Colorado football coaches expect to trim their quarterback competition from three men to two some time in the next week, but they might not name a starter until after the first or second week of the season.
Someone has to start the season opener Sept. 1 against Colorado State and the following week at home against Sacramento State, but that person might not be officially recognized as having won the job.
Assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer said it's not ideal, but he wouldn't be averse to playing two quarterbacks in the first two games if it's necessary to decide who the starter should be for the rest of the year. He would prefer one of the three players competing for the position steps up and claims the job in practices this month, but decades of experience in the game has taught him it doesn't always work out that way.
"We don't treat it like preseason, but to let it play itself out a week or so into the season, we may have to do that," Scherer said. "The one thing I think we don't want to do is say, 'We're going to have a starter by this date.' Because you may not make the right decision or the best decision."
Third-year sophomores Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood along with junior Jordan Webb are all taking equal reps with the first team during the first week of practice. All three have things working in their favor and working against them.
Hirschman knows the offense best having been in the program the longest, but he's coming off three foot surgeries in the past year and missed spring ball. Wood entered camp ahead of the other two because he had all the spring reps to himself with Hirschman injured and Webb not on the roster at that time. Webb, who transferred from Kansas this summer after earning his degree there, has 19 games of experience on his résumé. The other two have played sparingly or not at all.
However, Webb's experience has made a big impression on coaches early in camp.
"It's easier to make up 15 days of spring practice than it is 19 starts," Scherer said. "That's the conversation he and I had when we first started talking to him. So he brings a kind of experience, you can see it here on the practice field with the way he handles himself. When all hell breaks loose, he kind of steps up, adjusts in the pocket, stays real calm. Everything is going crazy around him and he's been there, done that."
Scherer said adding Webb and his experience has made it a little easier to sleep at night versus going into the season with virtually no game experience at the quarterback position. That doesn't mean Webb is the favorite to win the job. He has to earn it. Scherer noted that regardless of who the starter is, the man will have little to no experience in the CU offense in a game.
Hirschman is the only other quarterback on the roster who has played in a college game. He saw limited playing time last season as a backup, but that playing time told him how important experience is.
"I played a decent amount of snaps for being a backup, which was so beneficial for me," Hirschman said. "When you're out here at practice, things move a lot slower and you're able to find people a lot easier. You get out there against an Oregon or an Arizona State, the game moves a lot quicker and it's not as easy to see things. You've got to catch up."
So how will coaches ultimately choose a starter? Scherer said it's no different this year than it was a year ago when Tyler Hansen beat out Hirschman. Hansen moved the team more consistently, made solid decisions with the football and showed leadership on and off the field.
"No. 1, it's productivity," Scherer said. "Sometimes the ugliest guy can take the team down the field consistently and cross the end zone. As I tell them in evaluation, I have a list of things that I evaluate them on and the bottom line is, who takes the offense and scores points? That's the bottom line. Now, who is the best decision-maker and once we get it down to a couple, who emerges as a leader? Who has that leadership component?"