We're heading into Week 9. Most position battles have been settled and teams are truly working within the parameters of their own current identity.
While all identities are not created equal, there is one thing that can almost universally alter a team's adherence to an identity: the quarterback position.
Whether it's a play, a series, a game or for the rest of the season, a change at the quarterback position can lead to a true implosion for a team. Yes, there are instances like 2011 BYU, where Riley Nelson entered and righted the ship for the team. Nelson isn't the only positive; there are plenty of examples where a backup quarterback has been inserted and saved the day.
Just ask Notre Dame fans.
However, backups are backups for a reason. They couldn't beat out the starter and when they come in, for any period of time, they often reveal why they're the ones holding the clipboard.
What position do you think a substitution will sink a team the quickest?
The reasons are plentiful, but when you boil it down, it generally comes back to lack of preparation and/or ability.
From the preparation standpoint, when kids are thrust into the spotlight you can see a couple different instances where they just are not quite prepared. Penalties for delay of game. Botched center-quarterback exchanges. Not knowing plays. Missed reads. Lack of pocket presence and getting up to game speed.
And yes, of course, interceptions thrown due to not fully grasping the playbook or reading the defense properly.
Another, often less noticeable manifestation of a lack of preparation comes with the utilization of a cut playbook. Most non-true freshman starters are operating with a significantly abridged version of the playbook.
When a backup gets inserted into the game, things change. What does he know? What doesn't he know? More importantly, is he comfortable with what he seems to know in order to go out there against live competition?
The reduced playbook is something you can navigate for a series, perhaps even a game—opponents don't prepare for backup quarterbacks. However, when you get into multiple games of the season with the unenviable position of a backup in charge, things get dicey.
However, perhaps the preparation is there and the quarterback just lacks the talent. That's another reason he's the backup.
Physical limitations will do you in on the football field as quickly as mental issues. If the starter is a capable dual-threat athlete and the backup is a stationary pocket passer, the complexion of the offense can be changed, and not always in a good way.
The same goes for arm strength and accuracy. If the backup has deficiencies, that's when the team's identity often goes in a very different direction.
In some games all it takes is one drive to blow things up. In other instances, a backup playing a quarter, a half or for a few games can become the death knell. It is always said that when quarterback play goes south, the most popular player in town is the backup quarterback.
That may be, but again, remember that backups are backups for a reason. While, with time, they may prove themselves to be a great option, inserting them full time presents legitimate problems.
Case in point: Connor Shaw and South Carolina. Shaw ultimately proved to be the best option behind center for the Gamecocks. However, we all remember Steve Spurrier pulling Stephen Garcia in 2010 against Auburn. The young quarterback was ill-prepared for the spotlight on The Plains that day, his two quick interceptions were due to youth, not ability.