With the news on Sunday that former ECU quarterback Kurt Benkert is coming to Charlottesville and reuniting with his former coach, the situation under center at UVA has become a little murkier. Senior Matt Johns had been considered the strong front-runner to start heading into spring camp, but Connor Brewer's strong spring made it a two-man race.
This week, reports indicate the starting job may be back to being one man's to lose—except that one man is Benkert and not Johns. And now Virginia fans have started muttering the words no football team wants heading into the offseason: "quarterback controversy."
Change at QB makes plenty of UVA fans nervous. After all, since Marques Hagans graduated after the 2005 season, only one quarterback has been the Week One starter two years in a row: Michael Rocco. The annual in-season carousel has generated debate and frustration among the orange-and-blue faithful. The results on the field have been no less tumultuous, with the Hoos going 49-73 in that span and making only two bowl appearances.
But a quarterback competition is not necessarily a quarterback controversy, and a team being settled at quarterback is not the same as a team being good at quarterback.
The mantra from the Mendenhall staff has been "Earned, not given." Why should we expect anything less from the quarterback spot? Knowing what we know, what we've been able to see as fans on the outside, the metric for the starting quarterback is going to be about more than arm strength and more than passing accuracy. Leadership, teamwork, effort: all those buzzword intangibles are going to factor in as well.
Those intangibles, right now, probably work in Matt Johns's favor. The coaches have been effusive in praising how Johns took the reins for winter workouts and through the coaching transition. But if Benkert or Brewer can close the gap and prove themselves an equally capable leader, then their physical gifts may let one of them overtake the starting spot.
Even if the starter's job is less than perfectly stable, however, Mendenhall's history shows his teams have achieved despite quarterback issues. From 2007 to 2009, BYU had a clear-cut starter in Max Hall. The Cougars won 32 games those three years. From 2010 to 2012, four different quarterbacks started at least one game. BYU won 25 games those three years.
Competitions exist among players. Controversies exist among fans. Unless and until there is any evidence of discord, dissent, or dysfunction from the guys who wear the pads, any controversy will be a product of our own making.