As spring camps and games approach for our favorite college teams, there are some intriguing camp battles in place that could determine values for entire teams in the 2021 college football season. For most programs, the quarterback position is the most important position on the field. This reality causes headaches for coaches, as the correct decision could help lead a team to the playoff or a bowl game berth. Conversely, the wrong decision can lead toa sub .500 season, and perhaps the loss of a job. With spring kickoffs coming, the heat will be dialed up to 11.
2021 is a transition year for many top programs. Some of these teams lost their stars to the NFL or the transfer portal. Others bring in highly touted freshmen to compete with underwhelming incumbents. Regardless of situation, we should see some great battles for that starting quarterback position at top schools. Here are some of the battles we will be focusing on.
The Ohio State Buckeyes
The Ohio State Buckeyes have a loaded offensive room with top prospects at wide receiver and running back. However, the Buckeyes lost their starting quarterback and signal-caller Justin Fields to the NFL. Ohio State has three viable candidates competing for the Buckeyes starting quarterback position. This Buckeyes quarterback room is full of inexperience, as neither returning player have thrown a pass in college (both have rushing touchdowns). To complicate matters, Ohio State did what it does best this offseason, adding high-end talent to an already stacked depth chart. Whoever wins this job will likely have a ton of pressure on them as The Ohio State is still considered a playoff team.
Candidates: CJ Stroud, Jack Miller, Kyle McCord
Jack Miller started the season as the first quarterback on the field behind Justin Fields against Nebraska. While he did not complete a pass he did rush for 23 yards and a touchdown. Miller would only see four more snaps the rest of the season, which all came in the game against Michigan State.
Much like Miller, CJ Stroud only played a handful of snaps in the 2020 season. However, his snaps came later in the year, which suggests that Stroud passed Miller on the depth chart as the year went on. Most of those snaps (6) came in the Michigan State game, where Stroud ran for a 60-yard touchdown. But the biggest indicator that Stroud surpassed Miller? In the CFP semifinal, Fields took a vicious hit to the ribs and came out of the game for one play. That snap was taken by CJ Stroud.
Kyle McCord is a true freshman who joined the Buckeyes battle earlier this year. As an early enrollee, McCord should get every opportunity to compete for this job. McCord is a competitive kid that sat down with us last week to discuss his early days at Ohio State and his prep for spring practices. While some may view him as a bit behind the other two candidates, he does have the pedigree as a five-star recruit. He’s also rated lower than Stroud in our Campus QB Rankings, making him a huge value, should he win that job.
Who Wins and Why?
All three quarterbacks are extremely talented and each of them has legitimate reasons to win the job. The leading candidates should come down to sophomore CJ Stroud and freshmen Kyle McCord. While I’d expect head coach Ryan Day to hold off as long as possible in making a decision, I’m leaning Kyle McCord to win the job. McCord has the ability to throw out of many different arm slots. He’s a calm and collected player in the pocket who possesses great pocket manipulation. His arm talent and poise fits this offense that Ryan Day wants to run, and his athleticism is underrated.
When Texas is good, college football as a whole is better. Yet, the Longhorns have not been able to get back to that promised land and have yet to make it into the playoffs. This offseason, Texas decided that Tom Herman was not the guy to achieve those lofty standards, so they brought in Alabama OC Steve Sarkisian. At Alabama, Sarkisian helped lead the second-ranked offense in 2020 and won the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top coaching assistant. “Sark” was also given the FootballScoop Offensive Coordinator award, which is voted on by the previous award winners.
Sark is looking to change the culture for the Longhorns and likely will come in with some serious pressure to turn this team around sooner rather than later. Sam Ehlinger has entered the draft but they did retain Casey Thompson whom we did see in the bowl game last season. With four-star recruit Hudson Card part of the team now as well, this should be a very intriguing battle this spring, to see who wins the starting quarterback for the Longhorns.
Candidates: Casey Thompson, Hudson Card
Casey Thompson is the experienced option as he enters his fourth year with the Longhorns. While Thompson saw some time in week two, he shined in the bowl game against Colorado. Thompson went 8-for-10 for 170 yards and 4 touchdowns while adding 24 rushing yards. Thompson brings some starting experience as well as being a dual-threat option.
Hudson Card saw limited action last year behind Sam Ehlinger. Many had hoped he would get the start in a bowl game. Card is a product of Lake Travis high school in Texas, which also produced Garrett Gilbert and Baker Mayfield. Card a four-star prospect in the 2020 recruiting class who finished behind Bryce Young, DJ Uiagalelei, and CJ Stroud.
