Some quarterback controversies are longer for this world than others.
Johnny Manziel was embroiled in a fall camp competition before earning the Week 1 nod last season. Needless to say, it didn't take very long for that contest to dissipate.
But for other teams, preseason is just the beginning of a year-long debate. Close competitions beget short leashes and short leashes beget cursory change.
Not every race is destined to end by September. In fact, in some unfortunate cases, they aren't even destined to end at all.
Many year-long controversies are outcome-dependent. That is, if one guy wins the job out of camp, the issue will linger all year. But if the other guy wins it, unless his performance is catastrophic, the beef will be squashed in August.
That list includes:
- Penn State (if Christian Hackenberg loses)
- TCU (if Casey Pachall loses)
- Oklahoma (if Blake Bell loses)
- Florida State (if Jameis Winston somehow loses)
- West Virginia (if Clint Trickett loses)
- California (if Zach Kline loses)
- Purdue (if Danny Etling loses)
The main entries in this piece, on the other hand, might cause trouble regardless of who starts. Unless the winner proves transcendently good—think Manziel in 2012—the controversy might last all season.
Those are the ones to watch out for.
USC: Max Wittek vs. Cody Kessler
Trojan fans want Kessler to win the job, in part because he’s looked great all offseason but in part because he falls in the realm of “Not Max Wittek.” By the sound of their appeals (and their pugnacious comments under B/R articles), it appears even Max Bialystok would be preferred.
The case against Wittek is an interesting one because he’s (almost indisputably) the better physical specimen. At 6'3'', he stands taller, runs faster and throws harder than Kessler. And in most cases—especially between two equal-classmen—that type of toolkit makes a QB the fan favorite.
But USC fans are smarter than that—or at least alternatively disposed. It may be that they’re ahead of the curve: too sharp to fall for a good-looking charlatan who can’t move the ball consistently. Or perhaps they’re just the opposite: too impatient to wait for the superior prospect because his first impression was so poor.
It matters not either way. Wittek showed just enough incompetence in his brief 2012 stint to warrant vitriol. A 38-percent-completion outing in the lowly Sun Bowl will do that for you. And now, should he win the job out of camp, USC would be staring down the barrel of a year-long kerfuffle.
Even if Kessler—the fan-preferred option—wins the job, though, this controversy would be far from over. How can anyone be sure he’ll succeed? He has, after all, thrown just two passes in his college career. And there has to be some reason Wittek replaced Matt Barkley over him last year...right?
What is Kiffin seeing that the rest of the world isn’t?
The only way this controversy ends is if Kessler wins the job and excels. If Wittek gets the nod, even if he finds success, he’ll always be one Sun Bowl performance away from a demotion.
And if either gets the job but stutters, his leash won't be long enough to survive. Especially not with Kiffin in a win-or-get-fired mindset.
Kansas State: Jake Waters vs. Daniel Sams
What happens if Daniel Sams wins the job?
Think about the two mythic figures he’d be competing with: Former QB Collin Klein, who finished third in the Heisman Voting last season, and (hypothetical) backup Jake Waters, who won the NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year.
How out-of-his-mind well would Sams need to play to keep Wildcat fans off his back? Every foible would be compared not just to the unrealistic precedent of departed Collin Klein, but also the presumed efficiency of the man behind him.
Then again, what happens if Waters wins the job?
His comparison is even less realistic than Sams'. He's expected to resemble the production of Cam Newton, another NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year who transitioned to power conference football the next season. Instead of being compared to just a Heisman finalist, he's also be compared to a former Heisman winner (and NFL Pro Bowler to boot).
But what if Waters, who completed a record 73.3 percent of his passes at Iowa Western last season, isn't in Cam Newton's stratosphere? What if he's merely good but not good enough to produce at Collin Klein's remarkable efficacy? How tempting would it be to sub in the guy who actually did well (in sparing reps) against FBS defenses last season?
Being possessed of two good quarterbacks is a good problem to have—but it's still a problem. And unless the Wildcats get out to the same kind of start they did last season, it's one that will linger all season.
Michigan State: Andrew Maxwell vs. Connor Cook
Andrew Maxwell took the lion's share of blame for Sparty's 7-6 season a year ago. Unlike the transition from Brian Hoyer to Kirk Cousins—two of MSU's all-time greats—the passage from Cousins to Maxwell was incredibly rocky.
The result was a run-obsessed offense that was scared to take chances. The scheme was catholic-schoolgirl conservative and put a threshold on how good Michigan State (despite one of the nation's best defenses) could be.
Backup Connor Cook provided (very) brief respites from that banality, infusing the offense with a new dimension whenever he entered the game. His mobility allowed him to extend plays where the lead-footed Maxwell couldn't and made the offense look viscerally better.
Mark Dantonio turned to Cook, then a freshman, for the final drive in last year's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and he delivered (against a great TCU defense) by leading a game-winning field goal drive. But with so few passes to his name (17) and a win-now mindset in East Lansing, he isn't considered the favorite against the well-seasoned senior Maxwell.
Each quarterback has definite strengths and weaknesses, which always makes for a hard decision. But this one is particularly tough because of the nature of that binary.
If Maxwell plays, the offense will be precise but rote. If Cook wins, it might be intrepid but imprecise. More than that, MSU fans will complain about the rote-ness under Maxwell and the imprecision under Cook. Every time one of them costs Sparty a drive with their admitted flaws, the student section will clamor for the other to be subbed in.
The helmet, pants and jerseys might all be the same dark shade of "Spartan"—but the grass will always be greener with the other quarterback.
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