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May 11, 2009

Monday with Mike: Ten QB situations to watch

Spring practice is over everywhere and players are now hunkered down and ready to continue their offseason training programs.

But that won't stop us from looking back at some intriguing quarterback situations that played out during spring ball.

At some places, the presumed new starter stepped in and did what was expected. At other places, there still is some angst about who will start this fall.

Here's a look at 10 of the most interesting situations.

Alabama: John Parker Wilson did a fine job as the Tide's starter last season for what he didn't do. The Tide went 12-2 because Wilson didn't make mistakes. The flipside, of course, is that he didn't make many big plays, either. Still, he did what he was asked by the coaching staff, and he and the Tide were successful. The new guy is Greg McElroy, who will be asked to be a game manager and, like Wilson, to avoid mistakes. Alabama's defense will be one of the best five or so in the nation, so as long as the offense doesn't mess things up, the Tide will be fine. But McElroy won't have it as easy as Wilson because the offensive line won't be as good as it was last season. Still, expect the Tide to run the ball and win with defense. If McElroy struggles, the offense could become a mess.

Arkansas: Hogs fans last season patiently waited for this spring, when Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett would become eligible. Mallett, a pocket passer, is a much better fit for coach Bobby Petrino's offense than the Dick brothers last season. Mallett lacks mobility but has a strong arm, and if he plays as well as coaches expect, Arkansas will be a bowl team this season. If Mallett struggles, the Hogs are looking at another 5-7 season.

Clemson: Cullen Harper had a mediocre senior season in 2008, following up a great junior campaign with a thud. The assumption was Willy Korn would wrap up the starting job this spring, but that didn't happen. Instead, Kyle Parker more highly touted as a baseball player than a football player will go into fall drills atop the depth chart. Parker might not have the same "wow" factor as Korn, but he was more consistent this spring and made fewer mistakes. Clemson finished 7-6 last season after a bunch of summer hype. The Tigers aren't getting hyped this offseason, but if Parker (or Korn) comes through, an eight-victory season is possible.

Michigan State: Brian Hoyer was a steady game manager last season; he seemingly spent most of his time handing off to Javon Ringer. Now that both players are gone, you can expect the Spartans to air it out a bit more this season. Kirk Cousins, last season's backup, will head into fall drills a bit ahead of Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol. While it seems unlikely, Michigan State could challenge for the Big Ten crown if one of the quarterbacks jumps up and has a huge season. At the least, this should be a seven-win team.

Tennessee: The Vols were dreadful offensively last season, and it cost Phil Fulmer his job. The defense was excellent in '08 and should be stout again. But the offense looks as if it will struggle again because there is not a top-level quarterback on campus. The new Vols staff didn't sign any quarterbacks in February, and Jonathan Crompton who was so bad he was benched last season will go into fall drills as the starter. As poorly as Crompton played last season, he appears to be head and shoulders better than anybody else on the roster. That means if the Vols want to go bowling, the defense better bear down and the running game better come through.

Texas Tech: Another season, another 5,000-yard quarterback. Graham Harrell might be gone, but Taylor Potts can be expected to approximate Harrell's numbers. As good as Harrell was in Mike Leach's offense, history has shown that no matter who is lined up in the shotgun, he has success. It will be much tougher replacing wide receiver Michael Crabtree than replacing Harrell. Tech is going to win at least eight games; for the Red Raiders to get to 10, it will depend more on the defense and a revamped receiving corps coming through than Potts.

Utah: Brian Johnson was a great fit for the Utes' spread attack, but he's gone. Corbin Louks, a better runner than Johnson, emerged from spring ball as the starter, as expected. But he didn't lock down the job. Junior college transfer Terrance Cain and true freshman Jordan Wynn remain in the mix, so the first 10 or so days of fall practice will be quite interesting. As befitting most football-playing freshman who enroll early, Wynn has some bulking up to do. Still, he has some folks in Salt Lake City saying the magic words "Hey, he reminds me of Alex Smith" and his upside is greater than that of the other two. Utah has to rebuild its receiving corps and its secondary and needs to replace pass-rushing defensive end Paul Kruger. But if the Utes get top-notch quarterback play, they could win the Mountain West again. And when you've finished unbeaten twice in five seasons, there's no reason you shouldn't dream big.

