To get this out of the way quickly, I believe Jeff Tuel will be the starting quarterback when the season begins. Whether it's announced today, tomorrow, next week or never, the odds significantly favor Tuel. That's not to discount Connor Halliday, it's just that all signs are pointing to Tuel earning the nod.
But because Mike Leach likes to be coy about his quarterback, the talk will persist. Halliday is a quarterback that's easy to be enamored with, and the flashes of potential he showed last season were positive signs. But after sitting out almost the entire spring, and missing valuable reps, he was starting in a hole.
Which brings me to context. This is important when evaluating Tuel, Halliday and any other position battle on the roster. There's context clues in everything, and it needs to be added to the discussion. Because there are only so many reps to go around, especially at the quarterback spot.
Jeff Tuel ran the first-team offense exclusively on Saturday during the team's scrimmage. Connor Halliday was with the second-team. You can probably see where this is going.
For many, the scrimmage was the first time to see the Cougars this fall. Things have changed since the spring, new players have been added to the roster, and after about a week of camp everyone has settled in.
Tuel and Halliday both performed well. Which performed better is pretty much a push from a numbers standpoint -- Tuel was 14-of-19 for 183 yards, four touchdowns and an interception while Halliday was 12-of-20 for 223 yards and three touchdowns, including a 70-yard score. Halliday may have a bit of an edge but, again, there's context.
The plan going into the scrimmage was to have the first-team offense face the first-team defense, and the second-team offense face the second-team defense. So Tuel, running the first-team, saw the defense's best while Halliday, with an offense of rotational skill players and backups, saw its not-quite-best.
And saying not quite is probably putting it mildly. We've written quite a bit about the depth problems on the defensive side of the ball. The first-team has the potential to be solid, but there's a pretty significant drop-off between the first- and second-team. Add in a few injuries and that second-team isn't looking so hot right now.
Consider that the secondary is already thin and that Halliday faced a group consisting of mostly backups. The problems with the defensive backs have been well-documented, and the second-team is filled with the guys who weren't able to beat the starters out for a job last year. It would've been absolutely shocking if Halliday didn't carve the defense up.
So yes, Connor Halliday lit up the defense and triggered some big plays. And yes, he still has a ton of potential, a big arm and the ability to make plays from the pocket. But try not to read too much into Saturday's scrimmage and Halliday's performance. And, again, it's worth noting that Tuel exclusively ran the ones, which says a lot.
Because what ends up happening is this fun game of pining for the backup quarterback -- the man who always seems to be the most popular person on campus. If the roles were reversed, the same thing would be happening with Tuel. But they're not, and Tuel is still easily the front-runner for the job.
Let the quarterback battle -- though I'm not even sure it's much of a battle at this point -- play out. Evaluate it on a whole, more so than off of one performance. Probably as soon as this week, it'll be pretty clear who the starting quarterback is. And all signs still point to Tuel, even after Halliday's solid Saturday.