A Look at Past Quarterback Competitions

Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee: The QB duel nobody won.

With the quarterback competition between Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson heating up this spring, I thought this would be a good time to look back through the recruiting archives and see what happened to other teams that brought in two Rivals four-star quarterbacks in the same class. The list is rather short — between 2002 and 2005, just seven teams did what Rich Rodriguez accomplished in the class of 2008 — so let’s take a look at what happened to those teams and the quarterbacks involved:

Team/Class: Ohio State, 2002
Quarterbacks: Justin Zwick (four-star, #3 pro-style QB, #40 player overall), Troy Smith (four-star, #12 dual-threat QB)
Outcome: Michigan fans certainly remember how this one ends, but people often forget that Zwick was both the higher-rated player out of high school and the first of the two quarterbacks to start for the Buckeyes. After both players redshirted in 2002, Zwick saw mop-up duty at quarterback in 2003 while Smith played sparingly as a running back and kick returner. After Craig Krenzel graduated, Zwick took over the starting job in the beginning of the 2004 season, but was injured with five games left in the season — Troy Smith then got the job, won four of the last five games (before getting suspended for the Buckeyes’ bowl game), and never relinquished his spot. The Buckeyes did briefly play both quarterbacks during the 2005 season, but by their senior seasons Smith was the clear #1 and ultimately the Heisman Trophy winner.

Team/Class: Florida, 2003
Quarterbacks: Chris Leak (four-star, #2 pro-style QB, #26 player overall), Justin Midgett (four-star, #8 pro-style QB)
Outcome: Despite both quarterbacks being four-star prospects (at least to Rivals), Leak was the guy with all the recruiting hype, and by the middle of his true freshman season in 2003 he was the Gators’ starting quarterback while Midgett took a redshirt year. With Leak maintaining a stranglehold on the starting job, Midgett transferred to Eastern Illinois after the 2004 season, but could not stay academically eligible and eventually ended up on an Arena2 (the AFL’s minor league) roster. Leak would go on to lead Florida to a national title in his senior season.

Team/Class: Arizona State, 2003
Quarterbacks: Sam Keller (four-star, #9 pro-style QB), Michael Affleck (four-star, #13 pro-style QB)
Outcome: Unlike the previous two examples, Arizona State could not hold on to either quarterback because of competition at the position. Affleck became a college journeyman, transferring to BYU, then Dixie State College, and finally finishing his college career at Utah State, all while battling injury issues and personal problems. Keller was much more successful at the college level, taking over the starting job as a junior in 2005, but he suffered a season-ending thumb injury after seven games. The next summer he would lose a heated quarterback competition with sophomore Rudy Carpenter, and announced in August of 2006 that he would transfer to Nebraska, where he would start in 2007 after sitting out a transfer year.

Team/Class: Oregon, 2003
Quarterbacks: Dennis Dixon (four-star, #2 dual-threat QB, #57 player overall), Johnny DuRocher (four-star, #17 pro-style QB)
Outcome: Again, Michigan fans are all-too-familiar with the winner of this duel: Dennis Dixon took a grayshirt year in 2003, then spent the next two seasons primarily as a backup before earning the starting job in 2006. Although he was benched in favor of Brady Leaf late that season, Dixon would again emerge as the starter in 2007 and was a serious candidate for the Heisman Trophy before tearing his ACL against Arizona State and re-aggravating the injury two weeks later. DuRocher had a bizarre college career, transferring from Oregon to Washington in 2004, seeing the field for five games as a sophomore, then suffering a concussion against Stanford the next season and discovering there was a benign tumor on his brain when doctors ran a CT scan after the injury. DuRocher would have the tumor removed, tried minor league baseball, then returned to Washington in 2008, where he began practicing with the football team before tearing his Achilles tendon in a December workout. If the guy didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all. He worked out for pro scouts at Washington’s pro day in 2009, but as far as I can tell he hasn’t caught on with a professional team.

