LAWRENCE — For the third time in four years, Kansas football’s starting quarterback for its season opener won’t be public knowledge until kickoff.
And if Les Miles’ latest remarks on the situation are any indication, fans shouldn't necessarily count out whichever player ends up on the losing end of the all-too-familiar battle.
The Jayhawks released their first depth chart of the season Monday, with both Carter Stanley and Thomas MacVittie listed among the “OR” options ahead of the 11 a.m. Saturday contest against Indiana State at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Stanley, a 6-foot-2, 198-pound senior, has seen significant action at the position in each of the last three seasons, while MacVittie, a 6-5, 225-pound junior, was a prized offseason acquisition, transferring in from Mesa (Ariz.) Community College.
Speaking during the Big 12 coaches teleconference, Miles joked the team is “going to wait ’til after” they’ve played Saturday’s game to retroactively name a starting quarterback. Comments made later in the call left the door open for a timeshare at the position, at least in the opener.
“Yeah, I would imagine that two could conceivably play,” said Miles, responding to an inquiry on if he foresees a situation where both MacVittie and Stanley could see action in Game 1. “We’re contemplating that as we go through game week.”
Miles indicated the outcome of the competition isn’t yet known internally, saying the race is going to continue “through the back end of the week."
“Obviously we’re going to know exactly who’s going to start, but it’s going to be late,” Miles said. “And it’s good news, because both quarterbacks are talented and we’re looking for the best.”
A down-to-the-wire quarterback competition is nothing new for KU.
Dating back to the 2010, the first year of the post-Todd Reesing era, the program has seven times waited until Aug. 19 or later to declare a starting quarterback, including this year’s decision (or lack thereof). Under Miles’ predecessor David Beaty, KU never publicly identified a starting quarterback earlier than Aug. 21, with victors of the 2016 and ’17 competitions unknown until the team’s first offensive series of the season.
These decisions also haven't had a history of sticking. Only once since 2010 has a KU quarterback gone wire-to-wire, starting every game in a single season (Jordan Webb, 2011). Of the eight campaigns where KU switched its starting quarterback, five of those benchings came before the season even reached its midway point. The most glaring example of that indecision came in 2010, when Turner Gill benched starting quarterback Kale Pick for Webb midway through a season-opening defeat to North Dakota State, a decision that carried through to the next week.
Facing another FCS-level opponent Saturday, Miles acknowledged positives and negatives to a two-quarterback approach. Among the positives, he cited deploying two “different skillsets.”
“You put a guy on the field that can throw it and run it; you put a guy on the field that can throw it and run it faster,” Miles said. “And there’s some things that you do with those guys that, you know, we haven’t done thus far. We’re lookin’ at that.”
Ideally, though, Miles stressed a program would always prefer to have a clear-cut starter. He acknowledged there are “absolutely” disadvantages to a two-quarterback attack.
“What you want to do is give every rep you can to the starter, right?” Miles said. “The good news is we’ve been in this rotation for some time and it’s allowed us to look at and verify over time who the best quarterback was, or is. You weigh the differences in giving somebody all the reps or really defining who the best quarterback is.”
Neither Stanley nor MacVittie were made available to the media Monday.
While Miles didn’t name a starter, his comment about one of the quarterbacks being faster than the other perhaps provided a window into the evaluation process. So of Stanley and MacVittie, Miles was asked, who is faster?
“I can’t tell you. I’d have to shoot you,” he joked.
Depth chart released
Besides quarterback, the season’s first depth chart revealed ongoing battles for starting roles at the following positions: center, right guard, right tackle, running back, fullback and placekicker.
The right side of the offensive line features experience but apparent uncertainty — seniors Kevin Feder or Clyde McCauley at right tackle; juniors Chris Hughes or Adagio Lopeti at right guard; and junior Api Mane or senior Andru Tovi at center.
Miles reiterated his faith in the group and its depth.
"I have to be honest with you: I think our line is going to get comfortable in that spot,” Miles said. “... I guess what I’m saying is, those guys are talented and they’re going to play a lot of football.”
Either junior Liam Jones or true freshman Jacob Borcila will kick field goals for the Jayhawks. While KU coaches have attempted to simulate pressure situations for the two to work through in practices, it “doesn’t compare” to what they will experience in games, Miles said. How they react in those situations will give the team more data points in its evaluation.
“It’s very close. I would think that in this season it’s likely that both could play,” Miles said. “Liam Jones has been hot as a firecracker, just knocking the tar out of the ball. I mean, we’re getting great specialists play.”
Senior running Khalil Herbert and junior Dom Williams are listed as options to start at running back, though sophomore and preseason All-Big 12 selection Pooka Williams is expected to assume that role following his one-game suspension. Senior Hudson Hall and sophomore Ben Miles round out the remaining undetermined position, vying for the starting fullback duty.
Players named starters Monday included left tackle Hakeem Adeniji; left guard Malik Clark; tight end Jack Luavasa; wide receivers Stephon Robinson, Daylon Charlot and Andrew Parchment; defensive ends Sam Burt and Darrius Moragne; defensive tackle Jelani Brown; linebackers Azur Kamara, Najee Stevens-McKenzie, Dru Prox and Kyron Johnson; safeties Bryce Torneden (“Hawk” position), Mike Lee and Jeremiah McCullough; cornerbacks Hasan Defense and Kyle Mayberry; punter Kyle Thompson; long snapper Logan Klusman; holder Donovan Gagen; punt returner Kwamie Lassiter; and kickoff returner Jamahl Horne.