Anatomy of a Quarterback Controversy

Submitted by BiSB on April 10th, 2014 at 9:23 AM


In hindsight...

The college football offseason is a long, lonely time. Some fans are lucky to have a basketball, hockey, or baseball team worth watching in the meantime, but for those whose monogamous life partner is college football, the offseason is between eight and nine months long, and often seems even longer. So you can imagine what it’s like to be a college football writer. Sure, you’ve got National Signing Day and spring practice. And you’ve got the occasional Fulmer Cup issues and other assorted stuff. But that won’t sustain you. No, no. You need narratives. And nothing… and I mean NOTHING… chews up clock like chaos at the quarterback position.

So, in light of that, we’ve assembled a How-To manual for selling a quarterback controversy.


An Incumbent


Having two new guys doesn’t do it. Sure, you can milk a few “who will replace Johnny Graduate?” stories out of it, but that’s just a quarterback battle. We need a quarterback CONTROVERSY.

Notice that you don’t need a bad incumbent. I mean, if the incumbent sucks, that’s fine. But it isn’t a requirement, and in fact may not be enough. Instead, you need…

A Disappointing Season

We’ll call this the Football Leadership Ability Correlation/Causation Observation Effect (or the “FLACCO Effect” for short). Regardless of numbers, the eye test, or the relentless nagging nature of numbers and stuff, people will inevitably correlate team success with the righteousness and overall gooditude of the quarterback. Win a Super Bowl? Massive contract, because you are ELITE. Go 7-6 despite incomprehensibly huge numbers? Constant complaints.

Does the defense have something to do with it? Maybe the offensive line, or the receivers, or the schedule, or the coaching? Yeah, yeah. Excuses, excuses. Winners win, dammit, and winning quarterbacks win when they quarterback. You didn’t win. You aren’t a winning quarterback.

Take, for a completely random example, the University of Michigan. Michigan was 7-6 last year, and the offense struggled. Devin Gardner led the offense. It was therefore Devin Gardner’s fault.

An Intriguing Challenger

Notre Shane

This part isn’t terribly important, but it helps. And by “intriguing,” I don’t necessarily mean “good.” Again, if he’s good, cool. Go with it. But all you need is somebody plausible. In other words, you need a blank slate with a soupçon of positivity. You can have some data on the guy, but it better either be (a) good, or (b) scarce.

Do you have a former four- or five-star recruit lying around? Maybe he played a game or two and didn’t crash into a wall or vomit repeatedly? Cool. Go no further. You’re in.

Incumbent Apples

Check all that apply:

  • Did the Incumbent have a bad game at any point?
  • Did the Incumbent throw any interceptions at bad times?
  • Did the offense stall from time to time?
  • Were there moments where the Incumbent made mental errors or displayed anything that could be perceived as weakness or a lack of desire?
  • Did unrelated good things happen to other people?

Notice the lack of an “if yes, explain” box. There’s no need to go fleshing this out with context. Data points don’t need context. That’s how data points work.

Challenger Oranges

Check all that apply:

  • Has the Challenger ever looked good for any stretch of any game?
  • Has he thrown any touchdown passes?
  • Did the offense move the ball from time to time under the direction of the Challenger?
  • Has the Challenger ever demonstrated positive intangibles of any kind?
  • Does the Challenger have… uh… physical/demographic characteristics that seem more “quarterbacky” to some readers?
  • (Optional) Does the Challenger have any trait or skill that the Incumbent lacks, or has it in greater quantities than the incumbent?

Shane and Devin

It’s all about body language. Who looks more into the game, huh? HUH?

A Trigger

Quarterback controversies don’t just fall from the sky. They must be conjured by a powerful force. A wizard is preferable, but failing that, coachspeak will do just fine.

Question: To be clear, when Devin is healthy, obviously he will be at some point, Shane is going to get a chance, Devin is going to have a chance or is Devin going to go in as your starter?

Answer:  “I think that is an unknown.  Again, we were 7-6 and we’ve got a lot of young guys.  We’ve got a lot of competition.  Now does Devin have the most experience – yes.  There is no question.”

