The biggest quarterback competitions for the college football season

·8 min read

One major offseason quarterback competition has already been settled. On Saturday, sophomore Tyler Buchner was named the starter for No. 5 Notre Dame ahead of junior Drew Pyle heading into coach Marcus Freeman's debut season.

Given what's ahead for the Fighting Irish, it made sense for Freeman to announce his quarterback with several weeks until the opener. And it'll be a potential winner-take-all matchup to get things started: Notre Dame kicks off against No. 2 Ohio State.

Many other Power Five and high-profile Group of Five teams have yet to make a decision under center. One is No. 18 Texas, which is taking a strong look at freshman Quinn Ewers. Another is No. 22 Cincinnati, which must replace a multiple-time all-conference pick in Desmond Ridder.

Overall, at least three teams with legitimate preseason hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff are at least looking at multiple options at quarterback as time runs out on preseason camp: No. 4 Clemson, No. 6 Michigan and No. 7 Texas A&M.

How these competitions unfold this month — and for many, how they continue to dominate headlines into the regular season — will play a role in determining conference champions and the makeup of this year's playoff.

No. 4 Clemson

Contenders: Cade Klubnik (Fr.), DJ Uiagalelei (Jr.).

Clemson's plans for a seamless transition from Trevor Lawrence to Uiagalelei went south during a disappointing 2021 season. A year later, Uiagalelei remains atop the Tigers' depth chart and the heavy favorite to start the opener. But unlike in 2021, he'll be pushed by his backup, Klubnik, a five-star recruit who is already projected as a future starter — perhaps as soon as this season.

Prediction: Uiagalelei. There's depth in the backfield and receiver but unanswered questions about Clemson's line play and first-year offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter. Uiagalelei will have to take a big step forward from last year's numbers to keep Klubnik on the sidelines.

UNFAMILIAR FOES: The 10 best non-conference games for this season

TEXAS AT NO. 1?: It's not the only crazy vote in this year's preseason poll

OVERRATED: Five teams in the preseason poll that were picked too high

No. 6 Michigan

Contenders: Cade McNamara (Sr.), J.J. McCarthy (So.).

McNamara had a solid 2021 season (2,576 yards and 15 touchdowns) as the Wolverines ended their Big Ten title drought and qualified for the College Football Playoff. Despite his status as the incumbent, McNamara is going to be pushed for the starting job this month by McCarthy, a five-star recruit who threw for 516 yards in a reserve role last season and represents the program's future at the position.

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara (12) passes the ball in the second quarter against Iowa during the 2021 Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara (12) passes the ball in the second quarter against Iowa during the 2021 Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Prediction: McNamara. Until proven otherwise, at least. The senior brings experience and a steady hand to the offense without the same hype and potential that surrounds McCarthy's push for the starting job. Both quarterbacks will play, but McNamara may spend the entire season looking over his shoulder.

No. 7 Texas A&M

Contenders: Max Johnson (Jr.), Haynes King (So.), Conner Weigman (Fr.).

Johnson spent the past two seasons as the primary starter at LSU, throwing for a combined 34 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. King started the opener for the Aggies last season before going down for the season with a leg injury in that game against Colorado. Weigman joins Kyler Murray (2015) and Kyle Allen (2014) as the program's top quarterback signees during the modern recruiting era.

Prediction: Johnson. His experience in the SEC and in the SEC West in particular are a major part of Johnson's appeal. That he has a proven track record of avoiding turnovers is another fact that boosts the LSU transfer above his two primary competitors. King is a very close second, however, and whichever option gets the nod for the season opener will have to produce to remain in the starting lineup.

No. 18 Texas

Contenders: Hudson Card (So.), Quinn Ewers (Fr.).

Card was the starter for the first two games last season but was quickly replaced by former starter Casey Thompson, who has since transferred to Nebraska. In eight appearances, Card threw for 590 yards and five touchdowns with one interception in 83 attempts. One of the top quarterback prospects of the modern recruiting era, Ewers spent his true freshman season holding a clipboard at Ohio State but immediately became a key piece of the Longhorns' future after joining the program prior to the spring.

