August 20, 2006

Texas QB competition not the only battle going on

The question has dominated football conversations across the Lone Star State since Vince Young decided to enter the NFL Draft.

McCoy or Snead?

Redshirt freshman Colt McCoy and true freshman Jevan Snead are competing for the opportunity to replace Young, who led Texas to its first national title in 35 years last season. Texas coach Mack Brown hasn't indicated which quarterback will start the Longhorns' Sept. 2 season opener against North Texas.

Any time a defending national champion is trying to decide on a starting quarterback let alone a replacement for someone as talented as Young it figures to dominate the preseason headlines.

But the McCoy-Snead competition isn't the only major position battle involving a Top 25 team this summer.

Ohio State is ranked first in the preseason poll, but the Buckeyes must replace nine starters on defense. Notre Dame must decide if a true freshman is ready to start on the offensive line. And quite a few top Pac-10 programs have quarterback issues.

Here's a look at the top 10 position battles involving teams in the preseason Top 25 poll. 2006 Preseason Top Position Battles
1. Texas quarterback: Either McCoy or Snead will have the unenviable task of replacing Young. Neither player has taken a snap in a college game, but McCoy at least spent a year in the Longhorns' system while being redshirted last fall. That experience has given McCoy a slight edge over Snead, a true freshman and former four-star prospect. McCoy has been taking about 60 percent of the snaps with the first team in practice. Brown indicated this week that McCoy has the advantage. Both players showed plenty of rushing and passing ability in high school, though neither is as dangerous out of the pocket as his predecessor.
2. Georgia quarterback: Georgia coach Mark Richt plans to announce Monday whether the job will go to fifth-year senior Joe Tereshinski, sophomore Blake Barnes, redshirt freshman Joe Cox or true freshman Matthew Stafford. Richt is expected to pick Tereshinski, the most experienced candidate and the only contender who avoided throwing an interception in Friday's scrimmage. Tereshinski eventually will have to hold off a challenge from Stafford, rated by as the nation's top quarterback in the 2006 recruiting class. Don't be surprised if Stafford seizes control of this job sometime in October.
3. Ohio State safety: Although the Buckeyes had three linebackers taken in the first round of the NFL Draft, the bigger concern is a secondary that must replace all four of last year's starters. The three most likely contenders for the two spots are fifth-year senior Brandon Mitchell and sophomores Jamario O'Neal and Nick Patterson. Mitchell and Patterson played on the first-team defense in Friday's scrimmage, which ended with Mitchell knocking away a Troy Smith pass to Ted Ginn Jr. in the end zone. Redshirt freshman Anderson Russell also is competing for playing time.
4. Nebraska running back: The Huskers could use as many as four players to replace Cory Ross, the team's offensive MVP each of the last two years. Sophomore Cody Glenn provided power as a short-yardage back last fall, while former five-star prospect Marlon Lucky gave the Huskers flashes of speed as a freshman kick returner a year ago. Junior Brandon Jackson has overcome the shoulder problems that limited him last season after rushing for more than 300 yards two years ago. And then there's junior college transfer Kenny Wilson, who has impressed teammates and coaches this summer with his ability to learn the system.
5. UCLA quarterback: The departure of Drew Olson was supposed to clear the way for sophomore Ben Olson to claim the starting job, but fellow sophomore Patrick Cowan has made this more of a contest than expected. Don't be surprised if this competition isn't resolved until shortly before the Bruins' Sept. 2 season opener with Utah. The Olson vs. Olson saga last year wasn't decided until Ben fractured a bone in his left hand the week before the first game of the season.
6. Notre Dame offensive tackle: Only three Notre Dame offensive linemen have made the starting lineup as true freshmen. Sam Young wants to become the fourth. The former five-star prospect is competing with fifth-year senior Brian Mattes and sophomores Paul Duncan and Michael Turkovich for the starting job at right tackle. We're betting it will come down to Young or Mattes.
7. Michigan safety: One way or another, two guys with plenty of experience are going to open the season on the bench. Ryan Mundy started all 12 games at free safety two years ago before a nerve injury sidelined him for the entire 2005 season. Junior Jamar Adams, fifth-year senior Willis Barringer and senior Brandent Englemon each started at least six games last season. Michigan opened this week with a first-team defense that featured Adams at strong safety and Mundy at free safety, but the competition continues at both positions.