Did you miss it? Let’s try it again, but this time without that messy ‘rest of the answer’ crap.

Question: “…is Devin going to go in as your starter? “

Answer:  “I think that is an unknown.” 

See how easy that was? Heck, we can take it one step further, in headline form:

Brady Hoke: Quarterback position “is an unknown”

And we’re off to the races.

Putting it all Together

The rest is pretty simple. Rehash the disappointing season, introduce the new guy, compare the apples to the oranges, and throw in a quote or two to prove you didn’t make it up. Let’s see how this all works, and tell me if this sounds familiar.

After a disappointing 7-6 season, Michigan has a lot of questions to answer. One big question is whether Devin Gardner will be the starting quarterback next season.

Gardner started 12 games last year, but doubts linger as to whether he’s the best fit for the offense Brady Hoke wants to run. Gardner, who was recruited to run Rich Rodriguez’s spread option attack, struggled at times last year. He threw key interceptions in near-calamities against Akron and UConn, and the offense he led stalled in losses to Iowa and Nebraska. The Wolverines also lost, once again, to rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. Both arch-enemies up in BCS bowl games, while Michigan ended up in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Brady Hoke is under serious pressure, and he has to be looking for a change.

Enter Shane Morris.

Morris was a five-star recruit out of high school, and sat most of his freshman year behind Gardner. Morris started the BWW Bowl and showed flashes of the kind of arm strength and poise that make him a threat to take the reins for Big Blue. He threw for nearly 200 yards and completed over 63% of his passes (higher than Gardner’s 60.3% completion rate). If Hoke wants to return to the days of the big-armed pocket passers, Morris looks like his guy.

Hoke insists this is an open competition, saying instead that it’s “unknown” who will start.

Easy Button

Of course, I just made that whole thing up, and the only part that required me to do more than look at box scores and pull fun narrative storylines out of my ass was the last sentence. See also: here and here and here and okay stop clicking those links.

What If We’re Wrong?

Oh, that’s the best part. You can’t be wrong. You’re not claiming the new guy WILL start… you’re just saying the new guy MIGHT start. It’s 50-50. Heck, you can even give the incumbent a 60-40 edge. Repeat after me: “this battle will go right through fall camp and right up until the season opener (and maybe beyond), though if I had to make a prediction, I’d guess that Gardner starts.”

What’s even better is that almost nothing can refute your narrative, and just about every piece of news can confirm it in some way. Devin Gardner has a poor spring game? “See, the door is open.” Practice reports indicate Gardner is an unstoppable hell-beast? “The competition is bringing out the best in Gardner.”

If things get slow during the off-season, this particular well won’t go dry. You just need to add a fresh ‘source,’ such as “buzz from practice,” “sources inside the program,” or even “the word out of Schembechler these days.” You can also ask hilariously loaded questions, like asking the new guy “do you think you can be the starter?” (as if anyone is going to say, “nah, I’m not that good, so pray that this guy stays healthy ‘cause I’m basically a 7-loss season waiting to happen).

The Caveat


It was terrible that Hank left him in that safe house all alone. I wonder how long he stayed.

You may be starting to think to yourself “this is kinds sounding plausible.” And you might even start believing it yourself. And in doing so, you might be tempted to engage with people who think you are completely full of crap. DO NOT DO THIS. This “controversy” is an oblique attack. Stick and move. Don’t get tied up on the ropes. If you do, people will probably point out some of the following tidbits:

