In 2017 Tua Tagovailoa lived every boy’s dream of throwing a game winning touchdown in the national championship. The pass was impressive to say the least, but remember he was QB2 on the depth chart for the first 15 ½ games that season.
Tua had lost the quarterback battle to Jalen Hurts in spring ball that year but won it the following off-season. Having two elite college players battling for the top of the depth chart perhaps made both players better. Is there a Hurts/Tagovaoila combination in 2020? Let’s examine the top quarterback battles to follow for this fall, and my prediction on who will win opening day credits.
Alabama – Mac Jones or Bryce Young
The Tide are the intro and the first grouping of this discussion, and it’s as heated of a battle as we have going into the fall. Mac played very well for Tua after his injury last season, starting 4 games and throwing for 1,500 yards and 14 TDs to just 3 picks. He lit up the Michigan and Auburn defenses, which were solid all season. He now faces a tough challenge in the true freshman Bryce Young, a 5-star recruit who is the highest rated quarterback ever to commit to Alabama. The former California Gatorade Player of the Year and High School Quarterback of the Year by the National Quarterback Club might have the most talent of the two, but with limited spring practice, Jones may be the safer bet to start the season. Make no mistake about it, Nick Saban will have a hook ready if Jones struggles.
Prediction: Mac Jones
Oklahoma – Spencer Rattler or Tanner Mordecai
Whoever wins this battle will be the 4th quarterback in four years to start for Lincoln Riley. Rattler was QB2 last season behind Heisman runner up Jalen Hurts, seeing snaps in three games as a back-up. The Arizona native was a 5-star recruit and could be the first passer in Riley’s head coaching career to start a game who wasn’t a transfer. Mordecai is a dual threat athlete who passed for 47 touchdowns and ran for another 21 as a senior in high school in Waco, TX. He has seen limited action as a Sooner however with just 30 attempts in 2 seasons. It would be a surprise if Rattler isn’t the quarterback starring in Riley’s system for the next 2-3 seasons.
Prediction: Spencer Rattler
Michigan – Dylan McCaffrey or Joe Milton
No team needs a star quarterback more than Michigan does. Now that the Shea Patterson era is over in Ann Arbor, it’s time for someone new to bring life to Josh Gattis’ system. McCaffrey, the younger brother of Carolina Panther’s star Christian, and Milton should be a better fit to the offense than what Patterson brought to the table, but regardless of who wins the battle, the major concern is inexperience. McCaffrey enters his junior season with just 35 passes and 3 touchdowns, while Milton has completed just 6 of 11 passes with 2 interceptions. Both were 4-star recruits and turned down offers from major universities to commit to Michigan.
Prediction: Dylan McCaffrey
Oregon – Tyler Shough or Anthony Brown
Maybe the biggest cleats to fill in 2020 were left behind by Justin Herbert, the hometown hero of Eugene, Oregon who left for the NFL after playing in 43 games and throwing for over 10,500 yards and 95 touchdowns. Fortunately for Mario Cristobal, he has a battle of two quality quarterbacks in transfer Anthony Brown and Tyler Shough to fight it out for the rights to be QB1. Brown left Boston College after three seasons where he completed 55% of his passes for 4,738 yards and 40 touchdowns. His competition Tyler Shough completed 12 of 15 passes last season for 144 yards and 3 touchdowns in a backup role in 2019. New offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead steps in and he will be faced with the decision to go with experience (Brown) or potential (Shough).
Prediction: Tyler Shough
Utah – Jake Bentley or Cameron Rising
Jake Bentley leaves South Carolina for Utah after a 4 year career that saw him attempt well over 1,000 passes for 7,500 yards and 55 touchdowns in the SEC. Cameron Rising used his redshirt year at Texas and then sat out 2019 to comply with NCAA transfer rules, but he has potential to step into the Utes offense and take control from the first summer practice. Rising originally committed to Oklahoma in 2018 and then flipped to Texas quickly while turning down 25 other D1 colleges in the meantime. He has a stronger arm and is more athletic than Bentley, but it seems more likely Kyle Whittingham will go with someone who has 4-years of elite college experience to lead his team into the 2020 season.
Prediction: Jake Bentley
Ole Miss – Matt Coral or John Rhys Plumlee
Matt Coral started the first four games of 2019 as a freshman before being injured and turning the reigns over to classmate John Rhys Plumlee for the remaining 8 games. Coral went 2-2 in his starts, completing 68 of 114 passes with 4 scores and 1 interception, while Plumlee connected for just 910 yards, 4 scores and 3 picks in 8 starts. The latter however dazzled in another way, rushing for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns, while leading the SEC by averaging 114 rushing yards per game. Coral is the better passer, but new head coach Lane Kiffin will have to decide if that is enough to give him the job.
Prediction: John Rhys Plumlee
Michigan State – Rocky Lombardi or Payton Thorne
Mel Tucker has moved to East Lansing, Michigan and will be looking to start fresh with a new quarterback. Brian Lewerke is in the NFL and Tucker will be watching the battle between 16-game veteran Lombardi and redshirt freshman Payton Thorne. Lombardi threw 154 passes in 2018 but just 21 last season and has a career completion percentage of just 42%. Thorne is a dual threat quarterback who was the top ranked quarterback in the state of Illinois in 2019 when he threw 40 touchdowns. Thorne was high school teammates with redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jayden Reed who appears to be in line for a bigger role at MSU. That connection might just give him the advantage.
Prediction: Payton Thorne
Washington State – Cammon Cooper or Gunner Cruz
For the fourth year in a row, the Cougars will have a new starting quarterback in week 1. Head coach Nick Rolovich steps into the Pac-12 and takes over an offense that has been known as the “Air Raid” under previous coach Mike Leach. Neither Cammon Cooper nor Gunner Cruz has thrown a single collegiate pass. Cooper, a former 4-star recruit, was ranked the 15th best pro style passer in the country out of high school while Cruz, a 3-star, turned down an offer from Georgia to play his collegiate ball in Washington.
Prediction: Cammon Cooper
Florida State – James Blackman, Jordan Travis, Chubba Purdy or Tate Rodemaker
Yikes, what a mess in Tallahassee. Things need to turn around at some point for the Seminoles, right? Not since Jameis Winston won a national title in 2013 has Florida State had a strong quarterback to lead the team. New head coach Mike Norvell hopes 2020 can be the year where things turn around. James Blackmon is the veteran, having played most of the 2017 season as the team’s starter in Jimbo Fisher’s last season at FSU. Fortunately for Blackmon, Norvell’s offensive scheme should mirror more of Fisher’s playbook than Willie Taggert’s, giving the veteran an inside track on being QB1. Travis is the best running quarterback on the team but could be used more as a niche role this season. Tate Rodemaker was the 6A South Offensive Player of the Year and Chubba Purdy is a blue-chip prospect that ranks as a top-10 quarterback in this upcoming freshman class.
Prediction: James Blackmon
Washington – Jacob Sirmon, Dylan Morris or Ethan Garbers
Jacob Eason was serviceable in filling the role of graduating Jake Browning in 2019, yet the Huskies still went 8-5 and were not in contention for the conference crown. With Eason in the NFL, new head coach Jim Lake will need to find a quarterback who will get the team back to their elite status they once held a few years ago. Simon is the front runner for the job but redshirt freshman Morris and true freshman Garbers will give him a battle in camp. Sirmon saw action in 5 games last season but only attempted 2 passes. He had the practice reps with the playbook so with limited field practice this summer for the team, it might be best to go with a familiar face.
Prediction – Jacob Sirmon
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