Earlier this week, I wrote about the next generation of great quarterbacks in college football. But for several teams, they already have a superstar quarterback under center. Teams like USC, Oklahoma State and Louisville will no doubt have elite quarterback play next year.
But what happens when their superstar eventually departs? Teams such as Clemson and Texas Tech are dealing with that situation right now, with Deshaun Watson and Pat Mahomes moving on to the NFL. How do these teams replace quarterbacks who are among the best, if not the best, in school history?
It all starts with recruiting. Despite signing a five-star quarterback in Deshaun Watson, Clemson has still been red hot in the quarterback market and they have several great options to replace Watson. USC, who already has a superstar on campus in Sam Darnold, has historically been elite in quarterback recruiting and this current coaching staff has already loaded up on talent for when Darnold jumps to the pros.
So how will some of the best teams in college football replace their quarterbacks? Let’s examine the situations with teams that a) have to replace an early entrant to the draft this year and b) have to replace a elite player in the next couple of years.
Deshaun Watson, perhaps the best player in school history, departs for the NFL. There is no understating Watson’s impact and leadership that led the Tigers to a national championship. But the Tigers will survive, mostly because they have signed several elite quarterback prospects. Sophomore Kelly Bryant is a dynamic runner and draws comparisons to Watson because of his similar build at 6-3, 215-pounds. Redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper is another option who could continue to operate the spread concepts that Clemson loves to run. Incoming freshman Hunter Johnson, a five-star recruit, might be more of a pro-style guy, but there is no denying his pure arm talent. If none of those guys impress, an elite quarterback recruit in Trevor Lawrence in this year’s class is currently committed to the Tigers. Many recruiting analysts have stated that Lawrence might be the most talented high school recruit in quite a while.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
DeShone Kizer’s tenure at Notre Dame ended with a thud, but the Fighting Irish will certainly miss his presence at quarterback. Luckily, they have a guy in Brandon Wimbush who has already taken live snaps. The redshirt sophomore played sparingly in 2015 as a backup and now will take over as the full time starter. At 6-1, 226-pounds, Wimbush is good with his legs and has a strong arm as well. Entering his third year in the program, Wimbush has been groomed for the job and should thrive under new offensive coordinator Chip Long’s fast paced offense.
North Carolina Tar Heels
It might be safe to say the North Carolina staff was blindsided when Mitch Trubisky elected to go pro early. After all, the junior quarterback only started for one season. As such, Larry Fedora and his staff had to expand their options beyond those players currently on the roster and reached out into the grad transfer market to land Brandon Harris, formerly of LSU. There is no guarantee Harris is capable of winning the job, seeing as he couldn’t keep it at LSU, but he has more experience than any other quarterback on the Tar Heels’ roster. Expect players like sophomore Nathan Elliott and redshirt freshman Logan Byrd to challenge Harris for the job in fall camp.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
The Red Raiders have had quite the run of quarterbacks recently. From Baker Mayfield to Davis Webb to Pat Mahomes, several elite quarterbacks have come through the Texas Tech program. But with the departure of Mahomes, it’s back to square one. Senior Nic Shimonek spent last season as the backup, throwing for 464 yards and six touchdowns on the season, and it is logical to assume he’ll step into the role as the starter moving forward. A transfer from Iowa, Shimonek is entering his third year in the program and he proved as a backup last year that the offense won’t take a drastic step down despite Mahomes’ departure.
Sam Darnold is a Heisman favorite in 2017, but NFL scouts have already begun to talk about him as an option in next year’s draft. Even if he leaves after next season, USC has already begun to stockpile quarterbacks for an eventual replacement. Redshirt freshman Matt Fink and true freshman Jack Sears are both blue-chip players who will compete for the backup job this year. Neither have the pure physical tools that Darnold possesses, but both are good throwers who will benefit from a developmental year. If neither impresses enough, five-star recruit Matt Corral is one of the most talented recruits in the country and could certainly challenge for the job.
The Cardinals already have a Heisman winner on their roster in Lamar Jackson, but Bobby Petrino should take this year to find a replacement if Jackson jumps to the NFL early. Redshirt freshman Jawon Pass was actually a higher rated recruit than Jackson and possesses superior physical tools as well. At 6-4, 220-pounds, he has the arm to make all the throws in the book. If he can continue to develop and beat out players like Clay Bolin and Sean McCormack, he could be the next great Louisville quarterback.
Unfortunately, the Bruins got a good look at what life without Josh Rosen looks like last year. Senior Mike Fafual stepped in, but has since graduated. If Rosen goes pro early, it will be a completely new option back there. A pair of freshmen in Matt Lynch and Devon Modster redshirted last year and are good enough to play at the college level, but neither will come close to Rosen’s talent level. The Bruins are all hot in pursuit for four-star recruit Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who could compete for the job as well.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
It’s fair to say everyone in Stillwater was ecstatic when Mason Rudolph elected to come back for his senior season. But with only one more year of eligibility, life beyond Rudolph is fast approaching. Redshirt sophomore John Kolar and redshirt junior Taylor Cornelius will compete for the backup job, but Kolar is the one to keep an eye out for as a starter once Rudolph leaves. A former blue chip recruit, Kolar was the No. 1 recruit in Oklahoma coming out of high school and will have four years in the system next season.
Jake Browning is firmly cemented as the quarterback after a breakout sophomore season, but he also doesn’t fit the bill of an early draft entree candidate. As such, Washington could have his services for a couple more seasons which will give them plenty of time to groom his replacement. True freshman Jake Haener could develop with a couple more year, but the real name to keep an eye on is current five-star recruit Jacob Sirmon. The 6-4, 218-pounder has better physical tools than Browning and is likely the heir to the throne in Seattle.
Ohio State Buckeyes
It seems like J.T. Barrett has been at Ohio State forever, but his time will run out eventually. The Buckeyes have a plethora of talented options behind him for eventual replacements. Redshirt sophomore Joe Burrow has been Barrett’s backup and has impressed a lot of people in the program. Redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins has great physical tools and will challenge Burrow for the backup job. Finally, five-star recruit Tate Martell is a bit undersized at 5-11, 205-pounds, but there is no denying his playmaking ability. The competition in 2018 when Barrett leaves will be intense, perhaps the best overall battle out of any team mentioned on this list.