Call it a quarterback competition, call it a quarterback controversy — call it whatever you want, really.
The only certainty about who will line up under center for USF on Saturday against South Carolina State is this: It’ll either be Blake Barnett or Jordan McCloud.
“We’re giving them both the same amount of reps,” offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell said. “I’ll tell you what, they both accepted the challenge. They’re both playing really well in practice. Jordan’s really pushing Blake, and Blake’s really picked up his game this week in practice.”
But no decision had been made as of Wednesday morning, according to Bell. He expected coach Charlie Strong to possibly make a final decision by Thursday.
Given the nature of game-week preparations, naming a starter Thursday would make sense.
“Really, our two work days are Tuesday and Wednesday,” Strong said Monday. “So when you get into Thursday, Thursday we’re just reviewing the plays. We’re going back through it — our guys know exactly what they have to get done. So it’s going to be done fairly quickly.”
It’s hard to argue against the idea that the freshman has played better through the first two games of the season. McCloud has completed almost 90 percent of his passes, while Barnett is at an even 50 percent with two interceptions.
But McCloud’s opportunities have been different than Barnett’s. He came in during the fourth quarter of an already-blowout game against Wisconsin in Week 1 and during the third quarter of last week’s game against Georgia Tech.
While the scoreline was closer during McCloud’s appearance against Georgia Tech, his offensive line protection seemed much better than when Barnett was in the game.
Ultimately, McCloud hasn’t even attempted 20 percent of the number of passes Barnett has, given the limited playing time he’s seen thus far.
That hasn’t stopped fans on social media from demanding McCloud start over Barnett, though. With frustrations reaching their tipping point during an eight-game losing streak that dates back to last October, the demand for change is in the air.
For his part, Strong seemed to not fear the opportunity for change, especially since McCloud has made the most of his limited playing time.
“Jordan has not played as much as Blake has played, but the opportunities he’s been given, he’s taken full advantage of it and has done a really good job,” Strong said. “So we can’t be afraid to make that change.”
This isn’t the first time Strong is facing the decision on whether to make a change. During Strong’s time at Louisville, he made a pretty notable quarterback change, albeit under different circumstances.
After starting the 2011 season as the backup to senior Will Stein, freshman Teddy Bridgewater became the Cardinals’ starting quarterback by the fourth game. In similar fashion to McCloud, Bridgewater came into an early-season game against Kentucky — albeit in place of an injured Stein — and threw for two touchdowns in the win, playing well enough for fans to demand a change there.
“I’m not afraid to make that change,” Strong said. “I know I had a similar situation when I was at Louisville with Teddy … so he came into the Kentucky game and played well for us, we ended up beating them.
“That’s why you have practice and we get a chance to look at them. I know we see the game situation where everybody has their own thoughts, but we’re going to put the right guy out there.”
Who that guy is obviously remains to be seen — even how much playing time he gets remains a fair question. Given the fact both Barnett and McCloud have taken equal reps in practice this week, and the Bulls are playing an FCS team, it wouldn’t be unprecedented for the two to see equal playing time before making a more permanent decision by the conference opener Sept. 28.
But from what both Strong and Bell have said this week, it sounds like they want the quarterback that starts Saturday to be the one going forward.
“We’ve been looking at it, we’ve been keeping stats, all the stats that we can keep to try to make sure that we go with the right guy,” Bell said.
That guy will be either Barnett or McCloud. That’s the only guarantee at this point.