As conference championship week approaches and Notre Dame waits to see who and where they'll play for the bowl game I've got a quick look at next year's schedule.
How are our opponents shaping up at quarterback for 2016?
247 Composite scores in parentheses
Charlie Strong will head into year 3 in Austin with virtually zero progress at the quarterback position. Junior Tyrone Swoopes (.918) lost the starting job this year, although redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard (.965) hasn't exactly owned the position throughout 2015. Both have played extensively and Swoopes will start this weekend in the finale against Baylor due to a Heard concussion.
The good news is that they've combined for nearly 1,000 rushing yards this year but everyone knew they could carry the rock. It's the passing game that still cannot get off the ground as Swoopes (47.3%, 5.3 YPA) looks like a lost cause and Heard is still inexperienced with just 157 career attempts. Until this improves Texas can't keep up in the Big 12.
Heard's the safe bet to open up the season against Notre Dame as the starter. A pair of redshirt freshmen are waiting in the wings in Kai Locksley (.890) and Matthew Merrick (.826) but neither were well developed passers coming out of high school. Current commit Shane Buechele (.931) might be the answer down the road but definitely not next fall.
The Wolfpack came into this fall having to replace Cody Fajardo who left school with nearly 9,700 passing yards and 3,500 rushing yards in his career. A three-way battle took place this past August between redshirt junior Tyler Stewart (.839), redshirt freshman Hunter Fralick (.822), and redshirt sophomore Dante Mayes (.788) with Stewart winning outright.
Stewart played well enough (2,065 passing yards, 293 rushing yards, 19 total TD) to start every game but his completion percentage was just 57.5% and his job may be under siege this off-season. Also, keep an eye on current freshman Austin Kafentzis (.866) who enrolled early at Wisconsin in January but transferred to Nevada (he's from the suburbs of Salt Lake City) this past summer once the Badgers went through a coaching change.
Connor Cook will be gone next year and with him a boat load of school records. Redshirt junior Tyler O'Connor (.882) will be back for a final campaign as will redshirt sophomore Damion Terry (.917). The former O'Connor is technically the backup right now but both he and Terry have more or less split time during Cook's brief injuries in 2015.
This should be one of the more high profile off-season QB battles. The Spartans also have freshman Brian Lewerke (.877) and current commit Messiah deWeaver (.885) added to the mix but they're likely far too young to be factors for 2016. O'Connor and Terry are reasonably athletic and offer decent running skills but the passing game could be taking a rather sizable step back.
The Blue Devils will likely have zero drama with their quarterbacks heading into the off-season. Redshirt junior Thomas Sirk (.835) was a first-year starter in 2015 and played pretty well with 2,462 passing yards, 648 rushing yards, 21 total touchdowns, and just 6 interceptions.
Sirk missed the Pitt game and things weren't pretty for his replacement in redshirt sophomore Parker Boehme (.843) who threw no touchdowns on 42 attempts as Duke lost 31-13. Redshirt freshman Nico Pierre (.854) lingers in the background as do a couple other freshmen but this should be Sirk's show once again.
This fall's starter Terrel Hunt (he played against ND in 2014) went down in the opener with a torn Achilles and finished with a -100 passer rating--0 for 2 with an interception. His appeal for a 6th-year was denied by the NCAA.
Syracuse played 3 other quarterbacks this year including redshirt sophomore Austin Wilson (.798), sophomore Zach Mahoney (walk-on), and true freshman Eric Dungey (.843)--the latter two taking most of the snaps. There couldn't be more questions marks at this position with Scott Shafer recently fired and a new head coach yet to be hired.
The Orange have Rex Culpepper (.852) and Lindsey Scott (.838) committed for 2016 and we'll see if they stick around with the staff turnover. This looks like a team that won't know much about their QB situation until late August.
Jacoby Brissett's 2-year run (following a transfer from Florida) as the Wolf Pack starter is coming to an end soon. NC State really hasn't moved the needle even within the ACC but Brissett heads into bowl season with 5,054 passing yards, 832 rushing yards, 50 total touchdowns, and just 9 interceptions in his career in Raleigh.
Redshirt freshman Jalan McClendon (.899) was the backup this year and played briefly early in the season. He's likely the starter next year as the depth chart is very young. Current freshman Jakobi Meyers (.803) is on the roster and NC State has Dylan Parham (.849) currently committed for 2016.
