Tre Roberson does what he can from the press box while Cam Coffman and Nate Sudfeld battle on the field. Coach Kevin Wilson says he considers both starters, although Coffman has started the two games since Roberson's broken leg ended his season.
Does this create drama? Is IU football turning into a Cream 'n Crimson version of Housewives of New Jersey?
Not even close.
“With college football there is pressure,” Coffman says. “You don't think about that. You're just out there playing and having fun. I play for my teammates and God. That's all I'm worried about. Be at peace and be the best you can. That's all I can do.”
Adds Sudfeld: “Cam and I just worry about what we can control. We work as hard as we can. If we're called up, we go out. If not, we'll be at peace with it and cheer on the team. We try to stay level headed.”
Still, the question remains, who starts Saturday against Michigan State (3-2)?
“We'll let those two compete it out,” quarterbacks coach Kevin Johns says. “Who practices the best this week. Who gives us the best chance to win.”
Both played in the second half against Massachusetts after Roberson's injury. Both played against Ball State and Northwestern. That might look like a rotation, but it's not designed as one, Johns said.
“I don't think we want to do that,” he said. “We'll pick a guy and go with it. If a guy is hot, we'll ride him. If he's not hot, we'll put the other guy in.
“They're both doing some good things and some not so good things. We're finding out each week how it goes.”
Wilson says he doesn't want a revolving door situation.The preference would be that one would separate from the other, although that hasn't happened.
“They've both picked up their games since Tre went down,” Johns says. “From a confidence standpoint they know it's their turn to make big plays for us.”
The numbers don't show dramatic difference. Coffman, a junior college transfer, is 53-for-80 for 519 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Sudfeld, a true freshman, is 25-for-40 for 357 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Sudfeld leads in efficiency rating, 162.2 to 130.6.
“Cam is a very smart quarterback,” receiver Kofi Hughes says. “Nate coming off the bench is excellent. We need both of them to win.”
Neither Coffman nor Sudfeld talks about tension or resentment toward the other. Competitive intensity, it seems, is reserved for practice and play, not feud.
“We really are rooting for each other,” Sudfeld says. “We both work hard, see the work and want the other to do well.”
Twice Sudfeld has replaced Coffman. Even if Coffman starts Saturday, it could happen again. Is that a problem?
“You can't think about that or you'll play bad,” Coffman says. “You just go forward. You're not looking over your shoulder.
“If it does happen and I get pulled, I'm rooting for Nate. I want to be a team player. If Nate is our best option at that time and I'm not doing well, then I want our team to win. If that means Nate going in, I'm fine with that. That's how we'll be successful.”
Coffman played most of the first half at Northwestern. With the offense struggling, Sudfeld replaced him. Both played in the second half.
As far as Coffman's early struggles (it included an interception), Johns says a lot involved Coffman “Trying to do too much.”
“As a quarterback, I did that. A lot of people do it. It's common. At the end of the second quarter we got to a point to take him out just to settle him down. It was like, stand by me and let's just watch. It wasn't that he was being punished or benched.
“Sometimes a quarterback gets a better feel when he can catch his breath, see what's going on, settle down and then go back out and play. He was just trying to do more than he was supposed to.”
Coffman and Sudfeld will spend the next few days battling for the right to face one of the Big Ten's most aggressive defenses. A weekly competition might sound draining, but it's just part of IU's overall approach for every position. Practice well, you play. Don't, and life gets more complicated.
“The competition helps a lot because you never get complacent,” Sudfeld says. “I go in each week knowing I've got to do my best today to help the team get better. We both take it seriously and work hard at it. The coaches coach us hard and give us the reps. We're trying to be the best we can for the team.”
That best is crucial given the Hoosiers (2-2) have lost two straight, nine straight in Big Ten play.
“As far as what we're doing and how we're doing it, we're on the right track,” Coffman says. “Sometimes it just sputters. We're not anywhere near where we need to be. We have to keep working hard, keep getting better. It's going to come if we just keep chipping away at it.”