July 31, 2011

Position battles abound as practice begins

Teams start to open fall practice Monday, but plenty of the nation's biggest programs don't know the identity of their starting quarterback.

Defending national champion Auburn must choose a successor to Heisman winner Cam Newton. Terrelle Pryor's exit left Ohio State with an uncertain quarterback situation. Alabama is deciding who should fill the shoes of Greg McElroy, who helped the Crimson Tide win the 2009 championship. Notre Dame has four contenders for its quarterback job.

While the quarterback competitions garner the majority of the attention this month, plenty of other position battles also will be taking place across the country this month.

To give you an idea of what to follow during these weeks leading up to the start of the season, we've broken down two dozen of the nation's top position battles. We have detailed 12 of the most interesting quarterback competitions while also discussing 12 battles going on at other positions.

Keep in mind that we've tried to shy away from running back competitions that likely won't have a real winner or loser. For instance, Wisconsin returns two 990-yard rushers in Montee Ball and James White, and Texas A&M has two star running backs in Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael. While each team must decide on a starter, we figure all four of those backs will get plenty of carries over the course of the season.

We instead wanted to focus on competitions in which the guy who fails to win the starting job could spend much of the season on the sideline. After all, those are the position battles that have much more at stake.

A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims are competing for the right to replace the departed Greg McElroy, who ranked fourth nationally in passing efficiency last season. McCarron, a sophomore, went 30-of-48 for 389 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions as McElroy's backup last season. Sims, a redshirt freshman, set Virginia state high school records in career passing yards (10,725) and touchdown passes (119) at Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith. McCarron was the No. 7 pro-style quarterback and No. 128 overall prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, while Sims was the No. 2 pro-style quarterback and No. 67 overall recruit in 2010. Both likely will play in the Sept. 3 opener against Kent State.
The unenviable task of replacing Heisman winner Cam Newton will fall to Barrett Trotter, Clint Moseley or Kiehl Frazier. Trotter, a junior, played in six games and attempted nine passes last season. Moseley, a sophomore, hasn't thrown a pass in a college game, but did pass for 3,758 yards and 35 touchdowns and rush for 670 yards and 15 touchdowns to earn Alabama "Mr. Football" honors while leading Leroy High to a third consecutive state title as a senior. Both are former three-star prospects. The most intriguing candidate is Frazier, a true freshman ranked as the No 5 dual-threat quarterback and No. 89 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class. Frazier led Springdale (Ark.) Shiloh Christian to three consecutive state titles. He threw for a combined 6,792 yards and 90 touchdowns and rushed for a combined 1,928 yards and 36 scores over his final two seasons at Shiloh Christian. Frazier wasn't an early enrollee and thus didn't participate in spring practice with Auburn.
The Cardinals have an intriguing competition between a former walk-on and a highly touted true freshman. Will Stein heads into his junior season as the front-runner for the job. He was 1-1 as a starter in 2009 and was 9-of-14 passing in a reserve role last season. Now he must hold off a challenge from Teddy Bridgewater, a freshman rated as the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback and No. 113 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class. Bridgewater enrolled at Louisville in time to participate in spring practice. Bridgewater threw for a combined 5,152 yards and 54 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Miami Northwestern. He also set a Miami-Dade County record by throwing seven touchdown passes in a game. Stein likely will open the season as the No. 1 quarterback, but it wouldn't be a surprise if Bridgewater wins the job at some point in the season.
The good news for the Hurricanes is that they have two experienced quarterbacks. The bad news is that both have a tendency to throw the ball to the other team. Jacory Harris, the Hurricanes' starting quarterback each of the past two seasons, threw for 1,793 yards with 14 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2010. He threw 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2009. Morris stepped in for an injured Harris to start the Hurricanes' final four regular-season games in 2010 and threw for 1,240 yards with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. Morris also outplayed Harris in a 33-17 Sun Bowl loss to Notre Dame. Harris is a senior, while Morris is a sophomore. They exited spring practice in a dead heat. Miami is coming off a season in which it threw 27 interceptions - the most of any FBS program - so the job could go to whichever player takes better care of the ball in camp.
