May 5, 2006

Quarterback battles take shape

Forget the cap and gown. Grab a helmet and shoulder pads.

Around the country, several true freshman quarterbacks gave up half of their senior years in high school to participate in spring practice in college and possibly claim a starting job.

At all positions, early enrollment is up 53 percent among Bowl Championship Series-aligned schools compared to last year, according to a March USA Today survey.

However, nowhere has this year's early exodus of high school seniors been more prominent than in Austin, Texas, and Athens, Ga., where two high school players sacrificed part of their senior years for a head start in replacing big-name quarterbacks.

At Texas, quarterback Jevan Snead ended the Longhorns' spring drills competing with redshirt freshman Colt McCoy to replace Vince Young, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL Draft and led Texas to the national championship.

Texas coach Mack Brown said both quarterbacks will play in the fall.

At Georgia, another heralded December graduate, Matthew Stafford, jumped in the fray with Joe Tereshinski, Joe Cox and Blake Barnes to replace D.J. Shockley. Although Tereshinski ended the spring on top of the Bulldogs' depth chart, the competition will continue when two-a-days begin in August.

In Stafford's case, at least, the early start allowed him to get the jitters out in March rather than weeks before the season.

He started his spring game with a 64-yard touchdown pass before struggling the rest of the way. It was still a long way from Day One.

"That first day, he was fumbling snaps and couldn't get the cadence right and didn't know how to ball fake," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "At the end he looked fairly polished where he could compete in the fall."

That's the advantage the 52 players, including nine quarterbacks, in the six major conferences (and at Notre Dame) are looking for when enrolling in January. Among the BCS-aligned schools, a reported 35 high school seniors enrolled in January in 2005 and 34 the year prior.

"It's made a huge impact on me," said Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who capped his spring with a 15-for-21, 197-yard performance in the Orange and Blue game. "I think it's a huge advantage for a student-athlete to come early. It really prepares you."

Even where the starting job wasn't wide open as it was at Texas or Georgia, top freshman quarterbacks put pressure on their veteran counterparts.

Kansas State's Josh Freeman immediately entered the mix with seniors Dylan Meier and Allen Webb and sophomores Allan Evridge, all of whom have at least five career starts.

Dylan Meier's younger brother, Kerry Meier, was named starting quarterback at Kansas this spring. But like his brother, Kerry has an early enrollee waiting in the wings. True freshman Todd Reesing graduated high school in December and ended spring battling for the Jayhawks' backup position.

At Florida, Tebow provided fans with debate material by outplaying senior starter Chris Leak in the spring game, but Coach Urban Meyer quickly reinforced Leak's status as starter while shielding Tebow from the hype.

"Tim Tebow is a freshman actually a senior in high school right now and we're going to protect him and let him go play quarterback," Meyer said. "(The attention) is great for him. He's one guy I think can handle it."

True freshmen aren't the only ones vying for high-profile starting jobs. In March, previewed the quarterback battles to watch during the spring. Here's how they turned out, plus a few new ones:

