Ryan Finley started at quarterback for N.C. State Thursday night against William & Mary in the season-opener.
N.C. State coach Dave Doeren did not make that decision official until the start of the game. He’s part of a trend among college football of coaches who have decided there is no value in publicly naming a starting quarterback.
Doeren’s in good company with Alabama’s Nick Saban and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, who are also noticeably silent on the quarterback front.
Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly and Texas’ Charlie Strong are engaged in their own game of depth-chart chicken, with neither tipping his hand at quarterback before they meet on Sunday.
What’s the deal with the subterfuge and public indecision?
“It doesn’t help us to tell you,” Doeren said earlier this week.
Fair enough. If there’s a competitive advantage to be gained, Doeren and every coach has the right to pursue it. But let’s not pretend Jimmye Laycock has won 238 games at William & Mary by accident.
If they’re interested in pulling off an upset on Thursday in Raleigh, Laycock and his staff have already dissected Finley’s starts with Boise State last season against Washington and Brigham Young.
If for no other reason than to scout Eli Drinkwitz, who called Boise State’s plays last year and will do so for the Wolfpack this year.
So why else?
Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN’s lead college football analyst, has a theory that’s likely closer to the truth than whatever infinitesimal competitive advantage can be gained by using “OR” on a depth chart.
Herbstreit was asked specifically about Notre Dame’s two-quarterback situation on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” on Wednesday morning. Like Doeren, Kelly has said he will use both of his quarterbacks, DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, in the opener.
Herbstreit said it was one thing to use quarterbacks who have different skill sets (Notre Dame’s do not) but it’s another to try split the job because you’re trying to keep everyone happy.
“At some point, you can’t worry about a guy’s feelings and threat of him transferring because that’s what quarterbacks do today when they don’t win a job,” Herbstreit said.
Again, specifically talking about Notre Dame and Texas, Herbstreit said “hot-shot quarterbacks” have a vision of being the first pick in the draft and at the first sign of trouble, “they’re gone.”
“They leave and that’s why these head coaches are so careful more so today than any other era that I can remember,” Herbstreit said.
For the team’s sake, you’ve got to make a decision and not look back. If the guy wants to transfer, so be it. Find another young guy to be the backup.
Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN’s lead college football analyst
In general, Herbstreit said, using two quarterbacks usually doesn’t work because it can lead to a split among the players in the locker room.
“For the team’s sake, you’ve got to make a decision and not look back,” Herbstreit said. “If the guy wants to transfer, so be it. Find another young guy to be the backup.”
Again, to be perfectly clear, Herbstreit was not specifically talking about N.C. State, and Doeren has not commented about this aspect of the quarterback competition. Doeren won’t be available to the media until after Thursday’s game, but you can understand if some of the reasoning were to apply to the Wolfpack’s situation.
Fine either way
Finley (6-foot-4, 200 pounds), a graduate, and Jalan McClendon (6-5, 212), a sophomore, are technically in the same class. The NCAA granted Finley, who missed all or parts of two seasons with injuries at Boise State, a sixth-year waiver. That means both players have three years of eligibility remaining, including this season.
If Doeren had named a starter before the start of practice, would one have already transferred? Maybe. As a graduate, Finley has the ability to transfer without sitting out a year.
And you can understand the motivation to be fair. McClendon was N.C. State’s presumptive starter before Finley got there. This is McClendon’s third season at N.C. State, and he bided his time as the backup the last two years.
A change in offensive coordinator (who is also the quarterback coach) changed the equation. Even in the spring, Doeren never named McClendon the starter, even after he started the spring game.
Finley, who has a working knowledge of Drinkwitz’s offense, arrived in the summer and was given a chance to win the job.
McClendon, for his part, said last week that he would be fine either way, starting or coming off the bench.
So what happens next?
Doeren said Tuesday that both quarterbacks would play against William & Mary and “preferably in the first quarter.” He said he would evaluate how each played at the half and then “go with it.”
Doeren also reiterated that it’s a long season and any decisions made for Thursday’s game are not set in stone.
“Whoever starts this game is not necessarily the starter for the 2016 season,” Doeren said. “I think that’s the thing you guys have to understand.
“We need both guys to develop.”
Doeren has done his best to publicly keep both quarterbacks happy. How the playing time and season unfold will determine if it stays that way.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio