Wyoming set to open practice; starting QB uknown

2014-08-03T00:00:00Z Wyoming set to open practice; starting QB uknownBy MIKE VOREL Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
August 03, 2014 12:00 am  • 

To predict the future, let's dissect the past.

The Wyoming football team's fall camp begins on Monday, and in 24 practices, first-year head coach Craig Bohl and offensive coordinator Brent Vigen hope to find the quarterback that will help continue the success they sustained for 11 years at North Dakota State.

Bohl has six contenders -- and zero proven starters -- battling for one prestigious, pressure-filled, success-dependent role.

The competitors are:

•Colby Kirkegaard: redshirt senior | 6-3 | 205

•Sam Stratton: senior | 5-11 | 190

•Tom Thornton: sophomore | 6-1 | 205

•Aaron Young: sophomore | 6-2 | 201

•Austin Fort: freshman | 6-4 | 218

•Nick Smith: freshman | 6-4 | 215

In all, Wyoming's six signal-callers have one start, 175 passing yards and zero career touchdowns to their name.

With so little to go on, how can we declare a favorite? In short, we can't. It's still anybody's race, and the quarterback that minimizes mistakes, leads his unit and effectively runs the team's hybrid pro-style offense will step into the huddle on Aug. 30 against Montana.

But by looking at Bohl's coaching tendencies in similar situations at North Dakota State, we can reach the following conclusions.

An upperclassman will likely start the season opener against Montana.

When dropped into a similar situation in Fargo, N.D., Bohl chose experience over youth time and again.

For proof, let's glance through the Bison's 2008 roster. Following the departure of longtime starter Steve Walker, Bohl and Vigen had four quarterbacks to choose from: junior Nick Mertens, junior Troy Jackson, redshirt freshman Arizona State transfer Andrew Fabry and freshman Jose Mohler.

Ultimately, Mertens -- the only player in the group with game experience at North Dakota State -- won the job.

In three other seasons -- 2004, 2009 and 2010 -- two quarterbacks received significant snaps and started games for the Bison. But each time, the player with the most game experience of the two started the season under center.

This tends to support the theory that, even if Thornton, Fort or Young are the most dynamic quarterbacks in fall camp, Bohl and Vigen may tab Kirkegaard or Stratton -- players with valuable (even if ineffective) Mountain West game experience -- to start on Aug. 30.

But does that mean Bohl will stick with that starter, even if he quickly falters?

Judging by history, not a chance.

If the starter struggles, Bohl will not hesitate to replace him in the middle of the season.

Bohl did this over, and over, and over again in Fargo.

In 2004, senior Tony Stauss -- who had started every game the year before -- struggled with turnovers in his eight starts, throwing for 1,323 yards with 11 touchdowns and 11 picks.

Rather than taking that experience to the grave, Bohl turned to a redshirt freshman -- Walker -- in the team's final three games. Walker rewarded the gamble, completing 78.3 percent of his passes and passing for 10 touchdowns with zero interceptions.

The Bison won each of their final three games, and Walker started every game the next three seasons.

Now, let's jump ahead to 2009. Again, a quarterback that had started every game the year before -- this time, Mertens -- struggled for North Dakota State. Instead of letting the senior close a dismal season, Bohl opted to start a redshirt freshman -- Mohler -- in the team's final four games.

Whereas Mertens had passed for nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in seven starts, Mohler threw six touchdowns and only two picks the rest of the way.

Again, the redshirt freshman outperformed the upperclassman.

The same song played on loop in 2010, as the most experienced quarterback on the roster -- Mohler -- began the season in the starting role.

But in time, another redshirt freshman would grab the reins. Brock Jensen started the final four games of the 2010 season, including three in the FCS playoffs.

And like Walker, the late success propelled him to three more years as a consistent, successful starter.

So, what's the lesson here?

Judging by recent history, Wyoming's coaching staff will choose a veteran -- likely Kirkegaard or Stratton -- to kick off a new era as the Cowboys' primary gunslinger.

But if the starter doesn't flourish, a young signal caller -- perhaps Thornton, Young, Fort or Smith -- could assume the role by season's end.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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