Does UCLA Football Really Have a Quarterback Dilemma?


UCLA beatwriter Joey Kaufman of the OC Register wrote an article this weekend comparing Jim Mora‘s quarterback decision to the one faced by Bob Toledo in 1999. Stop now, and click through to read it before continuing on – but do make sure to come back to finish this article afterwards.

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I quite like Kaufman’s work, and this is not meant to be a takedown of that article; on the contrary, I think Kaufman raises some interesting questions about UCLA Football that deserve to be examined at length.

My main objection is to comparing the 1999 quintet of Drew Bennett, JP Losman, Cory Paus, Ryan McCann, and Scott McEwan to the 2015 quartet-turned-triplet of Asiantii Woulard, Jerry Neuheisel, Mike Fafaul, and Josh Rosen. At first glance that older group looks like a bunch of evenly-matched, above average quarterbacks, where as the current trio are, (1) a career backup, (2) a walk-on, and, (3) the heavily recruited heir-apparent who’s assumed to be UCLA’s quarterback of the future.

MORE: Why Rosen is Perfect for This Offense

Sep 25, 2014; Tempe, AZ, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Jerry Neuheisel (11) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

But I had forgotten a lot about JP Losman: a local kid with a strong arm, ranked in the top three quarterback recruits in the nation, who enrolled early to get reps in spring practice and learn the offense. Sounds familiar. Head coach Bob Toledo even said, after Losman transferred to Tulane that summer, that ‘he probably would have been the starting quarterback that year.’

Obviously Rosen hasn’t transferred, so the comparison only goes so far. But – and this is where I think Kaufman hints at something interesting – Losman’s departure says something about the way the quarterback battle was handled in 1999 that might be applicable today.

Like Mora and the Mazzones, Noel and Taylor, Toledo and coordinator Al Borges divided the reps evenly in spring practice, partly to let a hierarchy emerge naturally and partly to make the eventual starter earn his spot. The logic is that making Losman/Rosen prove something builds their own confidence, strengthens their credibility with the team, and helps avoid a sense of entitlement in the highly touted recruit.

MORE: Quarterback Roster and Project Depth Chart

Except, in Losman’s case it seems to have mainly served to erode his confidence in his coaches. In other words, Toledo and Borges ultimately appeared weak and uncertain in handling their quarterbacks, and they appeared dishonest for having recruited Losman under the pretext of having him step in behind the great, departing Cade McNown.

A hypothetical young quarterback recruit with a bevy of offers from big programs isn’t likely to be excited about going around an endless carousel with backups and walk-ons.

Even short of something as drastic as a transfer, deferring the decision of who starts at QB has other negative side effects. It inhibits the eventual starter in developing a rhythm or rapport with the rest of the offense, who spend a combined month of off-season practices bouncing back and forth between quarterbacks. It also leaves the eventual starter relatively unprepared, having spent a significant portion of his off-season practice time either playing with the second stringers or working on solo drills away from the team drills.

MORE: A Contrary Take from Mike WR and Jake Merrifield

Lastly, it sends a concerning signal to future quarterback recruits. Every top program emphasizes competition for all positions all the time. We heard ad nauseum about how well this worked for USC under Pete Carroll. But a hypothetical young quarterback recruit with a bevy of offers from big programs isn’t likely to be excited about going around an endless-seeming carousel with backups and walk-ons.

My colleague Michael Hanna has detailed in two installments the difficulty that the current staff has already had in bringing on quarterback talent:

Mora and company don’t need to make this even more difficult by how they handle the QBs they’ve already got.

Ultimately, I think (hope?) there are enough differences between 1999 and 2015 that Kaufman’s comparison remains little more than a curiosity. But whether the staff really don’t know who is going to start, or they want Rosen to feel like he’s earned the gig, or it’s all just deception to keep the vaunted Virginia Cavaliers guessing before Sept. 5, there are potential downsides to this strategy of drawing out the QB competition.

Who knows? Maybe I’m just getting cranky in these dog days of the off-season, wishing I had a single, salvific figure on whom to pin all my hopes and dreams for the 2015 season and beyond, someone in the mold of a Cade McNown,

Ben Olson

, or Brett Hundley.

Next: Projecting the DB Depth Chart

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