Keller or Carpenter?

Williams or DiMaggio? Bird or Magic? Tiger or Phil? If you are even a casual sports fan, you probably hear these kinds of must-answer sports questions all the time. At Arizona State this off-season, another question is being asked far more frequently than these other classic sports pick ‘ems…Keller or Carpenter?

This off-season I have been asked this question so many times I almost began to think Keller vs. Carpenter was an upcoming middleweight championship bout that had the potential to out-do Hagler versus Hearns. But then I quickly remembered that the sport of boxing today is on life support and finally came to my senses.

So despite being ranked 114th in total defense last season it seems that many people are more concerned with another uncertainty this fall, which of these two young men will start at quarterback for the high-scoring offense. Having the most high-profile quarterback competition in the nation is certainly a good-problem to have for the ASU football program. It is a powerful statement regarding the recruiting and developing of quarterbacks in Coach Koetter's system that the nation's most efficient quarterback from a year ago may not even be the number one quarterback this fall.

Both quarterbacks are immensely talented, have high football IQ's, and display good leadership skills on the field. So obviously we should all be very happy with which quarterback trots out onto that field for the first offensive possession of the season. Let's face it, choosing between Keller and Carpenter is a lot like eating at a four-star restaurant and your choices are filet mignon or lobster: It may be a difficult choice but either way you go you'll be pleased.

Also, with how physically demanding the 12 game schedule will be, it's nice to know we will have the best backup in the nation to come in if the starter is hurt or is really struggling. Whoever loses the quarterback competition could potentially be one play away from taking over and it's good to know our season won't go in the toilet by one injury.

But that doesn't mean answering this question should not be handled carefully and with all things considered because we're going to go as far as one (or both) of these men takes us this season. The quarterback has the most demanding position on the football field, and perhaps most importantly for the 2006 Sun Devils, having a great quarterback is perhaps the single best indicator of the success of a team in the Pac-10 conference. This question is so big that even ESPN featured the quarterback competition on a front page article last week on its official website. Having the most high-profile quarterback competition in the nation obviously brought the program a lot of positive media attention. But it also makes someone wonder whether or not all of this pressure is bringing the absolute best out of both competitors or is it bogging both young men down like anchors?

After watching both Keller and Carpenter in spring and fall practice it is a fair question to ask because neither quarterback has shown the consistency you would expect out of the same two quarterbacks who were both fantastic when healthy last season. Both have shown flashes of greatness but have also been prone to poor decision-making. They are making mistakes we cannot afford to make each and every game, we need to win (or tie) the turnover ratio against all of our top opponents if we plan to take the Pac-10 crown away from USC. It seems that both quarterbacks are trying to do too much at times and it is leading to them forcing errant throws into double or even triple coverage on more than one occasion. It's obvious to me that they were both pressing too much to impress the coaches.

But I expect this to change once one of the two is named starter and hopefully will calm himself and worry less about losing the job and focus more on doing what it will take to win each game. If not, we could be going through a season-long struggle to find one starter who is confident and has complete control of the offense, and this would not bode well for our chances of taking it to the next level this season.

And let's not even think about using both of them throughout games for the season. Playing musical chairs with your quarterbacks most always proves to be a death wish for any team looking to give itself the best chance at winning every game on its schedule. So a feeling of comfort and relief flowed through my entire body when Coach Koetter announced "The QB Shuffle" will not be playing in Sun Devil Stadium this fall. Consistency and rhythm is a must for a successful quarterback and he needs most all of the snaps with the first team to get prepared properly for each and every game, and a two-quarterback system do not allow for it in most all cases.

There are a few rare exceptions when the two quarterback system works out well by providing the team with a change of pace and different looks without disturbing the overall effectiveness and flow of the offense. This typically is the case when a team has a prototypical pocket passer and a more mobile passer like the Univ. of Arizona had when they had their best season in school history going 12-1 in 1998 led by quarterbacks Ortege Jenkins and Keith Smith. So it definitely can work but not with our two guys this year and thankfully Koetter knows that.

So I'm hoping that once the dust is settled and Coach Koetter names a starter, whoever it is will play much more comfortably knowing the job is his and will more closely resemble the player we saw a year ago. At this point, many Sun Devil fans may prefer one quarterback over the other, but for whoever wins the job we can only hope he leads the 2006 team all season onto the field and hopefully to that thirteenth and final game where no other ASU quarterback since Jake the Snake has taken us, the Rose Bowl.

Oh, and my prediction is Keller retains the title by a split-decision.

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