Contenders: Jarrett Stidham, Sean White
Auburn is in somewhat of a fortuitous position. The two contenders for the starting gig — Jarrett Stidham and Sean White — each bring something different to the table. Heading into November, White led the SEC in efficiency rating and completion percentage. A shoulder injury ultimately robbed White’s participation in the final two games of the regular season. He then suffered a broken forearm in the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. Stidham transferred into the program after a brief tenure at Baylor. During his only season with the program, Stidham threw for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns in limited time on the field. His arrival has many on The Plains exceptionally excited — particularly due to his throwing ability.
We’ve seen Auburn beset by inconsistent quarterback play over the past few seasons. While White was a safe option a season ago, he isn’t a game-breaker. His lack of arm strength limits the ceiling when it comes to exploiting the field vertically in the passing game. He finished with a touchdown-interception ratio of 10:7. This doesn’t exactly scream “high level” in any sense. Simply put, Stidham is a more dynamic player. His arm talent is exceptional, and he’s also a better athlete than given credit for. He won’t conjure up memories of Nick Marshall, but he certainly can pick up chunks of yardage when forced to step up in the pocket. White is certainly the more experienced option of the two. Ultimately, he doesn’t possess the upside needed for Auburn to potentially contend in the SEC West. When compared to some of its rivals (LSU, Alabama), Auburn does have some noticeable deficiencies within its roster. Stidham is talented enough to mask some of these warts going forward. White will make an excellent back-up — relying on intelligence, experience, and preparedness.
Contenders: Anu Solomon, Zach Smith
Much like Auburn, Baylor is picking between two quality options. Solomon came to Baylor as a graduate transfer from Arizona. Smith — a sophomore — was a highly decorated prospect. He was featured in nine of 13 games last season as a true freshman. New head coach Matt Rhule is abandoning the high-octane offense often utilized by the prior regime. While Baylor will be versatile in its scheme, expect a somewhat slower pace. Last year at Temple, Rhule’s offense ran an average of 69 plays. This number would’ve been next to last in the Big 12.
With more of a methodical look, it will be fascinating to see how Baylor opts to proceed. Solomon had two fantastic years in Tucson — combining for 48 touchdowns and over 6,000 passing yards. Injury issues have somewhat derailed his progress, but there’s no denying his talent. Smith wasn’t too shabby either in his inaugural campaign. He tossed 13 touchdowns and accrued 1,526 passing yards as primarily a reserve. Smith is more of the classic drop-back signal-caller — whereas Solomon does bring the threat of running to the table. It’s difficult to envision Solomon not starting. He’s got the collective experience needed to run the offense, and his dual-threat capabilities will enhance the ground-game even further. Smith is immensely talented. It also would not be shocking to see him play with Solomon in somewhat of a two-pronged attack. However, Solomon will get the call — at least to begin the season.
Contenders: Kelly Bryant, Hunter Johnson, Zerrick Cooper, Chase Brice
Deshaun Watson’s departure opens up a gigantic hole to fill — both figuratively and literally. Watson was not only a tremendous football player, but he was widely regarded as one of the nation’s best leaders. Having the wherewithal to demonstrate strong leadership qualities is imperative for the success of any program — particularly when it comes from the team’s starting signal-caller. As such, head coach Dabo Swinney will pick from a quartet of options.
The leader in the clubhouse is Bryant. The junior from South Carolina has played sparingly in each of the last two seasons. Johnson — a former 5-star prospect out of Indiana — is squarely in the mix — as is the redshirt freshman Cooper and the true freshman Brice. Conventional wisdom would suggest this competition coming down to Bryant and Johnson. Bryant is the most experienced quarterback on the roster, whilst Johnson may be the most talented. Per the Greenville Online, Swinney had this to say in regards to the competition: “[Bryant] is the starter just as he was at the end of spring practice. He has had five really good days and has been the most consistent. Kelly is the starter; it’s his job to stay there.”
As such, we’re rolling with Swinney on this one.
Contenders: Malik Zaire, Feleipe Franks, Luke Del Rio, Kyle Trask
Not only is Florida the favorite to win the SEC East, but many like them as a sneaky-good pick to make the College Football Playoffs. The team has talent all over the field — particularly within its group of receivers (Brandon Powell, Tyrie Cleveland, Antonio Callaway). At this point, head coach Jim McElwain is hoping for one thing: Consistent play from the quarterback position. It’s been a big issue since McElwain came to Gainesville. Last year, Gator fans watched as Del Rio and Austin Appleby performed in brilliantly mediocre fashion. Florida struggled to move the ball in the air, and rarely were able to put together complete drives.
