Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

Spring Football 2024: Breaking Down the 10 Most Important Quarterback Competitions in College Football

Alex Orji, Michigan

Spring has sprung across the country and for college football fans, that means the first taste of action in preparation of the 2024 campaign. It also means it's one of the first times for quarterbacks entrenched in position battles to prove themselves against something resembling game action, which can make all the difference over the course of a long offseason. With that in mind, here are the ten quarterback competitions I'm watching over the coming spring and summer months, all of which became much more fluid and intriguing with the re-opening of the transfer portal earlier this week.

Auburn Tigers

Competitors: Payton Thorne (Sr.), Holden Geriner (RSo.), Hank Brown (RFr.), Walker White (Fr.) 

While there were a few bright spots for Hugh Freeze on The Plains during his debut season, it's clear there is plenty of work to be done in 2024, especially as Oklahoma and Texas arrive to bolster the SEC. The first priority for Freeze and new offensive coordinator Derrick Nix is to identify who their quarterback will be after struggling mightily at the position a season ago. Former Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne remains in town, but will have to battle off a trio of youngsters, including Holden Geriner, Hank Brown, and newcomer Walker White. Thorne should have the edge, at least on paper, as he has three seasons of starting experience and has thrown for 65 touchdowns over the course of his college career. But, his maddening turnover problems have become almost too much for Auburn to handle and Freeze could look for a young option with potential to guide this offense in 2024. That puts Geriner and Brown firmly on Thorne's heels, but none of these four were able to make enough of an impression during the spring to lock down the job before the Tigers wrapped things up in early April. I'll stick with Thorne as the tentative favorite, but this should be an interesting one to watch come fall camp.

Favorite: Thorne

BYU Cougars

Competitors: Gerry Bohanon (RSr.), Jake Retzlaff (RJr.), Treyson Bourget (RSo.)

It was not a super warm welcome for BYU in their first year in the Big 12 in 2023, as they went 5-7 overall and 2-7 in the league. That means Kalani Sitake and staff have their work cut out for them this fall, and identifying a starting QB is priority No. 1. The choices come down to former Baylor and USF transfer Gerry Bohanon, one-time JUCO transfer Jake Retzlaff, and former Western Michigan transfer Treyson Bourget. However, after spring, it sounds like the competition is really a two-man race between Bohanon and Retzlaff, with Bourget's future up in the air. Bohanon does have experience starting in the Big 12 with Baylor back in 2021, but at no point in his college career has he really looked all that impressive. The last time we saw him playing significant snaps in 2022, he finished with 1,070 yards, 6 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, and a 57% completion rate. Retzlaff hasn't been super impressive either in the short spurts we've seen of him, but even though he's not particularly young, you can at least sell yourself on his potential. I would imagine he'll get a chance to show what he can do first, with Bohanon waiting in the wings for his opportunity.

Favorite: Retzlaff

Michigan Wolverines

Competitors: Davis Warren (Sr.), Alex Orji (Jr.), Jayden Denegal (Jr.), Jadyn Davis (Fr.)

Fresh off a National Title, there are going to be plenty of new faces playing crucial roles for the Michigan Wolverines this fall. That includes under center, as J.J. McCarthy takes his talents to the NFL after two seasons running the show in Ann Arbor. Four players are in the mix to take over the reigns from McCarthy, all of whom bring different skill sets and strengths to the table. Junior Alex Orji and senior Davis Warren are the veterans of the room, with Orji appearing in nine games over the last two years, including six during the 2023 season. He's a different quarterback than what we became accustomed to under Jim Harbaugh, a dual-threat whose legs are his real strength. Warren has played in eight games over his Michigan career, but is more of a long shot than a realistic threat to take over the starting job. Then there's junior Jayden Denegal, who appeared in six games as well in 2023, along with the highly touted frosh, Jadyn Davis. At 6'5", 235 pounds, Denegal has the looks of an NFL quarterback and seems like a good fit in new offensive coordinator Kirk Campbell's scheme, while Davis comes in with plenty of fanfare, but will need ample time to acclimate to this level and this system. Overall, it feels like all four are firmly in the mix, and there feels like little degree of separation between the quartet. My feel, however, is that Denegal is the type of player who is going to keep on improving over the spring and summer months and carry enough momentum to secure the job. He's got the raw tools to put it together and seems to be the most balanced of the four, ready to take command of this job and be the guy for the defending National Champions in 2024.

