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Spring Football 2020: Important Quarterback Competitions

Dillon Gabriel, UCF
With the NCAA Tournament officially cancelled and the NBA on hiatus, the sports world's attention once again turns back to the gridiron. The NFL Draft is now just a month away, and college football is reaching the important spring football stage. Spring football will also undergo quite an alteration due to the presence of the Coronavirus, with a number of big-time programs already announcing they have cancelled their spring games. Even so, there are still several storylines we can take away from this time of the year, with the most crucial being quarterback competitions around the country. These are almost all sure to last deep into fall camp months from now, but it's always important to make a good first impression. Here are the ones that are going to have the largest impact on the Playoff race this fall:

Competing: Mac Jones (RJr.), Bryce Young (Fr.), Taulia Tagovailoa (So.)
Tua Tagovailoa's injury midway through the 2019 campaign obviously threw a wrench into Alabama's Playoff hopes, and his decision to go pro was no surprise. Now, the Crimson Tide must find a long-term answer at the position to replace one of the best in school history. Redshirt junior Mac Jones played admirably in relief of Tua, throwing for 1,503 yards and 14 touchdowns. He really showed what he could do with a Citrus Bowl performance of 327 yards and three touchdowns against Michigan. That experience should pay dividends for the veteran going forward, and he's the type of signal-caller Nick Saban generally prefers. However, this is a new era for Alabama, that has put a much larger emphasis on athleticism at the position. That bodes well for the highly touted newcomer, true freshman Bryce Young. Young was a former USC commit who flipped to 'Bama late in the recruiting process and continued to wow college coaches and scouts. He is considered the top QB in the 2019 Class, and a Top 5 player overall. He'd be a pretty ideal fit in a Steve Sarkisian offense with his mobility and huge arm, particularly with what Alabama has returning at receiver. Other than those two, Tua's little brother, Taulia, could also be a factor. He appeared in five games last year and displayed tremendous versatility, but could he really overtake Jones & Young? Right now, you'd imagine Jones would enter fall camp as the favorite but once Young is able to learn the playbook, it's going to be hard to keep him off the field. Everything we've heard about him is that he is talented to start, and win, as a true frosh.
Favorite: Jones

Competing: Dylan McCaffrey (Sr.), Joe Milton (Jr.), Cade McNamara (So.)
It was a frustrating senior season for Shea Patterson in Ann Arbor, as he never quite caught on to OC Josh Gattis' scheme. With that being said, Patterson was still a multi-year starter for the Wolverines, so his absence will be notable. There is experience back in the fold in senior Dylan McCaffrey, who has backed up Patterson the last two seasons. McCaffrey has looked solid in mop-up duty, and his scrambling ability could add another element to this offense. However, injuries have also been a factor in his career, and junior Joe Milton could supplant him as the favorite. Milton has a bigger arm than McCaffrey, and at 6'5", 245 pounds he's an imposing presence in the backfield. You also get the feeling that Milton is a slightly better fit in this current offense, although that's relatively subjective at this point in the off-season. Also in the mix is Cade McNamara, a former four-star recruit out of Reno, Nevada. It's hard to imagine him rising up this depth chart unless he finds a way to wow this coaching staff. The absence of a spring game really hurts this situation; seeing McCaffrey and Milton in an actual game-like scenario could give us a much better understanding. Either way, this is going to be a crucial decision for Jim Harbaugh. If the Wolverines don't start seeing significantly better production from this position going forward, they have little to no chance at overtaking Penn State or Ohio State in the Big Ten East.
Favorite: Milton

Competing: Spencer Rattler (RFr.), Tanner Mordecai (RSo.)
Lincoln Riley's system stands the test of time. Now three straight quarterbacks have been Heisman finalists under his tutelage, with Jalen Hurts passing through for just a season. The expectation around Norman is that now is the time for redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler, a former five-star recruit. Although he has appeared in just three games and thrown 11 passes during his career, the Sooners believe he has all the tools to be a star. He's extremely athletic and his natural arm talent is comparable to that of Kyler Murray's. He won't have the luxury of throwing to a proven star on the outside like CeeDee Lamb, but the cupboard is far from bare. The only serious competition to Rattler comes in the form of redshirt sophomore Tanner Mordecai. Mordecai got lost behind the hype of the additions of both Hurts and Rattler last off-season, but he's a former four-star recruit from Texas that is a good athlete himself. He also is technically the more experienced option, as he has 30 career pass attempts. He had two touchdowns in garbage time this season against South Dakota, appearing in five games total. This is going to be a really fascinating competition to watch, and don't assume Rattler is going to run away with it. Mordecai is a good enough quarterback to keep things interesting through fall camp.
Favorite: Rattler

