"It's wide open. I hope it's answered who will be the starter or the two guys by the first game, but it may take a couple games before someone clearly separates themselves, if they do." -Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez on his team's quarterback situation.
CHICAGO-- Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins knows all too well what an in-season quarterback competition is like.
And it's safe to say he's not a huge fan.
"It was a difficult time, a challenging time for both of us," Cousins said of last year's back-and-forth race with classmate Keith Nichol, a battle Cousins ultimately won.
"When you don't quite know how much you're going to be in the game, you don't know what your role is or what it's going to be. There was a lot of uncertainty [in 2009], and a lot of still-evaluating during the season to figure out what was best for our team."
Hey, folks in Ann Arbor, does any of that happen to sound familiar?
Let me jog your memory.
Tate Forcier. Denard Robinson.
Two quarterbacks for the price of one.
Alternating big plays and crucial mistakes.
Rodriguez, what was your impression of the Forcier/Robinson two-headed monster under center in the Big House?
"Last year, playing the two freshmen quarterbacks, at times we were productive, but other times we weren't."
Got it, Coach. Thanks for clearing that up.
The difference between Rodriguez's approach ("That competition is going to be healthy") and the one Michigan State's Mark Dantonio ultimately chose is night and day.
Personally, I prefer "day".
While it may have taken Dantonio too long for Cousins' liking, eventually he settled on "a guy" and moved competitor Keith Nichol to wide receiver so both talented players could get on the field as much as possible.
"Last year obviously had a different feel than this season and where we're at right now," said Cousins.
"From afar, I always thought that having a quarterback competition was fine, as long as you believed that the competition was two very talented players. But looking back on it, I feel that the healthiest thing is to have a clear-cut guy who the team can really get behind and know is their guy. I think that's the best way to handle it."
If only Rodriguez and the program 65 miles down the road from East Lansing agreed.
You see, Rodriguez likes having depth at quarterback.
(Which is a good idea, to a point.)
And with the improvement that speedster Denard Robinson has made in his throwing mechanics during spring ball, the Michigan coaching staff wants to make sure he has every opportunity to earn the job.
"You want your best quarterback to be your starter. Robinson may be our best quarterback," Rodriguez told me plainly. "We'll find out pretty quick."
Never mind the fact that Forcier was the sparkplug to the Wolverines' 4-0 start last year, rallying the Maize and Blue to a dramatic win over Notre Dame and an improbable last-second comeback to tie Michigan State before the ensuing overtime loss sent U-M's 2009 season into a tailspin.
Instead of settling on one or the other (and the advice here is to anoint Forcier and move Robinson to a RB/WR slot where his gamechanging speed can be most effective), Rodriguez seems determined to play rotating quarterbacks to the bitter end.
At least there's only two guys.
I said, "Right"?
Ever heard of Devin Gardner?
6'4", 203 true freshman from Detroit, Michigan.
Happens to play quarterback.
"Our goal is to have at least two guys we can win with. I think we can have that at quarterback. If we can have three, if Devin can progress and give us a third guy--be able to compete and feel confident with that position--it will put us in a good spot," Rodriguez told reporters.
[Insert massive sigh from humble sportswriter.]
Here we go again.
They say "if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one."
I don't even want to know what happens if the Wolverines try to utilize three.
Meanwhile, their in-state rival will calmly go about installing Cousins as the undisputed senior/captain/leader/starter under center and doing everything in their power to develop Nichol into one of the conference's top wideouts.
"I think in these three weeks [of fall camp], Keith's really going to get to the point where he's ready to be an elite receiver in the Big Ten," Cousins said confidently.
Getting both gifted athletes on the field at the same time? Instead of yanking them in and out of the ballgame seemingly at random and never utilizing your full complement of weapons simultaneously?
Seems like a novel concept to me.
But I'm not the one that needs convincing.
Your move, Coach Rodriguez.
For more college football coverage and analysis, follow Tim on Twitter at @TimCary .