Arizona State
Last year's starter: Sam Keller/Rudy Carpenter
Spring game stats:
Keller: 19 of 35, 135 yards, INT
Carpenter: 18 of 35, 302 yards, 4 TDs, INT
Post-spring No. 1: Keller
The skinny: Coach Dirk Koetter said before spring practice Keller, who missed the end of last season with a thumb injury, would be his starter and that's the way it ended. Carpenter, whose gaudy stats in the spring game were helped by playing behind the better group of linemen and the top receivers, kept the pressure on Keller all spring.
Last year's starter: Robert Johnson/Casey Dick
Spring game stats:
Dick: 9 of 16, 95 yards, INT
Johnson: 5 of 6, 55 yards, TD
Post-spring No. 1: Dick
The skinny: Houston Nutt said Johnson had the better spring, but Dick will retain the starting role after going 2-2 in the last four games as the No. 1 quarterback last season. True freshman Mitch Mustain, the No. 10 overall recruit, will be reunited with his high school coach, Razorbacks offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, in the fall.
Last year's starter: Joe Ayoob
Spring game stats:
Nate Longshore: 6 of 9, 113 yards, 2 TD
Kyle Reed: 7 of 8, 23 yards, TD
Steve Levy: 3 of 9, 32 yards
Post-spring No. 1: Longshore
The skinny: Longshore, the starter in the 2005 opener, remained hobbled during the spring after sustaining a broken leg and ankle injuries in the opener last year. Still, Longshore will take the first snaps in the fall. He's the favorite to take the job thanks to his mobility, but Cal coach Jeff Tedford said "it really doesn't matter." Ayoob pushed for the job despite missing the spring game with a high ankle sprain.
Last year's starter: Joel Klatt
Spring game stats:
Brian White: 10 of 24, 102 yards, 1 carry, 12 yards
Bernard Jackson: 4 of 8, 28 yards, TD, 10 carries, 60 yards
Post-spring No. 1: Unknown
The skinny: White and Jackson ended the spring tied on top of the depth chart. Senior James Cox has the most experience of the bunch, but a thumb injury kept him sidelined for most of the spring. Cody Hawkins, son of Coach Dan Hawkins, will enter the mix in the fall.
Last year's starter: Matt Bonislawski
Spring game stats:
Bonislawski: 3 of 13, 42 yards, 3 INTs
D.J. Hernandez: 12 of 28, 135 yards
Post-spring No. 1: Hernandez
The skinny: Hernandez recovered from an otherwise poor spring game in his final series. He was 7-for-22, fumbled twice and was sacked seven times. Billy Cundiff and Dennis Brown were contenders at the start of spring but threw one pass each in the last scrimmage.
Last year's starter: Chris Leak
Spring game stats:
Leak: 17 of 33, 145 yards, INT
Tim Tebow: 15 of 21, 197 yards, TD
Post-spring No. 1: Leak
The skinny: Tebow, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback recruit for 2006, put the pressure on Leak in his first spring with Florida. Meyer insists there is no quarterback controversy brewing, but antsy Gators fans have already started to debate about the QBs.
Last year's starter: D.J. Shockley
Spring game stats:
Matthew Stafford: 5 of 12, 102 yards, TD
Joe Tereshinski III: 2 of 7, 45 yards, 2 INT
Joe Cox: 12 of 21, 162 yards, 4 INT
Post-spring No. 1: Tereshinski
The skinny: The senior Tereshinksi will take the first snaps in the fall, but Coach Mark Richt said he will narrow the list to at least two about eight days away from the opener. Stafford, an early enrollee, improved as the spring progressed. Blake Barnes missed the spring game because of a broken thumb.
Last year's starter: Jason Swanson/Brian Luke
Spring game stats:
Kerry Meier: 16 of 18, 184 yards, 3 TD; seven carries, 36 yards
Todd Reesing: 7 of 14, 102 yards, TD
Adam Barmann: 7 of 11, 31 yards
Post-spring No. 1: Meier
The skinny: Coach Mark Mangino named Meier the starter after he decisively claimed the job through the spring. The senior Barmann and early enrollee Reesing will compete for the No. 2 job.
Kansas State
Last year's starter: Allen Webb/ Allan Evridge
Spring game stats:
Webb: 5 of 6, 79 yards, TD
Evridge: 6 of 12, 72 yards, TD
Dylan Meier: 7 of 10, 53 yards, TD, INT
Josh Freeman: 5 of 7, 57 yards, TD
Kevin Lopina: 2 of 3, 24 yards, INT
Post-spring No. 1: Unknown
The skinny: First-year coach Ron Prince inherited a quarterback quandary with Meier, Webb and Evridge all having starting experience over the last two years. Complicating the decision was the arrival of the true freshman Freeman, the Wildcats' top recruit in 2006. Lopina helped clear up the picture a little by transferring at the end of spring practice.