  • Devin Gardner is going to be a 5th year senior. He’s been on campus for 51 months. Shane Morris will be a true sophomore. He’s been on campus for 10 months.
  • Gardner has 17 starts as a Michigan quarterback (and another 8 at wide receiver). Morris has played approximately 5 quarters.
  • Devin Gardner completed 60.3% of his passes last year. He threw for 2960 yards (247 yards per game) at 8.6 YPA.  Those are pretty damn good numbers.
  • In Big Ten play, Gardner threw for 14 touchdowns and 3 picks.
  • And he put up those numbers despite (a) having absolutely no running game (and in some cases LESS than no running game), (2) having absolutely no pass protection, and (d) playing through a broken Devin and three cracked Gardners.
  • You probably can’t name the last time an incumbent starter who threw for 8.6+ YPA didn’t start the next year. I know I can’t, and I looked back to 2005 to try to find someone. Couldn’t.
  • In his most recent game under center, Gardner threw for 451 yards and accounted for five touchdown without a pick. He did so on foot so busted he was limited in practice three months later.
  • Shane Morris’s bowl performance was basically a series of bubble screens and those jet-sweep-in-front-of-the-QB things that somehow still count as passes.  His downfield throws were… an adventure.
  • Insider buzz has apparently confirmed what history and basic logic would indicate: it’s Gardner.
  • Incumbents always always always win these “battles.” In 2012, Andrew Maxwell completed 52% of his passes at 5.8 YPA. And he STILL started the opener (and likely would have continued to start if he hadn’t thrown for under 3.5 YPA).

Wow. I wouldn’t put that stuff into your articles. It kinda makes it sound like the earlier stuff was complete bullshit.



April 10th, 2014 at 12:58 PM ^

While I agree with you does that mean we're now on the verge of creating a "who's the best writer on mGoBlog" controversy?

Brian (the incumbent) V BiSB (the plucky challenger)

Seems like all the elements that BiSB outline in the piece are there.

EDIT : Beaten to the punch a few posts down.  Great minds thinking alike and all that.


April 10th, 2014 at 9:50 AM ^

I like Morris. I think there is a good possibility he will put up bigger numbers than Gardner during his two seasons (2015 & 2016). I believe he has a better arm but he's a gunslinger so the accuracy issue is always lingering.

I don't think there is any way he replaces Gardner this season. That only happens if Gardner strings together several interception laden games. Gardner had some issues early in 2013 but his conference play TD to INT was pretty good.

At least we have two QB that people feel positive about. I think that's good.

We need an OL.


April 10th, 2014 at 10:12 AM ^

After a disappointing article, MGoblog has a lot of questions to answer. One big question is whether Brian will frontpage the next BiSB.

BiSB started 12 articles last year, but doubts linger as to whether he’s the best fit for the website Brian wants to run. BiSB, who was recruited to run color commentary-ish analysis for Brian's anti-MANBALL attacks, struggled at times last year.  He threw key interviews in near-calamities that were Akron and UConn, and the stories he led stalled in losses to Iowa and Nebraska. The Wolverines also lost, once again, to rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. Both arch-enemies up in BCS bowl games, while Michigan ended up in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Brian is under serious pressure, and he has to be looking for a change.

Enter ReadYourGuard.

RYG was just a random Guy on the Internet, probably not out of high school, and sat most of his freshman year on his ass reading MGoBlog.  RYG posted in the latest BiSB thread and showed flashes of the kind of prejudice and poise that make him a threat to take the reins for MGoBlog.  He nearly published a diary and completed over 63% of his latest article (higher than BiSB's 60.3% completion rate). If Brian wants to return to the days of the big-mouthed bloggers, ReadYourGuard looks like his guy.

Brian insists this is an open competition, saying instead that it’s “unknown” who will start.

(TV anchor)

"BiSB"?  Sound more like "I B BS" to me! (nervous chuckle) Back to you, Frank.

(/TV anchor)


April 10th, 2014 at 9:55 AM ^

Stopped reading after "enter Shane Morris" and promptly tweated, emailed and FB'd all my friends a family that Morris was starting according to UM's official FB site. I think I've done my part.


April 10th, 2014 at 10:07 AM ^

I don't think there is a controversy. I think there is competition.  I think competition is healthy for everyone.  I don't see any benefits by naming your starter in April for game played on August 30, 2014.  Coachspeak would dictate saying that every position is in competition.  It was spring camp for God's sake.  At the end of the day the best QB will start and it is up to the coaches to make that determination so have faith.

