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Spring Football 2019: Important Quarterback Competitions

Jack Coan, Wisconsin
While we may be in the midst of a busy time in college basketball, the NBA and now the MLB, we're also reaching an important time in college football. The 2019 regular season is still months away, but most programs across the country have begun spring practice, with annual spring games set to take place for most throughout the month of April. Spring football is an important first step in the crucial position battles that will last into the fall, especially at the quarterback position. Here are the quarterback battles that we should keep our eyes on this spring and further into the off-season.

Competing: Malik Willis (Jr.), Joey Gatewood (RFr.), Bo Nix (Fr.)
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn will enter 2019 on an extremely hot seat, following a disappointing 8-5 2018 that included a sub-.500 conference mark. Picking the right quarterback to lead his Auburn squad will be crucial, and there are no shortage of options. Early spring talk states that all quarterbacks are "rotating evenly" , but it would not be surprising to see one or two really take command of the job. True freshman Bo Nix has the talent and name recognition to get early looks; he's the No. 1 dual threat QB in the 2019 class according to 247Sports. His scrambling ability and big arm is an ideal fit for Malzahn's offense, but he'll need some time to get acclimated to SEC football. Redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood has looked good running the offense, and has been groomed for a starting gig. He has the size and stature of a Cam Newton, but has been limited by injuries and is still very raw. Then, there is Malik Willis, who served as the backup last year for Jarrett Stidham and comes in as the "experienced" option. All three have a good shot at landing the job, and this spring will go a long way in telling us who will take the snaps on the Plains in '19. My bet? Willis will enter fall camp the slight favorite, but Nix will impress so much the Tigers won't be able to keep him off the field once real action begins.
Favorite: Nix

Florida State
Competing: James Blackman (Jr.), Alex Hornibrook (Sr.), Jordan Travis (Soph.)
After a frustrating 5-7 debut season, the pressure is on for Willie Taggart in Tallahassee. The Seminoles have the talent to compete in the ACC Atlantic, but they need more production from their offense, particularly QB. With incumbent starter Deondre Francois kicked off the team, junior James Blackman enters spring as the favorite to start. Blackman saw a lot of action as a true freshman in 2017 and performed admirably, but he'll have to fend off two transfers. Wisconsin grad transfer Alex Hornibrook and Louisville transplant Jordan Travis both hope to come in and take the job. Hornibrook had some serious ups-and-downs while in Madison, but is a veteran guy who has proven he can run an offense. Travis, meanwhile, has a ton of talent but his eligibility for the 2019 season is still up in the air. Blackman looks like the best fit in this FSU offense, and will work closely with new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles. Yet, I would not rule out Hornibrook, who would give this Seminoles' offense a much different feel, and has proven himself at the highest level.
Favorite: Blackman

Competing: Tate Martell (RSoph.), N'Kosi Perry (RSoph.), Jarren Williams (RFr.)
New Miami head coach Manny Diaz will try to do something his predecessor, Mark Richt, wasn't able to do in Coral Gables: find a consistent quarterback. Richt's flip-flopping between Malik Rosier and N'Kosi Perry crippled the Miami offense in 2018, resulting in a sobering 7-6 season. The big, flashy addition has to be Ohio State transfer Tate Martell. A former five-star recruit, Martell has a huge arm and terrific running ability. Yet, don't assume he'll come in and won't face a challenge; Perry still returns, as well as youngster Jarren Williams. Perry was terribly inconsistent last season for the Hurricanes, but he has impressed new OC Dan Enos, and has more experience than Martell. Williams appears to be the real wild card in this race; he nearly left the program following the arrival of Martell but decided to stick around for the spring. He's incredibly raw, but Miami's coaching staff raved about him a year ago and he is an intriguing dark horse option.
Favorite: Martell

Oklahoma State
Competing: Dru Brown (RSr.), Spencer Sanders (RFr.), Brendan Costello (Fr.)
Year in year out Oklahoma State produces one of the nation's most explosive offenses and this spring will give us a good indication of who the next QB leading it will be. Taylor Cornelius came out of a three-man race this past season to run the show and was effective before graduating. With Cornelius gone, his main competition a year ago, redshirt frosh Spencer Sanders and former Hawaii transfer Dru Brown, become the favorites. Sanders put together a record-setting high school career in Texas before coming to Stillwater, and he seems like an ideal fit in Mike Gundy's offense. Yet, Brown started for two seasons at Hawaii and certainly holds the edge in terms of experience. True freshman Brendan Costello is also set to arrive as a dark horse to steal the starting gig. I firmly expect a heated race between Sanders & Brown that will last into the fall. Sanders has the edge right now purely because of talent, but expect Brown and Costello to both push him.
Favorite: Sanders

Virginia Tech
Competing: Ryan Willis (Sr.), Quincy Patterson (RFr.), Hendon Hooker (RSoph.), Braxton Burmeister (Soph.)
Former incumbent starter Josh Jackson decided he would transfer to Maryland earlier this off-season, leaving Virginia Tech with an interesting quarterback situation for 2019. Former Kansas transfer Ryan Willis replaced Jackson after he was ruled out for the season, and the fifth-year senior was solid, with 2,716 yards and 24 touchdowns. He should enter the spring tops on the depth chart but will face a host of challengers. Quincy Patterson and Hendon Hooker remain on campus, after Hooker briefly flirted with transferring. Neither offer much actual game experience, but offer significant potential, particularly Patterson. They also seem like a more logical fit in Justin Fuente's offense than Willis, who went just 4-6 as the starter. Then, there is wild card Braxton Burmeister, who is coming in from Oregon as a transfer. Burmeister is a former four-star recruit who has loads of talent, but was never able to unseat Justin Herbert in Eugene. There is a caveat with him, as he will likely not come to campus until the summer, and his eligibility for 2019 is not known. Yet, he will still be another interesting name to watch as this competition heats up.
Favorite: Willis

Competing: Jack Coan (Jr.), Danny Vanden Boom (Soph.), Graham Mertz (Fr.)
Alex Hornibrook's decision to transfer after starting 32 games over the last three seasons opens the door to a new era of Wisconsin football. Badger fans are hoping this new era will center around newcomer Graham Mertz, perhaps the best quarterback recruit in the school's history. Mertz is rated the No. 1 pocket passer in the country by ESPN, and a few scouting services have him rated as a five-star recruit. He entered spring practice with the most fanfare, but will have to prove he can learn and run this offense at a high level. Mertz will face competition from junior Jack Coan and sophomore Danny Vanden Boom. Coan offers the most experience of the trio, starting five games last year due to Hornibrook's concussion problems. Yet, Coan's numbers weren't overly inspiring and outside of a 47-44 win over Purdue, Wisconsin's offense lacked much punch under his leadership. Vanden Boom has thrown just one pass in his collegiate career, which just happened to be a touchdown.
Favorite: Mertz

Other QB Competitions to Keep an Eye On
Arizona State: Jayden Daniels, Dillon Sterling-Cole, Joey Yellen, Ethan Long
Arkansas: Ben Hicks, Nick Starkel, Connor Noland, K.J. Jefferson
Maryland: Tyrell Pigrome, Josh Jackson, Lance LeGendre
Michigan State: Brian Lewerke, Rocky Lombardi
Minnesota: Tanner Morgan, Zach Annexstad, Cole Kramer, Jacob Clark
TCU: Justin Rogers, Michael Collins, Alex Delton
UCF*: Darriel Mack, Brandon Wimbush, Quadry Jones

*= Projected starter McKenzie Milton unlikely to play in 2019 season due to injury

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