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Incumbent Starters vs. Potential: 2018’s NCAA QB Battles

Photo courtesy of Christopher Hanewinckel - USA TODAY Sports.

It’s past July 4, the meat sweats have subsided and the fireworks have mercilessly ended. That means it’s almost time for college football. Fall camps start in a few weeks, so for right now, we’ll have to survive on Nick Saban fan fiction and analysis based off of spring games, which are basically two-hand touch at this point.

The reloading that takes place during National Signing Day is comical. Blue chip programs that once raved over last year’s recruiting class spends the bulk of their summer finding their replacements. As disloyal as it seems, it helps to maintain the college football food chain. The constant pressure on a young player that a bigger, more highly touted replacement can arrive at any moment is a savage necessity for college football. If loyalty to your starter were a priority in college football, Baker Mayfield wouldn’t have unseated Trevor Knight in Oklahoma for another two years. Alabama would have lost their second straight national championship (debate me if you wish) had they not benched THE REIGNING SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR in Jalen Hurts at halftime. Georgia wouldn’t have had the opportunity to win that game had they not kept Jacob Eason on the bench even though he was already one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC. The list goes on and on.

As much as we hate seeing a teenager get scrutinized to the point of a mental breakdown, we salivate at the possibility of seeing an exciting five star recruit get on the field just a few months earlier than expected. By mid-season, some of the nation’s best quarterbacks may find themselves holding a clipboard, writing love letters to their next school.

Below are some of the most contentious, but exciting quarterback competitions going into camp this season:

Fromm Vs. Fields: Georgia

The stars of go90.com’s show, “QB1: Beyond The Lights,” two wildly talented underclassmen will fight it out. Had Jake Fromm spent the year as a backup and not done to Jacob Eason what Justin Fields may do to him, this open competition would be much more “open”. No coach (Except Nick Saban, who does not give a damn) wants to go on record saying his five star sophomore, incumbent starter, and Heisman Trophy candidate may lose his job to an unproven freshman. However, Kirby Smart and the rest of the country know that Justin Fields has a real chance to unseat the phenom. 

Any time a backup brings an added element to an offense that the starter doesn’t, the external and internal pressures to take him for a test drive become all the more intense and vocal. Fields can really run. In a high school offense that featured a plethora of designed quarterback powers and counters, the number two recruit in the country outperforms Fromm on the ground, and may currently match his ability as a pocket passer.

Prediction: Jake Fromm will be the opening day starter and hold the iron throne until the season’s end because he has proved himself as a confident quarterback and decision maker (except breaking his non-throwing hand in a boating accident). However, in the unfortunate event of a Fromm injury, Justin Fields will have a scary amount of buzz attached to his name as he trots onto the field in Athens.

Lawrence VS Bryant: Clemson

Typically, I root for the incumbent because experience and past success speak volumes compared to potential and predictions. And that trend will prevail, as senior Kelly Bryant will hold his job. Trevor Lawrence is my favorite incoming freshman going into the season. The tall blonde from Cartersville, Georgia is the all-time high school passing leader for his home state. On that list, he is ahead of some quarterbacks you may have heard of: Deshaun Watson and Jake Fromm.

The term “dual threat quarterback,” isn’t always a compliment. The title is a tremendous asset to a backup, competing for playing time, finding an aspect of his game that separates him from the current starter. But for a starting quarterback, “dual threat” is often massaged into “run-first”. Kelly Bryant’s biggest criticism, of which there are few, is that he seems to be a run-first quarterback. Despite passing for almost 3,000 yards, his legs seem to be the main point of debate for/against the senior. He can run better than Trevor Lawrence and most quarterbacks in the country. But against Alabama, he did not perform through the air, nor dud he have much success on the ground. Throwing for 124 yards and two interceptions, he showed his inability to throw the ball down the field against stiffer competition. No big deal right? He’ll just run his way to a victory. Nope. His rushing stats were abysmal as he amassed 19 yards on a whopping 19 carries. To his credit, he was playing Alabama. But he was lining up behind one of the nation’s best offensive lines. Granted, the five hogs in front of him didn’t have a great day. 

Prediction: Loyalty prevails as the senior finishes his career as the starter. I think the fact that Kelly Bryant is a senior makes it easier on Dabo Swinney to keep the nation’s number one high school quarterback on the bench. Let your established star finish on top, giving Lawrence a red shirt year to be even more ready to grab the reigns next year.

Hurts Vs. Tagovailoa: Alabama

A calm demeanor and admirable work ethic are two of the most frequently discussed qualities of Jalen Hurts. He is 26-2 as a starter. As a true freshman, he won SEC Player of The Year as he took the Crimson Tide to the brink of a second straight national championship against one of the most talented Clemson teams of all time. A dangerous runner, in 2016, he sparked an old school Alabama offense into an absolute force.

But in spite of all that, we can’t forget that Tua Tagovailoa saved him from being 25-3. Hurts’ sophomore campaign was defined by his failure to throw the ball to his incredibly talented receivers against a cupcake schedule. We all know the story of how Nick Saban threw politics and loyalty out the window at halftime of the National Championship against Georgia. Anyone that’s watched Tua Tagovailoa, whether that be in garbage time or overtime of the National Championship, knows that he brings an incredible amount of poise, polish, and talent to the table. Trent Dilfer, Super Bowl Champion and head of the Elite Eleven Quarterback Camp, called Tua one of the most polished quarterbacks and fastest learners he had ever seen at the high school level.

Nick Saban came out and called it an open competition. As it should be. Tua, similar to Hurts, didn’t flinch the first time his number was called. In his limited game action, he showcased a ridiculously strong arm with accuracy to go with it. Hurts’ biggest inadequacies as a passer are his struggling to throw downfield and make reads across the entire field. His reliance on rolling out, cutting the field in half, and making one, maybe two reads make him one dimensional as a passer.

Prediction: Tua Tagovailoa is your opening day starter. He will dominate against Louisville, and won’t miss a beat from there. Though Tua is no slouch himself, Jalen Hurts is an elite runner of the football. Running backs included, few players across the country look so natural with the ball in their hands. He will find a new home if he chooses to look for one. If I’m Jalen Hurts, I’m transferring now. If there’s one thing Nick Saban is known for, it’s not being afraid to put the best player on the field. No matter who it leaves on the bench.