August 23, 2005

Big positional battles heat up

All over the country coaches are repeating the phrase "1A and 1B" over and over again.

With training camps in full swing there is little separation between several players fighting for starting jobs, and with less than two weeks before the season begins it remains unclear who will be suiting up on the first string at several key positions.

The starting quarterback jobs at a handful of elite programs have yet to be determined and that was reflected in this list of Rivals.com's biggest positional battles, which includes five duels under center.

AUBURN - Pat Lee vs. Montavis Pitts vs. Jonathan Wilhite for starting cornerback

The Tigers lost starting cornerback Carlos Rogers, a first-round pick, from last season, and while David Irons has landed one starting job, the other spot remains undecided.

The difference between the three candidates has been razor thin in practice. Lee, a sophomore, and Pitts, a junior who started a year ago, have the slight edge with experience, but Wilhite, a JUCO transfer, has been rapidly improving, and he may be the most talented of the trio.

Game 1 starter: Pitts - Each of these three guys is going to play but look for Wilhite to be named the starter by midseason.

CALIFORNIA - Joseph Ayoob vs. Nate Longshore for starting quarterback

Don't expect this battle to replace Aaron Rodgers to be over anytime soon and possibly not even until midseason. Bears coach Jeff Tedford has said he won't name a starter until the week of the first game against Sacramento State on Sept. 3 and both signal callers are expected to play in that contest.

Rodgers spent the first half of the 2003 season splitting time with Reggie Robertson and a similar situation could unfold again. Ayoob, a highly touted junior college transfer and Longshore, a redshirt freshman who was ranked the No. 8 pro-style quarterback from the class of 2004 according to Rivals.com, both looked impressive in the Bears spring game. Ayoob was 7-of-9 for 192 yards and a touchdown and Longshore was 5-of-6 for 106 yards and three scores.

Game 1 starter: Longshore - A year of experience in Tedford's system will matter, and he has recently started to out-perform Ayoob in preseason practice. But, coaches don't sign JUCO quarterbacks so they can sit on the bench and many still feel that Ayoob will be starting eventually. Look for them to split time over the first five games. Whoever plays better over that stretch will be Tedford's next great quarterback and will immediately have a path set toward a high NFL draft pick.

FLORIDA STATE - Xavier Lee vs. Drew Weatherford for starting quarterback

Once it was clear that Wyatt Sexton would be out for the season, it immediately became a two-man battle between a pair of redshirt freshmen under center in Tallahassee.

Lee, who was ranked the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback from the class of 2004, and Weatherford, who was the No. 6 pro-style quarterback, are both extremely talented and either one may have unseated Sexton in preseason practice.

But, they have combined for just one snap and with a season opener against Miami and the Hurricanes' intimidating defense whoever wins the starting job will have no time to ease into their new role.

Game 1 starter: Weatherford - We would have chosen Lee two weeks ago. He is a little more physically gifted and Weatherford underwent ankle surgery in the offseason. But, Lee has struggled in practice and Weatherford has shown that he is healthy and looked smoother as of late. Bobby Bowden has said playing both is a legitimate possibility too.

GEORGIA - Thomas Brown vs. Kregg Lumpkin vs. Danny Ware for starting running back

The Bulldogs have such a deep group of talented ball-carriers that Mark Richt says he will play two running backs at the same time for the first time in his five years in Athens.

But, the main question is who will get the rock the most? Brown is the favorite at the moment, due largely to the durability questions surrounding Lumpkin and Ware. Lumpkin's only start came in the 2003 Capital One Bowl and he handled 27 carries in that game, but he sat out all of last season with a torn ACL. He has looked healthy in scrimmages. Ware missed games with a handful of various injuries in 2004.

Game 1 starter: Brown - Richt is searching for durability from his ball-carriers and Brown is pound-for-pound the strongest player on the team. Look for him to get a significant majority of the carries and Lumpkin and Ware will split the rest.

IOWA - Marcus Schnoor vs. Marques Simmons vs. Albert Young for starting running back

Kirk Ferentz and his staff are desperate to find a reliable running back and after a recent scrimmage they narrowed the field down to three candidates.

Simmons, a senior, is the slight favorite, but has failed to separate himself from the pack in practice. Young, a sophomore, and Schnoor, a senior, both appear to have recovered from ACL injuries and either could move to the top of the depth chart. Young has great hands and is the most talented of the bunch.

Whoever starts doesn't need to be spectacular, just consistently productive and durable. Despite losing the first five running backs on their depth chart and finishing 116th in the nation in rushing last season, the Hawkeyes still managed to move the ball downfield and capture a share of the Big Ten title.

Game 1 starter: Young - This was one of the tougher picks, but Ferentz wants to get the ball in the hands of this playmaker. Don't count Schnoor out either. A former walk-on, he has defied plenty of odds in his career just to put himself in this position.

