Clemson will go from Trevor Lawrence to D.J. Uiagalelei. Alabama will shift from Mac Jones to Bryce Young. With Kyle Trask gone, Florida will turn to Emory Jones.
Some of the top contenders for the 2021 college football national championship have established clear succession plans under center. Not every program is so lucky.
With spring football underway in most conferences, attention shifts to the most marquee of all offseason competitions. These are the contests that will the define the spring and likely trickle into the summer and fall camp:
Contenders: Jacob Conover(RS Fr.), Jaren Hall (So.), Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters (RS Fr.), Baylor Romney (Jr.)
A former walk-on, Romney was last year’s backup to star Zach Wilson, throwing for 261 yards and a touchdown in seven games of garbage time. He was more effective in 2019, when he won both of his starts and had seven touchdowns across 85 attempts. While he missed last season due to injury, Hall also saw time in 2019 (420 yards on 9.1 yards per attempt) and played well before suffering a concussion in November. The two redshirt freshmen were highly recruited prospects and will be given the opportunity to impress first-year offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and grab the starting job.
Prediction: Romney. Experience gives him the edge on Hall. The two freshmen are talented but not ready to rise up the depth chart.
Contenders: Beau Allen (RS Fr.), Joey Gatewood (Jr.), Will Levis (Jr.)
Gatewood was expected to contend for the starting job in 2020 after transferring from Auburn but made little positive impact; like many transfers or newcomers, an incomplete offseason and abbreviated regular season hurt Gatewood’s development. Allen is a local talent who classifies as the one traditional pocket passer in the competition. Levis comes in from Penn State but won’t be on campus until the summer.
Prediction: Levis. Eventually, at least. That he’s not around this spring will make it more difficult for Levis to start the season opener, giving Gatewood or Allen the chance to start fast and keep the PSU transfer on the sidelines or in a secondary role. But Levis has shown a more complete skill set than Gatewood and has the experience of playing in 13 Big Ten games in the past two seasons.
Contenders: Tyler Buchner (Fr.), Brendon Clark (Jr.), Jack Coan (Sr.), Drew Pyne (RS Fr.)
Clark’s injury history makes him difficult to handicap, though he might have the biggest arm of any quarterback on the roster. Pyne needs more development but has starting potential. Buchner was one of the top signings in Notre Dame’s recent recruiting class but hasn’t played competitively since 2019, putting him way behind the curve. Coan played at an all-conference level at Wisconsin in 2019 before an injury cost him the job prior to last season.
Prediction: Coan. He’s steady and reliable as a pocket passer but not as athletic as Ian Book, which might subtlety change the direction of the Irish offense. It would be surprising, if not shocking, to see anyone else under center for the opener.
Contenders: Kyle McCord (Fr.), Jack Miller (RS Fr.), C.J. Stroud (RS Fr.)
Neither redshirt freshman attempted a pass behind Justin Fields in 2020, though Stroud did run for a 48-yard touchdown late in a romp over Michigan State. Stroud had also taken over as Fields’ backup by the tail end of last season. That may give him the edge as the Buckeyes make another run at the national title, but it’s too soon to count out Miller or McCord, a five-star prospect on campus for spring ball.
Prediction: Stroud. Ryan Day has said (and will continue to say) otherwise, but Stroud will enter the spring as the odds-on favorite to replace Fields. After he put some distance between himself and Miller over the course of last season, Stroud’s toughest competition may come from an incoming freshman recently named the National High School Coaches Association Player of the Year.
BIG TEN SPRING PREVIEW:Ohio State is in the driver’s seat; Indiana needs healthy QB
Contenders: Derrick Green (So.), Tanner Mordecai (So.), Preston Stone (Fr.)
One of the top-ranked recruits in recent program history, Stone represents the future at the position. Green is the only quarterback on the roster to attempt a pass at SMU, even if that consists of just three throws in 2019. And Mordecai transferred from Oklahoma, where he was unable to unseat Spencer Rattler, and has the chance to follow Shane Buechele as the next Power Five transfer to have his career rejuvenated by SMU coach Sonny Dykes.
Prediction: Mordecai. There may be a temptation to roll with Stone and let him develop, but Mordecai is the right choice for a team aiming to compete for the New Year’s Six.
Contenders: Hudson Card (RS Fr.), Casey Thompson (Jr.)
Sam Ehlinger’s successor will be given the keys to new coach Steve Sarkisian’s quarterback-friendly offense. Card was a borderline top-100 recruit in the 2020 class who chose Texas over offers from almost everyone, including Alabama, Ohio State and Penn State. He played in two games as a rookie while Thompson exploded in his limited duty, tossing two touchdowns in the opener against UTEP and four in just 10 attempts in an eye-opening performance against Colorado in the Alamo Bowl.
Prediction: Thompson. The bowl showing is impossible to ignore. Thompson will begin the Sarkisian era as the favorite, but Card may benefit from the blank slate provided by a new coaching staff.
BIG 12 SPRING PREVIEW:Iowa State looks to give Oklahoma serious challenge for title
Contenders: Zach Calzada (So.), Haynes King (RS Fr.)
The spotlight is on Calzada and King as the Aggies look to build off a top-five finish in 2020 and reach the College Football Playoff. Calzada has an extra year in coach Jimbo Fisher’s system, though that’s not enough alone to give him the advantage. King is the son of a highly successful Texas high school coach and has the confidence and swagger to play at a high level.
Prediction: King. He’s been unofficially anointed as the successor to Kellen Mond since stepping on campus.
Contenders: Henry Colombi (Jr.), Maverick McIvor (RS Fr.), Behren Morton (Fr.), Tyler Shough (Jr.), Donovan Smith (Fr.)
Shough comes in from Oregon, where he led the Ducks to another Pac-12 title but was unseated in the postseason by Anthony Brown. He’s immediately the favorite to replace Alan Bowman, who opted into the transfer portal, though Colombi could pull off an upset by building off his uneven 2019 season. (He averaged just 6.4 yards per throw.) The freshmen are behind the pack.
Prediction: Shough. He’s an all-conference contender if able to grasp the system before the opener.
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg.