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Where does USF’s quarterback battle stand after one week of fall camp?

Jarren Williams, Cade Fortin, Katravis Marsh and Timmy McClain all are vying to take the first snaps against North Carolina State.
USF quarterback Jarren Williams remains one of the four players vying to be the Bulls' starter.
USF quarterback Jarren Williams remains one of the four players vying to be the Bulls' starter. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Aug. 10

TAMPA — USF coach Jeff Scott said his Bulls are “probably closer” to figuring out which of their four viable quarterback options will become this year’s starter. Or maybe not.

“Just let it play out,” Scott said Tuesday after USF’s first full padded practice of preseason camp. “I want my wife to be able to come to the game and be able to say, ‘That’s your best quarterback right there.’ It needs to be that obvious.”

Related: Inside USF’s physical and figurative locker-room transformation

A week into preseason camp, a winner is not yet that obvious. But there does seem to be a frontrunner: junior Cade Fortin.

The North Carolina transfer showed promise in his two games last season when he wasn’t shut down due to injury or coronavirus protocols. He left spring with a lead in the competition and still seems to be ahead; Scott said the other three passers are “behind” Fortin.

Cade Fortin left the spring as the favorite to become USF's starting quarterback.
Cade Fortin left the spring as the favorite to become USF's starting quarterback. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

“Cade just picked up right where he left off,” Scott said. “He’s had an outstanding fall camp.”

Fortin attributes some of that to his familiarity. This is the first time since his junior year of high school that he had the same system and coaching staff for two straight years.

“It’s definitely helped me develop a lot of confidence,” Fortin said.

Another transfer, Miami’s Jarren Williams, is the most high-profile option. He has already won one preseason competition; he was the Hurricanes’ Week 1 starter in 2019 and finished that year with 19 touchdowns, a 145.44 passing efficiency and a school-record six-touchdown performance against Louisville.

But he was rusty when he got to USF in January after his junior college season was called off because of the pandemic.

“Honestly it’s been an uphill grind for me,” Williams said. “Coming in, I was behind the curve.”

Related: What a fall without football taught USF’s Jarren Williams about his Miami missteps

Williams has caught up and, if nothing else, slimmed down. He entered USF at 240 pounds but is down to 210 — close to his playing weight at Miami (215).

Like Fortin, Katravis Marsh gained valuable experience last year with four appearances. Unfortunately, that experience included taking some lumps as he learned the system. He finished 6-of-13 with three interceptions in his start against Cincinnati.

Katravis Marsh had a rough first start against Cincinnati last season.
Katravis Marsh had a rough first start against Cincinnati last season. [ AARON DOSTER | AP (2020) ]

“I just went out there thinking it was going to be like high school…” Marsh said. “But the game was much faster in college, so I just had to have a different approach to it.”

Timmy McClain is learning that, too, as he continues his adjustment from high school state champion (at Sanford’s Seminole High) to college freshman. The lefty remains raw but is progressing as a passer.

“He is really, really special,” Scott said. “I think about some of the guys we had a chance to coach at Clemson. He has a lot of those qualities.”

Scott’s days as a Tigers assistant also give us some insight into how long the quarterback competition might last.

In 2014, then-freshman Deshaun Watson came off the bench in the first three games (including a 23-17 overtime loss at Florida State) before establishing himself as the starter and blossoming into a star. Four years later, the Tigers started Kelly Bryant for the first four games before eventual No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence beat him out for good.

It’s too soon to know what will happen with this competition at USF or whether the Bulls will announce their decision before their Sept. 2 opener at North Carolina State. But Scott already feels better about the situation now than he did a year ago.

“There’s more than two guys that we feel like we can go win with this year,” Scott said. “We did not feel that way last year, I know that.”

Related: Jeff Scott’s on USF’s role in conference realignment: ‘Go win’

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