N.C. STATE - Toney Baker vs. Andre Brown vs. Darrell Blackmon vs. Reggie Davis vs. Bobby Washington and others for starting running back

No position in the nation has more competition than the Wolfpack's running back right now. Five different players have a legitimate shot at replacing T.A. McLendon, who started each of the last three seasons.

Davis, a junior, and Blackmon and Washington, both sophomores, all have experience in big games and entered training camp with an edge, but that may be gone. Baker, a four-star recruit who rushed for more than 10,000 yards in high school, ran for a team-high 98 yards in a scrimmage last week, and Brown, a four-star recruit from the class of 2004 who spent last season at Hargrave Military Academy, finished with 81 yards on just five carries.

Game 1 starter: Blackmon - Any name could have been chosen here. With so much talent and depth, Amato will be rotating in running backs all season and Baker will definitely be in the mix.

OHIO STATE - Troy Smith vs. Justin Zwick for starting quarterback (after first game)

Zwick will start the season opener against Miami (Ohio) while Smith serves the last half of a two-game suspension. But, the real question surrounds which junior will be firing passes for the Buckeyes the following week against visiting Texas, ranked No. 2 in the preseason AP poll.

There is no question that the bulk of the fan base wants Smith, who is more athletic and sparked the Buckeye offense when named the starter in the later stages of last season. But, due to the suspension he probably won't get any reps with the first team until the week of the Texas game arrives.

Game 2 starter: Smith - Notice we skipped ahead here. Unless Zwick puts together a great performance in the season opener, Smith will take over against the Longhorns and put a firm grasp on the starting job.

OKLAHOMA - Rhett Bomar vs. Paul Thompson for starting quarterback

Who will get the luxury of handing off to Adrian Peterson? Many believed the talented Bomar, who redshirted last season, would automatically slide into that role when Jason White departed. Ranked the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2004, he came to OU for the chance to start this season.

But, Thompson may delay that plan. The junior has been in offensive coordinator's Chuck Long's system for three years and his speed and running ability add an extra dimension to the Sooners offense.

Game 1 starter: Thompson - The longtime backup has waited his turn and will be rewarded with the start in the season opener against TCU. But when the Big 12 schedule begins against Kansas State on Oct. 1, don't be surprised if Bomar takes over.

TENNESSEE - Jonathan Hefney, Demetrius Morley, Antawn Stewart, Antonio Wardlow for starting safeties

The heated quarterback battle between Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen has captured most of the attention in Knoxville, but finding a pair of dependable safeties is a a bigger priority for the talented Volunteers.

With Jason Allen moving back to cornerback and a front seven full of stars, it's no secret their main weakness is at the back of the defense again. Hefney and Stewart, both sophomores, have made some big plays in practice, but the coaching staff doesn't appear satisfied with either yet. Wardlow, a redshirt freshman, has impressed in scrimmages, and Morley, one of the main pieces of Rivals.com's top-ranked 2005 recruiting class, has the ability to make an instant impact.

Game 1 starters: Hefney and Stewart - This duo will be able to hold on to their spots atop the depth chart by the season opener but any big mistakes and they will be benched in favor of youth.

TENNESSEE - Rick Clausen vs. Erik Ainge for starting quarterback

This has turned into a much tighter competition than many expected. After performing well in place of the injured Ainge late last season, Clausen, who was expected to be a career backup, has looked solid in practice. Moreover, the senior was named a team captain and is one of the most respected players on the team.

Ainge, who beat out highly touted Brent Schaeffer as a true freshman for the starting job last season, looks healthy but hasn't been able to outperform the veteran in practice so far.

Game 1 starter: Ainge - He has the stronger arm and is still the Vols' quarterback of the future, but Phil Fulmer is seriously considering playing two quarterbacks.

Others to Watch: Connecticut's Matt Bonislawski vs. D.J. Hernandez for starting quarterback, Northwestern's Brandon Roberson vs. Omar Conteh vs. Tyrell Sutton for starting running back, Michigan's Grant Mason vs. Charles Stewart for starting cornerback, Ohio State's Erick Haw vs. Tony Pittman vs. Maurice Wells for starting running back , West Virginia's Jason Colson vs. Jason Gwaltney for starting running back.



 

Rivals.com is your source for: College Football | Football Recruiting | College Basketball | Basketball Recruiting | College Baseball | High School | College Merchandise
Site-specific editorial/photos Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved. This website is an officially and independently operated source of news and information not affiliated with any school or team.
About | Advertise with Us | Contact | Privacy Policy | About our Ads | Terms of Service | Copyright/IP policy | Yahoo! Sports - NBC Sports Network

Statistical information 2007 STATS LLC All Rights Reserved.