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Updated QB battles: Clemson, USC, FSU make decisions

ACC preseason power rankings: Can anyone catch Clemson?

Earlier this month, we detailed several high-profile quarterback competitions heading into the 2018 season. Alabama’s decision between Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa isn’t the only starting job still undecided. Decisions are coming in bunches now, with Clemson, Florida State, Florida and USC deciding in the past day.

Clemson Tigers

The competitors: Senior Kelly Bryant and freshman Trevor Lawrence

The winner: Bryant

Fall camp developments: Bryant was listed as the starter when Clemson released its depth chart for the season opener against Furman. Though that is not much of a surprise because coach Dabo Swinney said repeatedly Bryant was ahead in the quarterback race, it is validation for a veteran who had to listen to an entire offseason filled with speculation about whether he would hold off freshman Trevor Lawrence for the starting job.

What we expect for Week 1: Bryant will start, but expect both he and Lawrence to play. The opener against an FCS opponent is a huge opportunity for Lawrence to get game experience and show coaches just how ready he is to play at a high level. Don’t expect anyone to declare this competition over just yet. But there is a definite sense the coaching staff feels good about all the options they have at quarterback.

They said it: “His confidence is tremendously higher, the game is just slower for him. As a result, he’s playing faster. He’s processing things faster. He’s being very consistent with his decision-making. He’s throwing the ball extremely well down the field. He’s been very accurate on our intermediate throws. Just really all of it.” Coach Dabo Swinney on Bryant — Andrea Adelson


USC Trojans

The competitors: Freshman JT Daniels, sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears

The winner: Daniels

Fall camp developments: As expected, Daniels emerged as the best option from a three-man race that also included redshirt sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears. Helton made the announcement Sunday night that Daniels had won the job, giving the true freshman the full week to prepare as the team’s starter for its opener against UNLV. The way the competition played out was as predictable as any in college football.

What we expect for Week 1: He wasn’t with the team for spring practice, so it’s fair to expect the offense to be scaled back a touch, but Daniels has been routinely praised for his ability to process the game at a level beyond his years. And unlike when Max Browne started his first game two years ago against Alabama in Texas, Daniels has the luxury of beginning his career at home against a team the Trojans are significantly more talented than. He should get his USC career off to a promising start.

They said it: “I am honored that Coach Helton picked me as the starter. I understand this it is a huge responsibility and I need to work hard to be prepared to handle it. It was a tight competition between all the quarterbacks throughout camp. We pushed each other every day. I felt that Coach’s decision wouldn’t be wrong whoever he picked. I am thankful to Matt and Jack and Holden [Thomas] for teaching me so much and helping me adjust to the system so that I could quickly get into the flow of things, and I know we will continue to be supportive teammates in the quarterback room.” – Daniels — Kyle Bonagura


Florida Gators

The competitors: Sophomore Feleipe Franks, freshman Emory Jones and sophomore Kyle Trask

The winner: Franks

Fall camp developments: It’s looking more and more like Jones will need some time. And that’s no surprise given the fact that the former four-star is just a freshman. Rather, the race appears to be down to Trask and Franks, with Franks having the slight edge. He has the biggest arm of the bunch and the most experience after appearing in every game last season.

What we expect for Week 1: Coach Dan Mullen doesn’t want the competition to even go into game week, so expect Franks to be named the starter before the Charleston Southern game.

They said it: “I’d love to figure it out and say, ‘This guy is going to be our starter’ and we go with it. And as soon as we feel comfortable that that’s the route, I want to do it. And it’s not just as much as naming the starter, it’s if I’m the backup or if I’m not the starter, I want to make sure … the other guys are in the right frame of mind because they’re a play away from being the starter,” Mullen said. — Scarborough


Florida State Seminoles

The competitors: Junior Deondre Francois and sophomore James Blackman

The winner: Francois

Fall camp developments: Francois was unable to participate completely in practice during the spring, so the fall was his first opportunity to truly show the new coaching staff what he could do in the new up-tempo offense. He impressed coach Willie Taggart with his consistency, and also kept mistakes to a minimum, helping him earn the job over James Blackman and Bailey Hockman. But maybe even more than that, Francois showed Taggart throughout the offseason that he was ready to become a much better leader for the Seminoles.

What we expect for Week 1: Florida State opens with a tough matchup against No. 20 Virginia Tech on Labor Day night, and the Seminoles are going to need Francois to be at his best right out of the gate. He has experience in high profile openers, starting the last two seasons against Ole Miss and Alabama. But in order for Francois to have success, he’s going to need to help his receivers step up while relying on what should be a powerful run game behind Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick.

