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Settle in and enjoy the ride with this Gophers two-quarterback system

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.

Latest 'Being P.J. Fleck' episode revisits tough times and perseverance

Greetings, college football fans. Just some odds and ends ahead of today’s Gophers practice (3:30 p.m., Gibson-Nagurski complex), which is open to the public:

Wednesday night, the third of four episodes of “Being P.J. Fleck’’ aired on ESPNU. This episode took things back to Fleck’s first year at Western Michigan, when the Broncos went 1-11 in 2013.

 

 

Fleck leaned heavily on his former coaches for advice during that tough stretch.

From former San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan: “He went through a lot that first year. I told him to show how to be a leader when you’re not winning. … He probably did his best job [coaching] when they won one game, not when they won 13 [in 2016].’’

Joe Novak, Fleck’s coach at Northern Illinois, was impressed how Fleck held to his plan. “P.J. did it his way, and that’s a good thing,’’ he said.

During those tough times in 2013, Fleck, who was going through a divorce, met Heather Jackson. They would marry in 2016. “She holds me accountable,’’ Fleck said. “… That’s inspiring when you have your wife doing that.’’

Fleck also pointed to how his coaching record has improved since meeting Heather. “I was 1-11 without her,’’ he said, “and I’m like 29-10 with her.’’

Though living in Minnesota now, Fleck has a lake home near Kalamazoo, Mich., and he and his family spend a couple of weeks each summer there. The episode showed how the coach recharged this summer as training camp approached. “Water is our serenity,’’ he said. “We’re on the boat every single day.’’

Regarding his lake home, Fleck told of how he’ll follow the lead that Alabama coach Nick Saban set in an interview. “The best advice I ever got was never sell the lake house,’’ Fleck paraphrased Saban as saying.

The highlight of the episode was Fleck using a miniature replica of the College Football Playoff national championship trophy and a weathered-looking goblet as a metaphors for the climactic scene of “Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade.’’ Fleck was instructing a video producer how he wanted to use that scene as a motivational tool for his team.

In that movie, the search for the Holy Grail ends in a tomb with a variety of grails, most shiny and opulent, but one ordinary and weathered. Choosing the correct grail would give life, while the incorrect one would bring death. The movie’s bad guy chose the shiny grail and died, then Indiana Jones chose the ordinary one and gave life.

“Cheers, Indy,’’ Fleck said, who toasted the scene with a weathered goblet of his own.

Fleck's moral of the story: His team has to put in the work and drink from the ordinary cup before it can achieve the shiny one.

Later, he held that weathered goblet and said, “This is what we’re gonna put in the display case before we get one of these,’’ then holding the replica national championship trophy.

The final episode will air Wednesday at 8 p.m. CT on ESPNU.

Food drive at practice

Along with today’s practice being open to the public, the Gophers specialists (@MinnSpecialists) are holding a Can O’ Corn food drive. Fans are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items to practice. All items will be donated to the Heart for Hunger campaign.