Competing: Jay Butterfield (Fr.), Cale Millen (RFr.), Tyler Shough (RSo.)
Oregon's 12-2 2019 that culminated with a Rose Bowl victory showed this program is ready to compete once again for National Championships. They have a boatload of talent coming back for 2020 but unfortunately, they lose their face of the program in Justin Herbert. Herbert started for four seasons in Eugene, and proved that he was a real game-changer in that span. Now, the Ducks will turn to a very unproven cast of possible replacements. Tyler Shough is the only player on this roster that has thrown a pass on the collegiate level, with 15 career attempts. He's looked really good in spurts, but it's hard to know how he'll transition to running the offense. Cale Millen and Jay Butterfield are the other main contenders for the starting gig. Millen is the son of former Washington standout Hugh Millen, and was a nice pickup for the coaching staff. He didn't play at all in 2019 as he recovered from a shoulder injury. Buttefield is going to be an early enrollee whose father also played in the league, starting at Stanford. He was an extremely accomplished high school quarterback and looks a lot like Herbert at this age. Whoever starts will be working with a new offensive coordinator in Joe Moorhead, while also playing on a team with Playoff aspirations. That's a lot to ask of an inexperienced quarterback, so it wouldn't be surprising if the Ducks remain in the grad transfer market as the off-season progresses.
Favorite: Shough

Competing: Jarrett Guarantano (Sr.), Brian Maurer (So.), Kasim Hill (Jr.), Harrison Bailey (Fr.)
Tennessee has high expectations for 2020 after finishing the year strong, but the quarterback situation is very fluid at this point in the off-season. Head coach Jeremy Pruitt retains a capable veteran in Jarrett Guarantano, but the senior will be pushed by as many as five other possible contenders. Guarantano seems like the favorite still, but his numbers haven't exactly been inspiring over the last few seasons. Brian Maurer started four games for Tennessee last fall and appeared in eight, showing some promise. Yet, Maurer also dealt with injuries throughout 2019, and could be somewhat limited through the spring and summer. Two newcomers further complicate things, in the form of Maryland transfer Kasim Hill and highly touted freshman Harrison Bailey. Hill displayed potential while at Maryland, but injuries were also a problem for him, as was consistency. Bailey meanwhile could really shoot up the depth chart once he gets situated. He is a fringe five-star prospect depending on what recruiting rankings you're looking at, and at 6'5", he already looks like an NFL guy. Some people have called him the most hyped Tennessee quarterback since Peyton Manning, which is obviously high praise, but not completely crazy. It's hard to get much of a read on this competition at this juncture, but I think it's going to develop into a two-man race between Guarantano and Bailey. I think I'd bet on Guarantano to start the year, but Bailey to figure his way into a starting job. Volunteer fans have to be very excited about what he can develop into under offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.
Favorite: Guarantano

Competing: Dillon Gabriel (So.), Darriel Mack (RJr.), McKenzie Milton (RSr.)
Out of all the competitions on this list, there may not be one as intriguing as the one set to unfold over Orlando this spring and summer. Head coach Josh Huepel has three qualified options to choose from in Dillon Gabriel, Darriel Mack and McKenzie Milton. Milton was a Heisman Finalist in 2017 before suffering a gruesome knee injury late in the 2018 campaign. He missed all of last fall, but has been seen throwing pretty comfortably this off-season. If he can return to his old form, it's hard to see him not taking back the reigns of this offense, and it would be a great story. Mack was the quarterback who replaced Milton late in '18 and looked very capable of running the show himself. He looked like the favorite to start going into this past season, but then suffered his own injury, breaking his ankle in July. That left Dillon Gabriel able to run the show, as the freshman came on and exploded for 3,653 yards and 29 touchdowns. With that being said, he wasn't always consistent and UCF lost three games under his leadership. That is to be expected of a freshman QB thrust into the starting job, but it leaves the door open for both Mack and Milton. It is really hard to bet on the starter at this point in the process, but my money would be on Milton. He still has not lost a game as UCF's starter, and is a legitimate Heisman contender when healthy. However, if it is Gabriel, both Mack & Milton become intriguing possible transfer options down the road.
Favorite: Milton

Competing: Kedon Slovis (So.), J.T. Daniels (RSo.)
The hope around Southern California entering 2019 was that J.T. Daniels was going to blossom in his sophomore season under the direction of new OC Graham Harrell. But, it wasn't Daniels who ended up blossoming under Harrell, but instead freshman Kedon Slovis, as Daniels was out for the year within the first month. Slovis came on and threw 30 touchdown passes, while completing over 70 percent of his passes. He certainly looked like the future at the position, but Daniels made the surprising decision to stick around and compete for the job. Both of these quarterbacks have relatively the same skill sets, but very different backgrounds. Daniels was the former Gatorade High School Player of the Year and a superstar at California powerhouse Mater Dei. Meanwhile, Slovis was a three-star recruit out of Scottsdale, Arizona and the No. 26 rated pocket passer in his class. It'd be hard to imagine USC not rolling with him after what he did as a true freshman, particularly with the chemistry he developed with his receiver corps. However, Daniels is clearly no slouch and I give him a lot of credit for sticking it out and wanting to compete. A lot of other quarterbacks in his shoes probably would've hit the transfer portal right away.
Favorite: Slovis

Other Competitions To Watch
Arkansas: Feliepe Franks, K.J. Jefferson, Malik Hornsby
Florida State: James Blackman, Chubba Purdy
LSU: Myles Brennan, Peter Parrish, Max Johnson, T.J. Finley
Nebraska: Adrian Martinez, Noah Vedral, Luke McCaffrey
Northwestern: Hunter Johnson, Peyton Ramsey, Aidan Smith
Washington: Jacob Sirmon, Ethan Garbers, Dylan Morris
Wisconsin: Jack Coan, Graham Mertz


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