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The 10 most intriguing spring quarterback battles

National Football Post

Spring practices are being held across the country with players looking to impress coaching staffs and climb up the depth charts.

Let’s take a look at 10 of the most intriguing quarterback battles that will play out during spring drills — many of which will likely last into fall camp.

The five best battles

Notre Dame: Can top Class of 2012 signal-caller Gunner Kiel get the starting nod in the season opener against Navy in Ireland? Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly has scaled back the offense this spring in an effort to get all of the QBs on an even playing field, which may not bode well for incumbent Tommy Rees. The winner of this derby will be the one who Kelly feels will make the least amount of mistakes. The offensive staff is obviously enamored by Andrew Hendrix, based on the fact that his reps increased significantly down the stretch in 2011. He is a better runner and has a stronger arm than Rees. Everett Golson possesses the most athleticism of all the combatants and has a year under his belt of absorbing the offense as a redshirt. Whoever wins the job will have to succeed without projected NFL first-round receiver Michael Floyd.

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Jacoby Brissett
ICONJacoby Brissett is battling Jeff Driskel for the starting gig in Gainesville.

Florida: The Gators have struggled offensively the last couple of seasons for a few reasons. But none have been bigger than the play from the quarterback position. With John Brantley gone, sophomore signal-callers Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett are battling to win the right to operate new coordinator Brent Pease’s offense. Both saw action last year but struggled, and it didn’t help that the team’s offensive line had issues. The talent and athletic ability are obvious when watching Driskel and Brissett drop back, but are there enough playmakers ready to emerge to help them along the way?

Auburn: The Tigers have new coordinators on both sides of the ball, with former Temple OC Scot Loeffler taking over the offense and former Atlanta Falcons DC Brian VanGorder looking to straighten out the defense. Loeffler has bigger shoes to fill, as he assumes the role vacated by Gus Malzahn. While sophomore Kiehl Frazier is the dual-threat that fit better in Malzahn’s spread, Clint Moseley is a better fit for a pro-style attack and has more experience. But Loeffler will use a multiple-look attack, so whoever has a better grasp of the offense will win the job. And he’ll be asked to improve on a unit that ranked 100th in total offense last fall. Early-enrollee Zeke Pike will also try to impress Loeffler this spring.

Oklahoma State: Offensive coordinator Todd Monken has to not only replace projected stud first-round receiver Justin Blackmon, but he’ll also have to find a new starting quarterback with Brandon Weeden moving onto the NFL as well. Clint Chelf has the experience to win the job, having thrown 69 career passes as Weeden’s backup. But head coach Mike Gundy maintains that the competition is wide open. Dual-threat J.W. Walsh had been tabbed as the future at the position because he was highly recruited. He has a strong arm in addition to being a good runner. Wes Lunt, meanwhile, is the other highly regarded young signal-caller, as he’s a 6-5 early enrollee who can really sling it. But can he master this offense and be ready to start as a true freshman?

Oregon: Darron Thomas shockingly left Eugene a year early and will try to make a roster at the next level. So last year’s backup, Bryan Bennett, will try to hold off Marcus Mariota for the right to run Chip Kelly’s up-tempo, high-octane offense. Bennett is highly regarded by the coaching staff and filled in admirably last season for Thomas when he was hurt — so much so that a lot of Duck fans wanted to see Bennett remain the starter after he had a 6 to 0 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But the 6-4 Mariota is a skilled runner just like Bennett, and both signal-callers may be more accurate passers than Thomas as well. But both will need to prove to the offensive staff that they can make sound decisions, especially in the zone-read game. Mariota is the better passer of the two, and the Ducks do want to throw the ball a little more. However, it still comes down to that dominant rushing attack, led by Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas.


Five more

Boise State: It's hard to envision Boise State without Kellen Moore, but the Broncos must move on without their prolific record-setting four-year starting QB. Junior Joe Southwick is best positioned to take over Robert Prince's offense, but it will be interesting to see how Grant Hedrick responds from his knee injury. Early-enrollee Nick Patti has a good arm and is fleet-footed, so we'll see if he can pick up the offense quickly. Jimmy Laughrea is also in the mix.

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Joe Brennan
ICONIf Joe Brennan wins the starting job in Madison, can he live up to the expectations set by Russell Wilson?

Wisconsin: Former N.C. State transfer Russell Wilson departs after helping lead the team to Pasadena last season. His backup in 2011, Joe Brennan, entered spring as the de facto starter after appearing in six games last season. However, he attempted only 15 passes in mop-up duty. Redshirt freshman and former walk-on Joel Stave also is in the mix as well as Curt Phillips. Phillips, however, missed each of the last two seasons while trying to come back from multiple knee injuries. The major concern is Jon Budmayr, who would have likely started last year if Wilson hadn't arrived and if he would have been healthy. Budmayr will miss spring practice due to a nerve in his right elbow not properly healing, so his career could be in jeopardy. In addition, freshman Bart Houston has been knocked out of spring drills because he needs surgery on his right throwing arm. Landing former Maryland starter Danny O'Brien would be a big coup for new OC Matt Canada, who replaces Paul Chryst.

Stanford: The Andrew Luck era has come to an end on The Farm, so redshirt sophomore Brett Nottingham will try to hold off juniors Josh Nunes and Robbie Picazo. The strong-armed signal-caller was Luck's backup last season, playing in six games but throwing only eight passes. Freshmen Kevin Hogan and Evan Crower are also on the QB depth chart.

Texas A&M: Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin and quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury will have a really interesting decision to make in this quarterback derby as A&M transitions into the SEC. Many wonder if the offensive staff will place a little more emphasis on the run as opposed to some of Sumlin's teams in the past. What we do know is that three dual-threat QB's are in this race: Jameill Showers, Johnny Manziel and Matt Davis. Matt Joeckel is more of a traditional dropback passer. The talented Showers was Ryan Tannehill's backup last season, but Manziel has great Texas prep credentials and is a great athlete with a strong arm.

Texas: This was one of the bigger national storylines surrounding the Longhorns when they opened spring camp, but all reports out of Austin suggest that this is David Ash's job to lose. Head coach Mack Brown has suggested that Texas could employ a two-QB system in the fall, so Case McCoy could still see plenty of time on the field. What Brown doesn't want is a situation like last year, where an unprepared freshman had to step in when it was apparent that Garrett Gilbert wasn't the answer under center. So it will be interesting to see if Class of 2012 signal-caller Connor Brewer impresses enough to see action or if he is redshirted. Ash was solid in the team's Holiday Bowl win over Cal, but the accomplished runner must improve on his passing, as he threw four touchdowns compared to eight interceptions in 2011.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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