Predicting college football's top QB competitions entering the 2022 season

·16-min read

For most college football programs, preseason camp is right around the corner or already underway.

Every program has competition for starting spots, but the quarterback position always attracts the most attention. Below, we’ve detailed the top quarterback battles entering the 2022 season and predicted who we think will emerge as the starter.

Auburn: Zach Calzada vs. TJ Finley

Zach Calzada: A Texas A&M transfer, Calzada is most known for his heroics during A&M's upset of Alabama last season. On the whole, though, his play was up-and-down. Calzada didn't win the starting job out of camp. After Haynes King was injured in Week 2, Calzada threw for 2,318 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 55.8% of his throws. He’s got a big arm, but accuracy was an issue.

TJ Finley: The 6-foot-7, 250-pound Finley started the last three games of the 2021 season after Bo Nix broke his ankle. He also started multiple games for LSU in 2020. Finley has shown flashes of potential but also struggled with accuracy. In his career, Finley has thrown for 1,768 yards, 11 TDs and six INTs at a 56% completion rate.

Prediction: Calzada. Finley is in his second year with Bryan Harsin, but Calzada went through an entire SEC season as a starter and showed immense toughness battling through a shoulder injury in a high-profile win over Alabama. Those experiences carry weight entering a new program and Harsin is desperate for somebody to take charge of the offense.

Update: Finley has won the job, according to multiple reports on Aug. 28.

Cincinnati: Ben Bryant vs. Evan Prater

Ben Bryant: Bryant was Desmond Ridder’s backup for three seasons before a transfer to Eastern Michigan. He spent one season at EMU and performed well, completing 68.4% of his passes for 3,121 yards before deciding to transfer back to Cincinnati with his eyes on the starting job.

Evan Prater: A four-star recruit in the 2020 class, Prater stayed in his hometown by signing with the Bearcats. He was third on the depth chart in 2020 behind Ridder and Bryant and then was Cincy’s No. 2 QB last year as the Bearcats made their historic march to the College Football Playoff.

Prediction: Bryant. With an opener at Arkansas, I’d expect Luke Fickell to go with the veteran unless it becomes completely clear in camp that Prater is just the better player.

Clemson: DJ Uiagalelei vs. Cade Klubnik

DJ Uiagalelei: Uiagalelei was a five-star recruit who played excellently in his two starts in 2020. In 2021, it was a different story. As a whole, the Clemson offense struggled mightily and Uiagalelei was at the center of it. He was one of the worst starters in the ACC, completing just 55.6% of his throws for nine TDs and 10 INTs while averaging just six yards per attempt. Can he recapture what he showed in 2020?

Cade Klubnik: Klubnik is the latest five-star QB recruit to make his way to Clemson. The Texas native was the No. 3 overall prospect in the class of 2022, according to Rivals. He enrolled at Clemson early, allowing him to go through spring practice and work his way up to No. 2 on the depth chart. If Uiagalelei falters, the cries for Klubnik will come quick.

Prediction: Uiagalelei. Dabo Swinney has been glowing in his praise of Uiagalelei all summer, but his struggles from last season cannot be ignored. He was flat-out bad, and the injuries on offense obviously made matters worse. Still, there’s precedent at Clemson with Swinney going with an experienced option to begin the season only for the veteran to cede way to the five-star freshman. It happened with Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence. It would not be a surprise if it happened with Klubnik as well at some point during the season if Uiagalelei continues to struggle.

Update: Uiagalelei was announced as Clemson's starter on Aug. 17.

Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei looks to pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Syracuse in Syracuse, N.Y., Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei looks to pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Syracuse in Syracuse, N.Y., Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

LSU: Myles Brennan vs. Jayden Daniels vs. Garrett Nussmeier

Myles Brennan: Brennan has been at LSU since 2017. He was Joe Burrow’s backup for two years and then opened the 2020 season as the starter before getting hurt. And then he broke his arm in an accident on a fishing trip before the 2021 season, causing him to miss another year. Brennan initially looked to transfer, but new LSU coach Brian Kelly convinced him to stay in Baton Rouge.

Jayden Daniels: Daniels was a three-year starter at Arizona State who showed flashes of excellence and bouts of inconsistency. During his time at ASU, Daniels threw for 6,025 yards, rushed for 1,288 yards and combined for 45 touchdowns. The talent is there, but the transition from the Pac-12 to the SEC is not an easy one.

