There is no understating just how competitive Kansas State quarterbacks Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson were during spring football practice last month.
K-State coaches flipped a coin to determine which one of them would start the spring game, and then they both stuffed the stat sheet in front of a live crowd by making athletic plays and throwing touchdown passes. When it was over, Bill Snyder declared them to be “dead even.”
It could be a while, perhaps until September, before Snyder selects an opening-day starter.
It has also been a while since Snyder has supervised such a close quarterback competition.
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Jake Waters and Daniel Sams went back and forth. Collin Klein and Carson Coffman dueled for a while. It even took Michael Bishop a few months to get the starting nod when he arrived in 1997.
Much like those instances, Snyder thinks this QB competition will sort itself out.
“There have probably been numerous occasions,” Snyder said Tuesday at a Wichita Catbacker event. “You can go back and say, ‘Well, that can’t be true.’ But I can think of when Michael Bishop came, it wasn’t coming out spring ball but going into the season, and he didn’t have a spring practice with us. He was there and came in the middle of the summer. We didn’t have a chance to work with him or be with him.
“You didn’t know how he would handle the system. There wasn’t any doubt about him being a good athlete, but there was a great deal of questions about whether we could get him on the field for the first ballgame until he learned all the things that went with it. It was a two-quarterback situation until we knew, eventually, he would be the guy.”
K-State players will return to campus and start summer workouts in early June. Delton and Thompson will resume their competition immediately, with August practices ultimately determining which quarterback will win the starting job.
Right now, you could make a case for either one of them having a slim lead.
Thompson, a sophomore, won K-State’s coin toss and started the spring game. He also came off the bench to lead the Wildcats to dramatic victories over Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa State. Jesse Ertz and Delton both went down with injuries, then Thompson led K-State to a 7-5 record and the Cactus Bowl.
But Delton was a one-man highlight reel in the Cactus Bowl, rushing for 158 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-17 victory.
That set the stage for a competitive spring and will continue into an even more competitive summer.
Thompson is known as the better passer, but he has dual-threat capabilities. Delton is thought to be the better runner, but he showed off a strong arm this spring.
Snyder has said he is confident in both quarterbacks and thinks they could each be successful starters. The biggest thing he will consider when deciding between them: mistakes.
The quarterback who avoids them will gain the upper hand.
“We have 25 practices or so,” Snyder said. “Depending on what they do over the course of the summer, I would like to think someone will separate themselves to a certain degree.”
If they don’t?
That could lead to a two-quarterback system or drag the position battle until the season.
The only thing Snyder can say for sure is that if they remain “dead even,” he won’t rely on another coin toss to decide a starter for South Dakota.
“We will make a strategic decision based on what is needed,” Snyder said, “in the first ballgame.”
K-State has finished each of the past two seasons with bowl victories, and Snyder says the Wildcats have made improving with each game a yearly habit.
But he's not so happy about the way K-State has started the past two years. Last year, it lost a nonconference game to Vanderbilt and started 3-4. The year before that, the Wildcats lost the opener at Stanford and started 3-3.
Snyder is already stressing the importance of a quicker start in 2018.
"The last couple years we haven’t started as well as we would have wanted, but we finished well," Snyder said. "A lot of that comes with young guys taking things seriously. ... The answer to that is not very difficult. We have a lot of people take their performance level for granted. Consequently, they don’t work at it, and we don’t have as much success as we would like."
When asked what the biggest challenge for next season appears to be, Snyder turned away from offense and defense. Instead, he pointed toward special teams.
The Wildcats lost kicker Matthew McCrane and punter Nick Walsh, along with the team's top long snapper and holder. Their replacements struggled in the spring game, with kickers connecting on one of three field goals and punters booting the ball only a short way.
Snyder isn't sure who will start at each spot when the season begins.
"That’s heavy duty trying to replace all of those positions," Snyder said. "It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for all of us trying to put special teams back together."