QUARTERBACK RACE 2005
The tightest QB races across the country: Who will be the starter on opening day?

by Todd Helmick

August 25, 2005 - As the impending college football season revs its engines, there are still a number of important QB races that have yet to be determined. Here is the latest progress for quite a few, even some who are national contenders. Decisions concerning who will assume the role of “Field General” always go a long way toward defining the entire team’s campaign, so realize that QB developments continue well into the season and are not being defined here as much as they are being updated now for the impending start of the season.

FLORIDA STATE

Since last season's starting QB Wyatt Sexton was diagnosed with Lyme Disease, a scramble for the job between two highly touted redshirt freshmen began. Since then, Coach Bobby Bowden has continually referred to Drew Weatherford (drop-back) and Xavier Lee (dual-threat) as both being his number one. Two weeks into August camp and there was still no clear-cut choice. Lee struggled at times throughout early scrimmages. When he gets pressure he tries to overly guide the ball instead of relaxing in the pocket and just letting it rip. But if one of the QBs moves ahead on one day, the other seemingly takes over the next. Making some leeway this past week as to being named the starter was Weatherford, who went 11 of 16 for 288 yards in Tuesday's scrimmage while Lee was on the bench nursing a sore shoulder. Bowden still continued to state both were co-number ones. Odds are that Weatherford will draw the start versus Miami, with Lee coming in even before the first quarter ends. Whether coaches welcome a dual-QB system or not, that's what they have. Look for both to play all season long unless one of them finally seems to hit a groove.

"One week it might be this guy and the next week the next guy. I don't know if this will end up like that but it could." - Bobby Bowden.


MARYLAND

Last year it was the “Joel Statham Show” for most of a disappointing season until the final home game versus Wake Forest. Hollenbach took over and played mistake free football in the victory, which carried over to spring. Coach Friedgen named Hollenbach the starter at the close of April and the momentum continues. Injuries have hurt this team through the month of August, but the gleaming surprise has been the accuracy and poise of Hollenbach. The team appears to be rallying around the junior QB. He won the job in the spring because he doesn't make as many mistakes and he continues to impress in his decision making. Friedgen even went so far as to say he hasn't seen a Maryland QB this accurate since Scott McBrien versus WVU in the Gator Bowl…such high praise from a picky offensive coach. Joel Statham is currently running with the second unit while true sophomore Jordan Steffy has struggled to play through a spring injury that sidelined him. There is no question who the starter is on opening day versus Navy.

"I think if there has been a bright spot in this camp, it's Sam Hollenbach." - Ralph Friedgen


NORTH CAROLINA STATE

Last fall Jay Davis struggled, which led to freshman Marcus Stone getting thrown into the fire. With a week to go before the huge home opener versus Virginia Tech, Davis is the clear-cut starter. He has taken charge of this team and has the mindset of a leader. Hopes are that direct comparisons to Philip Rivers are a thing of the past with the fans - no budding talent needs his patronage to cast such a shadow, for it can only lead to disappointment. Erasing memories of the many interceptions (that critics point to) from 2004 (five INTs versus Clemson and three INTs versus both Georgia Tech and Ohio State) will prove difficult. But Davis has been determined this summer to do something about it - he hit the weight room and worked tirelessly on mechanics. Preseason scrimmages have shown genuine improvement. Last Saturday's action had the senior going 11 of 14 with one TD. Marcus Stone is still on his heels and all continue to improve with the competition. But this is Davis' team, even if he was required to lead while sitting on the bench.

