Who's Going to be the QB?

In his latest column, CN's Marty Gallagher says how Iowa State handles this pivotal question will go a long way towards deciding how the 2003 football season unfolds.

Who's going to be Iowa State's starting quarterback this fall?

That's the question many Cyclone fans are asking these days. With a solid receiving corps returning and the hopes of an improved running game with a bigger, stronger offensive line, ISU's offensive success may rest in the hands of its new QB.

But who will it be?

In the opener against Northern Iowa, it obviously WON'T be Cris Love. The junior placed himself in Coach Dan McCarney's doghouse — and earned a one-game suspension — after he was arrested on July 3rd for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

I might be wrong, but my guess is that the other two contenders — JUCO transfer Waye Terry and redshirt freshman Austin Flynn — would have to fail pretty miserably for Love to work his way back into the lineup anytime soon.

So what do Terry and Flynn bring to the table?

Terry redshirted last season after throwing for over 2,200 yards and 28 touchdowns at California's Foothill College. At 6-3 and 207 pounds, he combines good mobility with a strong arm.

Flynn redshirted last season after a terrific high school career in Deer Park, Texas. The smallest of the quarterback hopefuls is also the most gifted runner. He averaged almost 9 yards per carry as a prep senior.

If I had to bet my house on which guy will earn the starting spot I would take Terry. I like the fact that he has a couple more years of college football experience than Flynn does.

My guess is that Terry and Flynn will both see plenty of action against UNI in the opener. However, I hope that Coach McCarney is able to pick a definite "number one" after that for a few reasons.

First of all, it's always been my feeling that a quarterback needs to have the confidence of the entire team as well as the coaching staff. For the quarterback position, it's not good when some guys think "Player A" should be on the field and others feel just as strongly about "Player B." You rarely see a team succeed under these circumstances, and almost NEVER see a team play up to its potential when the QB is looking over his shoulder, fearing the hook.

At Iowa State this fall, I don't think Coach McCarney is going to ask his quarterback to make a ton of incredible, game-breaking plays. I think it's much more likely that the Cyclones will try to establish an effective running attack and ask the QB to make solid decisions and to not turn the ball over. Defense, running the ball and field position will give ISU opportunities to win games. The Cyclones won't be able to afford to lose the turnover battle very often.

If you want the starting QB to be comfortable — and effective — while taking care of the ball, I don't think he can also fear that he might lose his spot the next series of downs.

In addition, Iowa State's schedule is a tough one. In Game three, the Cyclones will face a very good defensive team in Iowa. The Hawkeyes will have a solid pash rush and, again, I think the starting QB needs to feel that he has the confidence of his coaches and teammates in order to consistently make the right decisions under pressure.

In Game four, ISU heads to Northern Illinois and the Huskies have a very good team following an 8-4 season a year ago. Then, Big 12 action heats up with Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Nebraska the following three weeks. Yikes!

If the Cyclones head into that stretch with a QB that is doubting himself at all it will be a very bad situation.

What about rotating quarterbacks? What if Terry is the starter, but Flynn plays one or two series each half?

I hate that idea and I always have. Unless, and this is a big unless, the head coach is willing to stick with the backup if he's clearly more effective than the starter that day. Even then, I don't like the idea very much. The problem is that it creates too much doubt among everyone regarding who the best QB is. You're creating a controversy when you should probably be looking for consistency.

And in many cases, one of two things happen:

  1. The backup comes in and plays poorly, causing everyone to wonder, "Why in the world was he on the field to begin with?" (See Georgia in a couple of big games in 2002)
  2. The backup comes in and plays very well — better than the starter — but DOESN'T stay on the field. This puts the starter in a very tough and uncomfortable situation. (See Kyle McCann in 2001.) This is why I think a coach needs to stick with the hot hand if he's going to play both people.

Whatever Coach McCarney decides to do, and whoever is ISU's starting quarterback this season, it will be very interesting to see how it all unfolds.

Two years ago, McCarney was looking to replace Sage Rosenfels. Suddenly, the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year was taking the snaps. Could the same type of story play out in 2003? Don't count on it.

I'm just hoping that someone emerges from the UNI game on August 30 and Iowa State has a guy it can stick with for the majority of the season. I think that would be the best-case scenario for the coaching staff, the team and the fans.

(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. His columns for CN online are published each Tuesday and Friday. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)

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