As spring football practice opens around the country, quarterback battles are under the spotlight at campuses from coast to coast.
One of the most intriguing storylines is at TCU, where former starter Casey Pachall has returned to the team after missing the last nine games of 2012 while he completed treatment at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.
Pachall, who led the Horned Frogs to a 15-2 record in 17 starts over the past two seasons, was suspended from the program in October after his arrest on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Before his dismissal, the Horned Frogs were 4-0 and he ranked fourth nationally in passing efficiency. TCU lost six of its last nine games with freshman Trevone Boykin under center and finished 7-6 overall.
Pachall, a rising senior from Brownwood, Texas, rejoined the team in early January. TCU coach Gary Patterson said Pachall has picked up where he left off during the first week of spring practice.
"He's looked good," Patterson said. "He's doing all the things well. I think he's a little more mature, which you would expect from a kid who went through what he did."
Despite his problems, Patterson said Pachall never lost the trust of his teammates. He performed well in the team's offseason conditioning program -- bench-pressing 350 pounds two weeks ago -- and is on track to graduate from TCU in December.
"When he left, he really never lost [his teammates' trust]," Patterson said. "The kids have always liked Casey. He really seems like the same kid who came in here as a freshman. He's really been a great kid to be around."
In the first four spring practices, Patterson said Pachall and Boykin split reps with the first-team offense, while Boykin also took some reps with the No. 2 offense.
"Both of them have started ballgames," Patterson said. "They really both want the job and are working hard for it. I think it's going to make us better. When Casey was the older guy and Boykin was the younger guy, there wasn't much of a push. Now they've both started games, so there's a push."
Here's a closer look at some of the other heated quarterback competitions around the country:
Departed starter: Matt Scott (3,620 passing yards with 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2012)
Spring favorite: Denker
Skinny: Denker, who was Scott's backup in 2012 after transferring to Arizona from Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif., will probably leave the spring as the No. 1 quarterback. He started against Colorado last season and completed 85.7 percent of his passes. In six appearances, he threw for 259 yards with three passing touchdowns, a rushing touchdown and an interception. He might be pushed in preseason camp by Scroggins, a former USC player who played last season at El Camino College in Torrance, Calif. Scroggins will miss the spring after undergoing foot surgery. Solomon, a highly regarded dual-threat prospect from Las Vegas, is also expected to be a factor in the fall.
Departed starter: Clint Moseley (373 passing yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in 2012) has left the team
Spring favorite: Frazier
Skinny: New Tigers coach Gus Malzahn, who directed Auburn's offense during its national championship run in 2010, inherits a passing game that ranked 116th nationally in yardage last season, averaging only 156.6 yards per game. Moseley, Frazier and Wallace started games last season, but none was very effective in a pro-style attack. Malzahn recruited Frazier in 2011 to run his fast-paced offense, so he'll try to resurrect his career in the spring. Frazier and Wallace might be challenged by incoming freshman Johnson, Alabama's Mr. Football in 2012, and Marshall, a former Georgia defensive back who played quarterback at Garden City (Kan.) Community College last season.
Departed starter: Zach Maynard (2,214 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2012)
Spring favorite: Kline
Skinny: New Bears coach Sonny Dykes has installed a spread offense, which is a lot more up-tempo than what Cal ran under former coach Jeff Tedford. Goff graduated from high school early to join the battle, so there are five quarterbacks fighting for the starting job in spring practice. Bridgford played in four games last season, completing 45.6 percent of his passes for 277 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. He also had a rushing touchdown. Kline, who was ranked by ESPN as California's No. 4 prospect as a high school senior, redshirted last season after enrolling early. Dykes hopes to narrow the competition to a couple contenders by the end of the spring.
Departed starter: EJ Manuel (3,392 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2012)
Spring favorite: Trickett
Skinny: Trickett, the son of FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett, played in 16 games in his first two seasons at FSU and performed well when he replaced the injured Manuel as the starter for two games in 2011. Trickett threw for 336 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in a 35-30 loss to Clemson in 2011. Coker, 6-foot-6 and 227 pounds, is much bigger than Trickett and played in four games last season. Winston might be FSU's most physically gifted quarterback, and he'll juggle pitching for the baseball team and participating in football practice this spring. Maguire was FSU's scout-team quarterback last season.
Departed starter: Collin Klein (2,641 passing yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2012)
Spring favorite: Waters
Skinny: Sams and Waters will battle this spring for the unenviable task of replacing Klein, a 2012 Heisman Trophy finalist who also ran for 920 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. Sams played in eight games last season, passing for 55 yards and running for 235 and three touchdowns. Waters enrolled at KSU early after playing last season at Iowa Western Community College, where he threw for 3,501 yards with 39 touchdowns. He threw only three interceptions in 333 attempts. Might Kansas State coach Bill Snyder use both of them to replace Klein's production this coming season?
Departed starter: Landry Jones (4,267 passing yards with 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2012)
Spring favorite: Bell
Skinny: OU will have its first quarterback battle in four years, after Jones, a four-year starter, departs just short of breaking nearly every OU passing record. Bell is the heir apparent after scoring 24 touchdowns the past two seasons as a runner out of OU's "Belldozer" package. But Bell still hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in college, and must prove to OU coach Bob Stoops this spring that he can become a complete quarterback. Knight, from San Antonio, redshirted last season, while Thompson, the son of former OU quarterback Charles Thompson, didn't play in a game after redshirting in 2011.
Departed starter: None
Spring favorite: Lunt
Skinny: Because of myriad injuries last season, OSU coach Mike Gundy will have three experienced contenders battling for the job in spring practice. Lunt won the job as a freshman, but then suffered a knee injury in his third game. Walsh took over and started the next three games until suffering a knee injury against Iowa State on Oct. 20. Lunt came back the next week, but suffered another injury in his second game back. Chelf, who didn't play in five of the first seven games, took over against Kansas State on Nov. 3 and played well down the stretch. He completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 1,588 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, who worked last season at Division II Shippensburg (Pa.) University, has a tough decision on his hands.
Departed starter: None
Spring favorite: Mannion
Skinny: Mannion was a big reason for Oregon State's turnaround last season, leading the Beavers to four consecutive victories before injuring his left knee against Washington State on Oct. 6. Vaz, who attempted only 17 passes before last season, took over and played pretty well, leading OSU to a 3-2 record in Mannion's absence. But then Vaz sprained his left ankle in a 27-23 loss to Stanford, and Mannion came back to start the final three regular-season games. In a surprising decision, OSU coach Mike Riley tabbed Vaz to start against Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl, and Mannion never came off the bench in a 31-27 loss. It figures to be a fierce competition in spring practice and preseason camp.
Departed starter: Matthew McGloin (3,271 passing yards with 24 touchdowns and five interceptions last season)
Contenders: Steven Bench (soph.), Tyler Ferguson (soph.), Christian Hackenberg (fr.)
Spring favorite: Bench
Skinny: Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien did a remarkable job with McGloin in 2012, transforming him into one of the country's most efficient passers after three previous lackluster seasons. Bench played in two games as a freshman, completing two of eight passes for 12 yards. He'll battle Ferguson during preseason camp, but the competition probably won't be decided until the fall, when Hackenberg joins the race. Hackenberg, from Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, was ranked the country's No. 1 quarterback prospect by ESPN.com's RecruitingNation and was a major coup for the Nittany Lions.
Departed starter: Matt Barkley (3,273 passing yards with 36 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season)
Spring favorite: Wittek
Skinny: Wittek, from Newport Beach, Calif., figures to have a leg up on the competition in the race to replace Barkley. He was forced into action in the last two games of 2012 after Barkley got hurt and completed 49.4 percent of his passes for 293 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions. Browne, from Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., was ranked the No. 2 pocket passer in the 2013 ESPN 150 and enrolled at USC in January. Kessler, who mostly played on special teams last season, also is in the hunt, according to USC coach Lane Kiffin.