“He (Davis) has taken charge of this football team. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he has taken that role and he has run with it. Not only with the offense but with the whole team.” - Chuck Amato


WEST VIRGINIA

No other Division I-A university has as many possibilities when it comes to locating a starting QB as does the one in Morgantown. Four players were considered viable options to replace all-Big East QB Rasheed Marshall just only three months ago, even though two of them (J.R. House and Adam Bednarik) were not even throwing the ball due to shoulder injuries. At 25 years of age and four surgeries later, House came in this August after being released by the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball club after six seasons in their minor league system. An operation to repair a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder has made the task of competing difficult. He just doesn't have the arm strength. The second option, Dwayne Thompson, will likely swing to a wide out position at some point. In turn, the race has been narrowed down, and it is now between Adam Bednarik and Pat White. Coach Rich Rodriguez has stated both could be “co-starting” QBs on opening day as the Mountaineers visit Syracuse, a literal impossibility but the point is well-made. Expect to see both..."options 1A and option 1A", as Rodriguez calls it. Redshirt freshman Pat White is their speed merchant (4.35 40-yard dash speed). In this flex no-huddle offense, the QB will continue to carry the pigskin, and therefore White will be an oft-utilized weapon. But Bednarik has a better presence in the pocket and maintains more patience while waiting for receivers to break free. White tends to take off running under the same circumstance. Bednarik is currently running with the first team and is the likely starter for Labor Day Weekend. We'll see both.

"It would be Adam-slash-Pat at number one and J.R.-slash-Dwayne at number three." - Rich Rodriguez

PENN STATE

SuperPrep High School All-American Anthony Morelli brought glowing credentials along with superlative skills and size to the Nittany Lion roster in 2004. With Zach Mills now departed, most feel if Joe Paterno is to get this train moving in the right competitive direction, Morelli would have to be that engineer - QB play has haunted the Lions through their recent back-to-back losing seasons. Hold on! Senior Michael Robinson won the starting job this spring and continues to hold the starter’s role. Robinson spent the entire off-season focusing on one position as opposed to year's past of playing multiple positions (RB/QB/WR/PR). He has dropped 15 pounds to get quicker, but Robinson has a long way to go to prove his critics wrong. Morelli has a gun for an arm, and Paterno has stated that he will see action. Morelli has taken about a quarter to a third of the reps with the first team. Sometimes he will wait too long with his reads or double check once lined up, which has caused confusion with the OL. Robinson appears more relaxed and confident while making better decisions. If he struggles, the fans are sure to demand a change or the disgruntled chants of "Joe must go" will echo throughout the walls of Beaver Stadium.

"Right now, he's (Morelli) behind Michael Robinson, but he can't be satisfied with that decision because there are going to be a lot of times when Morelli is going to be in there." - Joe Paterno

OKLAHOMA

It's decision time in Norman. Who replaces former 2003 Heisman winner Jason White? Everyone was told at the close of spring that the QB race would continue into the fall. That's an understatement. Longshot Tommy Grady has decided to transfer, and the fallout is underclassmen Paul Thompson and Rhett Bomar fighting for top honors. The decision as to the starter is expected any day now, and even the coaches are stuck between the two. QB Coach Chuck Long will sit down with both QBs individually and explain this decision to each once they arrive at one. So far, both have been kept in the dark to some degree. Accordingly, the possibility of a two-QB system is likely at some point of 2005. Thompson appears to be the more consistent passer, using short, safer passes in an effort to keep the yardsticks moving. Bomar is more apt to take a risk and throw deep, thus making more things happen – both good and bad. Considering how opposing defenses are likely to stuff the box in an effort to slow RB Adrian Peterson, any deep pass options could only help.

(MORE TO COME AS THE QB DECISON IS SAID TO BE IMMINENT…a little birdie told me its Thompson)

CALIFORNIA

Jeff Tedford has a QB problem…after three seasons of watching Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers throw perfect darts, he's now seeing wobbly ducks and overthrown screen passes. So the question begins, what is the problem with Joe Ayoob? Like Rodgers, Ayoob is a JUCO-transfer. He has yet to take a Division I-A snap and is struggling. His arm strength was a known weakness, and accordingly, this scouting tidbit appears to hold a great deal of water. He has also had problems grasping Tedford's complex schemes while missing open receivers. Through the early part of August camp, Nate Longshore has started to take the reigns. Out of high school, Longshore was a Top 10 rated QB, standing at 6-5 and tagged as the prototypical pocket passer. But his mobility and footwork are questioned, opening the door for the incoming JUCO Ayoob (who many dubbed "the white Michael Vick" after he managed nine rushing TDs at City College of San Francisco). The inevitable then began...the hype and wishful thinking that Ayoob would be the next great passing QB under Jeff Tedford, with wheels to match. It hasn't panned out, and Nate Longshore is likely to start their opener versus Sacramento State. Don't expect much struggle, and don't expect Ayoob to take over the following week, or ever.


