Quarterback competitions around college football are coming to a close: except where they aren’t.
The Alabama quarterback decision appears no closer to a definitive answer today — just eight out from the season opener against Wisconsin — than it did when Blake Sims took his final snap in the Sugar Bowl.
Actually, scratch that. When Blake Sims’ time as Alabama quarterback concluded, plenty of folks were convinced Florida State transfer Jacob Coker was ready to take over. And yet, here we are at an impasse with Coker battling Cooper Bateman and Alec Morris, the latter two sharing the majority of reps with Coker this week per AL.com’s Matt Zenitz.
The emergence of Alec Morris as a hot name nationally is a new development, really gaining steam with former Alabama quarterback and current SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy’s Monday appearance on The Paul Finebaum Show.
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) August 24, 2015
AL.com’s Zenitz shared in the love for Morris this week, breaking why the dark-horse may be the best fit for the Crimson Tide.
So with youngsters David Cornwall and Blake Barnett presumably out of the running, a five-man competition is a three-man competition. Logic would dictate Alabama has its man and Nick Saban is simply playing his hand close to the vest.
However, consider the similarities with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s 2013 USC team, which extended its quarterback competition between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek through Week 2, and Alabama’s current situation.
Kessler was the dark horse, like Morris, who emerged to beat the favorite, Wittek. As with Coker, Wittek was long considered an heir to the starting quarterback job.
History’s proven Kessler was right for the job. Wittek’s since gone on to forge a new path at Hawaii. Was the extended quarterback turmoil due diligence, or unnecessary delaying of the inevitable?
Is there a concrete deadline coaches must hit to name a starting quarterback in order for their signal-caller to succeed?
Alabama may be the most followed quarterback competition of this offseason, but the conundrum isn’t exclusive to the Crimson Tide.
They have company in the SEC. Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain announced Treon Harris and Will Grier both Week 1. In the process of making that announcement, McElwain also made clear where he stands on the quarterback deadline concept.
McElwain: 'I mean this. There isn't a timetable" for QBs. Need to see what they do live. 'How they elevate play around them.' #Gators
— Chris Harry (@GatorsChris) August 27, 2015
Of course, it’s easier to take such a stance when your team is opening up with New Mexico State. McElwain can elevate both Harris and Grier with the benefit of live-game action, but without the pressure of a potential loss.
The new Alabama quarterback is facing a team that won the Big Ten West, is favored to do so again, and beat Auburn in its last time out.
So, yeah, the stakes are different.
Washington head coach Chris Petersen faces a situation more akin to that of Saban than McElwain. His Huskies have a three-man competition between Jeff Lindquist, K.J. Carta-Samuels and Jake Browning that appears unsettled one week out from a season opener at nationally ranked Boise State.
Petersen hinted more than one would play against the Broncos next Friday, though that runs somewhat contradictory to the philosophy he espoused at Pac-12 media days.
“Your starting quarterback needs every rep he can get,” he said. “Three guys water it down, but that’s just where we are.”
Rich Rodriguez opened three campaigns as Arizona’s head coach having to name a new starting quarterback. In 2012, Matt Scott was clearly the choice in the spring.
When he took the field Week 1 against a quality Toledo team, he had the spring and a few weeks of preseason practices to take charge of the offense.
In 2013, B.J. Denker wasn’t named the starter until the opening snap of the Wildcats’ opener against FCS Northern Arizona. Last year, Anu Solomon was named the starter a little over a week ahead of the first game.
The similarity all three shared upon becoming the starter: none were pulled unless for injury-related reasons.
“This is a team sport, but the most important position in football is quarterback,” Rodriguez said. “Let’s make no bones about it.”
Because of the position’s importance, a coach’s decision must be steadfast. Flip-flopping quarterbacks can throw an offense’s entire chemistry out of balance.
One can’t fault a staff for taking as long as is needed before making a choice.
However, the same issue of throwing an offense’s identity into chaos arises when quarterbacks flip-flop as part of an extended competition.
Petersen was forced to play musical chairs with the position in 2014, rotating between Lindquist, the since-transferred Troy Williams and since-retired Cyler Miles. Washington had other issues, specifically a bevy of injuries at wide receiver and running back, but the Huskies’ instability at quarterback contributed to a woeful offensive season.
Going back to Kiffin’s 2013 USC team, the Trojans sputtered through offensively anemic performances against Hawaii and Washington State, and even into Kessler’s second game as the clear No. 1 against Utah State.
Ironically, USC didn’t find its offensive rhythm until it scored 41 points at Arizona State in Kiffin’s last game.
Kessler played with poise and confidence by then that he lacked through the first month. Hindsight also makes such evaluations easier, but might he have settled in earlier had he been given the reins sooner?
Playing two quarterbacks doesn’t necessarily mean doom and gloom. Florida won a championship in the 2006 season with both Chris Leak and Tim Tebow playing integral, albeit clearly defined and much different roles.
Flip-side: Les Miles rotating Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson may well have derailed LSU’s title hopes in the 2011 season.
Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux the Lee and Jefferson were not.
A coach’s homework in choosing a quarterback might lack a strict deadline, but all such decisions are graded on the same, steep curve.