Texas, Notre Dame refuse to reveal QB starter prior to Sunday's opener

Quarterback Confusion

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

There is no cure.

Not yet, anyway. The symptoms, though, are obvious. Indecisiveness. Forgetfulness. Severe bouts of insincerity.

Multiple Quarterback Syndrome is ravaging college football, one high-ranking coach at a time.

This condition, known in medical circles as MQS, sprouted up in Austin, Texas, on Monday morning. On the Big 12 coaches teleconference, Texas head coach Charlie Strong said, “I have not decided on a starting quarterback for the Notre Dame game.”

At his local press conference a little more than an hour later, Texas’ embattled third-year head coach course-corrected.

“I know who we’re going to start but Sunday we’ll see who runs out there,” Strong said.

MQS, a condition that renders coaches unable or unwilling to publicly announce a starting quarterback, is contagious. It has to be. How else could one explain Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s comments in Ann Arbor later the same day?

"I'll say who our starting quarterback is before Saturday," said Harbaugh, according to the Detroit Free Press. Harbaugh, who was once a Michigan quarterback in his own right, will choose either Wilton Speight, John O'Korn or Shane Morris to start the Wolverines’ season opener against Hawaii.

He later clarified: "I didn't say I was going to say it to you before Saturday."

Local media also reported a nasty rash of MQS in Tucson, Ariz., on Monday, where either Anu Solomon or Brandon Dawkins will start Arizona’s season opener against BYU.

“I’m not worried about (the quarterback situation),” head coach Rich Rodriguez said, according to the Arizona Republic. “Everybody else seems to be worried about it.”

Rodriguez added: “Only one can take the snap going out. Stay tuned for Saturday night — you’ll find out who that is.”

Notre Dame fans will have to wait even longer. When the Irish open their 2016 season at Texas on Sunday night, both senior Malik Zaire and junior DeShone Kizer will play.

But which will start?

Seventh-year Irish head coach Brian Kelly answered the question without ever answering the question.

“Haven't figured that out yet,” Kelly said on Tuesday afternoon. “I mean, they're both doing the same things that we've been asking them to do, and that may be something that we discuss in the locker room. It's not really an issue for us right now. It's not something that we've contemplated.”

On the flip side, Kelly and Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder have certainly contemplated how to slow down Texas’ new-look up-tempo offense, introduced to Austin by first-year offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert.

But who will be trusted to execute that offense: erratic senior Tyrone Swoopes or freshman ascender Shane Buechele?

“Buechele has done well. He’s competed well,” Strong said. “You have a good quarterback battle going there with him and Swoopes. The thing about Buechele, he’s always willing to learn. He’s always around the ball. He’s always around in the classroom and doing the things he needs to do. The strongest thing with him is that he’s what I call a gym rat: someone who just loves ball and loves competing.”

A 6-foot-1, 191-pound freshman from Arlington, Texas, Buechele — the son of former major league baseball player Steve Buechele — enrolled early last winter and immediately began to challenge for the starting job.

But, like Notre Dame, Strong confirmed on Monday that two Texas quarterbacks will play in the season opener to varying degrees.

“You're going to have a starter, but the reason why both are going to play is because they deserve to play because of the work they put in,” Strong said. “But there's going to be a starting quarterback. Now the next one, whoever plays, you package it where he may go in in the third series of the game or the fourth series of the game, but you're going to play both of them because of the work that they've put in.”

If that ends up being Swoopes, Notre Dame will meet the same quarterback who completed just 7 of 22 passes for 93 yards in the Longhorns’ 38-3 defeat in South Bend last season. The 6-4, 249-pound senior is 6-8 in 14 career starts at Texas and completed just 50.5 percent of his passes with four touchdowns in 11 games last season. Swoopes and Jerrod Heard, who has since moved to wide receiver, combined to pass for a measly 145.9 yards per game in 2015, which ranked 118th nationally.

But is that albeit underwhelming experience still better than trotting out a true freshman to blossom or bust on a national stage?

“You've got to have someone who can win the team over and the players feel comfortable with that player, and then it's got to be someone who can just manage your offense and execute the offense,” Strong explained. “We've been practicing, we've been seeing who can do that, so that's what the decision is going to come down to.”

Kelly, for one, said that Notre Dame’s defensive game plan will not drastically change regardless of who Texas’ quarterback ends up being.

With that being said, he empathizes with Strong’s dilemma.

“It's just that Swoopes is such an athletic kid,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I mean, it's hard for him not to get your attention in his physicality and his arm strength. So I can see where they are.

“(Buechele) is such a young kid. I see his potential and his growth to one day be the starter there. But with Swoopes, I know where they are. I mean, you've got an athletic kid that can do a lot of things, and you've got an emerging player in Buechele.”

You’ve got four quarterbacks, and zero announced starters. Repetitive questions and predictable non-answers.

Thus far, MQS lacks a cure, and there have already been plenty of casualties.

“The fans, they’ll be fine,” Strong assured the Austin media on Monday. “You need to know so you can write it, huh?

“I’ll say this: both of those guys are competing. It’s been a great match up. The team’s going to know who the starting quarterback is.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and Texas coach Charlie Strong have both declined to publicly name a starting quarterback prior to Sunday's season opener. (Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP)