Provo • BYU opens against Arizona for the fourth time since 2006 on Sept. 1 in Tucson, which means the Cougars probably have a starting quarterback competition on their hands.
In 2006, John Beck was the clearcut starter entering preseason training camp before a 16-13 loss at Arizona Stadium. But the next two times the Cougars and Wildcats opened against each other, the Cougars went into camp not knowing who their starter would be.
That’s the case again this year.
The good news for BYU fans is that the Cougars won the 2007 and 2016 games, as Max Hall guided them to a 20-7 win at LaVell Edwards Stadium and Taysom Hill led an 18-16 win at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., two years ago.
Hall beat out Snow College transfer Cade Cooper in 2007 after freshman Jacob Bower transferred to Bakersfield Community College. Hill beat out then-sophomore Tanner Mangum, who the previous year had filled in admirably as a freshman for the oft-injured senior.
First-year coach Kalani Sitake made the announcement on Aug. 23, 10 days before the opener, saying “the best guy won and a great player was second place.”
Indications from Sitake and some of the five new offensive coaches he brought in last winter are that it won’t take nearly as long to decide in 2018, despite the quarterback derby having four candidates: Mangum, junior Beau Hoge, sophomore Joe Critchlow and freshman Zach Wilson.
The Cougars open preseason training camp on Thursday.
“It is an important decision to make, and I think it is something we need to get on quickly, as soon as practices start,” Sitake said.
Assistant Head Coach Ed Lamb solidified that sentiment last week, telling an alumni gathering in Cedar City “in our building, we need to know who the guy is about Day Two or Three,” according to a story in The Spectrum & Daily News. Lamb also said Hoge, a junior, might be moved to another position.
The Cougars are clearly trying to keep new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes’ offense under wraps, but there is less of a priority to keep Arizona guessing on the starting quarterback.
“I don’t think anything is ever a surprise any more,” Sitake said. “I think things get out. But I am not worried about gamesmanship and how to strategically place our depth chart. When we know [the media] will know.”
As for a timetable to name the starter, Sitake deferred to Grimes and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick.
“We’ve got a good plan,” Roderick said. “We are going to just pick up where we left off at the end of spring camp. The nice thing now is Tanner will be able to do everything. … So I think we can whittle it down to two fairly quickly, and then hopefully know who our starter is a couple weeks into camp.”
Roderick said he is “usually pretty methodical” in such matters, but even more so now due to the killer September schedule that also includes California, Wisconsin and Washington.
“I would like to identify a starter as soon as we can and get him the reps,” Roderick said. “We definitely need to make sure we are thorough about it, because we want to be playing in midseason form when we take the field against Arizona. We don’t get any warmup games here. That first game is everything, and that’s all we are thinking about, so our plan with the QBs will be thorough. We have to find our guy that can beat Arizona.”
Grimes said he wants to make the first cut after a week or so and have a starter midway through camp, if possible. He said that before he took the job, he asked people he trusted inside and outside the program who knew the four candidates. They assured him that “you’ve got at least a couple of guys there that you can win with,” he said. “And I trusted them. What I feel even better about now is what I have seen from them during spring ball, and the way I have seen Aaron coach them.
“And I have absolute confidence now that we will have a guy, if not two or three, that we can win with,” he concluded.
BYU’S STARTING QB CANDIDATES
• Tanner Mangum, senior, has thrown for 5,158 yards and 34 touchdowns in his career at BYU
• Beau Hoge, junior, has thrown for 394 yards in two starts, but is rumored to be considering a position switch
• Joe Critchlow, sophomore, went 2-1 as a starter in 2017, but completed just 54 percent of his passes
• Zach Wilson, freshman, graduated early from Corner Canyon High and participated in spring camp