Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, Matt Corral, Desmond Ridder and Sam Howell are widely regarded as the top quarterback prospects in this year’s NFL draft.
Who will replace them at the schools they left? The answer to that question may come by the end of the spring in at least one instance, but for the most part the competition will continue in preseason camp.
Pat Narduzzi referred to the competition to take over for Pickett as a work in progress. Narduzzi, who has a new offensive coordinator, but a familiar face around Pitt football in Frank Cignetti, Jr., dipped into the transfer portal and was able to reel in Kedon Slovis, who moves about 2,500 east to the Steel City from USC.
Other candidates include fifth-year senior Nick Patti, who was Pickett’s primary backup last season and started the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Michigan State before an injury ended his day. Former Arizona State quarterback Joey Yellen, in his third year with the program, is also in the mix.
Slovis is by far the most experienced. His resume includes 58 touchdown passes in 27 career starts during his three seasons with the Trojans. His only full season was his true freshman campaign of 2019 when he completed 72% of his passes, threw for 30 touchdowns and was seventh nationally in pass efficiency. Whoever wins the job will have a very experienced unit around him, including Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addision.
After Ridder concluded his career at UC by helping lead the Bearcats to the CFP semifinals, coach Luke Fickell has competed at many positions, but none more glaring than at quarterback. There is experience, though, with Evan Prater and a familiar face back on campus in the person of Ben Bryant.
Fickell, who in February received a two-year extension through 2028 that boosted his annual compensation to $5 million per year, noted how both quarterbacks have been going about their business this spring with “a sense of urgency.” It is a competition that will continue in preseason camp.
Bryant, who Fickell recruited and brought on board as part of his 2018 class, returned to UC after spending 2021 at Eastern Michigan. As the Eagles’ starter, he threw for 3,121 yards and 14 touchdowns with only seven interceptions in 408 attempts. Bryant appeared in 16 games (one start in 2019) and attempted 72 passes in three seasons with the Bearcats before transferring to EMU. Evan Prater is in his third year in the program and served as Ridder’s primary backup last season, appearing in seven games and attempting 11 passes.
Pitt is not the only program that welcomed a USC transfer. Jaxson Dart announced in late January that he was headed to Oxford and was able to enroll. Dart was an early enrollee last spring at USC and emerged as Slovis’ backup. He started the Trojans’ final two games of 2021 when Slovis was injured, and finished the season throwing for 1,353 yards and nine TDs.
Luke Altmyer, a top-five state recruit out of Starkville who comes from a house with split rooting interests as his father has been Mississippi State’s orthopedic surgeon since 2004, was a true freshman with the Rebels last year. He emerged as Corral’s primary backup and attempted 37 passes. Kinkhead Dent has all of four pass attempts in three seasons, but has been in Kiffin’s system for two years.
Kiffin said at the outset of spring practice that it would be ideal to have identified a starter by the end of spring, but if it is a situation that needs to play out in fall camp, so be it.
The Falcons have played 71 games the past six seasons and have done so with two starting quarterbacks: Stephen Calvert and Malik Willis. With Willis off to the NFL, it is coach Hugh Freeze’s desire to have a new starter in place by the end of the spring. Former Baylor and Utah signal caller Charlie Brewer would seem to be the favorite. Brewer was a four-year starter in Waco and threw for 9,700 yards and 65 touchdowns before landing in Utah last season (484 yards) where he lost out to Cam Rising before transferring again.
Johnathan Bennett is the most experienced under Freeze at Liberty. He has been in the system for three years and was the No. 1 backup to Willis last season, throwing for 299 yards (33 attempts) and four touchdowns.
A preview of 2022 got underway in November 2021. With Howell bothered by an injury, Brown played it safe and started Jacolby Criswell against FCS opponent Wofford in the next-to-last regular season game. Drake Maye then played the second half in a 34-14 win.
Criswell, a top-15 dual-threat QB out of Arkansas, has appeared in 10 games in two seasons. Nineteen of his 21 pass attempts last season were in the game against Wofford. The 6-foot-5 Maye, an in-state product who was a top-25 pro-style quarterback, attempted nine of his 10 passes on the season that afternoon. He was a true freshman last year.
Conner Harrell, an early enrollee out of Alabama, is also in the mix. Harrell was ranked as the nation’s No. 10. dual-threat quarterback by Rivals.