It’s not a Penix vs. Ramsey situation, or Sudfeld vs. Roberson if you prefer.
Those were two of IU football’s better quarterback competitions over the last decade, and there were other good ones along the way.
But the Hoosiers are technically entering fall camp this week with a quarterback competition ongoing.
Who will start behind center when IU opens the 2022 season under the lights on Sept. 2 in Bloomington?
Ask anyone and they’ll tell you it’ll be Missouri transfer Connor Bazelak, and that does indeed seem to be an educated guess after he arrived at IU with 20 starts under his belt. That experience is the first thing IU head coach Tom Allen pointed to last week when asked what Bazelak brings to the table.
“He’s played a ton of football, thrown for a lot of yards, a lot of touchdowns in the SEC, pretty good league,” Allen said of Bazelak. “He has a calmness, a coolness, doesn’t get frazzled, not real emotional. The thing that jumps out to me is just experience. Been there, been in the big games, played in a lot of big venues, won SEC freshman of the year.”
Bazelak led the Tigers into difficult venues such as Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina. He threw for 406 and 380 yards in 2020 wins over LSU and Arkansas, respectively, and he hurled four touchdown passes on the road at Kentucky in 2021.
But there were aspects of Bazelak’s 2021 season that left questions. He threw 13 of his 17 career interceptions during his second season as a starter, and he completed just 25-of-52 passes over the final two games, well off his career 66.3 percent average.
Despite his credentials, no one inside the IU program has publicly proclaimed Bazelak to be QB1.
Head coach Tom Allen says he will in fact name a starter before the season opener. If Allen follows his approach during prior quarterback competitions, that announcement may not come until the Monday of Illinois week.
For now Allen wants to see Bazelak, Jack Tuttle, Dexter Williams and others compete under the pressure of having to earn the job.
“We will go through this process of evaluating our guys — and I will say by design we came out of spring football and felt like there wasn’t a clear guy to name, so I didn’t do that,” Allen said last week at the Big Ten’s media days. “But I love the competition piece to the process and to be able to have to prove it every single day all summer long now into fall camp.”
There are some things we do know already, just over 30 days prior to the kickoff of the 2022 season.
First, sophomore Donaven McCulley won’t be the starter. In fact, he won’t be a quarterback at all going forward. McCulley was plugged in for several games last year before he was ready after Penix and Tuttle went down with injuries. During the offseason the 6-foot-5 Indianapolis product approached Allen and said he wanted to play wide receiver.
But because of McCulley’s ability as a passer, don’t be surprised to see him get a few chances to throw the football this fall.
“We’ll still have packages for him in that opportunity (to throw) because of his skill set that he brings to our football team, and it’s all about getting your best players on the field,” Allen said of the plan for McCulley this season.
We also know that once a starter is named, that’s it. There will be no quarterback rotations on gameday.
“Once that person is named, he’ll be the starter,” Allen said. “Not expecting a dual situation, but at the same time, as we saw last year and we learned up close and personal, that things happen, injuries happen, and you’d better have more than one guy that’s going to be able to be your starting quarterback in your program. So I feel like we have that with several individuals.”
Finally, when it comes to Bazelak, we know his receivers have been impressed.
To survive in the Big Ten, Bazelak will need to make quick reads and throw with accuracy while on the move. Tight end A.J. Barner believes those are the strengths of the Ohio product’s game.
“His accuracy stands out,” Barner said of Bazelak. “I feel like I get open a lot, but sometimes there might be some tight windows and his ability to thread it into those spots is not easy.
“His ability to make a play with the pocket collapsing around him too, and that’s a tribute to his arm strength.”
Beyond Bazelak there’s Tuttle, who was inconsistent last year playing through injuries. In six games he threw for 423 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions.
Grant Gremel is the only other quarterback on the roster with college experience. The walk-on stepped up last season for IU when duty called, completing 55 percent of his passes with 269 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Rounding out the scholarship players on the roster are two signal-callers who have yet to take a snap.
Third-year Williams missed all of last season with an injury after not seeing the field in 2020, and Brendan Sorsby is a true freshman from Texas.
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