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Who has the edge going into training camp in the QB1 battle at Virginia?

tony muskett
Photo: UVA Athletics

The QB1 battle at UVA may already be settled, effectively, though officially, coach Tony Elliott is still going to decide between Tony Muskett and Jay Woolfolk for the starting job in training camp.

Muskett, it needs to be said, has a couple of things working in his favor – one, that he was able to get more live reps in spring practice, with Woolfolk limited because of his duties as the closer on the UVA baseball team; and then, two, that Muskett has also had the summer free (aside from summer school) to be able to work out with the wide receivers and tight ends, while Woolfolk is still busy with baseball.

That’s because Woolfolk, after throwing to three batters in the College World Series, and seven batters total in the 2023 postseason, tried out for and then earned a spot on the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, and is taking part in that through the middle of the month.

Woolfolk fits the profile of heir apparent – the rising junior had been the backup the past two seasons to Brennan Armstrong, who is using his last year of college eligibility at NC State, where he is reuniting with his former offensive coordinator at Virginia, Robert Anae.

jay woolfolk
UVA QB Jay Woolfolk. Photo: UVA Athletics

Woolfolk is clearly the better prospect of the two candidates for the job – yes, smaller (listed at 5’11”, 200, to Muskett being 6’2”, 210), but with a better arm, elite speed, and also, he has one more start at the FBS level than Muskett, who played three seasons at Monmouth, a mid-tier FCS program.

What Woolfolk has working against him, in addition to his busy schedule that has kept him from doing much football since the end of the 2022 season, is that he was recruited as a fit into Anae’s Air Raid system.

Anae, when you look back at his tenure at Virginia, recruited a good line of athletes at quarterback that he was able to coach up in his system – think: Kurt Benkert and Bryce Perkins (both now on the fringes of the NFL), then Armstrong and Keytaon Thompson (who Anae converted into being a top-level college wideout, and is now getting a shot at an NFL job), then Woolfolk and two other guys still hanging around on the roster, Delaney Crawford and Davis Lane, both of whom were elite high-school sprinters.

Muskett, a no-star prospect out of high school, a two-star as a transfer, in addition to his availability, has the advantage of having played for the past three years in a pro-style offense similar to the one that Elliott and his offensive coordinator, Des Kitchings, have in place at Virginia.

Reports from spring practice, coming from the public statements made by the coaching staff, so, keep that in mind, had it that Muskett was doing a solid job picking up what Elliott and Kitchings wanted from him.

anthony colandrea
Photo: UVA Athletics

Perception being what it is, my perception was that he looked just OK in the spring game, and might have been outplayed by incoming freshman Anthony Colandrea, who seemed (to me) much more comfortable behind center that day.

Colandrea is not a serious contender for QB1 this summer, I’m told, and if that’s the case, I think we can presume that he’s not being counted on to be QB2 out of the gate, either, unless there’s an injury in line ahead of him.

So, it’s Muskett, or Woolfolk, and that means, it seems to me, that it’s Muskett’s job to lose.

I offer here that after I’d reported in May that word had gotten to me that the brain trust had some reservations about Muskett in terms of fit, and I’m standing by what I wrote there, considering the source of the information, but that said, the reporting eventually earned me oddly delayed pushback.

Also odd: the insinuation as the pushback landed at my doorstep that I was making it all up to try to boost my cred at the expense of the football program. I’d have to think that, if after 28 years in the journalism business, I was going to start making stuff up to boost my cred, I’d aim a little higher than the Vanderbilt of the ACC. But I digress.

I’m sharing that here while also noting that, I’d expect pushback, considering the situation going into training camp.

Which is that there is a QB of the future on the roster, in the form of Colandrea, but the present is down to two guys – Muskett, who has been able to focus for the past seven months on doing what he needs to do to be named the starting QB, and Woolfolk, who has been focused on baseball, is still playing baseball, and is in line this time next year to be a second- or third-round MLB Draft pick, which is why he’s still playing baseball right now, and not working out with the receiver group ahead of the start of training camp.

tony elliott
Photo: UVA Athletics

I’d expect Muskett to be named the starter early in training camp, with Elliott and Kitchings preparing Woolfolk to be the backup, and also working him into the mix for playing time with packages designed to get him touches as a wildcat quarterback, slot receiver, maybe using him in the return game, just to get his athleticism on the field.

I’d also expect that there will be an effort in training camp and during the season to get Colandrea ready to be the backup, because having Muskett running around in the backfield behind a makeshift offensive line that needs to replace four starters, and having Woolfolk running around doing everything but being a backup QB standing on the sidelines with a headset and a clipboard, might get Coleandrea on the field sooner rather than later.

Here’s where you wish that the season didn’t open in Nashville against Tennessee, just to give everybody a chance to get their feet wet, but that situation is what it is.

I’ve talked in past summers with coaches and players from teams that open with a big-name opponent, and the common refrain is, good, that’ll get us focused in camp on making sure we’re ready.

That’s the challenge to Tony Muskett: dude, you’re going to need to be ready.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].