Garrett Nussmeier: A four-star recruit in the 2021 class, Nussmeier played in four games as a freshman and was able to preserve his redshirt. He completed 29-of-57 passes for 329 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions and subsequently drew praise from Kelly for his performance in the spring.

Prediction: Brennan. I’m going to give the nod to the sixth-year senior here — at least to start the season. Daniels is too talented to not see the field at some point and Nussmeier shouldn’t be discounted from the race. Brennan feels like the steadiest choice to lead LSU through SEC play. He's been waiting a long time for that chance.

Update: Brennan said on Aug. 15 he's finished playing college football, though LSU has yet to name a starting QB for this season.

Michigan: Cade McNamara vs. JJ McCarthy

Cade McNamara: McNamara led Michigan to the Big Ten title last year but he’s still fighting to keep his job. McNamara threw for 2,576 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions while the coaches worked in a package of plays for McCarthy. Will that system continue in 2022? Or will McCarthy surpass McNamara on the depth chart?

JJ McCarthy: McCarthy was a top 50 recruit in 2021 who proved to be too talented to keep off the field as he threw for 516 yards, rushed for 124 yards and had seven total touchdowns. We already know McCarthy can be a dynamic runner, but if he takes the next step as a passer he could force Jim Harbaugh’s hand.

Prediction: McNamara. McCarthy probably has more upside in the long run and has the edge in mobility, but I have a hard time seeing Harbaugh making the change after McNamara played so well last season. Even with a coordinator change, I’d expect Michigan to continue working in both quarterbacks — especially when its early season schedule is so light.

Update: Jim Harbaugh announced on Aug. 27 that McNamara will start Week 1 against Colorado State and McCarthy gets the nod Week 2 against Hawaii. The team will make a final decision after that.

North Carolina: Jacolby Criswell vs. Drake Maye

Jacolby Criswell: Criswell was a four-star recruit in the 2020 class, meaning he spent two seasons behind Sam Howell on UNC’s depth chart. Compared to Maye, he’s shorter and stockier but he’s got a very strong arm and more mobility. Criswell has appeared in 10 games over the last two years, passing for 195 yards and rushing for 94.

Drake Maye: Maye, a four-star 2021 recruit, is listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds and is considered more of a pocket passer than Criswell. As a recruit, accuracy was one of his best attributes. He showed that in the most extensive action of his freshman season when he went 7-of-9 for 89 yards and a touchdown in a win over Wofford.

Prediction: Maye. This is purely a guess. These two have competed against one another for reps behind Howell and then for the top billing on the depth chart since the spring. Perhaps the two will even share snaps when the season begins before the staff really settles on a top option.

Update: The team will start Maye under center for its season opener against Florida A&M.

Notre Dame: Tyler Buchner vs. Drew Pyne

Tyler Buchner: Buchner saw the field last year as a freshman but was used primarily as a runner. He was quite effective, racking up 336 yards and six touchdowns on just 46 carries. With that rushing skill, Buchner would give the Irish a different dynamic on offense than they’ve typically had. He’s just got to prove he can be a consistent decision-maker in the pass game.

Drew Pyne: At 5-foot-11, Pyne gets stereotyped as the gritty, undersized quarterback with a chip on his shoulder. But that stereotype was fitting when he led multiple scoring drives off the bench in comeback efforts versus Cincinnati and Wisconsin last season. In all, he threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns in his two appearances, but completed only half of his attempts (15/30).

Prediction: Buchner. It’s a new era in South Bend, with Marcus Freeman taking over and Buchner has the most upside of any quarterback on the roster. Pyne struggled in spring practice but showed in game action that he can step in and make plays if needed.

Update: Buchner was announced as the starter on Aug. 13.

Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner (12) in action against Toledo in an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Notre Dame won 32-29. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner (12) in action against Toledo in an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Notre Dame won 32-29. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Ole Miss: Jaxson Dart vs. Luke Altmyer

Jaxson Dart: Ole Miss is looking for a new starter following three years of Matt Corral, and Dart is viewed as the favorite after transferring in from USC. A four-star recruit in the 2021 class, Dart saw action in six games at USC and threw for 1,353 yards and nine TDs with five interceptions. He was one of the headliners in a heavy transfer haul for Lane Kiffin entering 2022.

