NCF Nation: Tarean Austin

Spring QB competition: Mountain West

February, 7, 2011
Today we will take a look at open quarterback competitions among the non-AQ schools going into the spring. There will be plenty of fresh faces throughout the non-AQs, and you will see that in the Mountain West. Incredibly, TCU will have a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2006 with Andy Dalton gone to the next level.

Three other schools have open positions as well. Let’s take a closer look:

New Mexico

Who’s competing: Nobody is really out as the starter, considering the Lobos played four different quarterbacks this past season for various reasons. All four are back. B.R. Holbrook, the presumptive starter, had knee surgery at the end of the season and his status for the spring is up in the air. Freshman Stump Godfrey started the last five games, and freshman Tarean Austin also played. So did Brad Gruner, who has been a backup his entire career. Godfrey and Austin definitely gained experience last season, so that should help them out, but coach Mike Locksley wants this to be a wide-open competition to see who will step up.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireAndy Dalton led TCU to a 13-0 record and a Rose Bowl title this past season.

Who’s out: Dalton.

Who’s competing: Sophomore Casey Pachall and redshirt freshman Matt Brown. Pachall served as Dalton’s backup last season and saw extended action in the season finale against New Mexico after Dalton injured his elbow. He appears to be the heir apparent. But just because he has some playing experience doesn’t mean the job will be handed to him. Brown was one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in Texas when he signed with the Horned Frogs in 2010 after initially committing to Arizona. He redshirted this past season. Both have ability, but you know coach Gary Patterson will be looking for that huge intangible Dalton had in spades -- leadership. One other note: Yogi Gallegos, on the roster the past three seasons, has elected to transfer.


Who’s out: Omar Clayton ended his career as one of the best quarterbacks in school history.

Who’s competing: The Rebels only have two returning quarterbacks on the roster: sophomore-to-be Caleb Herring and redshirt freshman Taylor Barnhill. But they did sign a junior college transfer in January who is already enrolled in school (Sean Reilly). He spent last season starting for Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., going 200-for-330 for 2,323 yards and 20 touchdowns with just six interceptions. Herring was Clayton’s backup last season and saw extended playing time, looking good in spurts. But this one appears to be a three-man race headed into the spring, with Herring and Reilly the top two challengers.


Who’s out: Austyn Carta-Samuels decided to transfer.

Who’s competing: Redshirt freshman Emory Miller and true freshman Brett Smith. Not the ideal situation for the Cowboys, who were banking on Carta-Samuels returning until he changed his mind. Backup Dax Crum was a senior so now you are left with two players who have never taken a snap in a college game. At least Miller has been in the program for one season after redshirting in 2010. Smith graduated from high school early, enrolled in January and will be eligible for spring practice.
Six true freshmen have already seen time at quarterback this season for non-AQ teams around the country. Some went into the season as starters. Others came in because of injuries to the guys in front of them.

Let’s take a quick look at the Freshmen Six and how they have fared so far.

Tarean Austin, New Mexico. Austin made his first career start last week against UNLV because of an injury to starter B.R. Holbrook. He had played in every game this season, and coach Mike Locksley says Austin has shown glimpses.

“I was definitely impressed with Tarean’s poise,” he said. “That was one thing about him when we made the decision on the No. 2 quarterback position, that played a huge role for us. He has a presence of a veteran even though he’s a young guy. Even when things may not go well, he very rarely loses his poise, and so I was proud of the way he competed last week. His best football is still ahead of him.”

Austin was 17-of-40 for 177 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Austin will start again this week against UTEP.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Broadway
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireTerrance Broadway took over the starting job when Case Keenum and Cotton Turner suffered season-ending injuries.
Terrance Broadway, Houston. Broadway was supposed to redshirt this season but got thrown into the starting lineup when Case Keenum went out for the season with a torn ACL and backup Cotton Turner went out for the season with a broken clavicle. Broadway made his first career start last week in a win over Tulane, but the Cougars relied more on their ground game. He went 19-of-28 for 174 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.

Coach Kevin Sumlin said the team would continue to evaluate where it was at quarterback in the bye this week. That could mean action from another true freshman, David Piland.

Jeffrey Godfrey, UCF. Folks in Orlando figured it would only be a matter of time before Godfrey took over the starting job from Rob Calabrese. Godfrey had broken Jacory Harris’ high school passing records, and he could run, too. Calabrese, meanwhile, had a history of playing poorly in games. Well, it did not take long for a change to happen. Though he and Calabrese split carries in the opener, that ended for good midway through the third quarter of the NC State game. Godfrey rallied the Knights and almost erased a 28-7 deficit before they fell just short 28-21.

