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.
1. Oklahoma: Starting OC
The Oklahoma Sooners are once again the favorites to win the BIG 12 and are legitimate contenders to win the National Championship in 2021. That makes this roster one to keep a close eye on and the position battles on this team are worthy to be analyzed in detail. However, the one that stands out the most is the battle for starting center. With longtime starter Creed Humphrey departing via the NFL Draft, the starting center position is there for the taking. This is arguably the most important position on the offensive line and they will need someone to step up immediately to protect their elite QB and former 5-star QB Spencer Rattler.
Luckily for the Sooners, the team has four very capable options as to who will win this vital role in replacing Humphrey. These players are Andrew Raym, Ian McIver, Robert Congel, and Chris Murray. Ian McIver is a redshirt senior who joined the team as a walk-on in 2016 and is listed at 6-feet-4, 309 pounds. Robert Congel is a redshirt senior and is also listed at 6-feet-4 weighing 326 pounds. Congel is entering his first year in the program after transferring to Oklahoma in January. Chris Murray, the smallest of the group at 6-feet-1, 301 pounds, is senior who transferred from UCLA in 2020. Finally, there is Andrey Raym, a sophomore, who is 6-feet-4 weighing 315 pounds. Raym has the pedigree advantage as he was rated the highest coming out of high school as an Under Armour All-American. His four-star recruiting status had him ranked as the 41st best player in the country, the number one guard, and the top player from the state of Oklahoma, according to 247Sports. Both Congel and McIver were unranked coming out of high school. Raym has been getting looks at guard and center so far in the Spring so one of the other players may win the battle if they decide to move him to guard.
However, with the experience their two starting guards have, it would be a big surprise for Lincoln Riley to move Raym to guard as opposed to putting him at center and keeping the two experienced guards in their spots. Although Raym is the youngest of this group, Congel has not been with the team long, McIver has been in a backup role his whole career, and Murray is both smaller than Raym and has been a backup so far in his tenure with the Sooners. Raym is the most talented and has the highest ceiling out of all of their options, so expect Lincoln Riley to name Andrew Raym the starting center.
Predicted Starter: Andrew Raym
2. Texas: Starting QB
The headlines surrounding the Longhorns this offseason were their plans to move to the SEC but internally, they are in the midst of a quarterback battle. After Sam Ehlinger was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2021 NFL Draft, the program is searching for his successor. The talent on the roster is undeniable and they will be firmly entrenched in the BIG 12 title race this season but their choice at quarterback is incumbent if they want to win the conference. It’s a two-man battle between the redshirt junior Casey Thompson and redshirt freshman Hudson Card.
Both Card and Thompson are former four-star recruits and have been getting reps with the starting offense this offseason. Thompson, listed at 6-feet-1 192 pounds, had a composite score of .9021 ranking as the 291st best player in the country and the 14th best dual-threat QB in his class. Thompson does have some game experience but not an ample size after being stuck behind Ehlinger throughout his young career. In his brief time on the field, he has completed 20 of 39 passes for 309 yards, 6 touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown, and 0 interceptions. In 2020, he had a fantastic game against Colorado throwing for 170 yards and 4 touchdowns while completing 80% of his passes. Card, on the other hand, is slightly bigger standing at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds with a higher composite score of .9721. This had him ranked as the 59th best player in his class and the number two dual-threat QB. However, Card’s lack of experience on the field, having only completed one pass in his career, gives Thompson the upper hand with the coaching staff. It would be a shocker should Card beat out Casey for the starting job in Texas especially after what Thompson showed against the Buffs in 2020. It appears to be Thompson’s turn to lead this offense.
Predicted Starter: Casey Thompson
3. Iowa State: Starting Right Tackle
Iowa State is coming off one of their best seasons in recent memory after finishing ninth in the final Associated Press (AP) poll and won the Fiesta Bowl. There is a lot of hype surrounding the Cyclones in 2021 due to them getting a bunch of key returning players such as unanimous All-American Breece Hall. The AP poll has them as the seventh-best team in the country but has a key position battle on their roster this season at right tackle. Protecting QB Brock Purdy and creating running lanes for the aforementioned Hall will be two of the main goals for Iowa State in 2021 to build off last seasons’ success. Three players have a legitimate shot at winning this crucial job including Joey Ramos, Jake Remsburg, and Derek Schweiger.
Ramos is a redshirt junior listed at 6-feet-5 and 305 pounds. Remsburg, a redshirt sophomore, also has great size standing at a massive 6-feet-6 weighing 330 pounds while Schweiger is listed at 6-feet-3, 325 pounds and is a redshirt senior. Schweiger, the veteran of the group, started 12 games last season at left guard and was named to the Second Team All-Big 12 Coaches team.
