The spring practice schedule is off and running and we are just weeks away from the first major spring games. No storyline is juicier during this time of year than quarterback battles, particularly at the schools that we expect to see competing in the biggest games each and every weekend in the fall.
In this era of increased player movement, the quarterback position has seen the most fluidity across the country. The arrival of new additions not just from the recruiting trail, but via the transfer portal, can instantly change the outlook of the most important position on the field. Transfers aren't the main reason for holding quarterback competitions — coaches love the "every job is open" message in spring ball — but it's not a coincidence that all but one of the schools listed below have a player from the portal fighting for starter's reps.
Coaching changes, both at the top and at offensive coordinator, can also spark a reboot for a quarterback room, as experienced players get the benefit of a fresh start, but also give up an edge against newcomers to the competition.
Below we've highlighted seven quarterback battles that have our attention this spring. Some of these battles carry significance because of the players involved or the team's impact on a conference or national title race, while others bring intrigue because of what we'll learn about a new hire at the head coach and/or coordinator level. Our general expectation is that many of these battles for QB1 will extend into the fall and more schools could be added to this list. After all, we still have one more window of portal movement ahed of the May deadline to transfer and be eligible for the fall 2022 season.
Contenders: D.J. Uiagalelei, Cade Klubnik
One of the biggest storylines in all of college football in 2022 is whether Clemson can reclaim its position as a title contender after failing to win the ACC and reach the College Football Playoff for the first time in seven years. Getting back to the top starts with solidifying the quarterback position after Uiagalelei threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine) and finished last in the ACC in passer rating among eligible quarterbacks as a sophomore. The drop-off of the Clemson passing attack was a stunner considering not only the raw talent at wide receiver, but the fact that Uiagalelei had starred in relief of Trevor Lawrence in two starts the year prior.
Uiagalelei has welcomed the challenge from Klubnik, an early enrollee who was the top-rated quarterback in the 2022 class. The freshman brings the kind of pedigree that projects to high-level success, having been the first Texas high school quarterback to go undefeated while winning back-to-back 6A state tiles since Kyler Murray. Adding to the intrigue is the departure of offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and the promotion of quarterbacks Brandon Streeter as part of a reshuffling that could add new ideas not just to the quarterback position, but the offense as a whole.
Last year, we were tracking the battle between Card and Casey Thompson, a competition that started in the spring and continued all the way into Steve Sarkisian's first season as the Longhorns' head coach. Thompson transferred to Nebraska, but Card is far from the frontrunner for this job thanks to the arrival of former five-star prospect Quinn Ewers from Ohio State. The 6-foot-3, 206-pound Ewers rated as the No. 1 high school recruit, according to the 247Sports Composite, and that blue-chip status has many fans handing him the honors of QB1 already. But Card has indicated he's up for the challenge of going head-to-head against the touted new arrival and his one year of experience in Sarkisian's offense could prove to be valuable in the competition.
While it may take some time for the members of Texas A&M's historic 2022 recruiting class -- rated as the best class of the recruiting service era by 247Sports -- to fill out the depth chart, the hype from the last two years has already raised expectations for Jimbo Fisher's program. Texas A&M is viewed as a haven for top talent, but what we have yet to see since Fisher's arrival in College Station is a quarterback rise to level of being debated as one of the SEC's best. Does Texas A&M have that in this battle?
Injuries prevented King from ever finding his footing in 2021, but his experience with Fisher provides somewhat of an edge that's given up to Johnson, who totaled 35 touchdowns in 18 games for LSU over the last two seasons. Those two are likely the frontrunners for the job, but Weigman, who was a part of that historic recruiting 2022 class as a five-star prospect, is taking part in spring ball and represents a high-ceiling future if King or Johnson don't seize the QB1 role.
One of the burning questions heading into last season was whether Thompson, then a true freshman and former four-star recruit, would be able to push Anthony Brown for the Ducks' starting job. After winning at Ohio State in Week 2, Brown's status as "the guy" had some serious weight and the thoughts of Thompson's instant impact faded to the background. After a coaching change with Mario Cristobal off to Miami and Dan Lanning in from Georgia, Thompson has a fresh start -- with a catch.
The new staff, which includes Kenny Dillingham as offensive coordinator, brought in Bo Nix as a transfer from Auburn. Dillingham was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Auburn during Nix's freshman season when he won SEC Rookie of the Year. As a result, Thompson's edge as an entrenched member of the Oregon program seems less significant. Early reports from Eugene point to a spirited battle and good camaraderie among the bunch, but how things go this spring could impact the future of the quarterback room in the future.
The outlook for this competition took a sharp turn earlier this month when Daniels, the former Arizona State quarterback, announced LSU as his transfer destination. Daniels was a three-year starter for coach Herm Edwards and the Sun Devils, emerging as an instant-impact star in 2019 with 17 touchdowns and two interceptions before falling short of matching that high level of play in the following two seasons. Brennan figured to be the leader in this competition prior to that news, as he's been a steady and reliable option when healthy. However, his injury history brings some concern that may have been a factor in Daniels' arrival in Baton Rouge. The X-factor here is how new coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock want to run the offense, which in turn might be dependent on who wins this job.
Jones considered transferring out of the program but was ultimately convinced to stick around by new coach Billy Napier and the offensive staff. That commitment will be tested with how the quarterback room is graded at the end of spring practice. Jones will have a chance to show that he can be the productive signal-caller that Levi Lewis was at Louisiana, and his experience with the team and program could give him an edge in the battle.
Richardson was electric in flashes last season, but injuries kept him from being a consistent option for Dan Mullen or putting in work during the bowl practices that Napier was able to observe. He's been recently cleared to return to practice and enters spring practice as the front-runner given his immense talent. "There's a reason why people think he has an opportunity to be a good player," Napier said Tuesday. Richardson and Jones will also compete with Ohio State transfer Jack Miller for QB1 slotting.
The turnover at offensive coordinator contributed to the uncertainty around Bryan Harsin's future with Auburn, but the on-field implications of the personnel instability are a total reset for the quarterback room. Eric Kiesau, a former staffer with Harsin at Boise State and wide receivers coach for Auburn last season, was promoted to the OC role to replace Austin Davis ... who stepped down because of personal reasons after he was hired to replace Mike Bobo ... who was fired at the end of last season. Throw in Nix's departure to Oregon, and this is square one for Auburn at the most important position on the field
Finley brings the experience of being with the program last season, most notably helping lead a comeback win against Georgia State. Calzada started the final 10 games for Texas A&M -- including the win against Alabama -- after Haynes King went down with an injury against Colorado in Week 2. Both Finley, who started his career at LSU, and Calzada have enough SEC West experience to be on equal footing in terms of their preparation, making this a fascinating debate for a reshuffled staff that's undergone plenty of turmoil in the last six months.