Defending conference champion Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois, Temple and Toledo arguably are the four top teams in the MAC this season. Of those four teams, only Northern Illinois has a clear-cut starting quarterback (Chandler Harnish). Miami has perhaps the most interesting quarterback battle. Zac Dysert threw for 2,406 yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions before lacerating his spleen in the 10th game of the season. Austin Boucher took over for Dysert and led Miami to a MAC title and a GoDaddy.com Bowl win over Middle Tennessee. Toledo has a similar situation. Austin Dantin started the first nine games before suffering a shoulder injury. Terrance Owens replaced him and threw for 1,081 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions over the last five games of the season. Temple loves the potential of Pierce (Calif.) College transfer Clinton "Juice" Granger, but he just arrived on campus. The Owls return Mike Gerardi and Chester Stewart, but they combined for just 14 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions last season. The Owls are moving to a spread attack under new coach Steve Addazio, who had been offensive coordinator at Florida.
For the second consecutive season, the Rebels likely will be resting their hopes on a transfer. Barry Brunetti, who began his college career at West Virginia, will be competing with junior college transfers Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt for the job. Brunetti, a sophomore, went 12-of-21 for 211 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in Ole Miss' spring game. The former four-star prospect attempted nine passes as a reserve for West Virginia last season. He received an NCAA waiver that allows him to play for his new school immediately. Mackey, a junior, went 9-of-18 for 151 yards with one touchdown and an interception in the spring game. He redshirted last season after throwing for 3,122 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2009 at East Mississippi Community College. Stoudt, a junior, threw for 1,812 yards and 18 touchdowns last season at Iowa Western Community College. They're bidding to replace Jeremiah Masoli, who struggled in his lone season at Ole Miss after leading Oregon to the Rose Bowl a year earlier. Ole Miss lost its only experienced quarterback when Nathan Stanley transferred late in spring practice. Stanley, who had been tumbling down the Rebels' depth chart, now is at FCS program Southeastern Louisiana.
The Irish head into preseason camp with four contenders for the job. Junior Dayne Crist is the incumbent starter, but he struggled with consistency before rupturing his patellar tendon in the ninth game of the season. Sophomore Tommy Rees may have the least upside of the candidates, but he won each of his four starts after stepping in for Crist. Redshirt freshman Andrew Hendrix and true freshman Everett Golson may be the best fits for Brian Kelly's spread offense, but neither has played a down of college football. Crist exited spring practice as the front-runner to win the starting job, but the former five-star prospect can't take anything for granted. Kelly has plenty of other options. And he may need them: Kelly's season-opening starting quarterback has gotten injured in each of the past four seasons, a streak that began during his Cincinnati tenure.
Terrelle Pryor's earlier-than-expected departure leaves fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman as the Buckeyes' likely starting quarterback, at least for the time being. The presence of true freshman Braxton Miller makes this a situation worth monitoring. Bauserman, a former minor league pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization, went 16-of-22 for 174 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in backup duty last season. Bauserman, who is from Tallahassee, Fla., never has started a college game. Miller was the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and No. 34 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class. He threw for 2,167 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 658 yards and 17 more scores while leading Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne to a state final last season. If the Buckeyes are seeking a quarterback in the mold of Pryor, Miller's mobility makes him a better fit than Bauserman. But he clearly lacks Bauserman's experience, though Miller did arrive on campus early enough to participate in spring practice.
Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin gained experience as Penn State's starter last season, and each delivered mixed results. Bolden became the first Penn State true freshman quarterback since 1910 to start a season opener, but he threw seven interceptions and only five touchdown passes through the first six games before a concussion sidelined him. McGloin took over from there and threw for 1,548 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. But McGloin, a former walk-on, completed just 54.9 percent of his passes and closed the season by tossing five interceptions in an Outback Bowl loss to Florida. Bolden announced after the season that he planned to transfer, but he changed his mind and opted to stick around. Whether his decision will pay off with a starting job remains uncertain.
