Of the handful of quarterback competitions in the Big 12 this spring, none was more muddled than Iowa State's.
"There is by no means a two-man race that has surfaced," said Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads.
Austen Arnaud, a three-year starter, is gone, and Rhoads is left sorting out four candidates to replace him. He's not all talk when he says it's a four-man race, either. All four got time with the first-team offense throughout the spring and in Saturday's spring game in Ames.
Jerome Tiller, a junior, started three times and got various other spot duty when Arnaud was injured during his three-year run behind center. He looked like a possible front-runner for the job, but has been limited after suffering a shoulder injury early in spring camp.
"There was a fumble during practice and a guy landed on it. Half of spring ball he’s not been at full strength and that’s hurt his velocity, and when that happens, your accuracy is going to be affected," Rhoads said. "We have not gotten a fair assessment of where Jerome’s growth is at this point, which is why we’ll need to go into August."
That status as front-runner was challenged by Steele Jantz's arrival this spring, a speedy juco transfer from California who showed up to spring camp with a mohawk.
The transition from junior college to the Big 12 is still in its early stages, but Rhoads is hoping for big strides in the fall from Jantz.
"The game has not slowed down for him yet, but he's still very fast," Rhoads said. "He’s by far the fastest quarterback we put out there on the field. That has shown up and he has the ability to throw the soft ball, intermediate and the vertical ball. He just hasn’t done it on a consistent basis."
"James Capello and Jared Barnett have both thrown the ball in between the numbers of our receivers with a lot more consistency than the other two," Rhoads said. "They’re not as athletic, but that doesn’t mean they’re not effective in the run game. Both have made a number of big plays off zone reads and keeping the ball off designed runs."
Rhoads knows exactly what he wants from his quarterback. It's little more than a checklist of three big factors
The first? Decision-making in pressure situations.
"It’s easy to do it in the classroom and it’s easy to do it sometimes on the practice field, but when the 40-second clock is running and bullets are flying, he’s got to be able to make the right decisions on a consistent basis," Rhoads said.
He also wants accuracy and a quarterback who has the ability to make plays with his feet. For now, no one has proved themselves in all three areas.
Tiller's experience helped him in the first, but he's lacked Jantz's speed and the younger pair's accuracy, in part because of the shoulder injury. Jantz's transition has made decision-making a tougher task than a player like Tiller, who already has a win at Nebraska against one of college football's top defenses in 2009.
The less-athletic pair has had the advantage in accuracy, but with limited experience and athleticism, winning the job could prove difficult.
For now, the inevitable choice for Rhoads doesn't look easy.
"It’s a competition. A dead heat probably wouldn’t be an accurate way of explaining it, but we’ve got four guys that have all done good things," Rhoads said. "Time is on our side, so we’ve got to take advantage of that as we go into fall training camp and find out who that guy is for out September 3 opener."