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The top QB competitions to watch heading into the 2021 college football season

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As fall camp begins across the country for college football teams, there are dozens of teams who will need to decide on a starting quarterback ahead of the start of the season in September. Here's a quick look at 10 of the biggest QB competitions entering the 2021 season including a competition at Ohio State that includes a surprise contender after a big announcement on Monday.

Florida State: McKenzie Milton vs. Jordan Travis

McKenzie Milton: Milton transferred to Florida State with his extra year of eligibility after he’s been recovering from the devastating knee injury he suffered at the end of the 2019 season. Milton says he’s 100 percent healthy and was one of the better QBs in college football before his injury. But he also won’t have taken a competitive snap in 21 months when the season begins.

Jordan Travis: Travis inherited the starting QB job in 2020 and wasn’t great. He was 72-of-131 passing for 1,056 yards and threw six TDs and six interceptions. He did rush for 569 yards and seven touchdowns as Florida State’s offense and offensive line struggled all season. Travis has the benefit of a year in coach Mike Norvell’s system but there’s a reason why FSU wanted Milton on campus.

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - OCTOBER 31:   Joey Gatewood #2 of the Kentucky Wildcats runs with the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs at Kroger Field on October 31, 2020 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Is this Joey Gatewood's chance to start at Kentucky? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Kentucky: Joey Gatewood vs. Will Levis

Joey Gatewood: After transferring in from Auburn, Gatewood saw some playing time behind Terry Wilson for UK last year — but mainly as a runner. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder can be a bruising force on the ground, but hasn’t proven much as a thrower. He completed 17 of 35 attempts for just 109 yards last year. The passing game is expected to be a more prominent part of the UK offense under new coordinator Liam Coen. Will Gatewood be a fit?

Will Levis: Some of the same questions about Gatewood can apply to Levis, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound transfer from Penn State. Levis was used often as a runner in 2020 and was pretty effective in short-yardage situations, but does not have much of a track record as a passer. However, he has way more career attempts than Gatewood (102 to 43). Overall, Levis is 61-of-102 (59.8%) for 644 yards, three TDs and two interceptions in his college career.

Michigan: Alan Bowman vs. Cade McNamara

Alan Bowman: Bowman arrives from Texas Tech where he was productive in limited playing time. Bowman never played in more than eight games in any of his three seasons at Tech due to injuries but completed two-thirds of his passes and threw 33 TDs to just 17 interceptions. It’s safe to say that he’ll be in an entirely different offensive system at Michigan than he was at Texas Tech under Kliff Kingsbury and Matt Wells.

Cade McNamara: McNamara took over from Joe Milton as Michigan’s starting QB in 2020 and played like a first-year starter. While he didn’t throw an interception, McNamara completed less than 61% of his passes and averaged just six yards an attempt. Quarterback play has been a big problem for Michigan under coach Jim Harbaugh; whoever wins this competition needs to play well in 2021.

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN - NOVEMBER 28: Cade McNamara #12 of the Michigan Wolverines throws a first half pass against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Michigan Stadium on November 28, 2020 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Cade McNamara #12 of the Michigan Wolverines throws a pass against Penn State at Michigan Stadium on November 28, 2020 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Northwestern: Ryan Hilinski vs. Hunter Johnson vs. Andrew Marty

Ryan Hilinski: Hilinski started his career at South Carolina and was thrown into the fire early, making 11 starts as a freshman after an injury to Jake Bentley. In 2020, though, Hilinski dropped on the depth chart and threw only six passes. That caused him to transfer to Northwestern, a program looking to replace Peyton Ramsey. When he did play, Hilinski showed flashes of potential. For his career, Hilinski has thrown for 2,391 yards, 11 TDs and five INTs while completing 58.3% of his throws.

Hunter Johnson: Johnson was a five-star recruit in the 2017 class. He signed with Clemson, but transferred once Trevor Lawrence arrived on campus. From there he landed at Northwestern, but he struggled mightily in 2019 (50/108 for 432 yards, one TD and four INTs) and did not see the field in 2020. The opportunity is there for him in 2021.

Andrew Marty: Marty has been a backup for the Wildcats for the past four seasons, but has seen the field in nine games over the past two years. Over that span, Marty has completed 14-of-22 passes for 150 yards, two TDs and two INTs and also rushed for 225 yards and four scores.

Notre Dame: Jack Coan vs. Drew Pyne vs. Tyler Buchner

Jack Coan: Coan arrives from Wisconsin where he suffered a foot injury ahead of the 2020 season. He appears to be the favorite to take over for longtime starter Ian Book. Can was 236-of-339 passing for 2,727 yards and 18 TDs to five interceptions in 2019 at Wisconsin. He averaged eight yards an attempt and took a big step forward after throwing 93 passes in five games as a sophomore in 2018.

Drew Pyne: Neither Pyne or Buchner have anywhere near that level of college football experience. Pyne was a four-star QB in the class of 2020 and was rated as the No. 7 pro-style QB. He backed up Book in 2020. 

