When Texas A&M opens preseason training camp on Aug. 10, the countdown to naming a starting quarterback begins.
It's a ritual that coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital experienced a season ago when Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill battled for the job, one that was ultimately won by Hill but later taken by Allen in midseason.
This year, Allen returns (Hill transferred to TCU) and a new contender enters the mix: 2015 ESPN 300 quarterback Kyler Murray, a five-star prospect who was ranked as the nation's No. 1 dual-threat quarterback recruit. Blinn College transfer Jake Hubenak, a late 2015 class signee, will also join the fray.
At SEC media days, Sumlin didn't rule out the possibility of playing two quarterbacks, something he hasn't done in his seven-year head coaching career. Sumlin's teams have typically settled on a starter and rode with that player until circumstances warranted a new quarterback, via either injury or ineffectiveness.
"I really haven’t done it before," Sumlin told a handful of reporters in Hoover, according to the Dallas Morning News. "We’ll see. We’ve never started out that way. That doesn’t mean that we won’t. We’ll see where we are in fall."
The question regarding that possibility was raised because of the status of the quarterbacks in A&M's stable. Allen, the No. 1-ranked pocket passer in the 2014 recruiting class, started five games last season, won three and was the MVP of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. He had a strong offseason, took on a leadership role during spring football and continued to improve. Murray, with his 42-0 record and three consecutive state championships at the highest classification of Texas high school football, didn't choose to go to Texas A&M to sit on the bench. His signing was met with as much buzz as any A&M recruit in recent memory, given his impressive résumé and notable bloodlines (his father, Kevin Murray, was a star quarterback for the Aggies in the 1980s).
Though Sumlin left the door open, don't expect it to happen.
Spavital, who also serves as Texas A&M's quarterbacks coach, said the Aggies could put together special packages for a second quarterback if the player's skill set warrants it, but he, too, is used to picking and sticking with one player as the starter.
"I've always been a big believer in playing one guy," Spavital said when asked if he could envision a scenario where the Aggies play two quarterbacks. "I've got to get my hands on Kyler and Jake, just to see what they're capable of doing. You recruit them, you believe they're going to be very good players. You've got to throw them out there in the fire and see what they're capable of doing. But if they can do something and maybe something unique, if it's a run-emphasis type deal, I can see maybe building a package for a guy as well, but I think that's something that we have to feel out throughout fall camp
"But I've always been big on making my decision with one guy and living with it and riding it out."
Given Sumlin's track record of mostly doing the same -- 2014 was the first time a Sumlin starting quarterback who won the job in training camp was replaced for a reason other than injury -- it seems unlikely to witness a rotation, or anything of the sort, when the Aggies take the field on Sept. 5 against Arizona State at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Spavital said he also likes to get thoughts from players on what they think of each quarterback competing. He recalled a conversation with Texas A&M center Mike Matthews about Allen and Hill last preseason.
"Last year we had this situation with Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen and I'm telling you it was a dead even competition," Spavital said. "I started asking around to all the players and it was a split decision on it because it's naturally going to end up that way. [I asked] Mike Matthews 'Who do you like better from a communications standpoint?' or 'Who are you comfortable with?' And he said 'It doesn't matter. They're both awesome. Good luck with your decision. It's going to be really hard.'"
Next month, each of the three – including Hubenak – will get the opportunity to compete, Spavital said.
"You've got a three-way quarterback battle," he said. "We're going to give these kids the opportunity to compete and hopefully they can do something with that. ... The good thing is, [competition] brings the best out of everybody. They're never comfortable, they're always trying to find an edge and get better each day."