USC: The Trojans' quarterback derby was probably the most-watched spring position battle in the nation. Sophomore Aaron Corp went into the spring with a slight edge, but he emerged from drills as the clear-cut No. 1. He is the most athletic USC quarterback in a while, and his mobility should allow the offensive coaches to do a few different things this season. Perhaps more interesting was the battle for the No. 2 job, where highly touted freshman Matt Barkley who enrolled early beat out former highly touted prep star Mitch Mustain. (We'd say Mustain's mom is probably disappointed, but that would be a cheap shot, so we'll refrain.) Hmm. What if Mustain were still at Arkansas, running Bobby Petrino's offense which is a perfect fit for him, by the way.

Virginia: The Cavs struggled last season after Jameel Sewell, who played well in 2007, was suspended for the year because of academic reasons. Well, Sewell is back, but the quarterback battle will go on into fall drills among Sewell, incumbent starter Marc Verica and converted cornerback Vic Hall. Verica is the best passer of the three, but his athleticism lags far behind the other two. This is a huge season for Cavs coach Al Groh, so given the Cavs' paucity of talent at wide receiver where you'd think a former cornerback could have made a big impact he must either really like Hall or think he can't trust Sewell. Unless one of that trio has a huge season, the Cavs likely will be bowl-less for the second season in a row. In that scenario, you wonder if Groh can survive.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers lost Pat White, who will go down as one of the two or three best players in school history. White the only starting quarterback in NCAA history to go 4-0 in bowls was an electrifying performer, and there's no way anyone can match his feats. Enter fifth-year senior Jarrett Brown, who has won both of his starts in his career when White was hurt. Brown can't be expected to do the same things as White, but he has some skills and WVU likely will pass more often this season. Despite White's departure, WVU likely will go into the season as the Big East favorite. As long as Brown doesn't implode, WVU should win the league.

Where the first-rounders are
Here's a breakdown of where this decade's NFL first-round picks went to high school:
The Top 10
1. Florida: 47
2. California: 34
3. Texas: 30
4. Georgia: 17
5. New Jersey: 15
6. South Carolina: 15
7. Ohio: 14
8. Louisiana: 13
9. Virginia: 12
10t. Alabama: 9
10t.North Carolina: 9
7: Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Pennsylvania
6: Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee
5: Arizona, Indiana, New York, Oklahoma
3: Illinois, Washington, D.C., Wisconsin
2: Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts
1: Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah
Mining for talent
One more bit of post-draft information, this time as it pertains to the high school "origins" of first-round picks.

We looked at each first-round pick this decade and where they went to high school. It probably comes as no surprise that California, Florida and Texas are the top three, but the order may surprise some folks. Despite producing no first-round picks this year the first time that has happened since 1981 Florida was the easy winner, with 47. California was second with 34 and Texas third with 30. (See accompanying chart.)

Five states in the top 10 are in the ACC's (Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia) and SEC's (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina) "geographic footprint." The Big East is next with three (Florida, New Jersey and Ohio), while the Big Ten (Ohio), Big 12 (Texas) and Pac-10 (California) have just one each.

Of the non-"Big Six" leagues, Conference USA (Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas) and the Sun Belt have four (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Texas) in their "footprints," the Mountain West (California and Texas) and Western Athletic (California and Louisiana) have two and the MAC (Ohio) has one.

Forty states have produced first-round picks; Washington, D.C., has, too. There are 10 states with zero picks, including three Nebraska, West Virginia and Wyoming where there is a Football Bowl Subdivision (i.e., Division I-A) program. The other seven with zero: Alaska, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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