Tyler Buchner: Buchner is a true freshman in 2021 and was also a four-star recruit. He was rated as the No. 6 dual-threat QB in the class.

Ohio State: Quinn Ewers vs. Kyle McCord vs. Jack Miller vs. CJ Stroud

Quinn Ewers: Ewers is the wild card here but is generally considered a long shot to see the field anytime soon. The No. 1 recruit in the class of 2022, Ewers is bypassing his senior year and enrolling at Ohio State sometime this month. Ewers made the decision to leave high school early largely because he was unable to capitalize on NIL opportunities in his home state of Texas.

Kyle McCord: Before the Ewers situation arose, McCord was OSU’s lone quarterback recruit in the 2021 class. He earned a four-star rating from Rivals and was ranked the 34th-best prospect in his recruiting class. McCord enrolled early and participated in spring practice.

Jack Miller: A four-star prospect in the 2020 class, Miller was one of the backups behind Justin Fields last season. He briefly saw action in two games and even had a short touchdown run against Nebraska. By most accounts, Miller and McCord were trailing in the competition coming out of spring practice — but not by much.

CJ Stroud: Stroud is considered to be the favorite to emerge as the starter. OSU coach Ryan Day isn’t revealing much, but it’s a tight battle heading into preseason camp with Stroud slightly out in front. Stroud arrived at OSU alongside Miller in the 2020 class. He played in two games last year and had a long touchdown run vs. Michigan State.

Texas: Hudson Card vs. Casey Thompson

Hudson Card: Card is an Austin native who was a big get for Texas’ previous coaching staff in the 2020 recruiting class. A four-star, dual-threat prospect, Card was ranked No. 108 in the country in his class. After enrolling early, Card served as a backup behind Sam Ehlinger last season and saw action in two games. He rushed four times for 11 yards and completed 1-of-3 passes for five yards.

Casey Thompson: Thompson has been with the Longhorns for quite a few years. He was the No. 2 option behind Ehlinger in 2019 and 2020. Thompson didn’t play much in 2019, but lit it up in the Alamo Bowl after Ehlinger left the game with an injury. In a 55-23 win, Thompson completed eight of his 10 passing attempts for 170 yards and a whopping four touchdowns, giving UT fans a possible glimpse into the future albeit under a new coach, Steve Sarkisian.

AUSTIN, TEXAS - APRIL 24: Casey Thompson #11 of the Texas Longhorns talks with Hudson Card #1 after the Texas Football Orange-White Spring Game at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on April 24, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TEXAS - APRIL 24: Casey Thompson #11 of the Texas Longhorns talks with Hudson Card #1 after the Texas Football Orange-White Spring Game at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on April 24, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Texas A&M: Haynes King vs. Zach Calzada

Haynes King: If Texas A&M finds a competent QB between King and Calzada the Aggies could have a chance to dethrone Alabama from the top of the SEC West. QB is the biggest unknown for the Aggies as Kellen Mond had been a four-year starter. King played in two games in 2020 and had six rush attempts for 43 yards. 

Zach Calzada: Calzada didn’t see any playing time a year ago. King was a three-star recruit in the class of 2020 and the No. 13 dual-threat QB in the class while Calzada was a three-star recruit in the class of 2019 and the No. 13 pro-style QB in the class. The QBs have different skillsets, so A&M’s offense will be tailored to whoever wins the job.

Tennessee: Joe Milton vs. Harrison Bailey vs. Hendon Hooker

Joe Milton: New Tennessee coach Josh Heupel has two transfers and a former five-star recruit to choose from as his starting QB. Milton transferred in from Michigan after he was replaced as the Wolverines’ starter by Cade McNamara. Milton was 80-of-141 passing for 1,077 yards and four TDs and four interceptions in six games.

Hendon Hooker: Hooker transferred from Virginia Tech. Hooker was 98-of-150 passing for 1,339 yards and threw nine TDs to five interceptions while rushing for 620 yards and nine TDs in eight games in 2020. He'd be the favorite for the job at many other schools. Here, we're not so sure. 

Harrison Bailey: Bailey played in six games in 2020 as Tennessee couldn’t settle on a QB in Jeremy Pruitt’s final season. He was 48-of-68 passing for 578 yards and threw four TDs to two interceptions.

Utah: Charlie Brewer vs. Cameron Rising

Charlie Brewer: Brewer has a ton of experience from his time at Baylor and now gets a fresh start in Salt Lake City. Brewer appeared in 44 games over four seasons with the Bears, throwing for 9,700 yards, 65 touchdowns and 28 interceptions in the process. He also rushed for 1,039 yards and 22 touchdowns over that span. Brewer has also endured his fair share of injuries during his college career.

Cameron Rising: Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said that Brewer separated himself from the rest of the QBs during spring ball, but he now has to compete with Rising to earn the starting job. Rising, who started his career at Texas, beat out Jake Bentley for the starting job entering 2020, but went down with a season-ending injury in Utah’s first game. That injury — to his throwing shoulder — required surgery and kept him out of spring practice.

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