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Doug Robinson: College football: Cougars could get sacked by two-headed QB system

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 2 2015 10:47 p.m. MDT

Bronco Mendenhall says he and his BYU coaches and players are excited about the challenge of having a two-quarterback system this season. They're excited about the possibilities and about remaking the offense to accommodate it. They're just excited.

"Everyone is excited because they really like both quarterbacks," the coach told KSL's Voice of the Cougars, Greg Wrubell, earlier this week.

Right, and we're excited about having a giant case of the flu. It's a new challenge. If we're lucky, maybe we'll all get a good paper cut, too.

Is Bronco kidding? Donald Rumsfeld couldn't have sugarcoated it any better. If you don't speak doublespeak, here is the rough translation of what the coach was saying: Work with us here; we're still trying to make a decision.

"It's kind of invigorating having a different organizational challenge," Mendenhall continued. "Our offensive staff has a new challenge."

This is like hearing Capt. Smith of the Titanic say, "This is going to be fun trying to dodge icebergs in the North Atlantic in the middle of the night. Our navigators are enjoying the challenge of trying not to hit one."

Mendenhall continued: "How do we design a lot of what we've been doing that has been successful and keep that part, preserving the core yet stimulating progress for each quarterback in addition, and have the time to practice it all? Or reduce it enough to where you can practice enough? (BYU offensive coaches) like that challenge, and ultimately it will make us better."

Sheesh, if two quarterbacks are this fun, why not three? Or four? One per quarter? Is James Lark available? Move over, Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps.

Imagine BP executives saying, "We are very excited about the challenge of plugging the leak and cleaning up the mess we made. Things were just going too smoothly while we were making all that money."

We're supposed to believe that coaches are happy about a two-headed quarterback monster? About having to revamp the offense? About deciding when one player sits and the other plays and when to change again? About all the second-guessing that's sure to follow? About how to handle the quarterbacks' feelings and how to keep them happy? About how to prevent teammates from taking sides?

This is high on the list of football coaching commandments: Thou shalt not split time between two quarterbacks. It's like marriage: You can only pick one.

The dual-quarterback offense means coaches couldn't make a decision and now they're going to use games as an extended tryout. They almost always end up picking one quarterback over the other before the season ends. Meanwhile, it's divisive for fans and players, and offenses work about as well as a Ford Pinto. It's trouble.

Look at it this way: If dual quarterbacks are such a good idea, how come almost no team ever does it at any level — pro, college, high school, little league? No coach likes it. It's the kind of thing you'd wish on your archrivals.

Not that it has never worked. People win the lottery, too.

It's a mystery. On paper, it looks like alternating quarterbacks would work the same way rotating running backs and wide receivers works. But it has been tried and debated for decades, and nobody really understands it or succeeds with it. There are some intangibles about quarterback play that are difficult to quantify or explain — things like leader, confidence, momentum.

It's like having two captains on a ship, two commanders in chief, two offensive coordinators, two CEOs. It's just awkward and problematic.

But Florida won a national championship with two quarterbacks a few years ago, you say? There are some exceptions, but this wasn't the same thing. Tim Tebow took a few reps in place of Chris Leak each game to run the ball or throw a short pass and then he returned to the sideline. The team's quarterback clearly was Leak.

If you want to know how the dual-quarterback offense works, look at BYU's own history. Sean Covey and Ty Detmer didn't work. Jim McMahon and Marc Wilson shared the job in 1978. It got ugly. LaVell Edwards referred to it as his least enjoyable season as a head coach and said he wouldn't do it again. BYU's former All-American quarterbacks are going to gather for Saturday's season-opener against Washington; ask them how they feel about two quarterbacks.

Memo to Y. fans: Better get an early start on the quarterback controversy. It's going to happen, guaranteed. Fans and teammates will pick a side. By this time next week, the controversy will be off and running. Who do you like, the lefty, Riley Nelson, or the kid, Jake Heaps?

e-mail: drob@desnews.com

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