Bill Lynch announced on Monday that Ben Chappell, who started several games last season, will be the starting quarterback. Redshirt freshman Adam Follett and redshirt sophomore Teddy Schell will gets some reps at quarterback as well. Kellen Lewis, IU's all-time leader in touchdown passes, one of only seven quarterbacks to start a bowl game for IU, will be a wide receiver, although he surely will be involved in some trickery related to his passing ability.
While the move may be designed to end a quarterback controversy, that controversy will likely rage for months, particularly if IU has a bad start. This is eerily reminiscent of Cam Cameron's decision to start Tommy Jones in the opening game of 2001 with Antwaan Randle El as a WR/gimmick. The game (a nationally televised ESPN Thursday night game at NC State) was a disaster, Lee Corso staged an on-air intervention targeted at his former player Cameron, and Randle El was back at QB the next week. Unfortunately, Randle-El was weeks behind, and IU dropped a home game to Utah before righting the ship and finishing 4-4 in the Big Ten, but out of the bowl picture because of the 1-2 nonconference record.
Bill Lynch certainly has more skin in the game than any of us. A bad football season will ruin a few Saturdays for fans, but Lynch's career is on the line. Another season as horrific as 2008 almost certainly will cost him his job, and any sort of losing season will create some pressure. Still, it's hard to understand the rationale. Lewis struggled last year. He didn't adjust well to the absence of James Hardy, and after he was suspended for spring practice, he never seemed to catch up. Even in his much better 2007 season, Lewis had major fumbling problems. But I think this move overestimates IU's ability to go head-to-head, position-by-position with other Big Ten teams. If the recruiting rankings are any measure, IU is #10 or #11 in the conference in overall talent. Certainly, that can be combatted in any number of ways: experience, fundamentals, hard work, scheme, and so on. But another way to combat that talent differential is with a dual threat quarterback like Kellen Lewis, a capable passer who can turn a busted play into a 40 yard gain. If you were Rich Rodriguez, or Brett Bielema, or Ron Zook, and were coaching a team with more talent than IU but probably not a championship-caliber team, which would concern you more: preparing for IU running a traditional offense with Chappell at QB and Lewis at WR, touching the ball maybe 6 or 7 times a game; or with Kellen Lewis at QB, touching the ball on every offensive play? If I were a coach, I would cross my fingers regarding trick plays, but would much rather play an IU team trying to win straight up with a drop-back passer.
Lynch says this:
"The biggest difference in our offense is that we're going to be more of a downhill running football team," Lynch said. "I think that fits us better if Kellen isn't back there at quarterback."
With what offensive line? Last year's sieve? With what running back? I like Bryan Payton, and have heard good things about redshirt freshman Darius Willis, but was there any evidence last year that IU can be a "downhill running team"?
I hope that I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong about IU's talent level, about the capacity of the O-line to improve, about the skill set of our running backs, about what the threat of one or two trick plays a game will force defenses to do with Lewis at WR. But I have a hard time believing this move will be for the best.