Luke Altmyer: Altmyer, a former four-star recruit, was Corral’s backup for the Rebels in 2021, giving him a year of experience in Kiffin’s offense. He saw limited action during the regular season but was thrown to the wolves in the Sugar Bowl against a veteran Baylor defense after Corral was injured. It was a tough spot on a big stage. Altmyer showed glimpses of potential, but mostly struggled in the loss.

Prediction: Altmyer. Let’s go with the upset. Often when there’s a high-profile transfer, it gets widely assumed that the transferring player will move into a starting role. It’s not always the case. In this situation, Altmyer and Dart are from the same recruiting class so it’s not like Dart has some drastic edge in experience. The fact that he quickly moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart as a true freshman is proof that Altmyer has the confidence of Kiffin.

Oregon: Bo Nix vs. Ty Thompson

Bo Nix: Nix was a five-star recruit who became Auburn’s starter as a true freshman. Over three seasons, he had some highs and lows, but I think it’s fair to say he hasn’t quite lived up to the recruiting hype. Still, three years of SEC starting experience is significant and he could prove to be a strong pickup for Dan Lanning in his first season in Eugene.

Ty Thompson: Thompson was a five-star recruit in 2021 but had limited playing time behind Anthony Brown as a freshman. Expectations for Thompson are extremely high, but he’s being given some time to develop and cycling from one staff to another isn’t always the easiest thing for a young QB. If he lives up to his recruiting billing, he’s got a promising future. Could it begin this year?

Prediction: Nix. Nix has three years of starting experience in the SEC and a pre-existing relationship with Ducks OC Kenny Dillingham. Nobody can deny his play-making ability, and if Nix limits his negative plays he can have a strong year in the Pac-12. After the opener vs. Georgia, he won't face many elite defenses and he’s an upgrade over the mediocre QB play Oregon has had since Justin Herbert.

Pittsburgh: Kedon Slovis vs. Nick Patti

Kedon Slovis: Slovis was an unheralded three-star freshman when he was thrust into the starting job at USC following an injury to JT Daniels. He performed admirably that year, throwing for 3,052 yards and 30 TDs. He held onto the Trojans’ starting job for three seasons in all. There were some injuries and batches of inconsistency along the way, but Slovis has a track record of being an above average starter at the P5 level.

Nick Patti: Patti has waited his turn, serving as Pitt's backup to Kenny Pickett for the last three seasons. He got the chance to start the Peach Bowl following Pickett’s opt-out, but broke his collarbone in the first quarter. Many assume the job will go to Slovis, but the coaches have been adamant that Patti has a real shot.

Prediction: Slovis. There’s always an impetus to add quarterback depth, but Pitt was pretty aggressive in adding Slovis. If the Panthers were super confident in Patti, Slovis may not have been as attracted to the opportunity at Pitt. Slovis has regressed since his strong freshman year at USC, but he’s still got 26 games of starting experience.

Update: Slovis gets the nod as QB1, the team said on Aug. 24.

TCU: Max Duggan vs. Chandler Morris

Max Duggan: Duggan has three years of starting experience, but there’s a new coaching staff in place at TCU with Sonny Dykes succeeding Gary Patterson. Duggan, who dealt with a foot injury last season, is a true dual threat and has had some really nice moments, but the Horned Frogs haven’t won much. In all, he has thrown for 5,920 yards and 41 TDs while running for 1,433 yards and 19 scores in his career.

Chandler Morris: After a season at Oklahoma, Morris served as Duggan’s backup for most of the 2021 season, but got a chance to play late in the year. He made the most of it in an upset win over Baylor when he threw for a whopping 461 yards. It was an eye-opening performance, so it was no surprise that Dykes is holding an open competition.

Prediction: Morris. I think both will play but Morris seems like a better fit in Dykes’ pass-happy scheme. TCU has a really fun collection of backs and receivers. The guy who can most efficiently distribute the ball to those play-makers deserves to get the nod in Week 1.

