No position matters in the Big 12 like quarterback.
Say what you want about the league’s defensive play, its lackluster performance in the NFL draft or absence from each of the first three College Football Playoff championship games, but the Big 12 quarterbacks can air it out.
Last season, Big 12 teams occupied six of the top 17 spots nationally in passing yardage per game. Over the past three years, teams from the conference posted four of the top six per-game passing averages.
It’s all the more intriguing then that five starting QB positions in the league appeared up for grabs -- to varying degrees -- this spring.
Unchallenged incumbents return at Oklahoma (Baker Mayfield) and Oklahoma State (Mason Rudolph). We’ll throw Jacob Park at Iowa State into the same category as a five-game starter last year. Similarly, Texas Tech’s Nic Shimonek, the heir apparent to first-round draft pick Patrick Mahomes, did not face a major threat this spring.
Jesse Ertz sat out of practice last month while recovering from shoulder surgery, but his starting job is not in danger.
Here’s a rundown of the other spring races, classified by the state of the each competition as a three-month holding pattern begins:
State of the QB competition: Unsettled
The rundown: What began as a two-man competition between sophomore Zach Smith, star of a December bowl victory over Boise State, and Anu Solomon, the graduate transfer from Arizona, maybe -- just maybe -- heads into the summer as a three-man race. True freshman Charlie Brewer led a pair of touchdown drives in the spring game while Smith and Solomon displayed solid but unspectacular play. The battle is sure to rage well into August as first-year coach Matt Rhule examines all options.
State of the QB competition: A dead heat
The rundown: To be continued in August, with sophomore Carter Stanley and junior Peyton Bender in a tight competition after both enjoyed a decent spring. Bender, the Washington State transfer via junior college, got the better of Stanley in the spring game, throwing two touchdowns en route to a late victory. But Stanley, who took over late last season, won’t go quietly. He’s got the edge in KU experience and figures to remain involved in a competition that may linger into the season.
State of the QB competition: Clearing up
The rundown: Returning starter Shane Buechele shut down momentum under new coach Tom Herman for true freshman Sam Ehlinger to steal the job in 2017. Buechele, ninth among Big 12 starters in QBR as a freshman last fall, stepped up nicely in the spring. He threw for 369 yards in the Orange-White spring game as Ehlinger struggled with accuracy. It’s not over in Austin, but Buechele is on track to enter August with a sizable advantage.
State of the QB competition: Unsettling
The rundown: It likely rates as a disservice to Kenny Hill to classify this as a competition. But Hill lost his job briefly to Foster Sawyer last fall and mixed inconsistency with occasional brilliance. The Horned Frogs hoped, as Hill prepares for his senior season, that he could show this spring a readiness to give TCU what it needs offensively. That didn’t seem to happen -- at least not in the spring game, when Hill and prized recruit Shawn Robinson threw two interceptions apiece as the Frogs managed one touchdown in 16 offensive possessions.
State of the QB competition: Settled
The rundown: Let’s be real, this wasn’t much of a race. But since Will Grier, the Florida transfer, has yet to play for the Mountaineers, all candidates deserved a look. Grier, a former top-50 recruit nationally, played up to his billing this spring. With new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital pulling the strings, Grier looks like a great fit in Morgantown -- that is, unless the NCAA hands him an unfavorable ruling this summer for his failure of a performance-enhancing drug test in 2015.