Godfrey won the following game on the road at Buffalo, but UCF lost in the closing minute to Kansas State last week because the defense couldn’t hold the Wildcats. So far on the season, Godfrey is 36-of-59 for 394 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, and has 43 carries for 203 yards and two touchdowns.

Jake Heaps, BYU. This has been quite the introduction to college football for Heaps. Coach Bronco Mendenhall decided to have Heaps and veteran Riley Nelson split the reps this season, and they did that through the first three games. But Nelson hurt his shoulder and is out for the season, leaving Heaps in the starting role. He made his first career start last week in a loss to Nevada, going 24-of-45 for 229 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. The Cougars have had a hard time stretching the field with their quarterback rotation, but even with just Heaps playing they could not get many long completions. Heaps averaged just 5.1 yards an attempt.

But Mendenhall maintains that Heaps is a special player, and was encouraged by his performance.

“I thought Jake Heaps played very well for his first college start, and he’s more mature and poised than what I gave him credit for,” Mendenhall said. “I liked his resilience. I liked his hope and optimism. It’s one start from a true freshman quarterback with a long career ahead.”

Pete Thomas, Colorado State. Thomas was named the starter before the season began, making him the youngest player to start for the Rams since 1981. He has had some growing pains, in large part because of an inconsistent offensive line and non-existent running game. Colorado State has trailed in its games, too, so he has had to throw the ball. A lot. But that throwing paid off last week in a 36-34 win over Idaho. Thomas was named Mountain West offensive player of the week after going 29-of-37 for 386 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. It was the first game all season he had more touchdowns than interceptions. On the year, he has 1,081 yards passing, but four touchdowns to seven interceptions.

“Every step of the way, from when he got here learning what he did to function in spring ball, all the way through this, finally having to run some two-minute offense, every step of the way he has not only impressed me but this entire football team,” coach Steve Fairchild said. “He’s special and he’s certainly got a very bright future here.”

Ryan Williams, Memphis. Williams stepped in after Cannon Smith went down with a concussion. Though Smith has been cleared to play, Williams is slated to make his third career start Saturday against Tulsa. He became the first true freshman to start at quarterback there in 24 years. He is 1-1 as the starter and got the Tigers close to a win over UTEP last week. He went 20-of-30 for 144 yards and a touchdown against the Miners, but had two interceptions and was largely shut down in the second half.

Still, coach Larry Porter also has been pleased with his poised and said, “He understands there is still some growth to be made.”
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

Air Force Falcons

Spring practice starts: Feb. 18

Spring game: March 17

What to watch:
  • Air Force is in a comfy position because it has all of its passing, rushing and scoring back from 2009. The biggest key to next season will be the play of quarterback Tim Jefferson. He didn’t get to go through spring football last year, so this should help the Falcons even more for 2010.
  • While all of the offensive skill positions return, the offensive line is depleted. All five starters are gone and while there are competent backups ready, they’ll need to use the spring to get on the same page and continue to open holes for the Falcons' triple option.
  • The defense returns six starters, but they’ll be learning under a new full-time defensive coordinator in Matt Wallerstedt. Wallerstedt was the co-defensive coordinator last year, but it will be interesting to see what twists he adds to one of the NCAA’s best defenses in 2009.
BYU Cougars

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:
  • The top position battle for the Cougars this season will be at quarterback. Riley Nelson has the edge since he was Max Hall’s backup last year, but returning missionary James Lark and early enrollee Jake Heaps will be in the mix, too. The Cougars will add one more quarterback competitor in the fall.
  • Tight end is another interesting competition since both Dennis Pitta and Andrew George are gone. Devin Mahina, Richard Wilson and Mike Muehlmann all will be competing for that starting spot.
  • The Cougars lost their entire starting defensive line and four of the six on the depth chart. The other two players on the two-deep played and there are some returning missionaries that could step in and help right away.
Colorado State Rams

Spring practice starts: March 25

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Quarterback seems to be the popular question for the Colorado State in the spring. This year, there’s much anticipation over early enrollee Pete Thomas. Thomas will challenge senior Jon Eastman, junior T.J. Borcky, and redshirt freshman Nico Ranieri. Borcky will also play wide receiver.
  • A year ago, the offensive line was a position of strength for the Rams, this year they’re trying to replace four starters and the only returner, tackle Paul Madsen, didn’t even start the entire seasons. Guard Jake Gdowski and tackle Mark Starr figure to be in the mix along with several redshirt freshmen and sophomores.
  • The defense should be a strength for the Rams this year. They lose just two starters and return 24 lettermen, including linebacker Ricky Brewer, who was an all-conference performer in 2008 but was suspended all of 2009.
New Mexico Lobos