Favorite: Denegal

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Competitors: Heinrich Haarberg (So.), Dylan Raiola (Fr.), Daniel Kaelin (Fr.)

Few freshmen in the country enter 2024 with as much hype surrounding them as quarterback Dylan Raiola, especially given the context of his arrival. The football-starved Cornhuskers haven't been to a bowl game in nearly a decade, but Raiola, the nephew of offensive line coach Donovan, is the type of prospect that can completely change the fortunes of a program. He arrives as the overwhelming favorite to start Nebraska's opener in late August against UTEP and has been receiving rave reviews from head man Matt Rhule, but don't overlook returning sophomore Heinrich Haarberg, or fellow newcomer Daniel Kaelin. Haarberg's numbers last fall don't inspire supreme confidence, at least through the air, but the 'Huskers were 3-2 under his leadership and his running ability gives this offense an interesting element. Kaelin has also reportedly impressed throughout the spring and could be a real dark horse to secure the starting job. Yet, Raiola remains the oversized elephant in the room and I get the feeling Nebraska fans may riot if they don't see starting the opener. The hype around him is just too deafening to imagine Rhule going any other direction and with Raiola's unique arm, he is the guy who puts the 'Huskers in the best position to win, now and in the future.

Favorite: Raiola

Ohio State Buckeyes

Competitors: Will Howard (Gr.), Devin Brown (Jr.), Julian Sayin (RFr.), Air Noland (Fr.)

Between seeing their bitter rivals win a National Title, three straight losses to said rival, and the Big Ten expanding, there's a feeling of pressure throughout Columbus as they gear up for 2024. Ryan Day has no shortage of talent at his disposal as usual, but the Buckeyes must get better production from the QB position than they got in 2023 with Kyle McCord. Fortunately, there are plenty of options to choose from, with as many as five players in the mix for the starting job in the spring, although you get the feeling one or two could be hitting the spring portal window in short order. There's the steady vet, Kansas State transfer Will Howard, a proven commodity who threw for 48 touchdowns over his Wildcat career. Then there's the intriguing backup Devin Brown, who spent 2023 behind McCord, and has flashed real upside throughout his Ohio State. And finally the young and unproven, but supremely talented, newcomers in Alabama transfer Julian Sayin and true freshman Air Noland. Sayin and Noland feel like long shots, at least at this point in the process, but keep an eye on these two. It was surprising that Sayin, a highly touted prospect coming out of high school, decided to join such a loaded quarterback room. No, this competition really comes down to Howard versus Brown, and it's hard to imagine an inexperienced option like Brown overtaking a grizzled veteran like Howard, who the staff clearly likes. It's not super encouraging for Brown that he wasn't able to see much of the field last fall despite McCord's struggles, another reason to bet on Howard in this race.

Favorite: Howard

Oregon Ducks

Competitors: Dillon Gabriel (RSr.), Dante Moore (So.)

Bo Nix may be gone, but head coach Dan Lanning and Oregon reloaded in a big way this offseason by landing two of the biggest quarterback names in the portal in Dillon Gabriel and Dante Moore. Gabriel, who is on his third school after beginning his career at UCF, has started 49 games in his college career and compiled over 16,000 yards of total offense and 151 touchdowns. One would assume he'll be a bridge quarterback as the Ducks begin their journey in the Big Ten, but don't be surprised if Dante Moore pushes him throughout fall camp and into the regular season. Moore had understandable ups-and-downs as a true freshman on a frustrating UCLA team, finishing with an 11-9 TD-INT ratio and 54% completion percentage, but the former blue-chip recruit has all the physical tools to be a superstar at this level. He should also benefit from playing in a more wide-open Duck offense, one with real weapons out wide as compared to the group he joined in Westwood. I'd still suspect Gabriel to be the guy in 2024 as he prepares for his final ride in college, but at the very least we should see some of Moore this fall, particularly with Gabriel's checkered injury history.

Favorite: Gabriel

Pittsburgh Panthers

Competitors: Eli Holstein (RFr.), Nate Yarnell (RJr.)

