A year ago this month found Alabama quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts in the midst of the offseason competition that wasn't — the job was Tagovailoa's from the moment of his College Football Playoff heroics, even if Nick Saban waited until the doorstep of the regular season to make it official.
Hurts now finds himself in a similar situation, only with a twist. Oklahoma's transfer quarterback is widely expected to replace Kyler Murray, but not until he fends off two contenders for the starting job: Tanner Mordecai, a sophomore, and incoming freshman Spencer Rattler, who arrives in the summer as a five-star recruit.
One year later, only an unexpected development will keep Hurts from becoming the latest Oklahoma quarterback to make a run at the Heisman Trophy in Lincoln Riley's explosive system.
Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan rushes for a touchdown during 2018 Pinstripe Bowl against Miami (Fla.). (Photo: Vincent Carchietta, USA TODAY Sports)
Meanwhile, other high-profile programs across the Bowl Subdivision must unwind a more complex competition before the season kicks off in August. Here's how things look for several teams in the middle of spring drills:
Contenders: Jack Coan (Jr.), Graham Mertz (Fr.)
The quarterback room was thinned by the transfer of incumbent starter Alex Hornibrook to Florida State. That would seemingly put Coan in the driver's seat as he split his four starts last year, winning the last two, including the Pinstripe Bowl. But Mertz is not your normal recruit: Wisconsin pulled the Kansas native away from offers across the nation, and the expectation is that he'll be given every shot to become the rare true freshman to start under center for Paul Chryst and the Badgers.
Best guess: Mertz
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Contenders: Darriel Mack Jr. (So.), Brandon Wimbush (Sr.)
The Knights will focus on Wimbush, a graduate transfer from Notre Dame, and Mack, who played well down the stretch in 2018, as the program deals with the expected loss of Heisman-worthy starter McKenzie Milton. That there are two contenders at the head of the pack likely eliminates true freshman Dillon Gabriel, who broke a number of Milton's state passing records, as a legitimate option this season — though Hawaiian passers have admittedly been good to UCF.
Best guess: Wimbush
Contenders: Jalen Hurts (Sr.), Tanner Mordecai (So.), Spencer Rattler (Fr.)
Only injury or terrible inefficiency will keep Hurts from returning to the starting lineup. Then again, it's only fair to take Riley as his word: Hurts is "in a battle," Oklahoma's coach said in March. Still, the only real intrigue is in how Riley will tweak his scheme to fit Hurts' skill set.
Best guess: Hurts
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Contenders: James Blackman (So.), Alex Hornibrook (Sr.)
The job still seems Blackman's to lose, though Hornibrook's arrival as a graduate transfer does add "competitive depth" to the competition, Seminoles coach Willie Taggart said last month. The Seminoles are desperate for depth, so Hornibrook would be an asset even as a backup. Still, he's experienced and moderately productive, meaning Blackman won't simply cruise to the starting job in the opener.
Best guess: Blackman
Contenders: Dru Brown (Sr.), Spencer Sanders (Fr.)
Brown was expected to battle Tyler Cornelius for the starting job last fall instead wore a redshirt, leaving the former Hawaii transfer with one final season of eligibility and in the midst of yet another offseason competition. This spring finds him opposite a redshirt freshman in Sanders, who tore through high school competition in Texas and seems to be the perfect fit for Mike Gundy's offense. Brown's edge is in experience: he threw for 37 scores across two seasons with the Warriors.
Best guess: Sanders
Contenders: Tate Martell (So.), N'Kosi Perry (So.), Jarren Williams (Fr.)
That Martell was granted immediate eligibility in his transfer from Ohio State drastically alters the makeup of Miami's competition. Before, the focus centered on Williams, a talented if unproven redshirt freshman, and Perry, who has the physical ability to shine but failed to impress in his time as the starter. Now Martell takes center stage under new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, formerly of Alabama, and the expectation is that his athleticism will eventually separate him from the pack.
Best guess: Martell
Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell (18) runs the ball during the second half against Michigan State in 2018. (Photo: Mike Carter, USA TODAY Sports)
Contenders: Joey Gatewood (Fr.), Bo Nix (Fr.), Cord Sandberg (Fr.), Malik Willis (Jr.)
It's crowded. It's also interesting: Auburn has four options who could conceivably be the starter for the Tigers' opener against Oregon. One is Gatewood, who looks the part at 6-foot-5 and 230-plus pounds but has just one pass attempt under his belt. The second is Sandberg, a former top recruit who spent six years in the Philadelphia Phillies' organization before returning to college. Willis resembles the best athlete of the bunch, and brings along two years of experience as the backup to Jarrett Stidham. And then there's Nix, a five-star true freshman with great bloodlines and a high ceiling. He's the most promising of the group, but Willis might be the safest — at least when it comes to the opener.
Best guess: Willis
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