Other spring notes:
• When Tennessee opens spring football practice on Saturday, new Volunteers coach Butch Jones will be looking for receivers, defensive backs, pass-rushers and more depth on both sides of the ball.
The Volunteers, who went 5-7 in former coach Derek Dooley's final season, also will be looking for a new quarterback after junior Tyler Bray departed for the NFL draft.
Junior Justin Worley, who played in three games last season, and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman will battle for the job in the spring. Incoming freshmen Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson join the competition this summer.
"It's critical," Jones said. "Obviously, we'll know a little bit more about our quarterbacks when spring practice ends. The big thing is, we have to identify what our quarterbacks can do. We can't ask them to do something they can't do."
Jones won't know where his quarterbacks stand until they put on full pads.
"Pass skeleton is like a driving range on a football field," Jones said. "When you put the pads on, everything changes. Really, you don't know until the pads go on and the speed of the game changes. There's so much now that goes into it."
• While many college football players around the country will head to the beach next week for spring break, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is going to Norman, Okla. Murray, who passed up entering the NFL draft to return to UGA for his senior season, will spend next week working with Landry Jones and George Whitfield, a quarterback guru who has tutored Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Donovan McNabb in the past.
Murray said he met Whitfield while working as a counselor at the Elite 11 quarterback camp in California last summer. They remained in contact during the 2012 season. Murray said Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller also might join them in Oklahoma next week. Miller worked with Whitfield earlier this offseason.
"I just want to continue improving and maybe learn a new drill or technique," Murray said. "I can bring it back to [UGA offensive coordinator Mike] Bobo and talk about it and decide whether to implement it. I told [Whitfield] the things I really needed to work on were my footwork, moving around in the pocket, staying on balance and being ready to throw at any time."
Murray said passing up the last spring break trip of his college experience was a difficult decision.
"It was tough because it's my last spring break," Murray said. "But I've had my share of fun spring breaks the last couple of years. When I decided to come back to school, I made a commitment to give everything I had in terms of preparation and leaving no stone unturned."
• Murray called Nick Marshall, a former UGA defensive back, "one of the most athletic players I've ever seen." Marshall was dismissed from UGA for a violation of team rules before enrolling in a junior college. He threw for 3,142 yards with 18 touchdowns and 20 interceptions at Garden City Community College last season.
"He could probably play wide receiver, quarterback and defensive back," Murray said. "He could play it all. I'm really disappointed he's not with us anymore."
• Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops fired three assistant coaches after the Sooners finished 10-3 last season and also shook up the responsibilities of his remaining staff. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, his brother, will coach safeties after coaching linebackers last year. Bobby Jack Wright, who coached defensive ends in 2012, will coach cornerbacks this season. Stoops said having two assistants coaching defensive backs makes sense in the pass-happy Big 12.
"In our league, we play a lot of five defensive backs and sometimes six," Stoops said. "I think having more eyes there will be a bonus."
Bill Bedenbaugh (hired from West Virginia) takes over the offensive line, Jay Boulware (Auburn) will coach tight ends and serve as special teams coordinator and Jerry Montgomery (Michigan) will coach the defensive line.
• After backlash from many coaches and athletic directors, the NCAA's Rules Working Group has recommended that the Division I Board of Directors, at its May 2 meetings in Indianapolis, suspend of modify two controversial rules changes adopted in January.
Member schools are also given the opportunity to send override requests. If the NCAA receives 125 override requests by March 20, the rule changes, which are scheduled to go into effect in August, will be suspended and voted on by membership.
One proposed rule would allow noncoaching personnel to contact recruits; head football coaches and on-field assistants are currently the only staff members allowed to recruit. The other change would eliminate the restrictions on printed materials schools can mail to prospects.
Coaches and administrators feared their support staffs would swell as they tried to keep up with their competition in recruiting. Some coaches have said they already planned to mail Fathead-like cutouts of prospects and their current players to recruits, increasing the cost of recruiting materials.
"I think we need restrictions in place," an FBS head coach said. "They were there for a purpose. I do think there are some limitations that are necessary. I don't think deregulation is the right answer."