Toby Flenderson

April 10th, 2014 at 10:06 AM ^

I cannot upvote this enough. What in the world has shane proven that he is the starting quarterback? Was it the sweet jet sweep to Gallon in the bowl game or the nice bubble screen to justice hayes? I hate to bring this up...but does anyone think that there is a race component to this "quarterback controversy"? I am not saying there is but I just find it funny how people want to blame the Black QB who lead the big ten in yardage and TDs but forgive the atrocious O-line.


April 10th, 2014 at 10:48 AM ^

And while I stand by it, I don't necessarily mean to suggest that if someone thinks or suggests Shane Morris should start it is just because they are racist.

That said, I have seen plenty of "Morris looks more like a traditional Michigan quarterback" stuff when both are tall, strong-armed downfield throwers who primarily operate out of the pocket. Often it's purely football-related analysis. Sometimes it's not. And the line is... subtle.


April 10th, 2014 at 11:29 AM ^

For my part, I do believe Morris looks more like a traditional Michigan quarterback, as in my 25+ years of watching Michigan football, Michigan quarterbacks don't traditionally look like they need to be MEDEVACed from a war zone, while Gardner increasingly did as the season progressed.


April 10th, 2014 at 12:26 PM ^

last year the picture of Gardner on crutches is about what I would expect. It would be appropriate for all the quaterbacks to practice using crutches so they can be effective when needed. You never know when the person above you on the depth chart is going to be carried off the field.


April 10th, 2014 at 12:20 PM ^

race card, but you really didn't mean to call people racists for holding a belief contrary to yours?

Let me ask you a question.  If a QB misplays a snap and scrambles around in the backfield, are they white or black?  Absurd question?  Maybe, but no more absurd than to imply two people can't hold different opinions except for the reason of race.


April 10th, 2014 at 1:23 PM ^

"Choose" is the key word there.  You choose to view the world that way.  That's generally not a great way to be accurate. 

People aren't likely, in 2014, to say, "I assume that a white guy is a better QB than a black guy."  People use code words instead.  And, of course, many people just like the back-up whomever he is. 

Toby Flenderson

April 10th, 2014 at 12:30 PM ^

hey strawman,

I never said that everyone who doesnt like devin is racist or that it is all the reasons why people want devin replaced. I said that I believe that race has a role in it. Can you say with a straight face that black QBs are critqued the same as whites? Race plays a factor in our everyday life and bringing up the issue is not "playing the race card"


April 10th, 2014 at 12:57 PM ^

the strawman, perhaps unintended, is yours.  I never addressed your post, I was addressing one of those that followed.  

Having said that, I put racists and those that play the race card in the same group labled "Bigot".  And yes, when you defend your position by implying others hold their opinion because of race, without any objective evidence, you are in fact playing the race card.


April 10th, 2014 at 1:13 PM ^

I am not implying that the only reason anyone wants to see Morris play is because Gardner is black. That would be a stupid interpretation.

What I AM saying is that, for a certain small portion of the participants in this debate, you see a LOT of the code words and phrases that accompany traditional quarterback racism.

Fine, I'll just say it. Some people's views on this are tinged by race.


April 10th, 2014 at 1:28 PM ^

Well great - that's just the sort of statement that might make me as a white guy wonder whether I am always as fair-minded as I aspire to me.  It also suggests that I, as a white guy, have possibly benefited from racism in some way.  In other words, you're making me think and hurting my ego?!  Shit... 

Toby Flenderson

April 10th, 2014 at 11:30 AM ^

Why are people so scared to talk about race? It does not make you racist but makes you socially aware that things such as race does play a part. Or are you one of those people who think we need to live in a colorblind society and not take notice of certain aspects that affects our everyday life

Gustavo Fring

April 10th, 2014 at 11:12 AM ^

I had a friend who changed her status to "Gardner never fails to disappoint" when he threw that pick on the 2-point conversion against OSU.

I was like "THAT'S your takeaway?  Not the fact that the defense couldn't stop a nosebleed?"