While Del Rio returns, Florida has a host of others also battling for the spot. The biggest name of the group is Zaire. The Notre Dame transfer appeared to be a budding star in the sport — until a rash of injuries saw him lose his job to DeShone Kizer. Remember, Zaire led Notre Dame to a bowl victory over LSU in 2014. Once he took over the following year, the Fighting Irish defeated Texas largely due to Zaire’s performance (19-of-22 for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns). Franks is the most physically imposing of the group. The 6-foot-6 signal-caller has been blessed with terrific arm strength and very good mobility. However, he’s also extremely raw for the position. Trask appears to be a non-factor at this point in the race.
When comparing Zaire and Del Rio, there’s no question Zaire has a considerable leg-up from an athleticism and arm-strength standpoint. Del Rio struggles to throw the ball downfield — as some of his passes flutter in the air like a leaf on a breezy day. Zaire certainly didn’t transfer to Florida without having some idea that he’d be ‘the guy’ engineering the offense.
Contenders: Malik Rosier, N’Kosi Perry, Evan Shirreffs, Cade Weldon
This race may be the most wide-open of any within the piece. Many view Rosier to be the odds-on favorite to win the job. He’s the most experienced player of the group — having been in the program for the past three seasons. Weldon and Perry are first-year players, and Shirreffs hasn’t done anything to suggest that he’s a viable option at this point in his career. The massive wildcard in this entire scenario is Perry. Recent offseason reports indicate that Perry’s been absolutely electric with the ball in his hands. Not only is he dynamic as a runner, but Perry has a stronger arm when compared to his counterparts at the position.
It’s difficult to envision Miami going with a true freshman at quarterback — especially since Perry didn’t enroll until the summer period. With that said, his ceiling is vast, and Miami may collectively have the talent to win the ACC Coastal Division in 2017. Perry ultimately may be the option to get the Hurricanes over the proverbial hump. Rosier will start the season as the first-string quarterback, but don’t be surprised if Perry develops into the starter down the line.
Contenders: Wilton Speight, Brandon Peters, John O’Korn
Despite leading Michigan to a 10-3 record a year ago, Speight has not secured his spot as the starting signal-caller. It’s a rather interesting situation across the board. Last season, the 6-foot-6 quarterback threw for 18 touchdowns and 2,538 yards. Jim Harbaugh’s offense doesn’t necessitate gaudy numbers from the position. He employs a scheme largely rooted in ball-possession. It appeared as if Speight did a credible job. He’s got a live arm, and did prove to be efficient on his throws vertically down the field. Alas, there’s something missing — considering the Wolverines are heavily looking at Peters and O’Korn.
O’Korn transferred to the program from Houston two seasons ago. Though he saw time in eight games last year, there wasn’t much of a sample size to truly analyze. He went 20-of-34 for a paltry 173 yards and two touchdowns. In 2013, he was the AAC Rookie of the Year based upon a season in which he thew 28 touchdowns. However, he lost his job the following season to Greg Ward Jr. — which then ultimately necessitated his transferring out of the program. Peters is a redshirt freshman from Indiana. He was the best quarterback during Michigan’s spring game in March — going 9-of-17 for 160 yards and a touchdown. In comparison, Speight went 9-of-26 for 78 yards.
Though it’s a bit concerning that Speight hasn’t been named as ‘the guy’ quite yet, this could all be part of Harbaugh’s plan to cause confusion for the opponent. It’s unlikely to think that Michigan will trot out a freshman against a very good defense in Florida. Peters may be a factor later down the line, but Harbaugh will ultimately opt for Speight in the season opener versus the Gators.
Contenders: Chazz Surratt, Logan Byrd, Nathan Elliott, Brandon Harris
Head coach Larry Fedora certainly didn’t foresee Mitch Trubisky developing into the No. 2 Overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. It forced the Tar Heels to scramble a bit — considering their group of quarterbacks on the roster were vastly inexperienced. As such, Fedora brought in former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris to help shore up the position. A graduate transfer, Harris had an up-and-down tenure in Baton Rouge. His numbers collectively aren’t overly terrible. Harris accrued 20 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions in three years with the program. Though he possesses an above-average arm and good overall athleticism, Harris was constantly beset by a lack of accuracy and the constant pressure surrounding him.
Surratt and Byrd are both redshirt freshmen. Byrd is more of your traditional drop-back passer — whereas Surratt is considered to be more of a dual-threat option. Of the two, Surratt entered college with considerable expectations. He chose to come to North Carolina over offers from Clemson and West Virginia (among others). Elliott is the only quarterback returning with any semblance of experience. Though he’s not impressive from a physical ability standpoint, the sophomore from Texas is a heady player with great feel for the game. Last season in mop-up duty, Elliott went 8-of-9 for 55 yards.