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • With Donovan Porterie still waiting to hear about a sixth year, there will be a quarterback competition this spring. Sophomore B.R. Holbrook is the favorite against juniors Tate Smith and Brad Gruner, but the spring winner will have to fend off top recruits Tarean Austin and Stump Godfrey in the fall.
  • Running back Terence Brown, who was the penciled in starter last season before tearing his ACL in the spring, will once again be the favorite to win the top rushing spot for the Lobos. While two freshmen and a sophomore manned the position last year, the Lobos ranked 110th in rushing.
  • In making the running game better, the Lobos have to get better on the offensive line. They lose three starters, including center Erik Cook. There are a few young players waiting in the wings, and the Lobos added three more in this recruiting class.
San Diego State Aztecs

Spring practice starts: Feb. 20

Spring game: March 20

What to watch:
  • The biggest issue facing San Diego State has got to be its running game and coach Brady Hoke has stockpiled running backs in an effort to solve the problem. Dwayne Garrett, Adam Muema and Deonte Williams will compete for backfield playing time with returning starter Brandon Sullivan, backup Davon Brown, and three other running backs who were signed in the 2009 class. as well as, Atiyyah Henderson, who is trying to get a sixth year of eligibility. Figuring out which of those players can balance this offense will be the spring focus.
  • The offensive line also will be an interesting competition to watch. Since Hoke didn’t recruit any offensive linemen in his first class and has to replace seniors at right tackle and left guard, the Aztecs brought in junior college linemen Juan Bolanos, Riley Gauld and Joe Unga to compete immediately.
  • The search for speed on the edges of the defense will begin this spring as defensive coordinator Rocky Long looks to get better at defensive end and at the Aztecs hybrid position. Perry Jackson is the only defensive end joining the Aztecs this spring and they return both of their starting ends from last season.
TCU Horned Frogs

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:
  • Replacing All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes will be a big task, but TCU has a history of finding diamonds in the rough. In fact, when Hughes replaced Chase Ortiz, no one knew who he was. D.J. Yendrey, who played defensive tackle last season, and Braylon Broughton, who was Hughes’ backup, will compete for the starting role.
  • The Horned Frogs will look for a replacement for Clint Gresham at deep snapper. Gresham was the team’s deep snapper for the past three seasons and in that time TCU never had a bad snap.
  • Aundre Dean, a running back transfer from UCLA will work at strong safety this spring. He worked out at strong safety some last season, but now the move will likely be permanent. It’s just as well. The Horned Frogs have a quite a few running backs lining up for playing time.
UNLV Rebels

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • UNLV’s offense will undergo a makeover with new coach Bobby Hauck at the helm. Instead of the spread style that the Rebels ran the past five season, they’ll switch to a more run-based, possession attack. The transition shouldn't take long to master, but finding the right players to run the scheme will be a chore.
  • One of the top goals this spring will be finding a more consistent power attack that goes along with Hauck’s offensive coaching philosophy. Channing Trotter was the Rebels top rusher with 479 yards and eight touchdowns, but the next two top rushers were the Rebels' quarterbacks. UNLV ranked 86th in the country in rushing with 126.83 yards per game.
  • The speed defense will also be a focus this spring as the Rebels struggled against the run (220.58 yards per game allowed) and ranked 106th in sacks and 117th in tackles for loss. Only two starters from the defensive line return and the depth is not experienced, so finding some players to fill those holes will be a major concern.
Utah Utes

Spring practice starts: March 9

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • One of the things to watch this spring is the development of junior college transfer John Cullen and how he fills in for departed senior Zane Beadles at left end. Cullen was brought in specifically to fill that hole and him jelling with the rest of the line will be important for quarterback Jordan Wynn this spring.
  • The defensive end position is up for grabs this spring with transfer James Aiono, Junior Tui’one, Christian Cox, Nai Fotu and Lei Talamaivao, who is moving from tackle to end. Talamaivao won the starting defensive tackle spot twice, but suffered a broken leg in each of those years.
  • Former backup quarterback Chad Manis is set to be the starting middle linebacker for the Utes. Manis spent some of last year still working at the quarterback position while making the transition to linebacker. The Utes lost all of their starting linebackers from 2009.
Wyoming Cowboys

Spring practice starts: March 6

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Wyoming will spend the spring transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base defense. The Cowboys, who allowed 393.31 yards per game and 27.31 points per game, will still be multiple, but will work out of the 4-3.
  • The Cowboys graduated both of their top defensive ends, so they moved Gabe Knapton and Josh Biezuns, two of their better defensive players, to defensive end. Knapton ranked second on the team in tackles and Biezuns was third on the team in sacks and tackles for loss.
  • With Knapton and Biezuns moving to the defensive line, the Cowboys will be entertaining some competition at linebacker this spring. Players such as Ghaali Muhammad and Ben Durbin, who both played in 2009, will have the opportunity to earn starting roles.