Prediction: Ewers. Every indication is that he'll get every chance to become a multiple-year starter under coach Steve Sarkisian. Card could make the decision more difficult with a strong fall camp — or if Ewers stumbles under some very weighty expectations. If it is Ewers under center, he'll have the luxury of playing alongside star running back Bijan Robinson and one of the nation's top young receivers in Xavier Worthy.

BREAKDOWNS: A closer look at every team in college football's Top 25

SNUBS: Five teams that should have been included in the preseason poll

HIGH TIDE: Alabama tops preseason poll ahead of Ohio State, Georgia

No. 22 Cincinnati

Contenders: Ben Bryant (Sr.), Evan Prater (So.).

A four-star recruit, Prater spent last year's as the backup to Ridder, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another pair on 8.8 yards per carry. Bryant was formerly behind Ridder but spent last season at Eastern Michigan after failing to climb out of his backup role; he threw for 3,121 yards and 14 scores before transferring back to the Bearcats last winter.

Prediction: Bryant. His experience in the Bearcats' system and overall starting experience gives him a notable edge over Prater. But there is a question of which quarterback will unleash the full potential of this offense: Bryant may be the steadier of the two options but Prater has the higher ceiling.

No. 24 Mississippi

Contenders: Luke Altmyer (So.), Jaxson Dart (So.).

Altmyer made 37 attempts as last year's backup to Matt Corral, most coming when the Rebels lost in the Sugar Bowl to Baylor. (Altmyer replaced an injured Corral and completed 15 of 28 attempts for 174 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.) Dart was the part-time starter at Southern California in 2021 but was one of two quarterbacks with starting experience to leave the program last winter and the arrival of coach Lincoln Riley and former Oklahoma star Caleb Williams.

Prediction: Dart. He outplayed Altmyer in the Rebels' recent scrimmage and took a big step toward taking over one of the most quarterback-friendly offenses in the country.

LSU

Contenders: Jayden Daniels (Jr.), Garrett Nussmeier (Fr.).

The competition lost a third contender with Myles Brennan's decision to end his playing career. That leaves two: Daniels, who was new coach Brian Kelly's pick from the portal, and Nussmeier, who had a very strong spring but has seemed to fade from contention in this key quarterback battle. If Kelly is more interested in experience and reliability in his first run through the SEC, Daniels' multiple years of starting time at Arizona State could give him an insurmountable edge.

Prediction: Daniels. He may have a shorter leash than most SEC starters, especially if the Tigers start slow in Kelly's debut. If he does struggle, Daniels could be replaced by Nussmeier as LSU look for an offensive spark. But after a down 2021 season, Daniels' play should rebound when surrounded by the Tigers' skill talent.

Auburn

Contenders: Zach Calzada (So.), T.J. Finley (Jr.).

Formerly of LSU, Finley transferred to Auburn prior to last season and started the final three games, with four touchdowns and one interception in narrow losses to South Carolina, Alabama and Houston. Calzada joined the Tigers this winter after throwing for 2,185 and 17 scores at Texas A&M but missed the spring, putting him behind in this race before the start of fall camp. Nonetheless, the thought heading into August was that Calzada would eventually leapfrog past Finley on the depth chart.

Prediction: Calzada. Time may be running short on Calzada to make his move, though Auburn coach Bryan Harsin will wait for as long as possible before naming the Tigers' starter for the opener against Mercer. While Finley would be the primary backup in this setup, there should a role in specific packages for redshirt freshman Robby Ashford, a dual-threat transfer from Oregon.

Central Florida

Contenders: Mikey Keene (So.), John Rhys Plumlee (Sr.).

Keene played in 11 games as a freshman and threw for 1,730 yards and 17 touchdowns, helping UCF notch nine wins despite losing star quarterback Dillon Gabriel to injury in September. (Gabriel has since transferred to Oklahoma.) Plumlee comes in from Ole Miss after falling out of favor in Kiffin's scheme. Back in 2019, however, the then-freshman ran for 1,023 yards and 12 scores with five 100-yard games.

Prediction: Keene. That Plumlee can provide a spark in a more limited role means he'll play a part in the Knights' offense. But Keene has more experience in the system and may have earned the trust of coach Gus Malzahn.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football's top quarterback competitions led by Michigan, Texas