Replacing four-year starter and two-time Heisman finalist Colt McCoy has proved even tougher than expected for the Longhorns. Former five-star prospect Garrett Gilbert took over for McCoy last season but threw 17 interceptions and only 10 touchdowns as Texas went 5-7, its first losing record since 1997. Gilbert struggled enough last season that he now must prove he merits a second chance. Sophomore Case McCoy - Colt's younger brother - also is competing for the job along with redshirt freshman Connor Wood and true freshman David Ash. It would be a major surprise if Gilbert doesn't open the season as the starter, but he won't keep the job for long if he repeats his 2010 performance.
Quarterback issues have dogged the Bruins throughout Rick Neuheisel's coaching tenure. The position remains unsettled as he heads into his fourth season on the job. Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut have starting experience, though neither has played particularly well. Prince started five games last season and was just 42-of-94 before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Prince, a junior, has career totals of 13 interceptions and 11 touchdowns and has made 16 starts. Brehaut, also a junior, started the last seven games of the 2010 season and threw for 1,296 yards with seven interceptions and six touchdowns. The Bruins also have high hopes for true freshman Brett Hundley, an early enrollee who arrived on campus as the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback and No. 72 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class. But his chances of winning the job diminished last week when he tore meniscus in his right knee while playing basketball. The injury will sideline Hundley for the next few weeks.
Sophomores Ross Metheny and Michael Rocco are listed as co-starters on the depth chart, but redshirt freshman Michael Strauss and true freshman David Watford also are competing for the job. Metheny, a left-hander, went 4-of-5 for 53 yards and a touchdown last season; Rocco was 4-of-6 for 64 yards and a touchdown. Strauss threw for 6,650 yards and 62 touchdowns at private school power Miami Gulliver. He helped Gulliver win a state title as a junior. Watford had more than 3,000 yards in total offense and didn't throw an interception in 157 pass attempts as a senior at Hampton (Va.) High. Watford, a cousin of former Virginia quarterback and current Cavaliers graduate assistant Marques Hagans, enrolled at Virginia in time to participate in spring practice.
Air Force uses the triple option and has a fourth-year starter at quarterback (Tim Jefferson) and a former 1,000-yard rusher at tailback (Asher Clark), but the Falcons have nothing but uncertainty at fullback. The main contenders for the starting spot are juniors Wes Cobb and Mike DeWitt. Cobb, a backup last season, has just eight career carries for 22 yards. DeWitt has never played in a varsity game and sat out last season with a knee injury. Air Force has hopes of challenging Boise State and TCU for the Mountain West title, but the Falcons won't make a serious run at the crown unless one of these inexperienced fullbacks delivers a breakthrough season.
Arkansas looks solid in the middle of the line, but the Razorbacks must find two new starting tackles. The position became even more unsettled when former four-star prospect Anthony Oden was dismissed from the team recently after a second DUI arrest. Candidates include fifth-year senior Grant Freeman, true freshman Brey Cook and junior college transfer Jason Peacock. Cook, a four-star recruit, enrolled early and made quite an impact during spring practice. The Razorbacks also could press true freshman Austin Beck into duty or move Alvin Bailey over from guard if necessary.
Linebacker has been a problem area for an otherwise solid Clemson defense the past few seasons. The Tigers took steps to remedy that situation by bringing in a recruiting class that included five-star prospects Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward. Their arrivals lead to an intriguing battle this summer that pits experience against upside. Junior Corico Hawkins started last season and ranked third on the team in tackles (71) and second in tackles for loss (10). He will be competing this summer with Steward, the No. 1 outside linebacker and No. 13 overall prospect in the 2011 recruiting class. Steward won the high school version of the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker for his performance at St. Augustine (Fla.) Menendez.
This competition between junior Vince Williams and sophomore Telvin Smith should last all of camp. Williams made 17 tackles in a reserve role last season; he missed the 2009 season with a back injury. Smith, a cousin of star Florida State cornerback/kick returner Greg Reid, made 18 tackles while playing primarily on special teams last season. Smith also made an impression this spring, as he was the Seminoles' leading tackler in a number of scrimmages. FSU isn't the only ACC school from the Sunshine State with an intriguing battle at middle linebacker. Miami exited spring practice with senior Jordan Futch and sophomore James Gaines listed as co-starters. Futch has played primarily on special teams for most of his career. Gaines played six games as a true freshman last season. Another possibility is sophomore Kelvin Cain, who made four starts and had 12 tackles a year ago. The relative inexperience of Futch, Gaines and Cain also could allow a freshman to compete for playing time at this spot.