He stepped into right tackle in the second half of the Fiesta Bowl when Ramos was replaced illustrating that the coaching staff believes he is versatile enough to make the switch if needed. However, it is not expected to be Schweiger’s job since he is a better guard than tackle and will likely start there again in 2021. He also lacks the size at 6’3 that the other two possess. Remsburg is the biggest of the bunch and started seven games last season at right tackle. He began as a backup but eventually became the starter when Ramos went down with an injury. Remsburg is the youngest of the three but has started two more games than Ramos. After starting the 2020 season as the starter, Ramos was replaced after four games due to injury but made a comeback for the Fiesta Bowl. His efforts fell short in the big bowl game and found himself on the bench in the second half.
Head coach Matt Campbell has a good problem here because regardless of who he chooses, he can expect solid production. These three are all good players, however, expect Jake Remsburg to win the job. Remsburg is both the biggest and an elite athlete which will allow Schweiger to stay at guard, which is key for them. This would push Ramos to a backup role, however, he offers excellent depth for the Cyclones. 2021 should be a very exciting season for this hyped-up squad.
Predicted Starter: Jake Remsburg
4. Oklahoma State: Starting RB
Replacing someone as talented as former All-American, Chuba Hubbard, is a very difficult task. In Hubbard’s last fully healthy season, he ran for over 2000 yards and 21 touchdowns. That kind of production is rare and whoever ends up taking the starting role for the Cowboys is going to have huge shoes to fill. Head coach Mike Gundy will surely take his time in figuring out who will replace Hubbard as the leader in the backfield. Three players, LD Brown, Dominic Richardson, and Dezmon Jackson, all have a chance to become the starter for the 2021 season. All three of these guys have shown flashes of talent and that they can be the lead guy.
LD Brown is the oldest of the bunch, and he has been with the team since 2016. The NCAA’s rule to allow players another year due to COVID-19 allowed Brown to gain an extra year of eligibility. Brown stands at 5-feet-9, 200 pounds, and has the most Big 12 game experience of the group. The former three-star recruit has rushed for over 800 yards in his career with three games over 100 yards rushing. He’s also averaged a solid 5.5 yards per carry but has never carried the ball more than 15 times in a game.
Dominic Richardson, the 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore, is the next candidate Mike Gundy has at his disposal to replace Hubbard. Richardson is also a former three-star prospect who has appeared in four games and has run for 223 yards and 3 touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry in 2020. He had a breakout performance last season against Baylor, where he ran the ball 23 times for 169 yards and 3 touchdowns. Dezmon Jackson, the 5-feet-11, 220-pound JUCO product, is the final option. Jackson is a redshirt senior and was an honorable mention for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year (Coaches) in 2020. Despite being with the team for a short period of time, he has had some very impressive games for the Cowboys. Most notable is his game against Texas Tech last season where he ran the ball 36 times for 235 yards and 3 touchdowns. He finished the season with a 5.5 yard per carry mark and had the second-most rushing yards on the team while finishing third in total team touchdowns.
Expect the Cowboys to turn to more of a running back by committee approach, and the two main guys should be LD Brown and Dezmon Jackson. When it comes down to who will be the guy when they need a big play, the answer is LD Brown. Brown has impressive speed, and he was clocked at 4.40 for his 40-yard dash in high school, faster than Jackson’s 4.54. Expect Brown to win the job, but Jackson will get a lot of snaps throughout this season as well.
Predicted Starter: LD Brown
5. Texas Tech: Starting QB
2020 was a tough year for the Raiders, after finishing eighth in the Big 12 with a 3-6 record. Getting production from the QB position in that conference is crucial to having success. They do have a very deep quarterback room and there is a legitimate battle for the starting spot. The players involved are Tyler Shough, Henry Colombi, Donovan Smith, and Behren Morton.
The early favorite is Shough, a transfer from the University of Oregon. Shough is entering his junior year and he is coming off an adequate 2020 campaign where he completed 63.5% of his throws for 1559 yards 13 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. The next guy is Henry Colombi who is entering his senior year. He appeared in six games and started four of them last season while completing 65.7 % of his throws for 1065 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. Donovan Smith is a redshirt freshman who missed all of 2020 with an injury. He is the biggest of the bunch coming in at 6-feet-5 230 pounds and was recruited as an ‘athlete’ coming out of high school. The last guy is Behren Morton, a freshman, and a former four-star product coming out of high school. 247Sports also ranked Morton as the eleventh best QB in the 2021 class.
We expect Tyler Shough to come in and win the competition. He is 6-feet-5, 225 pounds, with a big arm and the most game experience of the four. Even though Colombi has started some games for the team before, he has not shown enough to prove that he should be the guy for them in 2021. Shough was a top 100 player coming out of high school, according to 247Sports, and he should be able to improve from his days at Oregon. The players even voted Shough to the team’s leadership council, the only QB on that council. The Raiders can start Schough again in 2022, should he thrive this season, where Colombi will depart after 2021. As for Donovan Smith and Behren Morton, they are both just not as experienced and ready for the big stage yet. Smith is coming off a tough injury that kept him out of last season, and Morton is a true freshman. Regardless of who ends up earning the starting spot, the Raiders should feel fortunate that they have such a deep QB room in case they need to turn to a different one in the future.
Predicted Starter: Tyler Shough