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If even Urban Meyer can overthink his QB situation, so can your head coach

The country's two most accomplished coaches are struggling to come up with plans. How is YOUR new quarterback faring?

It's become a game within a game within a game. College coaches, never the type to broadcast personnel decisions far and wide, are getting more secretive, offering misleading depth charts or no depth charts at all.

The tactical shifts in college football are so minute, the opportunities for advantage so diverse, that being a coach can lead you deep into circular logic. "You know I know this, but I know that you know I know this, and you know that I know that you know I know this..."

Your decision-making can end up based on surprises or on keeping your opponent off your scent, on what is worst for the opponent rather than what is best for you. This paranoia can backfire.

Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Alabama's Nick Saban are the two most proven coaches in football. In a sport where winning one national title makes you part of an elite club and winning two makes you an all-time great, they have won seven of the last 12. They have thrived at seven different schools between them, and their versions of bad teams are still better than almost everybody else's good versions.

Both of these legendary coaches are in the middle of drastically overthinking.

After nine months of deliberating on how to handle his awkward quarterback depth issue (as in, he has too many good ones), Meyer appears to be grasping at straws and dealing with two confused, increasingly ineffective QBs.

Saban is evidently making starting QB decisions based on the "element of surprise." That led him to giving a redshirt freshman, Cooper Bateman, his first career start against the best defense on the Tide's schedule. It went OK for a little while ... and then went less well.


Ohio State's offense is struggling

If QB crises can strike these all-time coaches, it can strike yours, too. As I wrote team previews this summer, it was hard to ignore that basically only one potential elite (Michigan State) had minimal awkwardness at the position.

Going by my May projections, the Nos. 1 (Alabama), 3 (Georgia), 4 (Oregon), 5 (Auburn), 6 (Ole Miss), and 7 (UCLA) teams were breaking in new starters, while No. 2 (Ohio State) had a tough decision and No. 8 (LSU) and 10 (Oklahoma) had uncertain answers. While teams frequently end up doing fine with first-year starters -- Ohio State won the national title with two first-year starters last year, and both BCS Championship participants in 2013 (Florida State and Auburn) had rookies -- one had to assume landmines.

Outside of Ohio State and Alabama, how's it going for this group so far?


Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield overtook Trevor Knight for the starting job and has done exactly what Sooner fans were hoping: look spectacular against outmanned opponents (against Akron and Tulsa: 77 percent completion rate, 15.9 yards per completions, seven TDs, no picks, and a passer rating greater than 200) and make the key plays against a better opponent.

He struggled for much of the Tennessee game, but OU's defense (and Tennessee's offensive conservatism) kept the Sooners close, and Mayfield made all the plays Tennessee could not in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Sooners are 3-0 and get a bye week before hosting West Virginia, which might have the best pass defense remaining on the schedule.


Sophomore Brandon Harris overtook junior Anthony Jennings for the starting job, which was what every Tiger fan wanted to see. But the jury is very much still out.

With the season-opening tune-up game against McNeese State canceled because of weather, Harris had to jump right into games against Mississippi State and Auburn. That LSU won both said very little about Harris. He's completing 68 percent, but they're not going anywhere (6.9 yards per completion), and his passer rating is on the wrong side of 120. LSU's offense went into such a shell late against Mississippi State that the Tigers almost blew a 21-6 advantage in the fourth quarter.

He's doing a lovely job of keeping defenses honest on the ground, though. Leonard Fournette has been dominant, but Harris' keepers have also been effective: while taking just one sack, he's rushed 12 times for 119 yards. Even with Fournette, at some point he'll be asked to make a play with his arm, and we don't know that he'll be able to. But so far, so good.


Josh Rosen's upside was too high to ignore, and the true freshman won the starting job outright in fall camp. For as good as he looked against Virginia (28-for-35, 351 yards, three scores, no picks), however, you knew there would be growing pains.

They've shown up in abundance over the last two weeks; against UNLV and BYU, he's 33-for-65 for just 329 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. He threw three first-half picks against BYU, and the Bruins were lucky to survive the Cougars, 24-23, at home.

There will be more mistakes learning opportunities, but Saturday's win did remind us of one thing: his supporting cast is pretty awesome. UCLA leaned on the run late, and it paid off; Paul Perkins and Nate Starks combined to gain 300 yards in 33 carries. Plus, while Rosen was asked to throw only three passes in the fourth quarter, he completed all three for 33 yards and a touchdown.


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Ole Miss

Chad Kelly has been very good and, in Saturday's win, very lucky. That Hugh Freeze took so long to announce Kelly had won the job goes back to that paranoia-and-deception thing. All these coaches are thinking they're spy novelists and whatnot.



New starter Jeremy Johnson benefited from the "backup quarterback is always popular" corollary last year, producing massive stats in a small sample size. This year, like the rest of his team, Johnson has struggled. He misfired on two deep shots in the season opener against Louisville and has been cowed ever since. He's averaging just 11 yards per completion and has thrown six picks in 72 passes. A good interception rate is well under 3 percent; Johnson's is currently 8.3 percent.

That Johnson has struggled to find a connection with Duke Williams has only exacerbated the issues. The preseason Biletnikoff candidate has caught only seven passes for 81 yards. He caught seven for 121 against Alabama alone last year.

Auburn's issues go far beyond one position, but the quarterback most certainly hasn't helped.


EWU transfer Vernon Adams Jr. reported late to fall camp and still won the starting job over spring star Jeff Lockie. He threw for 309 yards against Michigan State despite a broken finger, but he misfired on a surefire game-winning pass late in the game and missed last week's contest against Georgia State. Lockie was fine against GSU, and Oregon scored 61 points. The Ducks are likely fine whether Adams misses more time.


Two weeks, two drastically different conclusions. I was incredibly high on the Dawgs heading into the season, which made me awfully scared when Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert not only beat out Brice Ramsey for the starting job but then looked mediocre against Vanderbilt (11-for-21, 116 yards).

A week later, Lambert completed 20 consecutive passes and finished 24-for-25 for 330 yards and three scores, a new NCAA percentage record. Call it a hunch, but he might not always be that good. But he'll probably be good enough.