It’s going to be Alex Delton, right?
It has to be Alex Delton.
Only one quarterback can take the first snap of the season on August 31st, and judging by past decisions, it’s more likely than not going to be the senior grad transfer from Kansas State. Alex Delton, after all - as Gary Patterson said more than once - is the only guy that’s really spent time preparing for Big 12 football games (Mike Collins did start four games last season, but has been rehabbing an injury after being knocked out for the season against Baylor in 2018). He’s the most experienced, the most savvy, and the most veteran presence in a room full of guys long on talent and short on game experience.
You kind of know what you get with Delton - which may or may not be a good thing. At K State, the 6’0”, 205 quarterback completed just 56% of his pass attempts across 20 games, throwing for five touchdowns and four interceptions. He never attempted more than 85 passes in a season or threw for more than 700 yards.
Mike Collins is a bit of a known quantity, too - though the Penn transfer was thrown into a less-than-ideal starting situation mid-season. Another transfer, Matthew Downing, came to TCU from Georgia, where he played in garbage time in four games. Justin Rogers is back as a redshirt freshman, but Gary Patterson would only say he’s at “about 90%” after suffering a season-ending injury early in his senior year of high school and spending the better half of the last two years trying to recover. Patterson said that the nerve that is causing drop-foot still hasn’t “woken up”, and that it’s one of those things that just kind of happens when it happens.
That leaves true freshman early-enrollee Max Duggan, who gets a lot of things said about him like “more mature than more true freshman”, “carries himself like a sophomore”, “you can tell his dad was a football coach”... all the types of things you want to hear about the potential heir apparent at QB. The striking resemblance aside, it’s hard not to think Andy Dalton when you speak to Duggan; the maturity, the headiness, the athletic ability that seems to always be forgotten about. Duggan can really sling it, too - he can make all the throws, can work the ball sideline to sideline, and also throws a nice deep ball. He’s going to look like a true freshman at times, and be prone to the rookie mistake. And that might be enough to keep him lower on the depth chart barring an other worldly performance in fall camp. But no one is going to hand him the job.
And his biggest competition might come from the guy that everyone seems to believe is out of the running.
The Justin Rogers question is one that continues to be asked, and it’s fair. Rogers took three snaps for the Horned Frogs in his first season on campus, shrugging off an All-Conference Cal Linebacker like he was a seven year old trying to make his first tackle in the Cheez-It Bowl, adding to the lore of that magical game. He also completed his lone pass attempt - a one yarder to Sewo Olonilua. If healthy, Rogers is - simply put - the most physically gifted quarterback on campus. At 6’4”, 200 pounds, the former borderline five start recruit was expected to shuttle the Horned Frogs into Big 12 titles and the national title scene. But a devastating injury suffered in the second game of his senior season changed both his and TCU’s course, and now the hard-working redshirt freshman is trying to do everything in his power to get healthy enough to get on the field. By all accounts, Rogers works his tail off on and off the field, and if anyone is going to overcome this injury - he is the guy. But Gary Patterson has made it clear that they don’t want to play him if there’s a risk of things getting worse for the young talent, so while Rogers will be given every shot to win the job, it will only be if that nerve “wakes up”.
The other question that seems to be being asked a lot is whether or not GP will turn a veteran-laden team to a true freshman quarterback. Especially when he has a veteran ready to roll. Well, you don’t have to look too far back to see that it’s happened before. Before Duggan there was Dalton, who scuffled through a rough freshman season before becoming an all-timer; after Dalton, it was Trevone Boykin fending off veteran transfer Matt Joeckel on his way to writing his name all over the record books. Gary Patterson wants to win, and whichever of these quarterbacks gives him and his program the best chance to do that will be the guy that plays.
Justin Rogers and Max Duggan are physically gifted at an extraordinary level. Mike Collins has taken meaningful snaps for TCU and is the only QB on the roster with a win under his belt as a Horned Frog. We don’t know much about Matthew Downing, but Kirby Smart had him as third string QB as a walk-on and was giving him a shot to earn a scholarship. Alex Delton doesn’t have a statistical resume that’s going to blow you away, but he’s a great leader, will know the playbook, and will be less prone to mistakes than any of his competitors.
At this point, you’re probably wondering... isn’t there a sixth candidate?
That would be Ohio State transfer and Texas native Matthew Baldwin, who is currently in the waiver appeal process with the NCAA - and in a walking boot. Baldwin is expected to miss most or all of fall camp, and with his eligibility in question for 2019, I don’t consider him a viable candidate at this time.
That could all change of course.
If asked to make a prediction as to who will start the season and who will end it (something that has seemed to come up in every podcast I have done this summer), I tend to think that Delton is the first guy to line up behind center on August 31st. I also think we will see him, Duggan, Collins, and possibly Rogers in the season opener. The ultimate goal is to get down to three contenders by week one, and it won’t be an easy task, but expect it to be some combination of Delton, Duggan, Collins, and Rogers. By week two, it’s likely that we will have a clear-cut QB1 and QB2.
What is TCU’s ceiling with each of these players? I think that depends on which one gets the best at getting Jalen Reagor the ball the fastest. While Delton might not be the flashiest guy, he’s probably the steadiest. Mike Collins might be the most reliable backup, but Rogers and Duggan bring more explosiveness and big-play opportunities to the offense. Can you live with a few more mistakes if the exchange is a few more big plays? Is that a risk you’re willing to take with a defense as loaded as this one? Who has the best report with the young wide receivers, one of whom is going to need to step up alongside Reagor? These are all questions being asked in the offensive rooms across the TCU Football offices.
We have to hope they start getting answered on August 1st.