Key college football position battles

Originally Published: July 11, 2013
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Training camps will open across the country before the end of the month, when many of the country's top teams will begin to sort out ongoing competitions for high-profile starting jobs.

Oregon State, Penn State, USC and West Virginia still haven't settled on a starting quarterback. Notre Dame, Stanford and Texas A&M have to sort out their tailback rotations, and Alabama, FSU and Ohio State have unsettled concerns on the line of scrimmage.

Here's a closer look at some of the top position battles to watch during preseason camps:

Alabama

Right tackle: Austin Shepherd vs. Leon Brown vs. Brandon Greene

The two-time defending BCS national champions will have to rebuild their offensive line after losing All-America center Barrett Jones, All-America guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker. Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and right guard Anthony Steen are the returning starters. Ryan Kelly is slated to replace Jones, the 2012 Rimington Trophy winner as the country's top center, and Arie Kouandjio, the left tackle's brother, is expected to replace Warmack at left guard. Shepherd, who played in 17 games the past two seasons, seemed to have the edge at right tackle coming out of spring practice, but he'll continue to be pushed by Brown, a junior college transfer.

Florida State

Defensive end: Mario Edwards Jr. vs. Giorgio Newberry vs. Dan Hicks vs. Chris Casher

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards, Jr.
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesMario Edwards Jr. already earned substantial playing time as a freshman.

The Seminoles have to replace star defensive ends Bjoern Woerner and Tank Carradine, who combined for 24 sacks and 31 tackles for loss last season, as well as defensive end Brandon Jenkins, who was expected to start before breaking his foot in the 2012 opener. Edwards Jr., the country's No. 1 recruit in 2012, was thrust into the rotation after Jenkins' injury. He also started the last two games after Carradine was hurt. Newberry was a bit of a disappointment last season, finishing with 13 tackles in 13 games. Hicks moved from defensive end to tight end last season, but missed the entire campaign with a torn ACL before moving back to defensive end. Edwards will probably start at one end spot in new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's 3-4 scheme, but Hicks and Newberry will continue battling for the other spot in preseason camp.

Notre Dame

Running back: George Atkinson III vs. Amir Carlisle vs. Cam McDaniel vs. Will Mahone vs. Greg Bryant vs. Tarean Folston

Notre Dame's running game took a lot of pressure off quarterback Everett Golson last season, but now the Irish will have to play without Golson, who is ineligible for the 2013 season, and leading rushers Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, who have departed. Atkinson, who ran for 361 yards and five touchdowns last season, seems to be next in line to start. He has good speed, but struggled with blocking and patience last season. Carlisle, a USC transfer, can't stay healthy; he missed last season with an ankle injury and then broke his collarbone in the spring. Bryant, an incoming freshman, was ranked the No. 2 running back in the country by ESPN Recruiting Nation and had scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, FSU, Georgia and dozens of other schools.

Ohio State

Defensive tackle: Tommy Schutt vs. Joel Hale vs. Chris Carter

If the Buckeyes are going to pick up where they left off last season, going 12-0 in coach Urban Meyer's first season, they'll have to replace a boatload of departed starting defensive linemen. Ends John Simon and Nathan Williams and tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel combined to make 182 tackles last season, including 31 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. Meyer made the defensive line priority No. 1 in recruiting as soon as he arrived on the OSU campus. Schutt and ends like Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington showed a lot of promise last season and this past spring.

Oregon State

Quarterback: Sean Mannion vs. Cody Vaz

[+] EnlargeCody Vaz and Sean Mannion
Steve Conner/Icon SMIOregon State has a heated QB competition between Cody Vaz, left, and Sean Mannion.

Mannion, a junior, and Vaz, a senior, were involved in one of the country's most interesting quarterback battles last season. Mannion started the season red-hot, leading the Beavers to a 4-0 record until he hurt his left knee against Washington State. Vaz took over and went 3-2 as a starter until he was hurt against Stanford. Mannion came back for the last three games of the regular season, but then didn't play in OSU's 31-27 loss to Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The starting job was up for grabs coming out of spring practice, but Mannion was selected as a team captain by his teammates in June.

Penn State

Quarterback: Tyler Ferguson vs. Christian Hackenberg

Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien listed Ferguson and Hackenberg as co-starters coming out of spring practice, even though Hackenberg hadn't even enrolled in classes at Penn State. Ferguson, a sophomore, transferred to Penn State from College of the Sequoias, a junior college in Visalia, Calif. He was impressive during Penn State's spring game, completing nine of 15 passes for 90 yards with two touchdowns. ESPN Recruiting Nation ranked Hackenberg the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country. The Nittany Lions are looking to replace departed starter Matt McGloin, who threw for 3,271 yards with 24 touchdowns last season. Steven Bench, his backup, transferred to South Florida.

Stanford

Running back: Anthony Wilkerson vs. Tyler Gaffney vs. Barry Sanders vs. Ricky Seale

It probably doesn't matter who wins the starting job because Stanford coach David Shaw is probably going to use a tailback-by-committee approach in replacing departed star Stepfan Taylor, who ran for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past three seasons. Taylor carried the ball 322 times last season, most in the Pac-12, and his replacement probably won't be asked to carry as much of a workload. Wilkerson and Gaffney, both seniors, left spring practice as the co-starters. Wilkerson ran 50 times for 224 yards with one touchdown last season. Gaffney had 156 carries from 2009 to 2011, before sitting out last season while he played minor league baseball. Sanders, who is the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, was a highly regarded recruit who redshirted last season.

Texas A&M

Running back: Ben Malena vs. Brandon Williams vs. Tra Carson vs. Trey Williams

If the Aggies want Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel to run the ball less often this season -- he ran a team-high 201 times in 2012 -- they'll have plenty of depth to do it. Malena, a senior, ran 138 times for 808 yards with eight touchdowns last season. He was listed as the starter coming out of spring practice, ahead of Brandon Williams, an Oklahoma transfer, and Carson, an Oregon transfer. Brandon Williams ran for 219 yards as a freshman with the Sooners in 2011 before sitting out last season under NCAA transfer rules. Carson ran for 254 yards with one touchdown with the Ducks in 2011 before sitting out last season.

USC

Quarterback: Cody Kessler vs. Max Browne vs. Max Wittek

The competition to replace departed star Matt Barkley will make for one of the most watched battles in the country during preseason camp. USC coach Lane Kiffin hasn't given any indication as to which way he's leaning heading into preseason practice. Wittek, a sophomore, started the final two games last season after Barkley was hurt. He threw for 293 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions in losses to Notre Dame and Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, and then battled a sprained knee ligament in the spring and mononucleosis in early June. Kessler, who threw two passes last season, was perhaps the most consistent quarterback during the spring. Browne, from Sammamish, Wash., was ranked the No. 2 quarterback in the country by ESPN Recruiting Nation and enrolled early at USC to participate in spring practice.

West Virginia

Quarterback: Clint Trickett vs. Paul Millard vs. Ford Childress

Millard and Childress, two Texas natives, battled during the spring for the unenviable job of replacing departed starter Geno Smith, who threw for 4,205 yards with 42 touchdowns last season. But then Trickett threw a wrench into coach Dana Holgorsen's plans by transferring to West Virginia from Florida State in May. Trickett, who is eligible immediately because he's a graduate student, might be behind the competition in his knowledge of Holgorsen's fast-paced offense, but he's the most experienced in terms of competition. He threw more than 100 passes in two seasons with the Seminoles, and started against Clemson in 2011 after EJ Manuel was hurt.

Mark Schlabach | email

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