Who Wins and Why?
While I do believe this will be a tightly contested battle as well, I think Hudson Card ends up winning the job. We’ve seen in the past two years with Sark’s offense at Alabama he wants and needs a quarterback who can sling the ball. While Thompson isn’t a horrible passer, Card is a major step up in that department. Card’s ability to pass the ball with accuracy into tight windows is fun to watch. He can use his athleticism to make off-script plays and off-platform throws. Overall I believe Card is the better quarterback and I do believe there is pressure on Texas to win now.
Oregon hasn’t had much need for a quarterback battle over the past decade and was hoping to avoid one coming into this year. Unfortunately, 2020 starter Tyler Shough was frequently mediocre, opening the door for other candidates. After the Ducks added four-star freshmen Ty Thompson, Shough entered the transfer portal, creating one of the more intriguing quarterback battles of this spring. With four quarterbacks on the roster, expect this to be a very open competition. While Robby Ashford and Jay Butterfield were with the team last year, neither touched the field. Senior Anthony Brown played in spurts for Shough in the back half of the 2020 season. Will the Ducks go with youth or trust the wily veteran?
Candidates: Anthony Brown, Robby Ashford, Jay Butterfield, Ty Thompson
Anthony Brown was a transfer from Boston College last year. While he lost the battle to Tyler Shough in 2020 he was still able to see some time on the field (39 snaps) which all came in the last two weeks of the season. Brown will get one more season due to the NCAA pausing all eligibility last season.
Robby Ashford is a former four-star prospect in the 2019 recruiting class. Ashford was dressed for games last year but never got on the field for live-action. While he is an intriguing prospect, he did come to Oregon to play baseball as well. Many will wonder if he has the time to commit to both this season.
Jay Butterfield was a four-star prospect in the same class as Ashford and the fifth-ranked pro-style quarterback overall. Butterfield was named as the third-string quarterback last year but much like Ashford was never able to get onto the field.
Ty Thompson, a four-star recruit in the 2020 recruiting class, jumped up recruiting service rankings as a senior. Head coach Mario Cristoball himself declared “Ty Thompson may be the best quarterback in the country.” He is also the highest-rated quarterback to commit to Oregon since the creation of recruiting rankings.
Who Wins and Why?
Oregon is going to have a tight and hotly contested battle on its hands. All four quarterbacks have a realistic shot to win the starting job. Robby Ashford’s desire to continue his baseball career concerns me. While he states he is putting his focus into football, I could easily see Ashford being the odd man out. Jay Butterfield is not like the rest of this quarterback room. He has the arm talent and tools but not the athleticism the other three have. Joe Moorehead runs an offensive conducive to a more mobile quarterback and Butterfield is more of a pocket passer.
This leaves senior Anthony Brown and freshmen Ty Thompson as my top two candidates to win the job. Thompson is by far the most skilled of the group and is going to be given every chance to win this job in spring according to his head coach. With Thompson’s ability to throw on the move and make throws to all three levels effortlessly, I expect him to win the job. However, if he stumbles in spring and none of the other younger options take a step forward, we could see the Ducks go with the seasoned option in Anthony Brown by default.
Utah is in a familiar position going into spring practice as a quarterback battle is on the horizon of their new season. With a quarterback room full of transfers, and all with different skill sets, this should be a very interesting spring for the Utes. Utah still has a good defense and their quarterback play could help shift the wide-open PAC12 in their favor. With spring camp starting and the Utes months away from their first game, these practices will be must-watch to see who leads the pack for the starting quarterback job.
Candidates: Charlie Brewer, Cameron Rising, Ja’Quinden Jackson, Peter Costelli
Charlie Brewer is a transfer from Baylor. He has the most experience on the roster and should be able to step right into the starting position if needed. While Baylor has been known for their high flying offense, Brewer and Baylor struggled last season. Brewer only passed for more than 300 yards once last season and finished with a completion percentage of 61.7%. Even with the down season, Brewer still has the most starts on the roster (44) and impressive stats from Baylor. Through 4 years, Brewer finished with 9,700 passing yards and 65 touchdowns through the air, while adding 1,039 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground.
Cameron Rising beat out Jake Bentley and won the starting job last season. After suffering a shoulder injury, Rising missed the rest of the season. Rising went through surgery and is expected to be back sometime this summer. If he’s able to get back before fall camp he should be able to compete to win his starting job back before the season starts.
