For a conference known for talented, gunslinging quarterbacks, the Big 12 is surprisingly slow to its holster less than two weeks from the season.
Six of the 10 teams have yet to name a starting quarterback, including TCU coach Gary Patterson, who said Sunday that he won’t reveal his starter until the offense takes the field for the first time against LSU on Aug. 31 at AT&T Stadium.
“We won’t tell LSU who that guy is going to be until we play,” Patterson said Sunday. “You won’t know until he runs out on the field in the first huddle on game day.”
That’s the game plan entering the 2013 season, it seems, for most coaches in the league.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who seemed to have an obvious replacement for Landry Jones in Blake Bell, said he’ll name his starter this week.
Others, however, like Patterson, are either deciding to wait until the last moment for strategy reasons or out of necessity, in the case of Texas Tech.
Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury said last week that would-be starter Michael Brewer has missed a week of practice with a back injury. Consequently, Texas Tech will be forced to start a true freshman in its season opener for the first time since 1984. A walk-on, Baker Mayfield, is one of the freshmen who could start against SMU on Aug. 30.
Four teams have declared their quarterback intentions — Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Texas.
Baylor coach Art Briles, tabbing Bryce Petty, and Texas coach Mack Brown, going with David Ash, have let their starters be known since the spring. Of course, both teams may have less true competition for the role and have fewer concerns about confounding an opening opponent. Baylor opens against Wofford, Texas against New Mexico State.
Keeping LSU guessing is the primary reason Patterson is playing it close to the vest.
“Especially in a first ballgame,” he said. “If there’s differences in styles, then it hurts your football team if you’re going to go out and tell people, even if you know. You want those guys to prepare for both, because it’s a lot different preparing for Casey Pachall than it is for Trevone Boykin.”
Even in scrimmages, Patterson said, calling the defense is tougher on him when he doesn’t know which quarterback will be under center. If Pachall is playing, Patterson knows there’s less threat that the senior will take off running. With Boykin, a redshirt sophomore who can run a 4.5-second 40, a big gain on the ground is always a threat.
“One may get 20 yards, but the other one may go to the house,” he said. “It’s just a different animal. One has a bigger gun and makes different throws. So the coverages you play, what you do is all different.”
Oklahoma State’s situation is more similar to TCU’s than, say, Kansas State or West Virginia, which have more unproven options at quarterback this August.
The Cowboys have senior Clint Chelf and sophomore J.W. Walsh. Chelf started the last five games a year ago, but Walsh led the team with 1,854 yards total offense and accounted for 20 touchdowns to Chelf’s 15. But both have similar styles, making it less of a planning headache for defensive coaches.
“Both quarterbacks from Oklahoma State are equal,” Patterson said. “They can both run and they can both throw.”
Oklahoma, which opens against Louisiana-Monroe but begins Big 12 play Sept. 7 against West Virginia, has more to gain by holding off naming its starter.
Blake Bell, who has been a Sooners fixture in short-yardage situations the past two seasons, is the presumed starter. But freshman Trevor Knight’s performance this month and Stoops’ decision to delay naming the starter has allowed speculation to surface.
You could look at the quarterback confusion as a sign that the position remains a cornerstone of the Big 12, that teams are stocked with so many talented passers that declaring a definitive starter is a fool’s errand. Or, conversely, the slow drawcould foretell a quarterback carousel in 2013.
For Patterson, it’s simple.
“It depends on who you’re playing,” he said, “and what [the coaches] think they need to get done.”