Miami coach Mark Richt has a phrase that he drills into his quarterbacks' heads on a daily basis: "Don't turn a bad play into a catastrophe."
It is a motto for every quarterback to follow, but it is especially true for the signal-callers at Miami and Clemson this season. Both teams recently completed quarterback competitions that looked similar: One player with game experience seemed to have the edge, while all the headlines pointed toward a highly touted ESPN 300 true freshman brimming with potential as a wild card.
In the end, Richt and his counterpart Dabo Swinney tabbed the player with game experience as the starter: Malik Rosier at Miami and Kelly Bryant at Clemson. Those moves came as expected, and it is easy to understand why.
Both teams enter the season with major expectations: No. 5 Clemson wants to get back into the College Football Playoff; No. 18 Miami wants to make a run to its first ACC championship game (and maybe even the playoff as well). Both teams have elite defenses ready to lead the charge not only to start the season, but throughout the year.
So on offense, the request is simple: Don't turn a bad play into a catastrophe. Rosier and Bryant do not need to be saviors. They do not need to shoulder the responsibility alone to help their respective teams win games. They need not be game managers, either. They just need to make the plays that are there to be made, use the excellent skill players around them, limit their mistakes and rely on their defenses to set the tone.
Laid out that way, it makes sense for Richt and Swinney to put the quarterbacks with game experience in that situation, especially to start the season. That is not to say that N'Kosi Perry at Miami and Hunter Johnson at Clemson will be riding the bench all year. Though they are each listed No. 3 on the depth chart, both are expected to get into games to get valuable experience. That philosophy also makes sense, especially since Perry and Johnson showed exceptional raw talent when they took their turns under center in scrimmages and practices.
At Miami especially, talk about Perry overshadowed just about everything else in the quarterback competition. While Swinney remained adamant that Bryant led the Clemson competition from the outset, Richt wanted to give Perry every opportunity to win the starting job in Miami during fall practice. Maybe Perry will at some point this season. Same goes for Johnson. But it seems obvious there is no need to jeopardize a season with quarterbacks who could very well be the future but are not there right now.
So the coaching and the work in the film room go forward, for all the quarterbacks but especially the two charged with leading their respective teams. During a quiet moment in the spring, Rosier reflected on his big challenge: better decision-making to avoid big mistakes.
"When in doubt don't try to force anything, don't try to be a hero -- Coach Richt tells me that all the time," Rosier said. "Sometimes, I'm bad about it. There was one play I scrambled and I could have thrown it away, but I tried to pick up 2, 3 yards on a run and wound up getting hit. He was like, 'Just throw it away, don't take that extra hit.' So that's one thing for me. He's saying, 'OK, it's a bad play. Throw it away, play the next down."
Swinney had similar thoughts when talking about how he evaluates his quarterbacks a few weeks ago: "Did you make the right decision? That's really what I'm evaluating. And then make the plays that are there. Just a consistent performer. They all can do the job. But consistently, who's making the fewest mistakes? Because mistakes will get you beat."
Rosier and Bryant have heard that message continuously for the last seven months. Now it is their turn to prove they can win games not only with their abilities, but also with their decision-making. If they cannot, there are freshmen waiting. And the future could be here sooner than expected.