Three weeks from now, the Colorado football team will be in game mode, preparing to face the UCLA Bruins in the season opener on Nov. 7.
At some point soon, they’ll have to decide which quarterback will start that game. Four practices into preseason camp, the Buffaloes have seemingly narrowed that competition to two: senior Sam Noyer and junior Tyler Lytle.
“We’ve put Sam and Tyler in a really good competition mode,” CU quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf said after Monday’s practice. “They’ve been splitting reps and alternating ones and twos every day and every period, so it’s a real even battle that way.”
Noyer and Lytle are looking to fill the shoes of Steven Montez, who graduated after starting all 36 games the past three years. The third scholarship quarterback – and the one that many fans have been eager to see – is true freshman Brendon Lewis.
“Brendon Lewis has been playing kind of the third guy, and getting some reps here and there,” Langsdorf said. “Not having spring ball didn’t help him. There’s a lot of work (that was missed) in those 15 practices. So he is really raw, but I’ve been pleased with how confident he is. … He hasn’t gotten as much work as you’d like to get for the third string guy yet because of how we’ve been dealing with one and two right now, but I like where he’s at and I think he’s going to be a good player.”
The coronavirus pandemic canceled spring football and has limited the Buffs’ offseason work. That’s put pressure on the staff to conduct the quarterback competition in a short amount of time, and that’s part of why they have focused the competition on Noyer and Lytle.
“One thing about trying to rep too many guys is we need to get a guy ready to play in a game,” Langsdorf said. “So, we’ve been really featuring Sam and Tyler that way, giving them a lot of good work. We’ll continue to do that for a while until we start to separate a little bit.”
Noyer and Lytle are both grateful for the opportunity.
Now in his fifth year with the program, Noyer has sat behind the two quarterbacks who rank 1-2 in career passing yards at CU: Montez and Sefo Liufau.
“In previous years, with Sefo and Steven, it hasn’t really been a true competition,” Noyer said. “Now that I just get that opportunity to … really compete for that starting job and I’m getting those one reps, that’s huge and that’s all I wanted from the start. I want an opportunity and now I’ve just got to take advantage of it.”
It’s an opportunity he didn’t expect to get. After playing safety last year, Noyer graduated and was ready to move on from CU. In fact, he had already moved back to his home in Oregon when Langsdorf and offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini convinced him to come back and compete for the job at quarterback.
“If you would have told me I would have come back here for this last season, I would have said you’re crazy,” Noyer said. “Now, like I said, it’s a perfect opportunity.”
Lytle has the same approach. He’s been a backup to Montez the past three years, but has fully embraced the opportunity in front of him.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve tried to be a leader by example,” Lytle said. “I think definitely this year I’m trying to be more vocal and trying to really lead the offense and get guys going. It’s the quarterback’s responsibility to make sure the energy at practice is right and that sort of thing.”
Langsdorf said Noyer, despite a season at safety, “hasn’t missed a beat” in his return to quarterback and said Lytle “has been really, really sharp,” while praising his knowledge of the game and his work ethic.
“He does a great job preparing and being ready to go each day, studying the script studying the playbook,” Langsdorf said of Lytle.
The challenge for Langsdorf, head coach Karl Dorrell and the staff is that none of the quarterbacks have started a game in college. Langsdorf said he will use practice statistics in evaluating the players, along with how they command the huddle, direct traffic, run the offense and produce in situational drills, but there will be no live game situations until Nov. 7.
“It’s hard to simulate game experience,” he said. “Even in scrimmages, they’re not getting hit, so I worry about that a little bit.”
Langsdorf said the Buffs hope to decide on a starter “as soon as possible.”
“I would like to have somebody separate quickly by outperforming the other guy,” he said. “As soon as that is showing up, I think we’ll make a decision, but right now with being only four days in, without a scrimmage, it’s a little tough to tell.
“It’s a close competition so we don’t want to rush it, but at the same time, we want to get going and get the guy that’s going to be the starter to have most of the reps and get ready to play the game.”