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College football's biggest 2022 quarterback battles

Orlando, Florida, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (5) drops back to pass in the first half against the Iowa State Cyclones at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Every college football program's depth chart is beginning to take form with spring football underway. Obviously, a lot can change between now and Week 1, but these spring reps are very telling as to who will be starting for each team, especially at the quarterback position. And with the new transfer rules coming into effect this offseason, there have never been more heated quarterback battles across the country.

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With all that being said, let’s take stock of where some of the most notable quarterback battles are at as of right now. Below are the big quarterback competitions taking place in college football.

(Note: Any recruiting information mentioned is courtesy of 247Sports.)


CLEMSON TIGERS: D.J. Uiagalelei vs. Cade Klubnik

Uiagalelei Recruiting Background: 2020 five star, 10th nationally
Career Snaps: 1,008
Career PFF Grade: 68.9

Klubnik Recruiting Background: 2022 five star, fifth nationally
Career Snaps: 0
Career PFF Grade: N/A

Uiagalelei was, undoubtedly, one of the 2021 season's biggest disappointments. He had some accuracy issues during his 2020 true freshman campaign, but he displayed high-level arm strength. Unfortunately for Uiagalelei and the Tigers, the accuracy was far too bad to overcome in 2021. He has some serious mechanical issues, which led him to ranking 114th among the 119 qualifying FBS quarterbacks in uncatchable pass rate (33.9%). Uiagalelei was the key reason Clemson had the worst drop in passing efficiency year-over-year from 2020 to 2021, going from 12th to 58th in the Power Five. And based on what Uiagalelei showed in Clemson’s spring game, there’s some serious doubt that a turnaround is coming. The junior quarterback delivered multiple inaccurate throws that stemmed from poor mechanics — his entire lower body is off, and he’s putting immense stress on his arm.

This has sparked a quarterback battle with five-star true freshman Klubnik. Head coach Dabo Swinney said after the spring game that Uiagalelei is definitely Clemson’s starting quarterback, but there’s reason to doubt those words. After all, Kelly Bryant was supposed to be the Tigers’ starter in 2018 before Trevor Lawrence dethroned the veteran and eventually led the team to a national title.

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES: Cade McNamara vs. J.J. McCarthy

McNamara Recruiting Background: 2019 four star, 268th nationally
Career Snaps: 932
PFF Grade: 76.3

McCarthy Recruiting Background: 2021 five star, 25th nationally
Career Snaps: 166
Career PFF Grade: 84.0

This competition is leaning toward the incumbent — McNamara — after McCarthy missed most of the spring due to a shoulder injury. No surgery was required and the 2021 five-star should get back to throwing in the coming days, but he’s behind in this battle. That being said, if McNamara does end up as the Week 1 starter, his leash will likley be short. 

The veteran is the safer option, but the underclassman offers far more upside.

Only once did McNamara produce an 80.0-plus single-game grade in 2021, and that came in Week 1 against Western Michigan when he threw only 11 passes. He lives and dies by a quick, underneath passing offense due to his limited arm. McNamara ranked 41st in the Power Five in deep passing grade and was third-to-last among that group in inaccurate pass rate on 10-plus yard throws. 

McCarthy, on the other hand, is a high-level athlete who has legit arm talent. Five of his 10 deep passing attempts were deemed a big-time throw by PFF, and he squeaked out just one turnover-worthy play on 66 dropbacks. On the ground, the 6-foot-3, 197-pound quarterback picked up seven explosive runs of 10 or more yards on 25 attempts, most of which were from designed attempts. He can simply make throws that McNamara can’t while also offering more in the designed run game.

TEXAS A&M AGGIES: Haynes King vs. Max Johnson

King Recruiting Background: 2020 four star, 131st nationally
Career Snaps: 95
PFF Grade: 74.5

Johnson Recruiting Background: 2020 four star, 253rd nationally (transfer from LSU)
Career Snaps: 1,026
Career PFF Grade: 73.3

This battle is a toss-up. 

On one side, there’s King — an elite athlete who began 2021 as the starter before fracturing his leg in Week 2. On the other is Johnson — the son of former NFL quarterback Brad Johnson who transferred in from LSU. 

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