Few things get football fans riled up as much a good, old-fashioned quarterback controversy. And on Thursday, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck created at least a tricky quarterback situation, if not controversy, when he announced that Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft would be co-starters entering the season.
Judging by the small sample size of reactions on Twitter, Fleck’s move is not popular.
The angst is understandable. So is Fleck’s decision.
When it comes to quarterbacks, fans want a coach to be decisive, to name a starter and ride that guy to victories and major bowl glory. That works in a perfect world, when a team has a Lamar Jackson or a Deshaun Watson or an Andrew Luck. The Gophers don’t have any of those QBs.
Instead, what they have is a pair of quarterbacks who have combined to start one game and throw 34 passes. The eight appearances and one start for Rhoda and Croft is the least returning quarterback experience among Power Five conferences.
Fleck spoke candidly Thursday in explaining his decision to row the offensive boat with two coxswains instead of one. His telling quote came early. “If was to tell you that I knew exactly how those quarterbacks are going to play in a game, that’s a guess,’’ he said.
And this what the Gophers have two work with: two inexperienced QBs who haven’t separated themselves during training camp to the point that one is clearly better than the other. Fleck has raved about their improvement, but we won’t know the extent of that until they play in a game.
Of course, picking a starter and sticking with him is the norm. It has many advantages, especially with added game experience and increased practice reps. Eventually, the Gophers will settle on one QB.
But we know that the Gophers’ QB situation this year is not the norm, so a co-starter situation wasn’t entirely surprising when Fleck announced it Thursday. My belief is that Fleck will use the nonconference season to further evaluate the two QBs before sticking with one. And by getting both QBs playing time, whichever ends up as the backup will have added experience. A team always is one hit away from needing its backup QB.
For the Aug. 31 opener against Buffalo, chances are both Rhoda and Croft would have received extensive playing time even if Fleck had named one starter. We’re talking the Buffalo Bulls here, not the Buffalo Bills.
Where things will get interesting is the Sept. 9 trip to Oregon State and the home game against Middle Tennessee the following week. A best-case scenario would be for one of the QBs to assert himself and seize the job. The Gophers’ bye on Sept. 23 comes at a convenient time, too. It could enable Fleck to use the extra week of practice to settle on one starter for the Sept. 30 Big Ten opener against Maryland.
For now, we’ll just have to see how this two-QB system plays out. There’s no reason to panic.