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Arizona will have an ‘unbelievable quarterback competition’ in 2021

Arizona State v Arizona
Will Plummer
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

One of the first things Jedd Fisch had to do after becoming Arizona’s head coach was restock the quarterback room.

The Wildcats lost starter Grant Gunnell and one of his backups, Rhett Rodriguez, to the transfer portal. They also saw three-star prospect Clay Millen reopen his recruitment and later commit to Nevada.

It left Arizona with just two scholarships QBs for 2021—Will Plummer and Kevin Doyle Jr. Between the two, only Plummer has game experience, though very little. The sophomore appeared in three games last season, making one start for the injured Gunnell.

“We needed to find a way to have more scholarship players, more depth, more competition in the quarterback room,” said Fisch, who has said Arizona will be a precision passing team that will use spread and pro-style concepts. “We wanted to bring in a bunch of players into that room to go compete. And that’s what we did.”

The Wildcats landed Washington State transfer Gunner Cruz, USF transfer Jordan McCloud, a three-star recruit in Brayden Zermeno, who will be joining the program as a preferred walk-on, as well as former Oregon State walk-on Nick Moore, the younger brother of NFL QB Matt Moore.

It sets up what will be a very heated QB competition this spring and fall.

“We’re gonna roll the balls out and may the best man win, and that’s gonna be our mentality in spring ball and in fall,” Fisch said. “We’re gonna have a very hefty quarterback room, and it doesn’t really matter to me whether they were a scholarship player or a walk-on or a preferred walk-on, if they’ve been on our team, if they’re joining us in March, if they’re joining us in May, if they’re joining us in June. For me, it’s a matter of who’s going to be the guy that leads our team to the most amount of scores in practice. That’ll be the indicator.

“Can you drive the team? Can you lead the team? When you get behind the center, and we’re having our scrimmages, or we’re having our move-the-ball periods, or we’re having those unscripted situations where your job is to go score, that’s what we’re going to keep track of. That’s what we’re going to determine who our starter is going to be.”

McCloud won’t be with the Wildcats for spring ball as he completes his degree at USF, but he is the obvious frontrunner because of his experience. The redshirt sophomore started 17 games over the past two seasons at USF, completing 58 percent of his passes for 2,770 yards, 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while rushing for 357 yards and five touchdowns.

Our friends over at The Daily Stampede told us that, while McCloud is average in terms of arm strength, he is accurate, a smart decision-maker and leader.

In 2020, he completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,341 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing for 74 yards and a touchdown. That included a monster season finale against UCF in which he threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns in a 58-46 loss.

“That’s definitely an advantage, the fact that he’s played college football,” QB coach Jimmie Dougherty said on signing day. “He’s had reps at the college level and the speed of this level. Did a nice job with the chances that he had. ... He’s a guy that’s had real production on the field. ... He’s a leader on your team in the locker room. He’s a great young man.”

Unlike McCloud, Cruz should be around for spring ball. The 6-foot-5 gunslinger only threw seven passes in two seasons at Washington State but had a decorated career at Queen Creek’s Casteel High School where he completed 73 percent of his passes for 9,383 yards, 100 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions. He was a high three-star recruit with offers from major-conference programs like ASU, Baylor and Cincinnati.

“Gunner Cruz can sling it around well,” Fisch said. “He’s athletic, is strong armed, does have some really good physical skills.”

Fisch was also impressed by what he saw from Plummer in limited action last season. He displayed a strong arm, good size, and can make plays with his legs but also made plenty of freshman mistakes. Plummer completed just 43 of 80 passes for 388 yards and three interceptions while rushing 42 times for 95 yards.

Fisch said he has not been able to evaluate Doyle or the other returning QBs much because of COVID-19 restrictions. Like everyone else, though, they will have a real chance to earn the starting job.

“We got a young guy, a veteran guy, guy in between and we’ll see how that all plays itself out,” he said. “I believe we’re going to have an unbelievable quarterback competition. I believe there’s a lot of players in that room that believe they should be the starter. I believe there’s a lot of players in that room that aren’t even in here yet that believe they should be the starter. And with that, we’ll roll them out and the best man will win. The best man will start. And if it’s two guys, then we’ll have to play two, I guess. But we’re going to do everything we possibly can to have a quarterback competition that’s gonna really bring out the best in everybody.”