Last year's starter: JaMarcus Russell
Spring game stats:
Matt Flynn: 12 of 26, 167 yards, 2 TD
Ryan Perrilloux: 11 of 26, 145 yards, TD
Post-spring No. 1: Russell
The skinny: With the incumbent Russell recovering from a shoulder injury, Flynn and Perrilloux proved the Tigers have enviable depth at the position. All three have the capability to start.
North Carolina
Last year's starter: Matt Baker
Spring game stats:
Joe Dailey: 8 of 15, 65 yards
Cam Sexton: 2 of 3, 13 yards
Post-spring No. 1: Unknown
The skinny: Coach John Bunting and first-year offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti remain undecided after spring drills. Dailey has the advantage of experience after starting 11 games at Nebraska in 2004.
Last year's starter: Brett Basanez
Spring scrimmage stats:
Andrew Brewer: 6-for-8, 52 yards, TD; 10 carries, 89 yards
C.J. Bacher: 8 of 11, 121 yards, two TD, INT; two carries, 16 yards
Mike Kafka: 7 of 15, 46 yards, two TD; eight carries, 71 yards
Post-spring No. 1: Unknown
The skinny: Replacing Basanez remained unsettled at the end of the spring. Bacher is the only one with game experience, throwing 15 passes last year. Brewer worked out at wide receiver at times during the spring.
Last year's starter: Kellen Clemens
Spring game stats:
Dennis Dixon: 14 of 25, 114 yards, TD; 13 carries, 27 yards, rushing TD
Brady Leaf: 19 of 31, 285 yards, TD, 3 INT
Post-spring No. 1: Dixon
The skinny: Dixon started to separate from Leaf through the spring, but the Ducks could still platoon the two when camp opens in fall. The Dixon/Leaf combo was 3-1 at the end of last season after replacing Clemens.
South Florida
Last year's starter: Pat Julmiste
Spring game stats:
Julmiste: 6 of 13, 187 yards, TD
Carlton Hill: 5 of 15, 40 yards
Matt Grothe: 11 of 19, 167 yards, TD, 3 INT
Post-spring No. 1: Unknown
The skinny: Hill was named the starter prior to spring practice, but his absence for half the spring to focus on academics left him in a three-way tie with Julmiste and Grothe.
Southern Cal
Last year's starter: Matt Leinart
Spring game stats:
Mark Sanchez: 13 of 21 for 146 yards, TD
Michael McDonald: 19 of 27, 191 yards, 3 TD
Post-spring No. 1: John David Booty
The skinny: Booty ended spring practice on top of the depth chart despite missing part of the spring with a back injury. He expects to return in the fall. The Trojans had additional problems at the position when Sanchez was arrested for investigation of sexually assaulting a female student. He was released on $200,000 bail.
Last year's starter: Rick Clausen
Spring game stats:
Erik Ainge: 14 of 22, 210 yards, 2 TD
Jonathan Crompton: 15 of 19, 102 yards
Bo Hardegree: 9 of 10, TD, INT
Post-spring No. 1: Ainge
The skinny: With new offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe in Knoxville, Ainge looked more comfortable at quarterback and took hold of the starting job. The absence of Clausen also helped Ainge relax and claim his spot.
Last year's starter: Vince Young
Spring game stats:
Colt McCoy: 7 of 11, 75 yards, INT
Jevan Snead: 9 of 13, 97 yards, TD, INT
Post-spring No. 1: Unknown
The skinny: The Longhorns found few answers in trying to fill the biggest (and fastest) shoes at the quarterback position. Neither McCoy, a redshirt freshman, nor Snead, an early enrollee, has taken a college snap. Coach Mack Brown has said both will play in the fall.
Last year's starter: Marques Hagans
Spring game stats:
Christian Olsen: 7 of 11, 67 yards, TD
Jameel Sewell: 6 of 15, 53 yards, INT, 6 carries, 39 yards
Post-spring No. 1: Olsen
The skinny: Olsen, a Notre Dame transfer who sat behind Hagans the last two seasons, began spring as the No. 1 quarterback and did nothing to lose that spot. Olsen was also voted team captain during the spring.
Virginia Tech
Last year's starter: Marcus Vick
Spring game stats:
Sean Glennon: 5 of 6, 26 yards
Cory Holt: 4 of 12, 83 yards, TD, INT; nine carries, 31 yards
Ike Whitaker: 6-for-6, 85 yards, TD
Greg Boone: 2-for-2, 13 yards
Post-spring No. 1: Glennon
The skinny: Glennon ended the spring at the top of the depth chart, but Frank Beamer said that does not guarantee he will start in the fall. Holt is No. 2 with Whitaker and Boone behind. Holt and Whitaker, who missed half of spring drills due to a suspension, were better scramblers, but Glennon was the most consistent during the spring.

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