Get out your Ouija board. Grab a deck to cut for high card. Pull out a coin you can flip.
We’ve put it off long enough. The season opener is 13 days away, but we’re picking the starting quarterback for Texas today.
Of course, if Saturday’s worse-than-ragged scrimmage was any indication, the guy who’ll take the first snap against Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 9 would be . . . Beau Trahan.
You think I’m kidding. With only four practices at quarterback, the sophomore backup strong safety had the best day of all of them and led the No. 2 team to a score with a pinpoint, 15-yard strike to Sloan Thomas. Neither Chris Simms nor Major Applewhite looked good Saturday.
“Now we’ve got a three-way controversy, ” Coach Mack Brown said.
He was joking. I think. Seriously, choosing between Chris Simms and Major Applewhite is as clear as the nose on Simms’ face. Unless it’s Applewhite’s face, of course.
Please, Mack, don’t let it be both. Bet you can pick just one. This is football, not a potato chip commercial, except Texas quarterbacks are known to be as brittle. No Longhorns quarterback has started every game in a season since James Brown in 1996, and none has started and been the true No. 1 all year since Shea Morenz in 1993.
Mack has already let it be known he doesn’t want this to be a popularity contest. He scolded the media this week for a local television station’s fan poll, not mentioning any ABC affiliate by name.
That station, one could argue, was only doing its job. How it was going about it is subject to debate. But Brown should understand part of the reason he’s pulling down the big bucks is fan and media interest. Intense interest. This ain’t Carolina.
Mack said it’s not fair to these kids to subject them to polls, but it comes with the territory at a school this high-profile. That’s the reason these kids come to places like Texas — for the big stage. If the quarterbacks can’t handle a meaningless poll, how can they handle Nebraska’s blitz?
“We’ve got two starters, ” Brown said. “And one will walk out there before the other. And if that one’s struggling, the other will come in and try to give us a lift.”
Going the distance
The decision, which could come as late as game day, depends on the criteria. Mine would be which can take Texas the furthest.
If you’re playing for one year and one year only, my money’s on Major. Twenty-one starts have prepared him for it, and a 17-6 record ain’t shabby, especially since two weren’t his fault ( Texas Tech 1998 and North Carolina State ’99).
If you’re playing for a run at something big in 2001, you go with the one with the bigger upside, and that’s the stronger-armed, 6-foot-5-inch Simms.
If you want the guy who’s seen every defense, you take Major.
If you’re worried that your offensive line can’t block Richard Simmons, the more mobile Simms gets the nod.
If you go with the Big 12 offensive player of the year, it’s Major.
If you go with perhaps a national offensive player of the year in 2001, it’s Simms.
Easy choice, huh?
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis has been down this road before. His ’97 North Carolina offense started with All-Atlantic Coast Conference Chris Keldorf, switched to Oscar Davenport for the last eight games and ended up with Keldorf becoming the Gator Bowl MVP. In ’95 at Georgia, the Bulldogs ended up with wide receiver Hines Ward, the fourth-team quarterback, throwing for more than 400 yards in the Peach Bowl. Then Davis was fired along with head coach Ray Goff.
The three critical criteria Davis outlines for the starter are protecting the ball, producing explosive plays defined as passes of 16 yards or longer and runs of at least 13 yards, and improvising when a play breaks down. By those guidelines, the race was almost even Saturday. Both threw one interception, one long touchdown pass and took the offense to just one score, although Simms had three “explosive plays” to Applewhite’s one.
An added variable that could push the likable Simms to the forefront is his ability to rally a team. This is no Mr. Congeniality contest, but most close observers sense stronger teamwide feelings for him than Applewhite. Major doesn’t always hide his, ahem, confidence.
“The plan is to play two guys, ” Davis said. “Co-starters? Sure, we could do that.”
Mack, don’t make the same mistake that Grant Teaff did when he juggled Tom Muecke and Cody Carlson and got nowhere. It doesn’t work. Ask Steve Spurrier about last season. Two-quarterback systems do not work if you’re talking “something big.”
The upside argument
There wouldn’t be a better backup quarterback — or 1A quarterback — than Applewhite. With seven game-winning or game-clinching fourth-quarter drives, he has the poise and game experience to come off the bench and win. Simms doesn’t. See the 2000 Cotton Bowl.
Doesn’t it burn Major he has to re-win his job?
“If that ticked me off, I’m a lousy individual, ” Applewhite said. “It doesn’t bother me at all. I love competition.”
Certainly, Applewhite has done zero to lose his job, other than to get hurt, which was hardly his fault. His return has been nothing short of miraculous, which speaks to his character. The guy’s a winner.
Simms isn’t proven. He didn’t win in his only start, albeit on the road against that maroon team. And he couldn’t pull out a Cotton Bowl victory against Arkansas after Applewhite went down.
Some think Major can’t take Texas to the next level, but I disagree. I just think Simms can take it there, too. Maybe Major is as good as he’s going to get. With Simms, it’s an unknown. But he’s “the golden one.”
“I don’t know if I have to wow ’em or not, ” Simms said. “People have tried to label Major the underdog, which I don’t understand at all. He’s the Big 12 offensive player of the year. I ran the second-team offense, but I am confident in my abilities.”
In some respects, Mack can’t make a wrong decision. Either is capable of winning big.
It certainly wouldn’t hurt recruiting to have the big-name with the big daddy taking snaps. After all, he was the most visible backup quarterback in the nation last year when television cameras focused on him on the sidelines before the first quarter ended.
From all accounts, the two get along famously. Brown noted that Major high-fived Chris on Friday. When a reporter approached the pair standing beside Davis after Wednesday’s scrimmage, the two backed off with mock fear and Applewhite kidded, “He hates me, and I hate him.”
Simms later threw in for good measure, “I can beat him in basketball.”
For sure, it’s easy to kid around in August. But September’s coming fast.
Me, I’d start Simms. Call it a gut feeling.