MANHATTAN — Before the start of Kansas State’s spring football game, Bill Snyder used a coin toss to decide on a starting quarterback.
Several months have passed, and fall practices are underway, but he said Monday he isn’t any closer to choosing between Daniel Sams and Jake Waters. That’s how competitive the neck-and-neck race to replace Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein currently is, he says.
“I really probably will not be able to tell you anything differently than what we did out of spring practice,” Snyder said Monday at K-State’s media day. “What I’ve seen has just been a carryover.”
So no change at all?
“He just tells us that we are even right now,” Waters said, “and that we have to keep working.”
The big day is coming, of course. Though there is no set timeline for a decision leading up to the Wildcats’ opener against North Dakota State on Aug. 30, offensive coordinator Dana Dimel wants to select a starter on or around Aug. 26.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that whoever starts Game 1 will remain the top quarterback all season. Dimel thinks Sams and Waters will both play. But it’s important to establish a hierarchy.
“In the big picture, by then, you have to say this is the guy and he is going to start,” Dimel said. “It is important to have that, because he has to be on the same page with the receivers and you’ve got to get everyone on the same page with how you handle the huddles. The two quarterback, 50-50 system is a pretty precarious way to handle things.”
That being said, Dimel thinks it would be nice if both quarterbacks can see the field. Regardless of who starts, he wants to design set packages for the backup. He thinks a change-of-pace quarterback will keep defenses guessing and provide valuable experience for both players.
In past years, K-State has not shown confidence in its backup quarterback. That won’t be the case now that it has a true quarterback competition.
“Daniel is going to have his role. If he’s not starting, he will play. He’s not going to sit and watch,” Dimel said. “Whoever wins it out, the other guy has got to be ready to play as well. That’s the biggest thing. The last couple years we haven’t really had that luxury. We have been on pins and needles. The first guy goes down and we are in trouble.
“Now if we stay healthy and the first guy goes down, there isn’t going to be that big of a difference. They are both doing things well enough that I could see how both players would bring something to the table that would help us win football games.”
So what will it take for one quarterback to separate himself from the other?
It’s an interesting question. One that Sams and Waters struggled with Monday. They have shared a dorm room since the beginning of fall practices and have become friends.
They are trying to outplay each other while also rooting for each other. It is an odd situation, but they have embraced it for the good of an offense that returns its starting offensive line from last season, senior running back John Hubert and a strong nucleus of receivers.
Klein might be gone, but the Wildcats should still be able to move the ball.
“Whoever starts, the offense is going to be very productive,” Sams said. “It almost doesn’t matter who the starter is, because with John’s experience and the offensive line and our receivers, all the quarterback really has to do is put us in the right situation.”
Still, each player can help the offense in their own unique way.
Sams, a sophomore, is a gifted runner with experience in K-State’s offense. He served as Klein’s backup last season, coming in late to give Klein a rest. He rushed for 235 yards and three touchdowns on 32 attempts, wowing crowds with his breakaway speed, but didn’t throw often. He completed 6 of 8 passes for 55 yards.
He put up big numbers in K-State’s spring game, though, and is looking forward to building on that experience. He thinks he has mastered the playbook, and is learning how to read defenses at a much faster rate. He has also earned the respect of his teammates.
“I can tell that the guys really look at me more as a leader,” Sams said. “When I say something they take it serious. Honestly, in the past, it wasn’t really like that. We had Collin here. Now I see my teammates and the offense as a whole takes me serious.”
Waters is unproven at the major-college level, but he showed off his strong arm at Iowa Western Community College last season. He threw for 3,501 yards and 39 touchdowns while leading his team to a national championship.
K-State beat out several big-name programs to land Waters, including Penn State. He can also make plays outside of the pocket, but is not known for his running ability. He, too, is mastering the offense.
One thing that might hold him back: He has never been at the center of a quarterback competition.
“Never,” Waters said. “It hasn’t been handed to me, but I was pretty much the next guy in line in high school and the next guy in line at my junior college. I definitely competed, but here you have to compete every single rep, every single meeting. Every second you are competing, the coaches are watching you to see how you react to a bad throw, to a bad check, to a bad play or something. Definitely you have got to stay on your toes.”
That’s life in the middle of a deadlocked quarterback competition. All signs point to this one lasting another three weeks.