Kentucky Football Position Battles 2013:  Quarterback

Max Smith has to be the early favorite for the quarterback nod. - Mark Zerof-US PRESSWIRE

A Sea Of Blue will be looking at some of the key position battles over the next few days. The first one is quarterback.

With the coming of every new season and new practice, there are position battles that highlight the early season practices. Over the next few days, we'll be taking a look at these in some detail. Obviously, our first will be the one most on the minds of the Big Blue Nation: Quarterback.

There is nothing like a quarterback battle to ignite the passions of the Big Blue Football Faithful, and this year we have a doozy, basically a start-all-over-from-scratch 'Cat fight between three guys, although some will argue that freshman Reese Phillips is also in the fight. That may be so, but for now, we will focus on the three main contenders.

Maxwell Smith

Smith took over the starting quarterback spot for good after Morgan Newton suffered a high ankle sprain against the Mississippi St. Bulldogs in 2011. He began 2012 as the starter and played in four games before going down for the rest of the season against the South Carolina Gamecocks with a separated shoulder.

Why he'll win the starting spot
  • Game experience: Smith has more game experience than any other Kentucky quarterback;
  • Composure: Smith stands tall and cool in the pocket and does not let the defense rush him, or panick;
  • Accuracy: Smith has an extremely accurate arm with a quick release.
Why he'll be a backup
  • Smith didn't have surgery on that shoulder he separated against South Carolina, and Mark Stoops & Co. have been limiting his reps in order to minimize the possibility of re-injury;
  • Smith has been downright frail while he has played at Kentucky, being injured significantly enough to miss games in every season;
  • Smith has limited mobility, which makes him more one-dimensional;
  • Arm strength is an issue with Smith, as he has not been reliably able to throw the deep ball. The injured shoulder exacerbates this issue.
Handicapping his chances

Smith is probably the odds-on favorite to win the position due to his experience, accuracy, poise and leadership. In many ways, he is similar to Mike Hartline, and even though neither he nor Hartline had particularly strong arms, their accuracy, skill at game management and leadership got them the spot.

My crystal ball has Smith at 40% to be named the starter right now.

Jalen Whitlow

Whitlow came in as the starter after Smith went down at South Carolina. As a true freshman, Whitlow had to depend on his legs as much as his arm, and although he wasn't very efficient, he is the second-most experienced quarterback that Kentucky has.

Why he'll win the starting spot
  • Multidimensional: Whitlow can throw the ball pretty well, and is as dangerous with his feet as he is with his arm. In a spread-type offense, he can be a weapon;
  • Experience: Despite his struggles last year, Whitlow looked very good in the spring game, and looks to have matured significantly. His experience from last year will serve him well.
  • Sturdy: Whitlow has proven he can take a hit, and his legs help make him more durable than Smith.
Why he'll be a backup
  • Accuracy: Whitlow has a strong arm, but his accuracy on long throws has not been great. Also, his release is a touch slow;
  • Experience: Whitlow still has less experience, and was less efficient in the experience he had, than Smith;
  • Flexibility: Whitlow's ultimate destination is probably somewhere else on the field, in the slot or wideout. Brown and Stoops may decide to go ahead and move him there;
Handicapping his chances

Whitlow has a solid chance to win the starting spot. He is healthier than Smith to begin with, and has the extra running dimension to his game that all the other candidates lack to a greater or lesser degree. He also has experience, and has proven that he can lead the football team. His performance in the spring game has to auger in his favor.

Whitlow was my post-spring game favorite to win the spot, but that has been tempered somewhat with our lack of depth at wideout and surfeit of quarterbacks. My crystal ball says 25% right now.

Patrick Towles

Patrick Towles redshirt was burned against Mississipi St. last year when Smith was desperately struggling and Kentucky needed a breath of air. He came in against the Bulldogs and promptly completed 5 of 6 passes, including a touchdown. The very next series, he took a hit and went down with a badly sprained ankle that sat him for the rest of that game as well as the next two. He returned 21 days later against Missouri, but never really recovered his pre-injury form.

Why he'll win the starting spot
  • Arm strength: Towles has by far the strongest arm of any of the main three competitors;
  • Size: At 6'5" and 225#, Towles is a big, strong quarterback who can absorb some punishment. His injury was due to a lack of experience, and he did the wrong thing in the wrong situation;
  • Skill: Towles was by far the most hyped of the bunch out of high school, has good form, a quick release, and excellent accuracy on long and short throws;
  • Athleticism: He's no Jalen Whitlow, but he's a much better athlete than Smith.
Why he'll be a backup
  • Experience: He has less than the others, and that's likely the one and only reason he won't start if he doesn't.
  • Game management: He doesn't manage the game as well as Smith;
  • Athleticism: He has some, but not enough to be a significant running threat like Whitlow.
Handicapping his chances

We haven't heard much about Towles, but he is going to be right there, and of the three, he has the least amount of overall negatives and the greatest upside potential. Moving Towles to the starting spot and Smith to backup with Jalen Whitlow moving to a skill position makes the most sense of any outcome, considering Smith's nagging injury and Whitlow's greater versatility.

My crystal ball places Towles at 35% right now, but he could be the outright favorite by next week.

Okay, you've heard what your humble correspondent has to say. What say you?

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