Hawkins or Hansen?

It`s a question that has yet to be answered by the Colorado football coaching staff, but one we assume will be resolved by this time next week.

It`s hard to imagine CU`s coaches going into the week before the season opener without naming either Tyler Hansen or Cody Hawkins as the starting quarterback. But then, that might be just the type of gamesmanship that would add a little more flavor to the Sept. 6 season opener against Colorado State.

After all, CSU coach Steve Fairchild recently threatened to make his choice a game-day decision. As of Monday, Fairchild still hadn`t chosen between Grant Stucker and Jon Eastman. If Fairchild continues to wait, maybe CU coach Dan Hawkins will engage in a game of QB chicken, with each head coach daring the other to wait until the last minute.

That would no doubt make for a great game-day atmosphere. Five minutes before kickoff, and 54,000-plus fans waiting to see who trots onto the field for both teams.

But, common sense and conventional wisdom lean toward having a starter in place when teams begin to install game plans. We`re guessing the Buffs won`t take a conventional wisdom detour in this instance.

The general consensus has been that the younger Hawkins emerged from spring ball with an edge, and had held the edge through the early part of fall camp. Butword filtering out of Dal Ward after the Buffs` last scrimmage -- closed to the public and media -- is that Hansen might have closed the gap.

Now, some folks are saying, the race is again too close to call.

So what`s a coaching staff to do?

There are a variety of ways to approach the situation.

The safest solution is to name Hawkins the starter and keep Hansen on the ready as the backup. If Hawkins can shed the problems that caused a sophomore slump a year ago, and make the jump in improvement that lots of players make between their second and third years, it`s not a bad solution.

Still, I`d hate to see Hansen languishing on the bench for an entire season, particularly since he burned a redshirt year last season for five games down the stretch. Burn another year of his eligibility for just a few plays here and there, and you might have an unhappy QB on your hands.

Another school of thought says you name Hawkins the starter, but have a specially designed set of series for Hansen and use at least a semblance of a rotation. No matter what happens when Hawkins is in the game -- three touchdowns or three three-and-outs -- you bring Hansen in to keep the defense on its toes.

Such a system would keep both quarterbacks engaged and perhaps give the offense an element of diversity it otherwise wouldn`t have. It would no doubt create at least some problems for opposing defensive coordinators.

Of course, such a system also hinders continuity, as well as the development of either quarterback, in games and in practice. Various programs over the years have experimented with rotating quarterbacks with various degrees of success. In the end a set starter who gets the majority of the reps is generally seen as the best solution.

Then there`s the line of thought that says Hansen, who is a better runner, has the bigger upside. He poses bigger problems for defenses, and with some substantial playing time, that potential could blossom into production. That line of thinking says if the two are close right now, the Buffs should lean toward Hansen with an eye on the long-term future -- not only this year, but years to come. Get Hansen his experience now and you have your starter for the next three seasons.

In that same vein, there`s the thinking that of the two, Hawkins is the perfect backup. If Hansen starts and struggles, you have the ideal solution -- a solid veteran who has command of the offense and who won`t blow up under pressure.

Clearly, there`s no perfect solution. Neither has performed well enough in scrimmages and practices to separate himself from the other -- at least, that`s the official line from the coaches.

But make me the head coach for a day, and here`s what I`d do (after taking the pay cut):

Name Hansen the starter. If they are indeed both equal right now, give the nod to the kid who can use his feet and keep defenses honest. Give the nod to the kid who has the greater long-term potential. Let him take his lumps -- and meanwhile, make sure you can run the ball. Line up Darrell Scott, Rodney Stewart, Brian Lockridge and Demetrius Sumler behind those hogs up front and play a little smashmouth.

In other words, win the old-fashioned way. Get Hansen some confidence, get some complete games under his belt and see where he takes you.

Then, if you do have to turn to a backup, you have the best of both worlds.