So that guy who just lit us up and passed 9,000 career yards through the air last weekend will be moving on for next year. In the absence of Kevin Hogan, the Cardinal appear to be turning to redshirt freshman Keller Chryst (.974) over redshirt sophomore Ryan Burns (.927). Both have played a little bit this year but Chryst was first off the bench when Hogan got nicked up.
Obviously, the excitement level is quite high for Chryst who was one of the top quarterbacks in the 2014 class and with McCaffrey in the backfield Stanford should be able to ease him into the season. The Cardinal also have KJ Costello (.982) committed who is a near 5-star recruit for 2016.
It appears the Hurricanes will be hiring former Georgia head coach Mark Richt which should be good news to the ears of sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya (.935) who will head into his 3rd year as starter next fall. Kaaya had a very solid 2014 as a true freshman and improved this year although it got lost amid the Hurricanes losing and firing of Al Golden. Going into bowl season he's totaled 6,217 passing yards with 41 TD's and only 16 INT's.
Richt wants to be more hands-on with quarterbacks. The big winner in this might be Brad Kaaya. https://t.co/5jLBEuDjo8— CoachingSearch.com (@coachingsearch) December 2, 2015
When Kaaya missed some time with injury the Canes turned to redshirt freshman Malik Rosier (.843) who struggled. Miami also has redshirt junior Gary Crow (.861) and freshman Evan Shirreffs (.820) on the roster plus Jack Allison (.938) is currently among their commits.
No. More. Keenan. Reynolds.
Gone are his 4,279 rushing yards and 112 total touchdowns and counting. It'll very clearly be the end of an era next year for the Middies. The backup this year, junior Tago Smith, actually played some snaps against Notre Dame back in October and has a decent amount of experience. Heading into Army Week he's got 70 rushing attempts for his career and I thought he was awfully fast this year in South Bend.
The Black Knights gave snaps to 3 quarterbacks this season in Jeff Monken's (formerly of Georgia Southern) second season at West Point. Senior A.J. Schurr and sophomore Ahmad Bradshaw split time this year but both are unavailable this weekend due to injury. Freshman Chris Carter got the start last game and is up again Saturday against Navy.
Army runs the ball nearly 87% of the time so carrying the ball is key for their quarterbacks. Bradshaw was at 3.6 per carry this year while Carter had an impressive 111 yards on 20 carries against Rutgers. Like any military academy some player could come out of nowhere to start but it's likely either of these two signal callers in 2016.
New head coach Justin Fuente will surely improve the Hokies offense but the question is can he do it to a great degree next fall? It took him a while to get things going at Memphis but he had great success with upperclassman Paxton Lynch and while OC at TCU with both Andy Dalton and Casey Pachall.
The bad news is that Virginia Tech is losing Michael Brewer who started the bulk of the last two years after transferring from Texas Tech. Brewer was never (4,051 yards, 30 TD, 21 INT) much better than average but he would have been a quality veteran for Fuente to work with.
Redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley (.849 as an athlete coming out of high school) played extensively this year while Brewer was injured and offered greater mobility (224 rushing yards) with so-so passing. There are other options but they are all young. Dawyne Lawson (.896), Jack Click (Fork Union Military Academy), and Chris Durkin (.886) are all currently true freshmen and Joshua Jackson (.868) is part of the 2016 commits.
Cody Kessler joins a long list of productive starters moving on to the NFL or elsewhere among Notre Dame's 2016 schedule.
Former no. 1 high school quarterback Max Browne (.993) should step up as the starter in his redshirt junior season. Seems just like yesterday he was entering the Trojans' program but he'll be in year 4 next year with just 19 career passing attempts. That's patience you don't usually see out of a 5-star quarterback.
The other options for USC are quite limited. Sam Darnold (.931) and Ricky Town (.960) came in as freshmen this year but Town bolted to Arkansas this past August. Current commit Matt Fink (.893) will add depth.
It's quite early to make any bold predictions--after all who would've thought Kizer would be a breakout redshirt freshman this time last year--so we'll set those aside for now.
Still, there's something to say about Brad Kaaya being the most proven quarterback right now among the whole 2016 schedule. Certainly the likes of Chryst and Browne could live up to their recruiting rankings and develop into very good quarterbacks in their first years of starting. However, it's possible this is one of the easiest quarterback lineups Notre Dame will face in quite some time.
That's something to keep in mind if Brian VanGorder remains as the Irish defensive coordinator in 2016. This lineup could provide the opportunity for him to improve the Notre Dame defense. Or it could be a lineup that officially allows him to fall on his face.