It's been a revolving door at the quarterback position for Pittsburgh since Kenny Pickett left town. In fact, since Kedon Slovis' last game with the team in 2022, five different quarterbacks have taken the reigns of the offense. The Panthers are hoping for more stability at the position in 2024 and for somebody to emerge in new coordinator Kade Bell's offense. And, we likely learned a lot surrounding the ongoing quarterback competition with one-time Penn State transfer Christian Veilleux hitting the portal earlier in the week after starting five games in 2023. One would assume that opens the door for Eli Holstein, who redshirted at Alabama last fall before heading up north, to be the guy to beat, but junior Nate Yarnell should at least push him into fall camp. Yarnell has played in six games and started three for the Panthers over the last two seasons, and actually flashed some real moments for the team during the lost 2023 season. In particular, he went 25-35 and notched 265 yards in the regular season finale against Duke, although the Panthers came up short. However, Holstein arrives as a highly touted signal-caller from Louisiana who was a high four-star recruit, giving him the clear edge talent-wise. And, considering the new playcaller Bell has no allegiances to Yarnell given its his first year on staff, this feels like Holstein's job to lose coming out of spring.

Favorite: Holstein

South Carolina Gamecocks

Competitors: LaNorris Sellers (RFr.), Robby Ashford (RSr.), Davis Belville (Gr.)

With Spencer Rattler exhausting his eligibility, Shane Beamer and the South Carolina Gamecocks are looking for a new signal-caller to run the offense in 2024. One would assume the early favorite was already on the roster last fall in redshirt freshman LaNorris Sellers, who flashed explosive playmaking potential in very limited action a year ago. The coaching staff seems high on Sellers, and the 6'3", 245-pounder is a gifted athlete who has reminded me a bit of Anthony Richardson from what I've seen. However, I do find it interesting that Beamer and staff chose to bring in not one, but two, veteran quarterbacks from the portal to strengthen this room. That includes Robby Ashford, currently on his third school and second stop in the SEC, as well as Davis Belville, who has spent time with Pittsburgh and Oklahoma. Ashford was never able to quite put it all together during his time with Auburn, but the redshirt senior does add an interesting wild card to the equation here. He's not going to scare defenses very much as a passer, but he is a gifted runner who totaled nearly 1,000 yards on the ground his two seasons with the Tigers. At the very least, you would imagine South Carolina using Ashford in different packages to keep defenses honest, or in short yardage. Belville is more of a depth guy than a serious contender, and there's also Luke Doty, who has spent the last three seasons at QB but is moving to a wide receiver role this year, but could be used in emergencies. I'd still bet my money on Sellers being the guy when the Gamecocks open the season, but the lack of experience makes Ashford a name to watch as we inch closer to the regular season.

Favorite: Sellers

USC Trojans

Competitors: Miller Moss (RJr.), Jayden Maiava (RSo.)

USC looked to be major players in the transfer quarterback market this offseason with Caleb Williams making the expected jump to the pros, but Miller Moss' six touchdown performance in the Holiday Bowl seemed to change Lincoln Riley's plans in short order. Now, Moss looks like he'll be the one to be in the enviable position of running Riley's high-octane offense, although the Trojans did end up bringing in UNLV transfer Jayden Maiava later on, complicating things slightly as we look towards 2024. Moss has waited his turn in Los Angeles and should have a firm understanding of this offense, but Maiava's presence creates some level of mystery. As a redshirt freshman with the Rebels, Maiava turned in over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns, while completing over 63% of his passes in a fun, unique offensive scheme. With the spring game this Saturday, Moss seems to be in the driver's seat and should enter fall camp as the favorite, but Maiava's upside and playmaking ability makes this one something to monitor as the Trojans look to rebound from a down 2023 campaign. 

Favorite: Moss

Vanderbilt Commodores

Competitors: Blaze Berlowitz (So.), Nate Johnson (Jr.), Diego Pavia (Sr.)

With the transfers of A.J. Swann and Ken Seals, Vanderbilt has essentially completely flipped the entire quarterback room as they prepare for Clark Lea's fourth season at the helm. Fresh off a 2023 that saw the Commodores go winless in the SEC, it's an understandable strategy, albeit one that comes with ample risk as Lea and staff choose between several transfers. Nate Johnson arrives from Utah after earning starting experience with the Utes last fall, while a pair join from New Mexico State in Diego Pavia and Blaze Berlowitz, both of whom followed their offensive coordinator from Las Cruces to Nashville. Johnson likely has the early edge because he got a chance to show what he could do in the spring, with Pavia set to join the program after the conclusion of spring. With that being said, Johnson hasn't exactly lit the world on fire with the Commodores so far through the offseason and Pavia is fresh off a season in which he threw for 26 touchdowns running OC Tim Beck's offense. One would assume that sets him up for success considering he knows the playbook, but the jump to SEC ball will be a major one, while Johnson has at least competed at the Power Five level before.

Favorite: Pavia 

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.