Texas: Quinn Ewers vs. Hudson Card

Quinn Ewers: Ewers was the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2022 but he reclassified and enrolled at Ohio State last summer. He spent the season buried on the depth chart as he adjusted to the college game and ended up transferring back to his home state to play for the Longhorns. As one of the most-heralded recruits in recent memory, expectations couldn’t be higher.

Hudson Card: Card opened the 2021 season as Texas’ starter and played well in a Week 1 win over Louisiana. However, he struggled mightily on the road versus Arkansas in Week 2 and was benched for Casey Thompson. Thompson took the majority of the snaps for the rest of the season but ended up transferring to Nebraska. Meanwhile, Card remains and is trying to fend off Ewers for the job.

Prediction: Ewers. It has to be Ewers, right? Steve Sarkisian made a huge splash by landing him in the first place and he wants Ewers to seize that starting job now with Arch Manning waiting in the wings. There’s so much talent on this offense. If Ewers is as good as advertised, Texas could be a ton of fun to watch.

Update: Ewers won the job, per Sarkisian on Aug. 19.

Texas NCAA college football quarterback Quinn Ewers talks to the media following a spring practice, Thursday, April 14, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas NCAA college football quarterback Quinn Ewers talks to the media following a spring practice, Thursday, April 14, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas A&M: Haynes King vs. Max Johnson vs. Conner Weigman

Haynes King: King, now in his third year with the Aggies, beat out Zach Calzada for the starting job out of camp last season but suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2. Before the injury, he threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Kent State, but also tossed three interceptions in that outing.

Max Johnson: A junior lefty, Johnson played in 18 games at LSU over the past two seasons before transferring to A&M. He was LSU’s starter for most of the 2021 season and threw for 2,815 yards and 27 touchdowns with only six interceptions. He doesn’t really wow you with physical traits and sometimes holds onto the ball for too long, but he was steady for LSU.

Conner Weigman: Weigman was a top 40 recruit in 2022 who enrolled early to get a start on his development in spring practice. He is viewed as the quarterback of A&M's future, but is he ready to play right away?

Prediction: King. Johnson is very steady in the pocket and feels like a good fit for Jimbo Fisher’s offense, but King has been through this competition before and has two years in Fisher's offense, giving him the edge when the season begins.

Update: King has won the job again, according to multiple reports on Aug. 27.

UCF: Mikey Keene vs. John Rhys Plumlee

Mikey Keene: In Gus Malzahn’s first season at UCF, Keene was forced into action as a true freshman following an early season injury to Dillon Gabriel. For the season, Keene threw for 1,730 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 63.6 percent of his throws.

John Rhys Plumlee: Plumlee saw extensive action as a freshman at Ole Miss but fell behind Matt Corral on the depth chart once Lane Kiffin arrived. An explosive athlete, Plumlee still found his way on the field, including catching 25 passes for 280 yards over the past two seasons. He also has 1,189 career rushing yards, most of which came in 2019. He struggled that year as a passer, completing only 52.7 percent of his throws at 6.1 yards per attempt.

Prediction: Plumlee. It just makes too much sense. Plumlee has the athletic skill set Malzahn has always coveted going back to the likes of Nick Marshall at Auburn. Keene is a good player with a promising future, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he held onto the job, but Plumlee’s dual-threat capabilities give him the edge.

Update: The team said on Aug. 21 Plumlee will be the starter.

Washington: Michael Penix vs. Sam Huard vs. Dylan Morris

Michael Penix: Penix played four seasons at Indiana and had some really strong moments, but he also was plagued by injuries and turnovers. He has thrown for 4,197 yards and 29 TDs, but also has 15 interceptions and just a 59.4 percent completion rate. At Washington, he is reuniting with Kalen DeBoer, UW’s new head coach who had a stint as Penix’s offensive coordinator at IU.

Sam Huard: Huard was a five-star recruit in the 2021 class who saw action in four games as a freshman. He struggled during those appearances, completing just 22 of 42 throws for 241 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.

Dylan Morris: Morris was Washington’s starter for the past two seasons. In his 15 career starts, Morris threw for 3,355 yards but has 15 interceptions to go with 18 touchdowns. He was benched in favor of Huard late in 2021.

Prediction: Penix. His experience working with DeBoer gives him the edge. He’s also got a much higher upside than Morris with Huard in the background as more of a long-term projection.

Update: Penix will be the starter, the team confirmed on Aug. 23.