Team/Class: South Carolina, 2003
Quarterbacks: Syvelle Newton (four-star, #5 dual-threat QB), Blake Mitchell (four-star, #11 pro-style QB)
Outcome: Mitchell would ultimately win this competition, starting for the majority of his last three up-and-down seasons at South Carolina, but Newton, a great athlete but an unpolished passer, was the first of the two to get snaps at quarterback. Newton played wide receiver as a true freshman, finishing third on the team in receptions, while Mitchell took a redshirt year. The next season, Newton would play in 11 games at quarterback, including five starts, to help relieve the injured Dondrial Pinkins — this would be the only season Newton would break 1,000 yards passing. By the 2005 season, Mitchell emerged as the clear #1 quarterback, starting 11 of 12 games, and although he was benched for four games in favor of Newton in 2006, he would re-take the starting job that season while Newton finished his career as a receiver/running back.

Team/Class: Florida State, 2004
Quarterbacks: Xavier Lee (five-star, #1 dual-threat QB, #10 player overall), Drew Weatherford (four-star, #6 pro-style QB, #88 player overall)
Outcome: Total freakin’ disaster. Both would take a redshirt year in 2004, and then spend the next three years battling to see who would suck less for a series of disappointing FSU squads. Weatherford would win the quarterback competition in each of their first three seasons, with Lee seeing occasional snaps (and a few starts) when Weatherford proved ineffective. Despite not accomplishing anything of note in college, Lee declared for the NFL draft before his senior season. He would go undrafted, get a brief training camp stint with the Ravens, and end up in the AFL2. Weatherford would finish his career as the Seminoles’ third-string quarterback after losing the job to sophomore Christian Ponder before the 2008 season. He is now playing in the Arena Football League (the real one!). Yeah, this really didn’t go well for Florida State.

Team/Class: Tennessee, 2004
Quarterbacks: Brent Schaeffer (four-star, #7 dual-threat QB), Erik Ainge (four-star, #11 pro-style QB)
Outcome: Schaeffer made history in 2004 by becoming the first true freshman QB to start for an SEC team in 59 years, but was replaced by Ainge a few weeks into the season. Schaeffer would then break his collarbone, missing the rest of the year, and then transfer to the College of the Sequoias after his involvement in a dorm fight at UT in 2005. He would eventually move on to Ole Miss, where he started and put up pretty awful numbers (his passer efficiency rating hung right around 100, which is great in the NFL and horrifically bad in college). Ainge, on the other hand, had a relatively successful career, starting for Tennessee in every season he was on campus (only missing some games as a sophomore due to injury, when he was replaced by Rick Clausen) and was drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL draft by the Jets.

Conclusions: Just by looking at this list, one thing sticks out: It’s nearly impossible to keep two very talented quarterbacks on the same team when they come from the same class. Of the seven teams, just Ohio State and South Carolina would keep both their quarterbacks around for their full eligibility, and the Gamecocks were helped in that regard because Newton was an NFL prospect as a receiver. When applying this to Michigan’s situation, however, it does help to remember that Denard Robinson could very easily play receiver or running back, which should decrease the likelihood of a transfer if he were to lose the quarterback job to Tate Forcier.

The good news is that, for the most part, these teams were able to find at least one very solid option when they took two blue-chip QBs — Ohio State, Florida, and Oregon all found BCS-level success with Troy Smith, Chris Leak, and Dennis Dixon, while Sam Keller, Blake Mitchell, and Erik Ainge were all solid quarterbacks. We should all hope that Michigan’s situation doesn’t come close to mirroring Florida State’s, for obvious reasons.

Overall, there’s probably not a lot to read into here other than for curiosities’ sake — every team is in a unique situation and, with such a small sample size, there’s nothing statistically significant to take out of this. Don’t be surprised, however, if either Forcier or Robinson transfers at some point in their career. I’m not predicting anything, and I sincerely hope that won’t happen, but that does seem to be what happens for a quarterback when he loses a competition with a player in his own class. Hopefully, Michigan can buck the historical precedent and find a role for both Forcier and Robinson going forward.

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