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Coffman has IU's starting quarterback edge

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Online: For more on Indiana athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Practice the key for junior college transfer

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - 2:54 am

BLOOMINGTON -- Are we about to see Indiana quarterback drama?

It depends on perspective, reading between the lines and the wisdom that comes from stirring up trouble in the AP football poll.

We'll explain that, but first, some background.

Starting quarterback Tre Roberson is done for the season with a broken leg. Coach Kevin Wilson said on Monday night's radio show that Roberson has already had surgery (it went well) and will be out five to six months. Given Roberson's dual-threat ability, impressive athleticism and improved accuracy, it's a big blow for a struggling program that seemingly never runs out of them.

That leaves JUCO transfer Cam Coffman and true freshman Nate Sudfeld as the remaining healthy scholarship quarterbacks.

Coffman has the most college experience, having led Arizona Western Community College to the junior college national title game last year. He has three years of eligibility remaining. The 6-2, 187-pounder comes from an extremely athletic family. His father, Paul, was a tight end at Kansas State and then the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. His older brother Chase was a tight end at Missouri and for the Cincinnati Bengals. Another brother, Carson, played quarterback at Kansas State.

Sudfeld was set to be redshirted until Roberson's injury last Saturday against Massachusetts. IU coaches played him in the fourth quarter to give him some game experience. At 6-5 and 216 pounds, he has pro potential size and arm strength. It was thought he was a year away from being college starter ready, but IU can no longer afford the wait.

Of course, in this era of young-and-ready quarterbacks, Sudfeld might accelerate the process.

That leads to the big question, which is who will be the starter, first against Ball State on Saturday, and then the rest of the season.

That's where drama comes in.

Wilson said after Saturday's game that Coffman was the starter and Sudfeld was the backup. He reiterated that during Monday night's radio show. But offensive coordinator Seth Littrell offered a different take.

“We'll see how it changes up,” Littrell said. “Each quarterback has different strengths and weaknesses. Whoever the starter is, we have to play to his strengths. It comes down to playing 11 guys and everybody doing his job. It takes all 11.”

And then, as far as who will start, “We'll see what happens this week. I'll talk more with Coach Wilson about that. We'll see how the week goes and I'll let him make that decision when he's ready.”

Does that mean that Littrell is contradicting his boss?

Yes, and no.

Understand that IU operates on the premise that you earn your starting job each week by how you practice. The competition never ends. It's why coaches kept insisting during preseason camp that Roberson was battling Coffman and Sudfeld for the starting job, and if that was more public motivation that private reality, who are we to argue?

We are, after all, the ones who picked Florida State No. 3 and LSU No. 4 in this week's AP poll, which caused a CBSsports.com blog, The Poll Attacks, to say, in so many words, that we were stupid.

Anyway, Littrell's comments are in line with that competitive approach. If Coffman wants to start, he has to practice better than Sudfeld. If not, well, Wilson has never been shy about playing true freshmen. He started Roberson as a rookie last year. Heck, he's got two freshmen starting on the offensive line with Jason Spriggs and Dan Feeney.

Coffman played well after replacing Roberson in the second quarter. He went 16-for-22 for 159 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Littrell was impressed -- sort of.

“That's what he's there for. That's why you give him a scholarship. Every player has to be ready when the time comes to take those snaps. That's why you have to be mentally prepared throughout the week and understand what we're trying to do in the game plan.

“He did a nice job. He just didn't pop up to play. If you're not ready during the week, you won't be ready when the time comes.”

Coffman is not the runner Roberson is, but that's not a big deal.

“We weren't trying to run the quarterback a ton, anyway,” Littrell said. “We need him to stick with what we're doing. If he does that, we'll be fine.”

As for Hoosier prospects in this post-Roberson era, Littrell offered hope.

“We have to keep moving forward, stay up and stay positive. We have a lot of players. We still feel like everything is right out in front of us for the taking.”

That's the kind of football drama IU could use.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.