Mack Brown knows quarterback duels

The message came fast, hard and often.

"These two guys are your quarterbacks. That is the way it is going to be. You need to accept it. There is not going to be any discussion about it."

Mack Brown didn't want any of the 100-plus players gathered in the locker room questioning his starting quarterback decision. And he didn't want his North Carolina team to wonder who the two leaders were on offense -- Chris Keldorf and Oscar Davenport.

These were the guys before the Texas quarterback quartet of 2011, before Colt McCoy and Jevan Snead, before Chance Mock and Vince Young, before Chris Simms and Major Applewhite. This was 1997, and Keldorf and Davenport were the two quarterbacks involved in Brown's first high-profile quarterback debate.

"It worked out pretty well," Keldorf said. "We went 11-1."

Coming off a 5-7 season that included Texas QB Garrett Gilbert throwing 17 interceptions with just 10 touchdowns, 11-1 would be a very welcome surprise.

To wit, there has been much consternation about whether Gilbert, Case McCoy, Connor Wood or David Ash will be the Longhorns' starting quarterback. No one outside of The 40 Acres knows, at this juncture, just how it might play out.

What is known is that having four quarterbacks is an untenable situation. But having two, if handled correctly, just might work.

"Of the eight conference titles I've won, four of them have used two quarterbacks, so it's not that big a deal," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.

Brown himself used Keldorf and Davenport to beat everyone but Florida State in 1997. At Texas, Brown's most even-handed use of two quarterbacks came in 2000, with Simms and Applewhite. They combined for 26 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 3,228 passing yards, a 55 percent completion rate and a 9-3 record.

On the flip side is the 2003 Holiday Bowl, during which Texas coaches couldn't figure out when to play Mock or Young. That game remains an example of why the Texas faithful are justifiably skeptical.

Right now that skepticism may have ebbed as offensive coordinators Applewhite and Bryan Harsin appear to want only one quarterback when Texas faces Rice on Sept. 3.

While Applewhite left some wiggle room, saying that playing one or two hadn't been discussed, Harsin did say that the use of a second quarterback would only be situational.

Brown and his staff are counting on one of the quarterbacks separating himself and making the decision easier for the staff. Even if that's the case, with the race being so close, the coaches know that options are waiting on the sideline.

So, Texas is back again at the possibility of playing two quarterbacks.

"I never understood what the big deal was," former Baylor coach Grant Teaff said."I had the two top quarterbacks in Texas one year -- Cody Carlson and Tom Muecke. People thought one was a better runner and one was a better passer. They didn't know. We played them both when we thought we needed them. We did what we thought was the best for the team."

Baylor was 9-3 that year.

Again, 9-3 would be a decent season. But for Texas fans, or those of any perennial BCS contender? Not so much.

Texas is far from a BCS title contender, even Brown knows that.

"That's high. That is way up there," he said in reference to the No. 24 preseason ranking.

Texas is a team that is building and needs to investigate all the material available, provided the team can handle such tests.

"The one thing you have to have is a team that is mature," Keldorf said. "That was what really helped us. We had a bunch of guys who had a goal and we knew what that goal was. We were mature enough to handle any situation."

That's not to say individual goals did not come into play.

"There is the thought 'I gotta get more snaps. I gotta get on the field more,' " said Keldorf, who was in his senior year. "But you have to be mature enough to know what is best for the team."

That year, it seemed Brown knew exactly what he was doing in playing the two quarterbacks equally. Davenport had 183 pass attempts, Keldorf had 181.

"I don't know if it would work everywhere," Keldorf said. "But it worked there."

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas sports and recruiting for HornsNation.com.

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