Round two of the mailbag brings another great question—and one that we’ll probably spend a few months talking about after the Fiesta Bowl.
Keith, do you see a “crisis” at the QB position next year? By crisis I mean the difficult decision faced by Coach Kelly as to which QB he names as the starter for 2016? Does Zaire, an injured starting QB lose his job to Kizer, his replacement, who led his team to 10 regular season wins? And, what about the 3rd string QB Winbush who saw very little game action this year. Some people subscribe to the theory that an injury should not cause the loss of your position upon return while others feel if the replacement player plays well, then he remains as the starter.
What say you?
I think this is probably the most fascinating question of the offseason, and in many ways more interesting than last year’s quarterback contest. Last spring, it was always a questions of whether or not Everett Golson was going to buy in to the program. That doesn’t exist with Malik Zaire or DeShone Kizer, two of the most high-character quarterbacks we’ve seen in recent years.
First, the elephant in the room: I don’t think anybody is transferring. It wouldn’t make sense. Zaire can’t afford to sit another year, and if he loses the job in 2016 he’ll have graduate transfer options by the bushel. Kizer should prepare and expect to be a starter. And Brandon Wimbush could just as easily use his redshirt in 2016, a move that could be really beneficial especially after earning reps in 2015 that helped teach a few lessons you just don’t learn in practice.
To your point about a player losing his job because of injury, I think that’s something fans and media members talk about, not necessarily something that exists in a competitive program and culture like the one Brian Kelly has built over the past six seasons. Competition in the ranks is critical. So is earning a job. Nobody is going to be given the starting job, they’re going to have to earn it. And there’s likely a very good reason that Zaire is out there taking seven-on-seven reps during bowl practices—he believes he’s going to win the starting job back and he wants to catch up for lost time.
I don’t think this should be looked at as a crisis. I think Kelly views it as a very good problem to have. The coaching staff and the players will learn something from last spring’s timeshare. The battle will also be treated differently because the quarterback position is more unified and both Zaire and Kizer are so well respected.
Who wins the job? I may be one of the few to think that it’s still Zaire’s to lose, a crazy statement considering the impressive debut season that Kizer just completed. But while the staff learned a ton about Kizer and his impressive ceiling, I think they still believe Malik has special abilities in this offense. Funny enough, I also think a time share with this duo would be really difficult to stop as well, especially if the staff wants to treat Zaire as a true option-read quarterback… who just so has the ability to throw the ball deep with great accuracy.
This will be a very good problem to have. It’ll also be a decision that likely won’t be made until August.