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Why I hate two-quarterback arrangements

Over the last couple of weeks, I've made no secret of my disdain for two quarterback systems. They smack of indecisiveness, and rarely are effective.

So, I was less than thrilled when Paul Wulff came out this weekend and said that Kevin Lopina and Marshall Lobbestael would share the duties against Stanford on Saturday, with Lopina getting the start and Lobbestael making an appearance somewhere around the fourth or fifth series.

History is littered with literally dozens of examples of failed two quarterback approaches. Occasionally it can work -- Florida riding Chris Leak and Tim Tebow to a national championship in 2006 is the most recent and high-profile example, and our friends at Dawg Sports came up with a few other examples (including Steve Spurrier at Florida rotating QBs play by play, Mark Richt winning an SEC championship rotating D.J. Shockley and David Greene, and a couple of others).

But that sort of arrangement, where both players are supremely talented (ideally with completely unique skillsets) is so rare that I think people who try to make comparisons with Lopina and Lobbestael -- neither of whom even remotely approach the talent level of any of those guys mentioned -- are fooling themselves.

Looking for evidence, I threw out an e-mail to my fellow college football bloggers at SBN, asking for examples of two quarterback systems that failed miserably. A sampling of the responses:

  • "Exhibit 1: I present to you the 2008 Auburn Tigers ..." - Track Em Tigers
  • "Tennessee's experience, archived so that We Never Forget." - Rocky Top Talk
  • "Penn State used two quarterbacks through much of the 2003 and 2004 seasons. And they were two of the worst years of the Joe Paterno era. So, yeah." - Black Shoe Diaries
  • "The ultimate dual-QB approach failure: the 2008 South Carolina-Florida game." - Garnet and Black Attack
  • "Really, any and all 2008 South Carolina and Auburn games work well. It's a tragedy that those two never met on the field. It could have put Auburn-Mississippi State to shame. 'And here we are in the 18th overtime, the score still tied, 2-2.' " - Team Speed Kills
  • "I present to you Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman.  And....scene." - The Seventh Floor
  • "Utah did it once, in the 2006 opener against UCLA. It blew up in their faces and you never saw the two-quarterback system again here. ... It was an embarrassing performance that I've blocked from my memory." - Block U
  • "Our ex-coach (Sylvester Croom) tried to go with a 2-QB system at least once, maybe twice, and both times were a disaster. It didn't help that neither QB was very good, but the offense just could not get a consistent rhythm going from one QB to another." - For Whom The Cowbell Tolls
  • "One of the more glaring examples that I can remember was at Ohio State in the late '90s under John Cooper. They had two talented quarterbacks in Joe Germaine and Stanley Jackson, and they rotated them throughout the season, as they went undefeated for a good part of the year. Then came a tight game, and they needed to put in a QB for the final, possibly game-winning drive, and the move failed, and they lost the game. ...

    "That is my biggest issue with two-quarterback systems; there will come a time when you need your QB to lead a two-minute drill down the field to win the game, and who are you going to choose to do it? If you have two different types of players at QB, and one is a better passer while the other is a better runner, you may be able to rotate effectively. If they are both of equal talent, you're screwed." - I Am The 12th Man

What I ended up with were a handful of examples where it was moderately successful to use multiple quarterbacks, but many more where it was an absolute disaster -- when a two-quarterback system fails, it fails spectacularly. And since the Cougs don't possess guys like Tebow and Leak, I'm leaning towards the Cougars' two-quarterback falling on the "spectacular failure" end of the spectrum. Instead of concentrating on maximizing one guy's chance to be as successful as he can possibly be in this game through tailored game planning and a steady stream of reps in practice, you end up increasing the odds that neither can be as effective as he otherwise would have been with a full week's worth of work and game's compliment of snaps.

What's bugging me the most about this is that it seems to go against what the coaching staff has been saying all along about how this would play out. Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said the starting quarterback "needs to be a leader all the time," and that he "has to make plays."If someone can explain to me how a part-time quarterback can be a full-time leader, or how shuffling guys in and out of the game and letting them get cold on the sidelines for series at a time allows them to get into the rhythm they need to make plays, I'm all ears.

I do understand the argument that this simply buys Wulff and Co. more time to evaluate these two guys against legit Pac-10 competition, whether because they truly don't know which guy will be effective in game situations against players who are presumably better than our own defense against which they've been practicing, or because they really want Lobbestael to grab this thing in the end. And that is a fair point.

But even that irritates me to no end, because it suggests that winning isn't the most important thing. Not once during this thing has Wulff said that both quarterbacks playing gives the Cougs the best chance to beat the Cardinal; he's only said that both guys have earned the right to have a shot. While beating the Cardinal is going to be a long shot no matter who's under center, given the debacle that was last season, it sure would be nice to watch a team sell out to win any games it possibly can. If this is little more than an evaluation, that again sends the message that winning isn't the most important thing.

That is a very difficult pill to swallow.

I'll be willing to admit that it might seem like it's in the team's best interest long term to further evaluate the two players to make sure they pick the right guy and then stick with him. However, I would argue that rarely does it play out that way. Usually, both guys play sufficiently well (or poorly) enough to make a decision that much harder.

Here's how I see this thing playing out: Neither guy will play well enough to separate himself from the other this week in a loss, leading to another week of shared quarterback duty because, well, both guys played well enough to earn another shot. Both of them will play well against Hawaii , leading to another week of shared quarterback duty. Both guys will play well against SMU, leading to ... what? Another week of shared duty against USC? Do you see where I'm going with this?

Look, I'm not here to say these guys don't deserve an opportunity. Clearly, both are good guys who have put in the work, and since Wulff clearly wants to encourage that kind of behavior, I understand his desire to reward it.

But this isn't Pop Warner football where everyone gets to feel good about themselves. At some point, a coach has to crap or get off the pot, so to speak, and this arrangement only delays the inevitable: If it's a hard decision now, it's going to be hard in a week. Or in a month. And as you prepare to face the teeth of the schedule -- with USC, Oregon and Cal in three of the next four games -- neither guy has developed as much as he would have had he taken most of the reps with the first team in practice and every offensive snap for the first three games. That much is indisputable.

If you're in favor of this arrangement, I will grant you this: If Wulff settles on a full-time quarterback after this game -- and sticks with that decision against both Hawaii and SMU -- I'll be as happy as I possibly can be, under the circumstances.

But history says that won't be the case. History shows that not only is this likely to have an adverse effect short term, but long term as well.

And that's why I hate two-quarterback systems.