They said it: “I think when we watched the body of work in the short amount of time he’s been out there, when he’s in there and running the offense, it’s a lot more efficient and a lot less mistakes, and that’s important.” — Coach Willie Taggart — Adelson

Oklahoma Sooners

The competitors: Junior Kyler Murray and sophomore Austin Kendall

The winner: Murray

Fall camp developments: Murray didn’t run away with the competition this preseason, as many expected him to, but the first-round MLB draft pick did enough to win the job and succeed legend Baker Mayfield. In fact, before making the decision, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said he’d yet to “see a ton of separation” between the two. This weekend, the Sooners will conduct their final preseason scrimmage before classes begin next week.

What we expect for Week 1: Wearing a blue jersey in practice, Murray hasn’t really been able to show what he can do running the ball, which is his greatest attribute. The Sooners know that once the games begin, Murray can be a game-changing player with his wheels.

They said it: “Kyler did a really nice job in camp,” said Riley. “It was really a great competition between Austin and him, one that we carried on longer than maybe even we expected because of how well both guys played. There weren’t a lot of differentiating factors in the end because both did play so well and so efficiently, but just felt like from an overall perspective that Kyler was just a little bit ahead. We feel like we’ve got a great quarterback tandem there and we’re really proud of the way that Austin has improved through the redshirt year last year and during camp. We’re excited for Kyler and his opportunity and the team looks forward to getting ready for FAU.” — Jake Trotter


Michigan Wolverines

The competitors: Junior Shea Patterson, junior Brandon Peters, sophomore Dylan McCaffrey, freshman Joe Milton and senior Jeff George Jr.

The winner: Patterson

Fall camp developments: Jim Harbaugh told a booster club gathering on Aug. 20 that Patterson would be his guy against Notre Dame, and the team has since confirmed his announcement. This marks the first time since Harbaugh’s arrival at Michigan that he’s declared a starter prior to the first snap of the season. Patterson impressed teammates with his athleticism and his growing mastery of the a thick playbook during the first few weeks of camp, which was enough to win what Harbaugh described as a fierce competition.

What we expect for Week 1: Michigan opens on the road against a talented Notre Dame secondary, so the offense likely won’t have the luxury of experimenting with different options under center. In years past Harbaugh has been loyal to his No. 1 QB once the position is settled, so don’t expect any quick trigger changes if Patterson struggles at all out of the gates in South Bend.

They said it: “He’s even better within a confined space. When he was in high school he played under center a lot. He’s used to drops and working progressions. If the first, second and third options don’t work, then he can add the fourth one.” — Personal QB coach Steve Clarkson on Patterson’s athleticism and how it fits into Michigan’s offense. — Dan Murphy


Texas Longhorns

The competitors: Sophomore Sam Ehlinger and junior Shane Buechele


The winner: Ehlinger

Fall camp developments: On Monday, Tom Herman announced that Ehlinger would get the start in the opener against Maryland. Ehlinger had been splitting first-team reps with Shane Buechele, but Herman said Ehlinger would get the bulk of those snaps moving forward.

What we expect for Week 1: Because of injuries, Ehlinger never developed a rhythm last season. But in between as a true freshman, he had some special moments. The Longhorns need to see what they have in him. And whether he can be their long-sought quarterback of the future.

They said it: “I 100 percent know. Experience. Year 2, We know what we’re doing. Now it’s fine-tuning the parts of the offense to excel even more.” — Ehlinger, on the offense being better in Year 2 under Herman. — Trotter


Nebraska Cornhuskers

The competitors: Redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia, freshman Adrian Martinez and sophomore Andrew Bunch

The winner: Martinez

Fall camp developments: The true freshman was named at the open of Week 1 as the winner of a race that began in March. Coach Scott Frost made the announcement with a simple release of the depth chart on the morning after he showcased Martinez in a practice open only to Nebraska students. Martinez, set to become the first true freshman QB starter ever in a season opener for Nebraska, appeared to emerge as the leader midway through fall camp with a strong performance in the Cornhuskers’ second major scrimmage. He was considered to possess the stronger upside of the two contenders and gives Nebraska a better running threat out of the QB spot.

What we expect for Week 1: Not too many risks. Frost will surely want to put Martinez in a position to succeed and limit errors in his debut start. Martinez missed his senior season of high school with a shoulder injury, returning to play in January at the Under Armour All-American Game. Expect the young QB to show some rust as he takes the keys to a fast-moving system. The Huskers have plenty of experienced and talented options at running back and receiver. Martinez should not have to do much more than get the ball into their hands.– Mitch Sherman


Alabama Crimson Tide

The competitors: Junior Jalen Hurts and sophomore Tua Tagovailoa

Fall camp developments: Reports out of Tuscaloosa don’t look good for Hurts. After starting off camp by getting a few things off his chest with the media, he apparently did not do well in the first scrimmage, while Tagovailoa shined. Tagovailoa, the hero of last season’s national title game as a freshman, has secured front-runner status, but no decision has been made.

What we expect for Week 1: Don’t be surprised if the competition goes into the season and Hurts, a junior, takes the first snap as a matter of seniority. Coaches need to see how Tagovailoa does under pressure before handing him the reins.

They said it: “Look, we’re going to evaluate the quarterback situation. We’re going to keep looking at the guys. What somebody did today or didn’t do today isn’t going to win or lose them the job. It’s going to be the cumulative effect and the consistency that they practice with and play with over time. That’s in fairness to both players, who are really good competitors and really working hard, really doing a good job. We don’t have much more to say than that about that situation,” coach Nick Saban said following Alabama’s first scrimmage. – Alex Scarborough


Georgia Bulldogs

The competitors: Sophomore Jake Fromm and freshman Justin Fields

Fall camp developments: It’s not a matter of Fromm fighting for dear life to keep the starting role. He’s all but assured of that. Rather, camp is about determining what roles Fields will be capable of playing as a true freshman. He certainly has the talent and played well in the spring game, but how he competes in the live action of scrimmages will go a long way in telling coaches how much they can put on his plate right away.

What we expect for Week 1: Fromm will start. He’s done nothing to lose the job. But coaches don’t plan to redshirt Fields, so watch out for him to come on the field in certain packages or situations.

They said it: “Both quarterbacks played well. They did some things in the passing game that can help us win. … Both guys did a good job of the command of the huddle. Both guys had great presence and command of the offense,” coach Kirby Smart said following the team’s first camp scrimmage. — Scarborough


LSU Tigers

The competitors: Junior Joe Burrow and sophomore Myles Brennan

The winner: Burrow

Fall camp developments: The Tigers entered August with four scholarship quarterbacks and enter Week 1 with half that, as fourth-year junior Justin McMillan and redshirt freshman Lowell Narcisse departed halfway through training camp. That left just Burrow, the graduate transfer from Ohio State, and Brennan, who played as a freshman for the Tigers last season. It’s no surprise that Burrow won the job given the high praise he received from coach Ed Orgeron when the Tigers acquired him over the summer. He was the favorite entering camp and emerged with the gig.

What we expect for Week 1: Burrow will get the first and likely the bulk of the snaps, but both quarterbacks will play in the season opener against Miami, Orgeron said. Orgeron made a point to say that the battle was close and that he and coordinator Steve Ensminger went back and forth in the final week of camp on the decision, but ultimately chose Burrow.

They said it: Orgeron on Burrow: “He came in here very low key. Competed at every event he could … in the film room, on his own, studying, in the weight room, working hard. When he had to, he took command of the offense, showed leadership. He made some mistakes; he wasn’t perfect. But the next day, he would bounce back. He showed true leadership and an ability to command the offense.” — Sam Khan Jr.


Texas A&M Aggies

The competitors: Sophomores Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond

Fall camp developments: It has been a tight battle throughout camp and coach Jimbo Fisher has repeated that refrain throughout August. He has been complimentary of both quarterbacks, who have each had their moments but Mond’s offseason progress and leadership seem to be winning Fisher over, making Mond the favorite to start as Thursday’s opener approaches.

What we expect for Week 1: Look for Mond to take the first snaps when the Aggies open the season against Northwestern State. He and Starkel are likely to both play, however, since A&M is facing an FCS foe. Fisher said once the starter has done enough to win the game, the next quarterback will get in the game

They said it: Fisher on Mond: “His hand placement, his hips, his eyes, tremendous … he’s throwing the ball much more accurate down the field. He does a great job of keeping his eyes up in the pocket, making throws, delivering on time. Kellen’s accuracy, his development, his demeanor and even his leadership … he’s doing a great job.” — Khan


UCLA Bruins

The competitors: Sophomore Devon Modster, grad transfer Wilton Speight and freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson

Fall camp developments: The one to watch here is Thompson-Robinson, the four-star recruit with the athleticism and fluidity to someday become one of the nation’s best collegiate quarterbacks. He could be a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense. But Thompson-Robinson is a true freshman who did not start at quarterback until his senior year of high school. Speight, a grad transfer from Michigan, has 16 collegiate starts under his belt and is a traditional pocket passer, which might actually be a disadvantage in this instance. Modster, a redshirt sophomore, is a dual-threat quarterback. But he doesn’t have Speight’s experience or, it seems, Thompson-Robinson’s upside.

What we expect for Week 1: Kelly closes his practices to the media and has not divulged much of anything about how the quarterback competition is taking shape, so this one is tough to gauge. The Bruins have only eight seniors on their roster and will be reconfiguring their offensive line. Conventional wisdom says they will go with Speight initially to let Thompson-Robinson gain some valuable experience. But Kelly doesn’t follow convention.

They said it: “We don’t have a set number of days or anything. Everywhere I’ve been, it’s happened organically. Someone keeps rising to the top. It’s a meritocracy.” — Kelly, when asked if he needs to decide on his starting quarterback a certain number of days before the Sept. 1 opener against Cincinnati. — Alden Gonzalez

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