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2 cars = good; 2 quarterbacks = bad

SHARE 2 cars = good; 2 quarterbacks = bad

College football coaches — bless their power-I, nickel-D, run-and-shoot hearts — are the most focused people you'll ever meet. They're in their offices at 7 a.m. Monday, reviewing game film. Often they can't wait that long; they're up and running on Sunday.

Considering the time invested, a coach makes, oh, a buck an hour.

They don't watch TV or pretend to have a serious social life. Ask a coach who won the $1 million on "Survivor," and he'll stare as if you asked for the atomic weight of barium. But ask who's the second-string free safety for Colorado State and a coach will know everything, right down to his social security number.

So if coaches are so focused, why can't they decide on a starting quarterback?

With the college football season under way, Utah's two biggest programs have the same annoying problem: Who's the man?

BYU played its season-opener last Saturday, rotating between Bret Engemann and Charlie Peterson. Although some media are suggesting Engemann has the edge after one week, Cougar coaches say they plan to platoon again this Saturday at Virginia.

Meanwhile, the Utes are in a similar dilemma, trying to decide between T.D. Croshaw and Darnell Arceneaux.

Admittedly, picking a starter can be tough. Engemann and Peterson battled evenly through spring and fall drills. Neither had a clear advantage in experience; going into this season they had thrown 22 passes between them.

With the Utes, it's a different dilemma. Instead of two QBs with no experience, each has logged serious starting time. Croshaw started last year when Arceneaux was injured, which was often. But Arceneaux started seven games and came off the bench to lead the Utes to a Las Vegas Bowl win.

Although coaches from both teams are optimistic about their two-quarterback arrangements, they rarely work well. It didn't work with Scott Mitchell and Chris Mendonca when Mitchell was a freshman at Utah. Mendonca had experience but Mitchell already had a ticket to the NFL in his back pocket. The Utes finished the year with a 2-6 conference record, 5-7 overall.

Sometimes teams win with two quarterbacks, but that doesn't mean you'll have team harmony. In 1981, the Utes waffled between Tyce Ferguson and Kenny Vierra, yet still ended up with a rare 8-2-1 season. But Vierra, unhappy with the arrangement, ended up transferring to Maryland.

Three years earlier, LaVell Edwards was a young and idealistic coach and decided to alternate between Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon. But the coaches eventually settled on Wilson, who was older. Part way into the season, he was injured. McMahon promptly came in and earned conference player-of-the-week honors. Now what? Play paper-scissors-rock?

Then McMahon got hurt and Wilson came back to play superbly against New Mexico. This only confused things more.

Though Edwards said he wouldn't alternate quarterbacks again if he could help it, Bob Jensen and Sean Covey got into a hot battle for the top spot in 1987. Each started some games, though Covey was the starter by season's end. That convinced Jensen to leave for the pros. By BYU standards, it was a season below average — second in the WAC and a 9-4 record.

In 1993, John Walsh started for BYU, got hurt, and turned the reins over to Steve Clements, who got hurt and turned the reins over to Ryan Hancock, who got hurt, handing the starting job to Tom Young. OK, so that wasn't the coaches' fault. Still, the uncertainty at quarterback led to a 6-6 record.

In 1998 it was Kevin Feterik's job, but fans bawled loudly for backup Drew Miller. Unhappy at a lack of playing time, Miller transferred. The previous year the race included Paul Shoemaker — who started the first game — and Feterik, the fan favorite. Feterik became the starter, but the coaches tried to keep Shoemaker happy by inserting him fairly often. BYU only took second in the WAC and finished 9-5.

In some cases the quarterbacks have rotated at regular intervals, in others it was simply up in the air from week to week. Either way, it always works better with one declared No. 1 quarterback. He needs to know he's the boss, and that a few bad plays won't cost him his position. Pre-set rotation patterns have a tendency to kill both spontaneity and momentum. Utah's Croshaw said it best by admitting he would prefer the coaches just name a starter and see if it works out.

Having more than one of some things is fine. Baskin-Robbins can go ahead and have 31 flavors, no problem. You can have more than one child, more than one dress suit or more than one car. But in other things, it just makes sense to have only one: presidents, bosses, spouses and quarterbacks.

There's a saying that if we don't learn from history, we're doomed to repeat it. But no one wants to repeat a year of guessing who will be calling the signals.

E-mail: rock@desnews.com