The one position that Kevin Sumlin's teams traditionally had stability and consistent success throughout his coaching career is the one most recently the source of headaches: quarterback.
Texas A&M has started two quarterbacks this season, Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, and played a third, Jake Hubenak. The team went through a midseason change at starter for the second consecutive season, and questions linger as the Aggies enter their final three games of the season after Murray threw three interceptions and left Saturday's 26-10 loss to Auburn with an undisclosed injury.
Having two quarterbacks who were ranked No. 1 at their position as recruits (as Allen and Murray were in the 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes, respectively), plus a junior college transfer who put up gaudy numbers like Hubenak, is seemingly a luxury. Recently, it has been anything but.
Instead of play matching the talent level, inconsistency has ruled. Allen was impressive through the first five games (he led the SEC in passing efficiency at that point). In the Aggies' last four games, the three quarterbacks have combined to complete 51 percent of their passes while throwing three touchdown passes and eight interceptions. It's no coincidence that the Aggies are 1-3 in that stretch, with the one win coming behind the best quarterback performance, Murray's starting debut (20-for-28, 223 yards, one touchdown, plus 159 rushing yards and a score) on Oct. 31.
It's fair to wonder if the Aggies have mismanaged the position this season.
It seems like a silly question to ask, given Sumlin's history with quarterbacks and the list of accomplished passers offensive coordinator Jake Spavital worked with. But in a winner starts, loser transfers culture that increasingly permeates college football's most important position, it's possible that the Aggies tried to keep their two highly-touted signal callers happy while forsaking stability.
Sumlin maintained throughout his head-coaching career that he never wants his starting quarterback looking over his shoulder. That's why he traditionally has named a starter and stuck with that player until injury occurred, with 2014 being the first time he replaced a starter due to consistent poor play when he benched Kenny Hill after three consecutive losses for Allen.
That changed this season with Allen winning the starting job in August and Murray, who brings a different skill set that includes tremendous running speed, seeing action in the season opening-win vs. Arizona State in the second and third quarters.
The Aggies may have caused Allen to look over his shoulder from that point. The following Tuesday, Allen said all the right things about being OK with sharing snaps, but his facial expression and tone told another story. He admitted "it was tough" to keep a rhythm, and when asked if he was comfortable with Murray playing said "I mean, if it helps our offense, it helps our offense. I'm not the offensive guru here." Allen has long been aware of Murray's folk-hero status as a Texas high school football star (42-0 record as a starter at Allen, three state championships) and the fact that he's a legacy (the son of former Texas A&M star quarterback Kevin Murray). That fact hasn't been lost on Allen, a Scottsdale, Ari. product.
Murray played in the Aggies' first four games, but Allen started and took the bulk of the snaps. Murray didn't play against Mississippi State, but he came in against Alabama after Allen had two interceptions returned for touchdowns. Murray threw an interception and Allen returned and had a third interception returned for a score. And back and forth they went.
Allen hit rock bottom against Ole Miss, going 12-for-34 passing (including completing only two of his final 22 attempts) in a 23-3 road loss. Hubenak -- not Murray -- relieved him because Murray was being punished for lashing out at Spavital on the sideline during the Alabama game.
Allen's struggles -- especially his inaccuracy against Ole Miss -- led many to wonder if he was hurt. He took hard hits against Mississippi State and was driven into the turf by Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, which led to questions about the health of Allen's throwing shoulder. Sumlin and Spavital maintain that "he's fine" and that Allen is third on the depth chart because Murray and Hubenak have practiced better than Allen in recent weeks.
How did a promising quarterback, who had the look of a future SEC star, go from starter to not even playing in the last two games?
When asked why Hubenak relieved Murray on Saturday, Sumlin said "It's purely practice." He went on to add: "That doesn't mean that Kyle is done. I know that people are asking what's going on with that. That doesn't mean that. That just means that Jake practiced very, very well the last couple weeks ... the guys that we play are based strictly on practice performance, and that is not a knock on Kyle Allen."
If Allen's throwing shoulder is banged up and the coaching staff isn't saying it, it seems unfair to Allen. If it's a confidence issue, then it's understandable why they're handling it in this manner. Either way, Sumlin, who prefers to keep injuries and various other matters from the public eye, has left fans to wonder.
Whether Murray, Allen or Hubenak is the future is still a question left unanswered.