Colorado quarterbacks Steven Montez and Sam Noyer haven't stopped competing all season, but for the first time all year, the spotlight is shining on that battle.
On Monday, the Buffaloes went back to work, looking not only to bounce back from a humbling 28-0 loss to Washington State, but aiming to find some consistency with the most important position on the field.
Montez, a redshirt sophomore, has started all eight games for the Buffs (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12), but may not start this week against California (4-4, 1-4) after struggling mightily against Washington State.
"Right now, you just have to prepare both of those guys to go out there and win a football game for you and really work with them and try to put them in a position, practice wise, as far as giving them looks and giving them the information they can use on Saturday to go help us move the ball," co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Brian Lindgren said.
Unhappy with the inconsistency at quarterback, head coach Mike MacIntyre announced after Saturday's loss that, for the first time this season, Montez's starting job is in jeopardy.
With the exception of Saturday, Montez has been solid this season. In fact, he ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency, completing 61.8 percent of his passes (144 of 233) for 1,712 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He hasn't thrown an interception in his last 108 passes (dating back to the Sept. 23 loss to Washington).
CU's passing game has sputtered, however, in part because of Montez's struggles with reading the defense and going through is progressions.
"There's some things where the first read is not there and he's getting out of the pocket a little bit early and he's not giving the routes a chance," Lindgren said. "Some of that is the protection sometimes; it's breaking down and sometimes it's tough to sit in there.
"Then, seeing coverage and seeing where he needs to go with the ball. We would like him to do that more consistently. I think he's improved as the year has gone on."
There hasn't been enough improvement, however, and on Saturday the wheels fell off. On a windy, rainy night in Pullman, Wash., Montez went 4-for-13 for 21 yards in the first half and misfired on his first seven passes. He was benched for the second half.
"His problem on Saturday, I just think he didn't handle the conditions real well," Lindgren said. "There was some throws that we had open and he just missed the throw, or the ones he did throw, we dropped."
With Montez unable to move the offense down the field, MacIntyre felt Noyer, a redshirt freshman, could make a difference.
"We needed to make a spark to try to do something," MacIntyre said. "I thought it was a good chance to give Sam (a chance) and see if he could give us any life."
Now, the Buffs are giving both quarterbacks a chance, and MacIntyre said he will make his decision on Saturday.
Noyer has practiced a bit with the first-team offense throughout the season, and Lindgren said the only difference this week is that those first-team reps will be more even between the two quarterbacks.
"Obviously I want to play," Noyer, who went 7-for-18 for 53 yards on Saturday, said after the game, "but, whatever my role is, I'm going to do my role. Whatever it is to help this team, I'm going to do that. I'm going to come back Monday and just compete and see what happens from there."
Montez said after the game that being benched won't hurt his confidence, and coaches are hoping it actually helps the sophomore to play better.
"I've been through the same situation as a quarterback," Lindgren said. "You can look at it two ways. You can feel sorry for yourself and kind of go in the tank, or you can respond and come out and compete and try to use as a way to make yourself better. I know Steven's personality and he did a good job with it today and I expect the same the rest of the week."
Whether it's Montez or Noyer taking snaps on Saturday, the Buffs hope to get more production from that position.
"All of our quarterbacks have to go to a different level," MacIntyre said. "Sometimes it's good to make a change and see what happens and see if that keeps you focused and keeps pushing."
It's not just the quarterbacks who need to improve, however. Lindgren said the coaches have to do more to help the players succeed.
"I think you're always pretty critical of yourself and as a staff, as far as your plan goes, 'What could we have done differently?,'" he said.
What the Buffs hope is different this week is the results. It'll be up to Montez, Noyer and the coaches to make sure that happens.
"Hopefully they'll both be prepared to play better this week so we can have an opportunity to win," MacIntyre said.