Jim McElwain entertained the notion of playing both Will Grier and Treon Harris at quarterback in games this fall in comments to media after a practice on Tuesday, setting a wave of fear coursing through some Florida fans who remember painfully extended quarterback competitions.
Fortunately for those fans — and maybe for the Gators — McElwain's history as the man in charge of offenses suggests that his teams pick one quarterback and ride or die with the decision. Update: Florida will play both Grier and Harris in its season opener.
McElwain has been a college football offensive coordinator or head coach every season since 2007, when he was Pat Hill's offensive coordinator at Fresno State. And in those eight years, McElwain's starting quarterbacks have been given the overwhelming majority of the burn at the position.
And I do mean overwhelming.
Quarterback Usage Under Jim McElwain
|Year||School||Starter's Line||Other QBs' Line|
|2007||Fresno State||13 starts, 211-for-337, 2,654 yards, 15 TDs, 5 INTs||Zero starts, 4-for-5, 58 yarsd|
|2008||Alabama||14 starts, 187-for-323, 2,273 yards, 10 TDs, 8 INTs||Zero starts, 8-for-11, 123 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT|
|2009||Alabama||14 starts, 198-for-325, 2,508 yards, 17 TDs, 4 INTs||Zero starts, 13-for-18, 116 yards|
|2010||Alabama||13 starts, 222-for-313, 2.987 yards, 20 TDs, 5 INTs||Zero starts, 30-for-48, 389 yards, 3 TDs|
|2011||Alabama||14 starts, 219-for-328, 2,634 yards, 16 TDs, 5 INTs||Zero starts, 18-for-28, 163 yards, 2 INTs|
|2012||Colorado State||5 starts, 78-for-138, 946 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INTs||7 starts, 127-for-211, 1,574 yards, 10 TDs, 11 INTs|
|2013||Colorado State||14 starts, 297-for-478, 3,696 yards, 23 TDs, 11 INTs||None|
|2014||Colorado State||13 starts, 270-for-420, 4,006 yards, 32 TDs, 7 INTs||Zero starts, 15-for-25, 136 yards, 1 TD|
McElwain's starting QBs — the ones he was rolling with coming out of fall camp — have combined to make 100 of the possible 107 starts for his teams (93.5 percent), and have thrown 2,662 of the 3,008 passes (88.5 percent) his QBs have thrown. I didn't count passes thrown by non-quarterbacks in the Other QBs' Lines, which is part of how the 2013 line comes back with no stats for quarterbacks other than Garrett Grayson, but that covers just 12 passes over eight years, three of them by punters.
Clearly, McElwain leans on his starters. But even that 2012 blip wasn't really McElwain going away from his strategy: Grayson, who threw every pass for the Rams over the first four games of the year, broke his clavicle early on against Air Force in the fifth game after leading the Rams to a 1-3 record in the first four games, including a win against Colorado and two losses to ranked teams. He missed three games, then returned for a game against Wyoming just over a month later, but was ineffective, completing just three of nine passes, in relief of Conner Smith — who was, himself, inserted in place of M.J. McPeek, Grayson's original backup, after McPeek went 0-3 as a starter.
The loss to Wyoming dropped Colorado State to 2-7, and, without a bowl to play for, Grayson wouldn't play again in 2012, going back on the shelf as Smith and McPeek shared duties (with Smith throwing 64 of the 73 passes over CSU's last three games) down the stretch. (The Rams won two of those three games.)
Removing that year from the sample, McElwain's starting QBs have made all 95 available starts, and tossed an incredible 2,524 of the 2,659 passes (94.9 percent) thrown by QBs on those other seven teams.
McElwain hasn't played two quarterbacks for meaningful reps in a season opener since 2011, when AJ McCarron started and threw a slight majority of the passes for Alabama against Kent State, with Phillip Sims entering that game in the first quarter after three possessions helmed by McCarron.
Neither player was all that impressive on the day, with both throwing two interceptions, but McCarron led the Crimson Tide on four of their first five scoring drives, and would be named Alabama's starter before its next game against Penn State. Sims threw 14 passes against the Golden Flashes, but would throw just 14 more for the rest of the year, with none of them coming after October.
Prior to 2011, McElwain's starting QBs at Fresno State and Alabama had all thrown every meaningful pass in their season openers. Tom Brandstater threw all but two passes for the Bulldogs in a win over FCS Sacramento State in 2007, John Parker Wilson threw every pass against Clemson in 2008, Greg McElroy threw every pass against Virginia Tech in 2009, and McElroy started and played until the outcome of Alabama's 2010 opener against San Jose State was decided, with McCarron getting significant time in mop-up duty thanks in part to a 31-3 halftime lead.
And at Colorado State, with ultimate control of the process, McElwain was decisive: Grayson threw every pass for the Rams in each of their three season openers with McElwain at the helm, though those games coming against bitter rival Colorado may have helped color his thinking.
McElwain's dependence on a single starter — and the corresponding ability to keep one upright and healthy — would be new for Florida, which has dealt with significant flux at quarterback since the departure of Tim Tebow (who made all 41 starts for the Gators from 2007 to 2009, and threw all but 88 passes by QBs in that span).
Florida hasn't had a starting QB make every start since. John Brantley made 12 of 13 starts in 2010, but failed to throw every pass for Florida over each of its last six games, largely due to lingering injuries; Brantley made 11 of 13 starts in 2011, with an injury sustained against Alabama leading to Jacoby Brissett spelling him for starts at LSU and Auburn; Jeff Driskel made 11 of 13 in 2012 — though Driskel technically started at wide receiver in Florida's opener, and served as the Gators' quarterback for the first quarter and second half of that game — and missed a game due to injury; and no Florida quarterback has made more than six starts in either of the last two seasons, with four players making at least three.
So the stability at QB that McElwain's c.v. promises might be a positive change for Florida — and it certainly stands in contrast to any idle talk of McElwain allowing a quarterback competition to linger deep into the fall.