Mike Daniels will start at one tackle spot for the Hawkeyes after recording 40 tackles - 11 for loss - and four sacks last season. The other spot remains uncertain. Candidates for the job include sophomore Dominic Alvis, junior Steve Bigach, redshirt freshman Carl Davis and senior Thomas Nardo. Iowa has a history of playing undersized defensive tackles, so Davis, a 6-foot-5, 295-pounder, would represent a change. Will his size make up for his lack of experience? Alvis, Bigach and Nardo combined for eight tackles in reserve roles last season.
Junior A.J. Francis made nine starts at nose tackle last season and tied for third on the team with seven tackles for loss. He helped Maryland rank 21st nationally in run defense. Yet at the end of spring practice, Maryland's depth chart listed redshirt freshman Andre Monroe as a starter with Francis as a reserve. Monroe wasn't a particularly heralded recruit, arriving at Maryland as a two-star prospect. But his performance in spring practice made quite an impression on Maryland's new coaching staff. Both figure to play quite a bit in Maryland's tackle rotation, but it still would constitute a major surprise if the incumbent starter loses his job to a redshirt freshman who wasn't heavily recruited. The winner of this competition will start alongside Joe Vellano, a second-team All-ACC selection last season.
Mississippi State returns eight offensive starters from a team that went 9-4 and won the Gator Bowl last season, but the departure of first-round pick Derek Sherrod leaves a big hole at left tackle. The main contenders are senior James Carmon and redshirt freshman Blaine Clausell. Carmon arrived from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College as a defensive tackle and made three starts on that side of the ball last season. He moved to the offensive line during bowl practices. Clausell is a former two-star prospect from Mobile (Ala.) Baker.
Cameron Meredith is a clear-cut starter at one end spot after earning second-team All-Big 12 honors last season, but the other starting position remains up for grabs. Contenders include sophomore Jason Ankrah, junior college transfer Joseph Carter and juniors Eric Martin and Josh Williams. Ankrah played 10 games in a reserve role last season. Carter made 73 tackles - 17 for loss - at Chaffey College (Calif.) last season. Martin has stood out on special teams the past two seasons. Williams made 12 tackles as a backup last season. The winner of this job will be the lone first-year starter on a line that should rank among the nation's best.
Jamoris Slaughter began the 2010 season as the starter, but heel and ankle injuries limited him for much of the season and caused him to sit out two full games. Slaughter's health problems created an opportunity for Zeke Motta, who made eight starts and recorded 50 tackles. Slaughter finished the season with 31 tackles while starting five games. Motta now is listed ahead of Slaughter on Notre Dame's preseason depth chart, though this competition should continue through August. Both players are versatile. Motta, a junior, arrived on campus as a linebacker before moving to safety in the fall of his freshman season. Slaughter, also a junior, has experience at cornerback and safety.
Now that Alex Okafor is moving back to his natural position of end, the Longhorns need someone to start alongside Kheeston Randle at tackle Candidates for the job include sophomores Ashton Dorsey and Calvin Howell as well as redshirt freshman Taylor Bible. Dorsey is a former Rivals250 prospect who made two tackles and forced a fumble as a freshman. Howell has six career tackles. He arrived at Texas as the No. 55 overall prospect in the 2009 recruiting class. Bible was the No. 98 recruit in the 2010 class.
TCU's 4-2-5 defensive scheme requires three safeties. Senior Tekerrein Cuba gives the Horned Frogs a returning starter at the weak safety spot, but they must settle on a free safety and strong safety. The main contenders at free safety are senior Johnny Fobbs and sophomore Elisha Olabode, who played cornerback as a true freshman last season. Fobbs exited spring practice above Olabode on the depth chart. Fobbs has 11 career tackles, while Olabode was one of only three true freshmen to play for the Frogs last season. Sophomore Trent Thomas leads redshirt freshman Sam Carter in the competition at strong safety. Thomas played in three games for TCU last season. Carter arrived on campus as a dual-threat quarterback before moving to the secondary.
Robert Woods is a lock to start at one receiver spot after catching a team-high 65 passes as the Pac-10's offensive freshman of the year last season. But who's going to start on the other side? The Trojans have plenty of highly touted candidates. Markeith Ambles, George Farmer and Kyle Prater are former five-star recruits. Brice Butler and Marqise Lee were Rivals100 recruits. Other contenders include former four-star recruits Brandon Carswell, De'Von Flournoy and Victor Blackwell. But these guys still must prove they can live up to those accolades. Butler, a fourth-year junior, has 29 career catches and briefly left the program before deciding to return. Carswell, a fifth-year senior, has caught 22 passes and made three starts in his career. The other four guys we mentioned have combined for one career reception. Ambles has been on and off the team. Flournoy is a sophomore. Farmer, Blackwell and Lee are true freshmen. Prater, the top receiver prospect in the 2010 recruiting class, redshirted last season.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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