Five teams across the Big 12 opened preseason camp without knowing who would start at quarterback in their season opener.
None opened camp with as much at stake or as much talent as Texas Tech -- who are hosting the conference's premier quarterback battle between a pair of seniors with expired redshirt years, Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield. The two split time and starts because of inconsistency and injury a year ago, but competition that carried over to 2010 will be over just after a week from Saturday when coach Tommy Tuberville selects his starter and benches the other.
"That still gives us two weeks before the first game, and I want somebody for at least 7 or 8 practices. I want them to get all the reps with the first team. He knows he's the starter, the pressure's kind of off, and now he's got to get himself ready to play," Tuberville said. "The main thing is to let the entire team know who the quarterback is going to be."
Tuberville's repeatedly stressed he won't be pulling his quarterback like his predecessor Mike Leach did often last season, further raising the stakes for the preseason competition. But between now and his decision are two scrimmages on the next two Saturdays, which might as well be game days for both quarterbacks.
"You really kind of prepare for it like it’s a game and have a firm, strong mindset coming in, and you have to be focused," said Potts, who began last season as the starter. "We understand everything, it’s just a matter of being focused."
Tuberville and offensive coordinator Neal Brown are grading the quarterbacks on everything, from their on-field performance to presence in the film and meeting rooms, even grading their performances at Big 12 media days outside Dallas last month.
"The No. 1 thing is that it’s 50-50 and they made it clear and they followed through with it. There’s been no biases anywhere on the field or in the film room or especially with the reps. They've kept it consistent and been fair with it to see what both of us have got," Sheffield said.
One factor the quarterbacks haven't had to deal with is learning a different system. Brown is keeping a variation of Leach's Air Raid system with two key differences for passers: a faster tempo and freedom to tuck the ball and run if the opportunity presents itself.
"I can't lie, it definitely helps me," Sheffield said. "It's nothing but a plus in my corner, but at the same time, I can't rely on that, tucking the ball and running it when I don't need to."
Though he's far less mobile than his competition, Potts made some noise entering camp, winning the "Air It Out" skills competition at the Manning quarterback camp over quarterbacks like Texas A&M's Jerrod Johnson, Alabama's Greg McElroy, Boise State's Kellen Moore and Houston's Case Keenum.
But no moving targets on top of golf carts will be on the field for Texas Tech's first scrimmage on Saturday. It's back to real, live football where Tuberville can grade his quarterbacks on the quality he finds most important.
"You can’t tell who can make good decisions until then," Tuberville said. "They know there's going to be a lot of pressure on them this Saturday."