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Analysis: What happens now at QB for WVU?

MORGANTOWN. W.Va. -- Three months remain until the start of spring practice and more than seven until fall camp, but at least at this early juncture West Virginia's football team appears to have solved at least one of the problems that plagued it a year ago.

There could be adequate depth at quarterback.

Still far from being determined, however, is the more significant question, namely who will emerge as the frontrunner from what could be a five-man group.

This week's signing of junior college quarterback Skyler Howard brings to four the number of scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. That includes the three holdovers from last season - seniors-to-be Clint Trickett and Paul Millard and sophomore Ford Childress. And if Baltimore Dunbar high school quarterback William Crest goes through with his commitment and signs a letter of intent in early February, it will be a quintet.

And it will also be wide open.

The signing of Howard and the presumed arrival of Crest will certainly add to the intrigue of the quarterback competition that will begin in spring practice and might not fully develop until the fall. But to imagine that either - or both - of those newcomers will cure what ailed West Virginia at the position a year ago is to ignore what just played out over that time.

In large part, coach Dana Holgorsen blamed the failings of his offense - in truth, the first of his offenses ever to fail - to inexperience. That inexperience was prevalent at all of the skill positions, but especially at quarterback.

Now, though, he has three quarterbacks with starting experience, plus at least one and potentially two newcomers. Will he risk putting an inexperienced quarterback on the field for the second straight year or use one of the three holdovers while the new ones learn?

Both Howard and Crest, incidentally, would have redshirt years to use.

Holgorsen's thinking on the matter isn't known, but at least one of those holdovers thinks he has the edge no matter how crowded the competition. Trickett was considered the starter for the final eight games of the season (although he didn't play in one of those games because of a concussion) and as far as he's concerned the job is his to lose.

"I would say that, yeah,'' the Florida State transfer said just after West Virginia's 4-8 season came to a merciful end. "At least that's the way I'm going to approach it mentally.''

Critics of the three returnees will no doubt point to their failings in 2013 as evidence that none are the answer for 2014. All had completion percentages under 60 percent, threw exactly as many interceptions as touchdowns and none were over .500 as starters. Childress also missed most of the season injured, Trickett suffered two concussions and a shoulder injury and Holgorsen seemed to have little confidence in Millard, playing him almost exclusively when the other two were injured or otherwise not ready.

But how much of that was due to inexperience, both their own and the other offensive players around them? Holgorsen places great emphasis on his quarterbacks learning the system and playing within it, and heading into the spring those three will be worlds ahead of the newcomers on that front. In fact, he talked constantly late last season about how much good a full offseason would do for Trickett.

Howard will be enrolled and eligible to go through spring practice, so he will get a solid head start. But it was still less than a year ago that he was an unrecruited high school quarterback in Texas who enrolled at Stephen F. Austin before deciding to go the junior college route in California. He had a spectacular season, but likely in a far-less complex offense against junior college competition.

Crest could also be enrolled for the spring semester, but at last word was struggling to convince the Baltimore school system to allow him to do so. He's rated as a four-star recruit, but whether he arrives in the spring or the fall he will have a lot to learn.

There seems a prevailing theory that Holgorsen would not have brought in a junior college quarterback if he didn't think he had a chance to play. And that's probably true. But play when? After his experience with new quarterbacks last year - two of whom had actually been in the program but hadn't played much (Millard) or at all (Childress) - is he likely to roll the dice again?

Or given that he could redshirt both Howard and Crest and not lose any eligibility for them (Howard has three years remaining, Crest would have four) while they learn the system, might he put the job in the hands of one of the more-veteran QBs? The 2014 season is important for Holgorsen in a job-security sense, so he will no doubt play the quarterback he feels has the best chance of winning right away, not planning for a future that may not include him.

And perhaps in that context, the smart money should be on Trickett, Childress or Millard next year. Playing one of them to win right away and redshirting the newcomers to plan for the future could provide him the best of both worlds.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 


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