Every offseason, college head coaches have to deal with roster turnover — whether that’s due to players graduating, leaving early for the draft, putting their name in the transfer portal or retiring from football due to injury. All of this attrition causes open competition for starting spots on each team’s roster, some position battles being more significant to a team’s success than others.
As teams gear up for the 2021 season, the 33rd Team will take a look at the top position battles in each Power 5 conference, rating them on the impact they will have on their chance at winning their respective conference and predicting who we think will end up earning the starting job.
Texas A&M: Starting QB
Jimbo Fisher has assembled a very talented roster since arriving in College Station in 2018. With Kellen Mond graduated and in the NFL, this will be the first time he has to make a tough decision on who his starting quarterback will be. Fisher has been known for his development of quarterbacks in the past (Jamarcus Russell, Christian Ponder, Jameis Winston) and now he has two talented signal callers to choose from: third-year sophomore Zach Calzada and second-year freshman Haynes King.
King and Calzada have both seen very limited action in their time at Texas A&M and they are very different QBs stylistically. Calzada is a tall, pro-style QB with a strong arm and the ability to make all of the throws from the pocket, while having enough mobility to keep the defense honest. King is a unique athlete at the QB position with impressive high school testing numbers (4.50 40-yard dash, 4.02 shuttle, 36.90 vertical). He is a true dual threat. He has above-average arm strength, can extend plays and has high football IQ, being the son of his high school head coach.
Both performed well in the Maroon & White spring game, so this battle will last well into fall camp and possibly into the season. A&M’s roster is set up for success at the QB position with a talented roster assembled by Fisher and his staff. If one of these quarterbacks takes hold of the starting position and flourishes, then Texas A&M will be making some noise in the SEC West title race.
Predicted Starter: Haynes King
LSU: Starting QB
Sticking with another QB competition in the SEC West, head coach Ed Orgeron has an interesting decision on his hands. Myles Brennan was chosen to be Joe Burrow’s successor before the 2020 season and his career as the LSU starting QB was looking promising three games in (79 of 131, 60.3%, 1,112 yards, 11 TDs, 3 INTs) before a rare abdominal injury knocked him out for the rest of the season. T.J. Finley started at QB for the next four games with Max Johnson rotating in until Johnson beat out Finley for the final two regular-season games. He performed well enough in those final two games (48 of 87, 55.1%, 674 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT), both resulting in wins for LSU, that Finley entered the transfer portal following the season and is now an Auburn Tiger. Both Brennan and Johnson are similar stylistically in play, having the ability to run the LSU offense well.
Coach Orgeron will let this play out through fall camp and possibly into the season. With LSU only having three scholarship quarterbacks currently on the roster, naming a starter too early could lead to a second LSU quarterback in the transfer portal this offseason. Whoever becomes the starting quarterback will have a bevy of skill players to get the ball to.
Predicted Starter: Myles Brennan
Georgia: WR 1
With star WR George Pickens tearing his ACL in March of this year, head coach Kirby Smart will be looking for a go-to option for starting quarterback J.T. Daniels. At first glance, it looks like Kearis Jackson could take on the WR1 role. He was their leading receiver with 514 yards and tied for the team lead in receptions with Pickens with 36. While being a talented fourth-year WR, his production dipped significantly when Daniels took over as the starter for the final four games of the season, only tallying 9 receptions, 118 yards and 1 TD. Speedy wideout Jermaine Burton is the next-most productive returning receiver (27 receptions, 402 yards, 3 TD), a big-play threat every time he’s on the field. Dominick Blaylock returns from a knee injury after a productive freshman season in 2019. Arian Smith and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint showed flashes of playmaking ability in their first season on campus. LSU transfer TE/WR Arik Gilbert had a very productive first season at LSU (35 receptions, 383 yards, 2 TDs) and could line up outside or in the slot at receiver to give them some much-needed size in the absence of Pickens.
Coach Smart has recruited extremely well at the WR position, but one receiver will need to emerge as the go-to guy for Daniels in order for Georgia to keep their national title hopes alive.
Predicted WR1: Arik Gilbert
Alabama: Mike LB
There are always high expectations playing inside linebacker for Nick Saban at Alabama. He’s produced numerous high draft picks and they are the quarterbacks of his defense. With the departure of Dylan Moses, the Tide is looking for a Mike linebacker to pair with returning Will LB, Christian Harris. There are currently three options for the spot in senior Jaylen Moody, junior Shane Lee and junior Tennessee transfer Henry To’o To’o.
Moody has been a core special teams player, waiting his turn to get his shot as the starter, but does not have a ton of experience playing the Mike position. Shane Lee replaced Moses as the starter in 2019 after Moses had a season-ending knee injury, but rarely saw snaps for the Tide in 2020. To’o To’o comes to Tuscaloosa with 23 starts at Tennessee with 148 career tackles and 15 tackles for loss. To’o To’o showed up to Alabama this summer, so he will be behind Lee and Moody in knowledge of Saban’s defense.
This battle will be interesting to watch through camp. Saban could go with one of his guys who have been in the program for years or go with the talented transfer from Knoxville.
Predicted Starter: Henry To’o To’o
Florida: WR 1
Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators lost 51.5% of their receiving production last year with the departures of Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes. Replacing that production will not be easy, but they do have some talented options in the receiver room.
First, the most explosive option is Jacob Copeland. He produced a staggering 18.9 YPC on 23 receptions for 435 yards and added 3 touchdowns. He’s a playmaker and could be a breakout star in the SEC. Another good option is Justin Shorter, who was moderately productive with so many options in front of him, hauling in 25 receptions for 268 yards and 3 touchdowns. Trent Whittemore, Xzavier Henderson and Ja’Markis Weston are all talented options who could step up with more opportunities.
With Emory Jones as the quarterback and a deep, talented running back room, Florida is likely to rely heavily on the running game, but Emory will need a reliable target in pressure situations for Florida to repeat as a high-octane offense with a new cast.