Elliott does possess the benefit of having played under Fedora for a year. In theory, his grasping of the offense probably surpasses that of Harris’ at the present time. With that said, it’d be a big surprise to not see Harris under-center for UNC’s season opener at home versus California. He’s got the best skill-set of any quarterback on the roster, and gives North Carolina its best chance at winning the Coastal Division.
Contenders: Max Browne, Ben DiNucci
DiNucci and Browne couldn’t have had more polarizing high school experiences. DiNucci selected Pitt over offers from Albany, Fordham, James Madison, New Mexico State, Towson, Central Connecticut State, and Old Dominion. Browne — on the other hand — was ranked as the No. 1 quarterback in his class, as well as the No. 7 player in the entire country (per Rivals.com). Browne sat behind Cody Kessler for two seasons — finally getting his chance to start in 2016 for USC. After a shaky start to the season, he was replaced by Sam Darnold. This then necessitated Browne looking for another opportunity in which he could actually see the field in a consistent manner.
DiNucci is one of those classic players with a chip on his proverbial shoulder. He wasn’t highly acclaimed out of high school, and doesn’t possess the same sort of cachet when compared to his competitor. However, he’s a gritty player. DiNucci featured in only one contest a season ago — going 3-of-9 for 16 yards in the Pinstripe Bowl loss to Northwestern. While Browne hasn’t been officially named the starter, it would take a lot for DiNucci to overtake the Washington native.
Per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, head coach Pat Narduzzi offered this sentiment on the battle between the two: “Let me just tell you, we have three great [graduate transfers] that are gonna play a lot for us. It’s not like you’re gonna see grad transfers coming in and sitting on the bench.”
Contenders: Quinten Dormady, Jarrett Guarantano
It appears that both Dormady and Guarantano will play. Head coach Butch Jones hasn’t been shy about the willingness to utilize both in certain situations. As for who will take the first snap on Sept. 4 against Georgia Tech, there’s plenty to hash out.
Guarantano is a redshirt freshman from New Jersey. He’s more athletic than Dormady is, and has as good — if not a better arm than his counterpart. However, the charismatic signal-caller is also considerably less experienced when compared to Dormady. On the other side of the coin, the junior out of Texas has played in each of the last two seasons. Over this time, Dormady has collectively gone 24-of-39 for 357 yards and one touchdown.
Throughout camp, it appears as if Dormady has the leg-up on the competition. It doesn’t really matter much — considering it’s likely both will play. However, Dormady’s consistency level will enable him to take the reins of the offense initially.
Contenders: Nick Starkel, Jake Hubenak, Kellen Mond
Head coach Kevin Sumlin is faced with somewhat of a dilemma. Texas A&M has a tough first week — opening on the road against the UCLA Bruins and star QB Josh Rosen. Hubenak is the only quarterback with any experience at the collegiate level. He featured in six games a season ago for the Aggies. In essence, you know what you’re going to get with him. He won’t ‘wow’ anyone with his arm — nor will be sprint away from defenders in the open field. However, Hubenak will manage the game effectively with precision and leadership.
The other two competitors in the race — Starkel and Mond — offer more in the way of talent. Starkel is a tall signal-caller. He possesses the ability to spray the ball to all parts of the field. Mond — a true freshman — was considered one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country this past season. He pairs legitimate track-speed with a very good arm. It’s asking a lot for Mond to go on the road as a true freshman and start against one of the Pac-12 South’s better programs. For that reason, we could see Texas A&M redshirting the uber-talented prospect as a means to preserve another year of eligibility.
As such, Sumlin could play it safe with Hubenak — or go with more of a wildcard in Starkel. Not only is Starkel the more gifted of the duo, but UCLA won’t have any game film to reference when preparing for the contest.
Contenders: Hendon Hooker, A.J. Bush, Josh Jackson
The Hokies will be breaking-in a completely new quarterback to run Justin Fuente’s explosive offensive scheme. None of the three — Jackson, Bush, Hooker have taken a collegiate snap up to this point. Bush began his collegiate career at Nebraska, before transferring to Iowa Western Community College. Hooker enters Blacksburg as a former 4-star recruit from North Carolina. Jackson redshirted this past year after entering the program in 2016.
We’ll bet on Hooker redshirting. With two other inexperienced options, it makes sense to polish the immensely talented true freshman. There’s simply no rush in throwing him onto the field before he’s ready. As for Jackson and Bush, Jackson has a leg-up from the standpoint that he’s been in the program for a full year. There’s a sense of comfort when it comes to comprehending the intricacies of the offense. Couple this with the fact that Jackson is a fantastic athlete, and there’s no question he’ll be appointed as the man for the job.