to keep an eye on, too, if Burrow — who has two years to play — wins, because Brennan already burned a year of eligibility last season. Narcisse is a redshirt freshman this fall and could theoretically wait out Burrow’s eligibility at LSU if he doesn’t claim the job himself. — Sam Khan Jr.


Michigan Wolverines

The competitors: Shea Patterson, Brandon Peters, Dylan McCaffrey

What you need to know: Jim Harbaugh didn’t name a starting quarterback before the opening snap of the season in his first three years at Michigan. That won’t change in 2018 despite the hype around Ole Miss transfer Patterson. He’ll have to fend off a returning starter (Peters) and a former five-star prospect (McCaffrey) before getting the chance to answer if the third QB transfer to play for Harbaugh’s Wolverines is the solution to issues under center.


Projected Week 1 starter: Patterson

The Tua factor: It has been a while since a quarterback at Michigan went wire-to-wire as a starter. Peters and new graduate transfer Jeff George Jr. (Illinois) have both started Big Ten games and could help if needed. Patterson, who has a maximum of two years left, likely won’t inspire anyone to pack their bags if he wins the job. If freshman Joe Milton leaps someone on a crowded depth chart, that might be a different story. — Dan Murphy


Nebraska Cornhuskers

The competitors: Tristan Gebbia, Adrian Martinez, Andrew Bunch

What you need to know: True freshman Martinez rose to the occasion in the spring, his performance made more impressive as an early enrollee who should have been enjoying his final months of high school. But Martinez has not played in a game since 2016 because of a shoulder injury. He needs time. Redshirt freshman Gebbia is the slightly more seasoned option and has helped light a fire under teammates after watching in person as the Cornhuskers stumbled through last season. Both Californians appear to possess exceptional leadership traits. Walk-on Bunch remains in the mix, and UCF transfer Noah Vedral, in line to sit out this year, brings experience in coach Scott Frost’s system.

Projected Week 1 starter: Gebbia

The Tua factor: Between Gebbia and Martinez, whoever loses the August battle is still in line to win. Both guys are going to play. This season for Nebraska is all about finding the right pieces for the future. Ultimately, that future might include only one of the two freshman QBs, but don’t look for either to give up soon. — Mitch Sherman


Oklahoma Sooners

The competitors: Kyler Murray, Austin Kendall

What you need to know: Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley has yet to declare who will be replacing Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. But at this point, that announcement appears to be mere formality. If Murray wasn’t going to be Oklahoma’s starting quarterback, he’d be playing center field for the Beloit Snappers, a minor league affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, who selected Murray ninth overall in the MLB draft before giving him permission to play football for one last season. A former five-star recruit, Murray is electric, running and throwing. And though he’s not Mayfield, he has the talent to propel the Sooners back into the CFP picture.

Projected Week 1 starter: Barring injury, Murray will be Oklahoma’s Week 1 starter. And with Murray behind center, the Sooners should be on everyone’s short list of potential playoff participants.

The Tua factor: Murray’s control of this battle is not a knock on Kendall, a former ESPN 300 signee whom the Sooners have been pleased with in his development. Kendall is line to take over as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback in 2019 with Murray set to move on with baseball. Should Murray get injured, the Sooners will be able to turn to a backup in Kendall who will be in his third year practicing Riley’s system. — Jake Trotter


Texas Longhorns

The competitors: Sam Ehlinger, Shane Buechele

What you need to know: Texas’ never-ending quest to find an adequate heir to Colt McCoy continues almost a decade later this season. As a true freshman, Ehlinger showed promise last year, going toe-to-toe with the likes of Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield, who both went top three in the NFL draft. Still, Ehlinger was derailed by catastrophic late-game turnovers that cost Texas games to USC, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Ehlinger also battled concussions, paving the way for Buechele to start the Texas Bowl. Buechele has the most experience, but given Ehlinger’s upside, he enters the preseason with a leg up in the competition.

Projected Week 1 starter: Buechele shouldn’t be written off. But at the moment, it would be surprising if Ehlinger didn’t start Texas’ opener at Maryland. At times last year, Ehlinger had to carry Texas offensively without much help. This year, the Longhorns believe they’ll be able to protect Ehlinger better up front, while surrounding him with more firepower at running back and receiver.

The Tua factor: If he loses the competition, Buechele will be ready to go should Ehlinger get injured or struggle. But keep an eye on Texas’ two true freshmen, Casey Thompson and Cam Rising. Thompson, the son of former Oklahoma wishbone quarterback Charles Thompson, has tremendous athleticism, while Rising impressed with his arm during spring ball. Should both Ehlinger and Buechele falter, Rising or Thompson could get a shot — especially with the new redshirt rule — as Texas will consider everything to solidify its quarterback of the future. — Trotter


Texas A&M Aggies

The competitors: Kellen Mond, Nick Starkel

What you need to know: Both played last season as freshmen and had their ups and downs; the same can be said for their respective spring performances. The job is up for grabs; it basically comes down to who grasps Jimbo Fisher’s offense faster and better. Fisher wants toughness and “aggressive intelligence” in his quarterback — meaning he wants a guy who takes chances but doesn’t make too many mistakes. Starkel’s arm strength is his advantage; Mond’s dual-threat ability is his ace in the hole. This one could go either way and expect the battle to be intense.

Projected Week 1 starter: Starkel.

The Tua factor: Once Fisher settles on a guy, don’t expect him to flip-flop quarterbacks. He’ll likely stick with the starter. Any transfer decisions that might be made by the runner-up probably wouldn’t come until after season’s end. — Khan Jr.


UCLA Bruins

The competitors: Devon Modster, Wilton Speight, Dorian Thompson-Robinson

What you need to know: Fall camp is especially important at UCLA, where two of the three primary quarterback candidates — Speight and Thompson-Robinson — weren’t with the team during spring practice. It’s easy to envision Speight, a grad transfer from Michigan, or Thompson-Robinson, a highly recruited dual-threat true freshman, winning the job, but Modster comes in with a slight advantage having gone through the spring under new coach Chip Kelly. Speight doesn’t fit the mold of the type of quarterback Kelly used at Oregon, but Nick Foles, also viewed as more of a pocket passer, had success in Kelly’s offense in the NFL.

Projected Week 1 starter: Modster

The Tua factor: It would be a surprise if UCLA sticks with one guy all season. There is relatively little pressure on Kelly to win right away, which could — assuming the competition is very close — mean he’ll lean toward making a decision with the program’s long-term future in mind. For Thompson-Robinson, that could mean early playing time or a redshirt, but he is viewed as the future of the position for UCLA. — Kyle Bonagura


USC Trojans

The competitors: Matt Fink, Jack Sears, J.T. Daniels

What you need to know: Sam Darnold departed for the NFL with two years of eligibility remaining, leaving a trio of inexperienced options to replace him. Daniels, the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year in 2017, is the most talented, but wasn’t with the team during spring practice — which means he will have a lot of catching up to do to give himself a shot to start the opener. Still, there’s a feeling of inevitability that he’ll take over the starting job sooner rather than later. It’s just a matter of when.

Projected Week 1 starter: Fink

The Tua factor: Because Daniels is a true freshman, if he takes over the starting job, both Fink and Sears would be strong candidates to transfer. Few quarterbacks — especially those talented enough to land a USC scholarship — stick around when there is no clear path to playing time. — Bonagura

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