The USF football program is set to kick off its 25th season Sept. 2 against NC State, and time is running out for second-year coach Jeff Scott and company to make a decision on who will be the team’s starting quarterback come kickoff against the Wolfpack.
Of the five quarterbacks currently on the roster, four appear to be in the running for the starting spot. Those four include freshman Timmy McClain, sophomores Katravis Marsh and Jarren Williams and junior Cade Fortin.
As it currently stands, Fortin appears to be the favorite based on comments made by Scott about the quarterback throughout spring practice and fall camp. Scott also said in a press conference March 9, “Cade and Jarren have been going back and forth with the ones and twos,” in practice.
Marsh and Fortin are returning to the team from last season, while McClain and Williams are both in their first years within the program. McClain is a true freshman coming to the Bulls from Seminole High School in Florida, and Williams is transferring in after spending two years at Miami.
As of an Aug. 21 press conference, Scott said he hasn’t named the starting quarterback to his team yet, but will look to do so soon.
“I have not named a quarterback to the team yet, that’s something that we’ll be talking about here over this weekend,” Scott said Saturday. “Really, I wanted to finalize fall camp, and tomorrow we will, with our meetings and evaluations and all that. As we kind of turn the page to NC State on Monday I’ll visit with coaches and decide how we want to do that moving forward.
“We’re not going to be trying to trick anybody or create any suspense, we’ve got a lot of other things to worry about, but as soon as we do name a starter I’ll be more than happy to do that publicly and move on. I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal or a big surprise.”
Looking to bounce back after a disappointing 1-8 season in 2020, selecting the right starting quarterback will be imperative. Here is a breakdown of the four players competing for the starting job.
Fortin, who transferred to USF from UNC last offseason, is heading into his second year with the program.
In a very limited sample, he appeared in two games in 2020 where he went 4-of-8 for 39 yards to go along with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for an additional 39 yards.
In his second appearance, however, where most of the aforementioned production came from, Fortin sustained a shoulder injury that effectively ended his season, as he never saw the field again in 2020.
Throughout spring practices and into fall camp, Fortin has drawn rave reviews from Scott, citing his progression from last year. One potential reason for that improvement is Fortin’s familiarity with the offense, which he discussed in an Aug. 10 press conference.
“It’s great having the whole offseason [to train in the same offense],” Fortin said. “It’s funny, probably since my junior year of high school, this is the first time I’ve had the same offense in back-to-back years. So I’ve had a different coach, or going into college, having a different scheme, learning different terminologies, working with different coaches, working with different players.
“So, it’s definitely been great for me through the offseason, just working with the guys, working with the same scheme and kind of getting my second year to work with coach [Charlie Weis Jr.] and some of the players we’ve got out here. It’s definitely helped me develop a lot of confidence.”
Williams, a former Miami Hurricane, transferred to USF this offseason after spending two years at the “U.” He also had a brief stint in junior college between his time at Miami and USF where he saw no on-field action due to the season being canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of the quarterbacks currently competing for the starting role, Williams is by far the most statistically accomplished.
At Miami in 2019, he appeared in 12 games and started the majority of contests for the Hurricanes. By season’s end, he was 169-of-276 for 2,187 passing yards and 19 touchdowns, along with seven interceptions.
Since it’s Williams’ first year in the offense, he may have to work a little harder to grasp the system and get on par with his peers. Williams said, however, he felt pretty good with the scheme back in the spring, and getting mistakes out of his game was about improving physically.
“I felt like in spring I was getting [the offense] pretty good,” Williams said. “In film meetings I had a couple mistakes out there on the field, and that was just me cleaning up my mechanics, being able to make the throws and being accurate, also getting my weight down. I came in at 240 [pounds], now I’m down to 210, so just being able to move better in the pocket and be able to make those throws.”
Along with Fortin, Marsh is returning to the program for his second season.
The 6-foot-5-inch signal caller appeared in four games in 2020, starting one, where he went 14-of-31 for 92 passing yards and three interceptions.
All of those interceptions came against Cincinnati, which was his lone start on the season.
Although appearing to be raw during his freshman season, Marsh’s big-time arm strength has been something Scott has gushed about previously, and fans got a chance to see it on full display during this year’s spring game.
Although he struggled in his start against the Bearcats, Marsh said the experience taught him a valuable lesson about how he has to prepare for the college game.
“I think I could have approached [the Cincinnati game] in a different way,” he said. “I just went out there thinking it was going to be like high school, the game was going to be played how I played it. But the game was much faster in college, so I just had to have a different approach to it.”
Even if Marsh doesn’t see the field in 2021, he may be an integral part of USF’s future, given that he is only entering his sophomore season.
A three-star dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school, per 247Sports, McClain has the ability to beat teams both with his arm and with his legs.
During his senior season with the Warhawks, McClain went 110-of-176 for 1,529 yards and 16 touchdowns over 11 games, according to MaxPreps. He also added 577 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on 98 carries to lead Seminole High School to an undefeated 11-0 record in 2020-21.
He only threw two interceptions.
For McClain’s high school success to transfer to the collegiate game, he has to get caught up on the differences between the two levels. Although not much is brand new, the duty he has to call protections is something he is still working out.
“It’s just different terminology really, nothing’s really new it’s just different terminology,” McClain said. “Now I’ve got to call the protection, in high school I didn’t really have to call the protections … [I have to] know the protections on certain plays and stuff.”
As a true freshman, McClain still has all of his eligibility left. His tenure with the Bulls is just getting started.