8. California quarterback and cornerback: Nate Longshore won the job last year, only to suffer a season-ending ankle injury in the opening game. Joe Ayoob started the majority of the season before Steve Levy led the Bears to victories over Stanford and Brigham Young in the last two games of the year. All three quarterbacks are back on campus fighting for playing time again. Longshore appears to have the inside track in the competition to start the season opener Sept. 2 at Tennessee. But that's not the only position battle in Berkeley. When senior Tim Mixon tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Thursday, it left a gaping hole in the cornerback spot opposite preseason All-American Daymeion Hughes. Redshirt freshman Syd'Quan Thompson is the most likely candidate to replace Mixon, though redshirt freshman Robert Peele and senior Randy Bundy also are in the mix.
9. Florida tailback: Florida coach Urban Meyer spent the entire 2005 season searching for a featured back on his roster. The search has continued this summer. Kestahn Moore, Markus Manson and DeShawn Wynn combined for 1,263 rushing yards last year without any member of the trio separating himself from the other two. Those three remain the top contenders for the job, though 5-foot-7 freshman Brandon James has impressed Meyer with his work ethic and big-play potential.
10. Miami linebacker: The return of Tavares Gooden from a shoulder injury and the departure of Rocky McIntosh to the NFL leave Miami's linebacking corps in a state of flux. Returning starter Jon Beason will man the weak side, but the other two spots remain in question. A preseason knee injury to Glenn Cook leaves redshirt freshman Darryl Sharpton as the likely starter in the middle, while Gooden is the favorite to start on the strong side. That would leave Romeo Davis - last year's starting middle linebacker - as the odd man out, though his versatility still should result in plenty of playing time.
The Rivals Five
The following jobs aren't up for competition yet, but we think that may change at some point this season.
1. Arizona State quarterback: Perhaps no team in the nation has a quarterback tandem as talented as Arizona State's Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter. Keller threw for 20 touchdowns and 2,165 yards last year before missing the last five games of the season with a hand injury. Carpenter stepped in for Keller and ended up leading the nation in passing efficiency. Keller has regained his health and his starting job, but if he struggles at any point this season the Sun Devils could turn to a backup with a proven track record.
2. LSU quarterback: JaMarcus Russell better get off to a good start because the Tigers have two talented alternatives at quarterback. As Russell recovered from shoulder and wrist injuries last winter, Matt Flynn led the Tigers to a 40-3 Peach Bowl demolition of Miami. Redshirt freshman and former five-star prospect Ryan Perrilloux may possess greater long-range potential than Russell or Flynn.
3. Southern Cal quarterback: John David Booty's opportunity finally has arrived. The redshirt junior will open the season as the Trojans' starting quarterback after spending three injury-riddled seasons as a backup. Considering his two predecessors won the Heisman Trophy, Booty will have to deal with sky-high expectations. And it doesn't help that Mark Sanchez rated by as the nation's top pro-style quarterback in the 2005 recruiting class is right behind him on the depth chart.
4. Virginia Tech quarterback: Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer already has announced that Sean Glennon will start the Sept. 2 season opener against Northeastern. If Glennon struggles early in the season, the Hokies could turn to Ike Whitaker or Cory Holt. Whitaker lost ground while being suspended for much of spring practice, but his athleticism gives him the greatest upside of the three quarterbacks.
5. Oklahoma defensive tackle: Oklahoma has signed's No. 1 defensive tackle each of the last two years DeMarcus Granger in 2005 and Gerald McCoy in 2006. It's only a matter of time before the two highly touted prospects are playing side by side. Granger and junior Carl Pendleton will open the season as Oklahoma's starting defensive tackles, but don't be surprised if McCoy works his way into the lineup by midseason.

More Preseason Player Rankings:
Quarterbacks | Running backs | Offensive linemen | Kickers/Punters | Return Specialists
Wide receivers | Tight ends | Linebackers | Defensive linemen | Cornerbacks | Safeties | Backup Quarterbacks

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