The showdown was supposed to come next summer, when a Gophers team without MarQueis Gray would throw his position open and allow Max Shortell, Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner to battle it out to be the Gophers' starting quarterback.
Maybe a free-for-all still will happen. But it will take place without Shortell.
The sophomore from suburban Kansas City will take his final exams later this month and leave Minnesota in hopes of catching on with a program that figures to give him more playing time.
"Max has been very anguished about this. He's had a stomachache thinking about it for a couple of weeks," said Dr. Tom Shortell, the quarterback's father. "He loved it there, and we did, too. He loved everything about it. But he felt it just wasn't going to work out for him."
That's because when Shortell suffered a neck and shoulder injury six weeks ago, coach Jerry Kill started Nelson as a true freshman and kept him there for the rest of the season. Shortell had quarterbacked the Gophers to victories over Western Michigan (in relief of an injured Gray) and Syracuse, but losses to Iowa and Northwestern, in addition to his own injury, made his status uncertain. Shortell remained the backup once he healed, and Nelson appears the clear front- runner for the job heading into 2013.
"Max is an outstanding young man," Kill said Tuesday in a statement, "and I respect and understand his decision to transfer."
The coach tried several times to convince the quarterback to stay, the elder Shortell said.
The offense Kill instituted when he was hired two years ago, which encourages its quarterback to run when possible, is an imperfect match for the 6-6 Shortell. "He's sneaky-fast. But he's more of a pro-style quarterback," Tom Shortell said of his son, who must sit out a season if, as he intends, to transfer to another FBS-level program. He won't take part in the Meineke Car Care Bowl or the Gophers' preparations for it, the school said.