Ja’Quinden Jackson transferred from Texas after spending most of the season recovering from a partially torn ACL suffered in high school. Jackson is the most athletic quarterback in the room and possesses massive upside. His ability to make big plays with his legs could be a true separator among his peers.
Peter Costelli is a four-star true freshman who joins the Utes as the second highest-rated quarterback in program history. Costelli possesses incredible speed. In high school, his split in his team’s 42.29 4×100-meter was the second-fastest time in the state. Costelli also possesses a strong arm with good deep ball accuracy. He enrolled with the school early so he’s in camp and competing.
Who Wins and Why?
Cameron Rising seems to be the odd man out at the moment, as he is sidelined until July. In his absence, all three quarterbacks have a chance to jump him on the depth chart. Through the first week of camp, it seems as though Brewer might be the leader. Brewer has plenty of experience at the college level, while Jackson is an explosive athlete. If Jackson is fully healthy and able to compete, I expect him to compete for the job. While he still is a bit raw as a prospect, his upside is enormous. But rule out Costelli at your own risk. As it stands now, Costelli is likely the most talented quarterback in that room. His inexperience might hurt his chances to win the job, but if he wins out he could add a scary dynamic to his offense with his speed, arm strength, and accuracy.
Michigan has already started spring practice, and while it may be too early to announce a starter, they have a three-man race that could lead to some serious sparks for the Wolverines offense in 2021. Cade McNamara is the incumbent. The junior signal caller finished the 2020 season for the Wolverines and looked decent. The Wolverines also added Alan Bowman in the transfer portal. Bowman spent the past three years in the air raid at Texas Tech. Bowman is not afraid to to sling the ball around, which could spice things up at Michigan. Lastly, they added five-star recruit JJ McCarthy in the 2020 recruiting cycle.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh could be on the hot seat at Michigan. While he’s had some impressive winning seasons, he’s struggled against his big rivals Michigan State (3-3) and Ohio State (0-5). Winning this year is almost a must, so will he rely on a proven veteran or go with the highly-rated freshmen?
Candidates- Cade McNamara, Alan Bowman, JJ McCarthy
Cade McNamara started the final two games for Michigan in 2020 and played well in both contests, including an overtime win against Rutgers, and a loss to Penn State. In those two games, McNamara went 39-for-61 with 351 passing yards and 4 touchdowns.
Alan Bowman is a transfer from Texas Tech and played in their fun-to-watch air raid offense. Bowman does bring health concerns with him, as he has only played in 19 of 32 games over the past three seasons. When on the field, he has produced. Bowman passed for 5,247 yards with 33 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his Texas Tech career. He also completed 67% of his passes. While Bowman can certainly sling the ball, he’ll be joining a much different situation. Under Harbaugh, Michigan has preferred an RPO heavy offense. Can Bowman adapt? If so, he could get the early nod.
JJ McCarthy is a five-star recruit out of Illinois, and is Jim Harbaugh’s highest-rated quarterback recruit since Andrew Luck. McCarthy brings all the tools to be a successful college quarterback. He has good poise in the pocket and can throw the ball deep with accuracy. Because of his status as a highly rated recruit, Michigan fans hope to see him as the starter. There are heavy expectations in Ann Arbor, and Harbaugh will need to maneuver this situation carefully.
Who Wins and Why?
While Cade McNamara played well last year and knows this offense, I think he’s the third option at the moment for the team. Michigan’s quarterback battle likely comes down to Alan Bowman and JJ McCarthy. I do expect this battle to go down to the last possible minute, if Harbaugh’s stays within his typical behavior. Both Bowman and McCarthy have strengths and weaknesses. Bowman has experience as a starter and consistent play, when healthy. For McCarthy, he brings all the talent and upside of a possible future NFL player. I expect Bowman to win the job at first and McCarthy to end up as the backup. With Bowman’s injury history, we could see McCarthy on the field this year. If Bowman does win the job, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis may change some things schematically to better mesh with Bowman’s skill set.
Spring is here and we are going to be watching these and many other camp battles over the next few weeks and months. All of these battles could help change the immediate and long term futures of these programs. While most of these battles will likely go through practice and the spring games, the tension will be high. With hopes of a return to some normalcy, this should be a fun and exciting college football season and it starts now with camp battles and spring practices and games.