LOUISIANA STATE

The tone has been set in Baton Rouge. The talent has been assembled. Now, it's just a matter of who's driving this racecar. “Mr. Alabama Football” (2002) Jamarcus Russell has been put into a position to excel with the surrounding talent. For the Tigers, it's absolutely imperative that their QB play step up if the high rankings and predictions for a national title run are ever to come to fruition. Heading into the third week of August practice, the only info a tight-lipped Coach Les Miles will confirm is that both Russell and Matt Flynn were each planning to see action. A third factor was thrown into the equation as Louisiana native Ryan Perrilloux (pronounced Pair-uh-lew) stepped on campus for the first time. Arguably, he was the No. 1 high school prospect in the nation for 2004. Perrilloux even vowed this summer that he would earn the starting job. He's been under the microscope and has shown the typical issues most freshman deal with...rusty mechanics, passes too high, still in the learning phase, etc. Russell seems to be stepping up his game, but only time will tell who the starter will be. A recent scrimmage had Russell working mostly with the first unit while Perrilloux was seen spending most of his time with the twos and threes. It may be as late as Thursday of game week before coaches name the starter. Coach Miles is very tight-lipped about releasing information from scrimmages/practices and keeps a very close eye on what the news media reports. If he's reading this one...Jamarcus Russell is the starter versus North Texas. Flynn and Perrilloux will have a chance to show their skills while playing the entire second half as the game is over by half time.


NEBRASKA

By mid-August, head coach Bill Callahan was not ready to name much traveled junior Zac Taylor - who arrived at Nebraska in January from Butler Community College after a brief 2003 stint at Wake Forest - his starter. Taylor emerged from a wide-open quarterback race during spring ball and concluded with a great spring game, connecting on 20-of-27 passes for 357 yards. A big surprise thus far has come from redshirt freshman Joe Ganz, who is currently running with the second unit. Some were concerned about the fact Taylor hasn't seen any contact - he and Ganz were the only two wearing green no-contact jerseys earlier. Although nothing has been made official, Taylor is clearly the QB for this team. The only race has to do with who plays backup.


WASHINGTON STATE

Josh Swogger entered August practice as number one. Sophomore Alex Brink has beaten him out and has been named the starter for the opener versus Idaho. Swogger started the first six games of ’04 before a broken left foot ended his season. Brink then led the Cougars to two late-season wins. Brink won the job this time three weeks into August camp by making fewer mistakes while displaying improved arm strength.

"He just made less mistakes. He was more aware of the offense and did the little things, like throwing the ball on time.” – Bill Doba


HAWAI'I

How does June Jones follow up the NCAA's all-time leading career passer in Timmy Chang? For starters, he told two members from the five-man QB roster that they would not be invited back for August training camp, and each (Kainoa Akina and Jack Rolovich) was once considered a contender to start. Akina was the backup most of last season. Gheez! For now, claiming which remaining player is ahead in this race is hard to determine. The two at the forefront appear to be Tyler Graunke and Colt Brennan, who initially entered Hawai'i as a walk-on. Brennan was dismissed from the University of Colorado (team) and found his way to Saddleback Community College in California last fall, where he was an honorable mention all-American and an honor roll student. Both QBs have been sharing reps with the first team and have had limited success against new defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville's group. Whoever plays, he'll be extremely short in wide receiver experience - upwards of six prime time players at the position moved on. Jones has said that both will probably play in the opener. The opponent? Top rated USC. Trial-by fire will reveal which can handle this prestigious position best.