Updated April 16, 2021
BY Bryan Zarpentine

10 Best College Football QB Competitions in 2021

With the spring football season in full swing, now is a great time to get a sneak peek at some of the quarterback competitions that are brewing at major programs.

After all, some top-flight programs lost their quarterbacks after the 2020 season, and not all of them have the successor waiting in the wings. Of course, few quarterback competitions are decided in the spring, which means things are only getting started.

Even with fall camp a few months away, let’s take an early look at some of the most intriguing quarterback competitions in college football that are worth tracking ahead of the 2021 season.

Ohio State

It won’t be easy replacing Justin Fields, although the Buckeyes have plenty of good options.

C.J. Stroud has a slight edge, as he served as the backup last season, giving him a little bit of experience. But it’s not enough experience to give him a huge lift in the competition. It’s going to come down to who is the most talented and who is ready for the pressure of replacing Fields. Jack Miller was an all-everything quarterback in high school who redshirted last season while true freshman Kyle McCord is also super-talented.

Unless Stroud can hit the ground running when training camp begins, this is a battle that could go deep into August and might not be decided until the season opener.

Notre Dame

The assumption is that Jack Coan will step in for Ian Book. He transferred from Wisconsin with 18 career starts under his belt, including a Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl appearance in 2019. But Coan wasn’t exactly a game-changer for the Badgers; he’s more of a game-manager, and probably a step down from Book.

Meanwhile, Brendon Clark and Drew Pyne have been in the program, so they can’t be counted out because Coan isn’t blowing anyone away with his talent level. The wildcard of the competition is Tyler Buchner, who enrolled early as a true freshman and could benefit from a wide-open competition.

In the end, Brian Kelly is likely to play it safe with Coan to start the season, but the leash could be short if one of the other passers shines during training camp and forces Kelly to bench the more experienced option.


With Steve Sarkisian taking over, the competition between Hudson Card and Casey Thompson is even more unpredictable because the head coach didn’t have a hand in recruiting either to Texas.

When Sam Ehlinger got hurt in the Alamo Bowl, Thompson came off the bench to lead the Longhorns to four touchdowns. But that’s not going to count for much with a new head coach.

Card was a top recruit coming out of high school, so look for these two to be on level ground at the start of training camp.

Texas A&M

It’s been a few years since anyone other than Kellen Mond saw significant snaps at quarterback for A&M, so this is one of the most unpredictable quarterback competitions in the country.

Haynes King has seen some action in garbage time, but not enough to give him an edge over Zach Calzada or true freshman Eli Stowers. Calzada has been at College Station the longest, but his upside is limited compared to the other two, making him the conservative option for Jimbo Fisher. Stowers, meanwhile, has all of the tools to be the A&M quarterback one day. But it’s never a guarantee for a true freshman to be ready, so he’ll have to show Fisher something special during training camp.


More than a year after Joe Burrow won a national championship, the Tigers still don’t have much clarity at quarterback.

Myles Brennan didn’t exactly get a fair shot last season before succumbing to an injury that kept him sidelined for the rest of the year. Max Johnson and TJ Finley both had their moments with Johnson leading the way in back-to-back wins over Florida and Ole Miss to close out the season. However, Brennan still has a little more experience and could be a slight frontrunner heading into training camp.

However, there will be much more of an open competition this season, especially since Johnson has a little confidence after the way he played late in 2020.


Dylan Morris starting four games as a freshman last season doesn’t mean much heading into 2021, especially with the other options the Huskies have at quarterback.

Patrick O’Brien has arrived as a transfer from Colorado State and should be a serious challenger. O’Brien has better size and arm strength than Morris, as well as more experienced, albeit in the Mountain West Conference.

Both will have to watch their back around Sam Huard, who is the nephew of Washington legend Brock Huard and the highest-rated quarterback recruit to ever sign with the Huskies. He arrived for spring practice, which could put him in a position to be a serious challenger during training camp. It will take a lot for him to win the job, but Morris and O’Brien are far from established options who will be given the job if they don’t impress when fall practice begins.


Tyler Shough left Oregon after Boston College transfer Anthony Brown was favored late in the season. However, Brown will have to win the starting job for the 2021 season fair and square. After all, he couldn’t beat out Slough last fall, so this is anything but a formality for him.

Freshman Ty Thompson was a five-star recruit who enrolled for spring practice and looks the part of a big-time QB. Jay Butterfield also has an intriguing skill set while Robby Ashford is a great athlete who also plays center field for the Oregon baseball team.

Conventional wisdom says it’ll come down to Thompson’s readiness and Brown’s experience. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see either Butterfield or Ashford make some noise in the fall, giving Mario Cristobal a difficult decision.

Florida State

UCF transfer McKenzie Milton might be the most interesting player in the country to watch this fall. He was amazing at Central Florida before that brutal leg injury. It’s amazing that he’s back on the field at all, much less has a chance to win the FSU starting job. If he’s healthy and anywhere close to the player he was before the injury, Milton will be tough to beat.

However, both Jordan Travis and Chubba Purdy saw the field last season and offer more mobility than McKenzie. Mike Norvell is surely rooting for McKenzie to be healthy and have limited rust to shake off because he’s the easy pick if he’s physically good to go.

If not, the competition between Travis and Purdy will be interesting to watch as well.


Jim Harbaugh is facing a tough decision at QB, especially after a disappointing 2020 season.

Cade McNamara has the slightest of edges after finishing last season as the quarterback. But JJ McCarthy could almost be considered the favorite, as he’s the highest-rated quarterback recruit Harbaugh has convinced to come to Ann Arbor.

Then there’s Alan Bowman, who transferred from Texas Tech and could be more of a threat to McNamara than McCarthy. Bowman was sensational as a freshman in 2018, only to see his 2019 season derailed by an injury and then take a step back in 2020, failing to maintain his hold on the starting job.

But the Bowman from 2018 could be exactly what the Wolverines right now if McCarthy isn’t ready to play as a true freshman on a team that needs to have a strong showing in 2021.


The Volunteers won’t have Jarrett Guarantano to kick around anymore after four years of him being the team’s on-again, off-again quarterback.

Harrison Bailey and Brian Mauer both bring some experience to the table, although so does Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker. Josh Heupel wouldn’t have pursued the athletic Hooker if he was enamored with what Tennessee had in-house with Bailey and Mauer, although their comfort level with their teammates could give them an edge over Hooker, who is far from flawless as a quarterback.

The X-factor will be true freshman Kaidon Salter, although whether he’ll be ready to play right away remains to be seen.

Odds are, it’ll be Hooker getting the start in the season opener. But the Vols have three other quarterbacks on the roster who could all state their case during training camp and push for the starting job.

Photo: Getty Images

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