The dude was dead and nearly carried Michigan to an insane upset.  Devin Gardner was the main reason we even had a shot.  Yes he made a mistake at the end; but my god put nearly any other quarterback in the country out there and this is a blowout before halftime.  


April 10th, 2014 at 1:40 PM ^

Yeah, I kind of noticed the disconnect.  Same with Tate/Denard when it became clear that Forcier had not improved one iota in the offseason while Denard had clearly become the better option.  I don't think people make decisions purely on race; to ignore that there is a subset of the population that definitely allows that to frame their opinion in both directions, though, is also simplistic.  

I've been in those stands and heard alumni say things about players that are borderline offensive, and whether or not that comes from some deep-seated personal bias or simply a dogged reliance on tradition is open for debate.  But yeah, people crap all over Gardner and then say "but the offensive line was young" as if that only affected the running game.  Devin isn't the greatest QB in UM history, but he had a pretty good season given just how terrible parts of that offense were last year.


April 10th, 2014 at 10:07 AM ^

You ever read something and wonder if you had actually written it yourself and not known it?  You know, Tyler Durden-style?

....Oh, you haven't? Yeah, no, me niether.


April 10th, 2014 at 1:31 PM ^

If ever one wants to get depressed and consider survival strategies in a bunker somewhere deep in the woods ... read Zerohedge.

That said, the comments there are often quite funny.


April 10th, 2014 at 10:25 AM ^

I agree that the controversy is manufactured, but the line here is that experience makes a guy better, for sure. We know what Gardner is. He's very good. That does NOT mean he could not be challenged.

Monocle Smile

April 10th, 2014 at 10:34 AM ^

If Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater or Brett Hundley came back for another year, they could also be challenged. But people would lose their shit if there was any public "controversy" because it's rather preposterous to consider any of them losing their spot.

Not to say that Gardner is quite on the level of those guys (although his ceiling is in the area), but the only reason this topic merits any discussion is because journalists love clickbait and we have stupid people.


April 10th, 2014 at 10:38 AM ^

But the point is that it IS manufactured. In the words of the coachspeak, no position is ever guaranteed. If Ben Braden had outplayed Taylor Lewan last year, he would have started. But we didn't get the regular stream of "Hoke won't name Lewan starter at left tackle" stories last year, and we aren't getting the stream of "Middle Linebacker spot up for grabs" stories this year just because Hoke hasn't explicitly said "Jake Ryan will start at the MIKE."

There is no reason to believe, based on history, statistics, rumor, or anything else, that Shane Morris will seriously challenge Gardner. And there CERTAINLY isn't enough to write the stories that are being breathlessly written.


April 10th, 2014 at 10:28 AM ^

You told me to stop clicking those links, I should have listened. Here's the advice some genius gave Hoke:

"Hoke...You gotta stop going after the 1 and 2 star receivers(b/c you have no qb to get them the ball) and fill that Oline to allow the QB and back to do his thing..."

All this time, all we needed to do was recruit linemen instead of 2 star recievers.


April 10th, 2014 at 10:28 AM ^

"playing through a broken Devin and three cracked Gardners. . ."

Part of me gets pissed-off, though, that Gardner's numbers get so resolutely ignored. 


April 10th, 2014 at 10:46 AM ^

were the Borges appologists because they had to point to some reason why Borges and/or Hoke weren't at fault last year. 

If you aren't sure who I am talking about try reading the GBMW blog and the incoherent mutterings of Eroc and his lemmings. 

It is completely absurd to bench Devin at this point.


April 10th, 2014 at 12:07 PM ^

that the "bench Devin" idea is absurd, I think you're way off base with your claim of who holds that absurd idea.  My unscientific and completely anecdotal poll suggests that Borges apologists and Nussmeier worshipers hold that belief in roughly equal numbers.  What they have in common is the idea that the next QB in line (insert name) is really the best QB in line and every game they don't start is a lost opportunity.  These people are legion and infest every college and NFL football town/city.