Pros and Cons of Running a 2-QB System in College Football

Lisa HornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterApril 17, 2013

Les Miles in the 2012 BCS Championship Game
Les Miles in the 2012 BCS Championship GameAndy Lyons/Getty Images

Right about now, a number of college football coaches are starting to mull over using a two-quarterback system.

It happens every year and accordingly, at least one school's entire fan base will go into DEFCON 1 over the very thought of this system being installed in an offense.

The reasons for installing this system are varied but usually one of two factors comes into play that causes coaches to consider using not one but two quarterbacks intentionally in a game. 

Maybe the coach has both dual threat and pro-style quarterbacks at his disposal and wants to use each one in certain down-and-yardage situations. Maybe the college football coach can't decide between two equally talented quarterbacks. 

But wait.

Maybe, just maybe, none of his quarterbacks have made a strong case deserving of being tabbed the starting quarterback. The field general. The captain. The guy calling the plays on the field.

Nobody stepped up. 

There are both pros and cons to having a two-quarterback system—we'll go through each of the arguments for and against the two-quarterback system and allow you to decide which argument has more merit.



Having a quarterback that has a specific (and largely successful) play built in especially for him is a bonus for offenses. Oklahoma's starting quarterback in 2012 was Landry Jones but on certain down-and-yardage situations, Blake "Belldozer" Bell was called in. Bell was a beast to stop.  

Why this is such an enhancement to an offense is twofold. As a runner, Bell had proven to be an effective between-the-tackles rusher. Despite being built like a tight end or defensive end, Bell was still a quarterback—he could throw the pill. And while the defense keyed on the run when Bell entered games, the pass was also an option and of course, a legitimate threat. 

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was used sparingly in his first year (2006) with the Gators. During a game against LSU, Tebow faked a blast up the middle which caused the defense to collapse at the point of attack and defend the interior line. Tebow then threw a jump pass to a wide open receiver just beyond the box for a touchdown.

Having a quarterback with similar abilities such as Tebow or Bell have can be very effective because the defense has to key on the run while not completely giving up the pass. 

Having a two-quarterback system has an inherent benefit as well—if one quarterback gets hurt or is unable to play in a game, the shock of having another quarterback under center is avoided.  

But despite the pros of having a two-quarterback system, there are also cons.



The starters on the offensive line are constantly practicing with the starting quarterback so they're in tune with the intonations of his voice, his foot cues (ie- the raising of his leg putting the Z or slot receiver in motion) and his body movements before the snap. ESPN's David Pollack explains his views of the two-quarterback system below.

Receivers get a feel for when to break off a route and come back to the ball when their quarterback is under duress. The linemen know when to push off their blocks. The center knows exactly when the quarterback has complete possession of the ball after his snap. A running back knows exactly where the quarterback is going to place the ball near his body.

It's repetition, it's familiarity. Change up the quarterback and things may fall apart very quickly. 

In 2010 BYU played Air Force. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall used a two-quarterback system of Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps in that game.

Nelson engineered a first possession drive that resulted in a touchdown and Air Force answered with a touchdown, Heaps was the quarterback in BYU's next possession which resulted in a false start penalty and a fumbled ball on a 70-yard drive. On BYU's next possession with Nelson at quarterback, BYU was called twice for false starts. It got worse.

Later in the second quarter, seven plays were run off during two consecutive BYU offensive possessions. First possession: A six-yard rushing play by a running back, incomplete pass by Riley, incomplete pass by Riley, punt. Second possession: False start penalty, nine-yard rushing play by Riley, incomplete pass by Heaps, fumble by Riley.  

A new quarterback can trigger false starts, poor ball exchanges and miscommunication between quarterback and receiver. Two different styles of offenses can also cause a team to lose its rhythm and create an identity crisis. 

Northwestern employed a two-quarterback system with Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian last season. After a loss to Northwestern, Colter questioned the team's identity in an article from ESPN:

"That's the problem that we're facing, we don't have an identity," Colter told on Wednesday. "We really need to develop that with the play calling and find out what we're going to do."

Mississippi State used the two-quarterback system in 2010. Quarterback Tyler Russell had a great day against Memphis, going 13-of-16 for 256 yards and four touchdowns. Chris Relf had a good day as well as going 7-of-9 for 116 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But in the following week head coach Dan Mullen tabbed Chris Relf as the starting quarterback against Auburn.

Relf had a horrible day going 12-of-26 for 110 yards—he also fumbled twice in the first half. In the second half both Relf and Tyler Russell were used. Down 17-14, Relf threw four consecutive incomplete passes at the Auburn 41-yard line with less than a minute left in the game and the Bulldogs lost despite a superb effort by its special teams and defense. 

There aren't a lot of fans who embrace the two-quarterback system simply because a team needs a leader on the offense—one man they can point to and say, "lead us to victory." 

A few last thoughts to leave you pondering:

How do you convince a 4- or 5-star quarterback recruit to come play in a system that doesn't give him the entire 60 minutes to win a game?

How good is team chemistry in a locker room when the team loses despite one quarterback playing well and another not playing well? 

The last time a true two-quarterback system won a BCS title was in the 2007 season—LSU beat Ohio State 38-24 with Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux as the Tigers' quarterbacks. LSU head coach Les Miles attempted to repeat that success again in 2011 with Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson but the results weren't the same.

LSU's offense failed to score any points against Alabama in Game of the Century I on November 5, 2011 and in Game of the Century II (BCS title game) on January 9, 2012.