After a long offseason and a tumultuous preseason camp, Week 1 is almost here. And with the arrival of game week comes the release of depth charts. Though a lot of the preseason camp battles have already been fought and won, there is still some suspense as to who is atop those first depth charts and takes those first snaps next weekend.
These are the battles still publicly undecided and what you should know about each. After all, you know we're just going to get a bunch of co-starters and "OR" designations this week.
The rundown: This is the most hyped position battle of the offseason. It's Hurts' 26-2 record versus Tagovailoa's national title-winning half. There's no question who makes this offense better, and that's the lefty from Hawaii. Tua is one of the most gifted natural passers in the country. and he has an arsenal of weapons to distribute to. So, he probably should be the starter. That doesn't mean he will be.
Alabama is always leaning on its defense. That it will have its most dynamic offense of Nick Saban's tenure doesn't necessarily mean it will be anxious to go all Big 12 on us. Terrell Lewis, Christopher Allen and the dismissal of Vandarius Cowan cuts into the depth of a front seven that feels more shallow than we're used to seeing from the Tide. Perhaps that means Saban wants to lean on the ball control, methodical drubbing that Hurts can hand opponents over the quick-strike, higher risk Tagovialoa.
Projection: Tagovailoa ... and the defense will be just fine.
Contenders: Kelly Bryant, Trevor Lawrence
The rundown: Bryant led Clemson to a College Football Playoff appearance. Lawrence has a couple high school state championships and a spring game under his belt. They're playing under the same coach that was satisfied with a freshman Deshaun Watson sharing time with Cole Stoudt.
But a lot has changed since 2014. A true freshman beat another true freshman to win a national title last year. A true freshman nearly beat Clemson one year earlier. And Lawrence is one of the most decorated high school quarterbacks of all-time. For perhaps the first time in Dabo Swinney's tenure, anything less than a national championship this fall will be disappointing. Lawrence is actually the one that gives Clemson the better shot.
Projection: Kelly ... until Clemson runs up against a defense that demands a dynamic passer at quarterback. That may not be until Florida State in late October. Or it may happen at Kyle Field in Week 2. Then, Lawrence takes over.
Auburn running back
The rundown: It doesn't matter. Gus Malzahn will find a way to run the football. That's where it always begins with Malzhan: a downhill run game. This year, Auburn returns one of the top quarterbacks in the country and a defense that is loaded. For once, running back is the question.
Malzhan is two years removed from milking 1,200 yards out of Kamryn Pettway. He's had a different leading rusher each of his five years as head coach at Auburn. The good news is there are plenty of options. Martin is the most experienced. Whitlow is the most talented. They have different styles. There are other bodies in the stable too that can add more variety in Asa Martin, Shaun Shivers, Devan Barrett and Malik Miller.
Projection: Martin ... but I envision the more physical Whitlow becoming the workhorse by season's end.
Florida State quarterback
The rundown: Florida State's season last year fell apart when Francois went down to injury. And yet, somehow, Blackman went into this offseason as a quiet favorite to win the starting job that he inherited last fall. But then Francois got healthy, and now we're starting to remember why Francois was considered a possibility to take a redshirt sophomore jump to the NFL Draft.
Willie Taggart inherited a talented roster but neither Francois nor Blackman have the athleticism that he's used to out of his last two quarterbacks in Justin Herbert and Quinten Flowers. So it's all about which one is better. Which one is winning the team. It's comforting to know that Florida State has two quarterbacks to lead it, but this won't be a two-quarterback system.
Projection: Francois ... and suddenly FSU looks like a national powerhouse once again.
Contenders: Kelvin Joseph, Kary Vincent, Terrance Alexander, Kristian Fulton
The rundown: During his 2017 redshirt freshman season, Greedy Williams was one of the nation's top cornerbacks, pulling in six interceptions along the way. The caveat is that Williams was the No. 2 guy for LSU last year with the benefit of playing opposite second round NFL Draft pick Donte Jackson. Now, he's the No. 1 guy, and unless LSU finds a suitable partner in crime, he'll be an easy guy to avoid for opponents.
What was once a huge question mark just got a lot more clarity when Fulton's appeal was granted and the second year of a two-year suspension was lifted. Fulton, a former five-star cornerback, has elite ability and reports are that he's stayed in shape and is ready to roll. If he steps into that lock-down role opposite Williams, LSU's defense takes a big step forward.
Projection: Fulton ... who makes up for lost ground as the starter quickly. All the corners that were vying for that spot now become starter-quality defenders in nickel and dime roles.
Virginia Tech cornerbacks
The rundown: Virginia Tech is quietly in the conversation for DBU with the way it regularly reloads and develops NFL-level defensive backs. Last year, it lost Brandon Facyson and Greg Stroman to the NFL from the cornerback position. They were supposed to be getting back NFL prospect Adonis Alexander, but academic issues sent him packing to the NFL, too. Then there was the injury to JUCO enrollee and projected starter Jeremy Webb to a season-ending injury. Suddenly, Virginia Tech was without any experience at cornerback.
But don't cry too hard for the Hokies. Among the options that do return are a host of very inexperienced but very talented prospects. Consider Farley, a 6-foot-2 redshirt freshman who would have made an impact last fall at wide receiver if not for a season-ending injury. He's got a 10.7 100 meter time to his credit. Thompson, a true freshman, has a 10.6-second 100 meter on his resume. Watts has a 21.5-second 200 meter on his ledger. This isn't track, but the talent is there.
Projection: Farley and Watts ... Experience aside, Farley is too talented to keep off the field. He'll be joined by one of the upperclassmen, likely Watts, but don't be surprised to see more of the young talent start to work their way into the rotation as the season progresses.