This is all new for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
For as long as he’s been the head coach, Swinney has always known who his starting quarterback would be. First it was Kyle Parker. Then it was Tajh Boyd.
It’s the biggest question the program has as Clemson starts springs practices today.
“This is the first time for me in a long time here that we may or may not know who the starter is coming out of spring ball,” Swinney told ESPN.com. “I don’t know. My bet is that we won’t know, but you never know. It may separate quickly. But a lot of times it takes a little bit longer -- the summer, the camp, and sometimes even into your game, a competitive situation -- before you say this is the guy.”
For now, Cole Stoudt is “the guy.”
Swinney said Stoudt is No. 1 “by default,” a senior whose edge over Chad Kelly and true freshman Deshaun Watson is as slim as a piece of paper. Stoudt enters this season having completed 86-of-119 passes for 742 yards and eight touchdowns against one interception over 22 games. He has completed 72.3 percent of his passes and has a 145.1 pass efficiency, ranking him second in school history in passing efficiency.
Kelly was the third-string quarterback last year after recovering from a torn ACL. He completed 10-of-17 passes for 58 yards in 55 snaps over five games. He also had 117 rushing yards and one touchdown on only 16 carries.
Watson was the most highly touted recruit in Clemson’s 2013 class. He was ranked No. 1 at his position and No. 16 overall.
Swinney, who said all three quarterbacks can play in the NFL, compared it to when the Tigers had standout running backs James Davis, C.J. Spiller and Andre Ellington all on the roster at the same time.
“They’re all very competitive,” he said. “They all have a good understanding of what we’re doing, even though Deshaun is just getting here. With his background, he’s a very astute young player. He’s really been exposed to a lot of things, so he’s picking things up very well. All you can do is go out there and go to work and everything has to count. When you have a very difficult decision to make, everything will count. It’s practices, it’s off the field, it’s everything, but ultimately it’s about performance and who we think deserves to run out there and be first. If it’s a coin toss, you gotta play a couple of ‘em and let it settle on the field.”
Ideally, Swinney said he’d like to name a starting quarterback before the season opener at Georgia, but he’s not locked into a deadline, nor is he opposed to using more than one quarterback.
One thing Swinney is sure of: All of them are capable of leading the offense.
“All I know is they can all win for us,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about doing what we do and executing what we do. Whoever we do run out there, it’s not like we’re struggling to find a quarterback. We’ve got good quarterbacks. We’re just trying to figure out who’s the best guy, and who gives us the best chance to win Day 1.
“I don’t have any doubt whoever we roll out there is going to be able to play at a high level for us and execute the system like we want it to be, and that’s our expectation,” he said. “We’re not starting over or lowering the standard. Cole Stoudt has played a lot of football for us. Chad Kelly has been in this system now for two seasons. These aren’t rookies.”
They’ve just never started a game.