Quarterback Attrition at Colorado

Remember way back when, when the Colorado coaching staff had to divide spring practices into two levels of tryouts for the starting quarterback position? Back when the first half of spring practices was an open tryout, with no fewer than six quarterbacks vying for the attention of the coaches?

That was so 2013.

As it stands now, Colorado will have only two quarterbacks in camp for spring practices, 2014. What’s even more amazing is that neither of the two quarterbacks – Sefo Liufau nor Jordan Gehrke – were amongst the six quarterbacks looking to impress Mike MacIntyre and his staff last March.

Attrition is part of the game of college football. There will always be players looking to move on to what they perceive to be greener pastures and/or more playing time. There will always be players looking to / asked to move on when new coaching staffs and new coaching schemes come to town.

But six quarterbacks … in one year?

Before we can look at where the Buffs are currently, and where they might be heading into the 2014 campaign, we have to look back at where the Buffs were a year ago …

Spring practices, 2013

Coming off of a disastrous 1-11 season in 2012, the Buffs were looking at open competition at every position. New head coach Mike MacIntyre declared that all six of the quarterbacks on the roster would be given a chance to win the starting job, with the competition to be pared down after the coaches evaluated the players’ practice film during spring break.

The six candidates:

– Senior Jordan Webb … Webb had started nine games for the Buffs in 2012, and had the most game experience of any candidate. Webb had thrown for 1,434 yards, with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2012, completing 54.3% of his passes. Webb had transferred in from Kansas in the spring of 2012, after starting 19 games for the Jayhawks over two seasons.

– Junior Nick Hirschman … Hirschman had played in eight games for Colorado in 2012, starting two. Hirschman hit on 59.1% of his passes the previous year, going for two touchdowns and seven interceptions.

– Junior Connor Wood … Wood played in seven games in 2012, with one start (against Washington), completing half of his passes (21-for-42) for 265 yards, with one touchdown and four interceptions. Wood had transferred to Colorado from Texas, after spending two seasons sitting on the bench in Austin.

– Sophomore Stevie Joe Dorman … After a red-shirt season in 2011, Dorman, nephew of Koy and Ty Detmer, had sat out his freshman season of 2012 after suffering an abdominal strain.

– Sophomore John Schrock … The only walk-on amongst the six candidates, Schrock had nonetheless seen action for the Buffs in 2012. Granted, Schrock threw only one pass in his two appearances, but he did complete it, with the pass going for seven yards.

– Red-shirt freshman Shane Dillon … Dillon sat out the 2012 season as a true freshman, but was prepared to compete for playing time in 2013. A three-star recruit as part of the Recruiting Class of 2012, Dillon was rated by Rivals as the No. 13 pro-style quarterback in the nation. Despite the game experience of the Buff upperclassmen, many thought that Shane Dillon would emerge from the logjam as the next starter at quarterback for Colorado.

After spring break, two of the candidates, John Schrock and Stevie Joe Dorman, were eliminated from the competition for the starting quarterback position. Senior Jordan Webb was still in the mix despite not participating in the first half of spring practices with an injured thumb.

Were the CU coaches happy with what they were seeing from the remaining candidates after the first half of spring ball?

Coach MacIntyre was diplomatic … On Connor Wood: “Wood has “made some very good throws and had a couple of good two-minute drives” … On Nick Hirschman: “He’s been physical and made some plays . . . he’s done a good job” … On Shane Dillon: “He’s shown ability to move around and kind of make plays. He’s still very young and raw in some aspects, but getting him some more repetitions and more live action will help him keep maturing”.

And the end of spring practices, Mike MacIntyre named Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood as co-starters. The competition was far from over, however.  During the spring, Colorado flirted with bringing in Nelson Fishback, a junior college quarterback from Butte College in California, before signing Jordan Gehrke, who came to Colorado on May 18th from Scottsdale Community College.

But by the time Gehrke had arrived on campus, though, to make the six man competition an eight man competition (with the addition of Sefo Liufau, who arrived in early June), the attrition from the quarterback position had already begun.

Nick Hirschman was the first to go, leaving right after spring practices concluded. Not happy with a split decision on the quarterback battle, Hirschman decided to transfer. “I decided to move on from CU and continue my graduate education and football career elsewhere,” Hirschman announced  via his Twitter account. “I loved my time here and the relationships I’ve had with my fellow teammates; I wouldn’t trade for anything,” he later tweeted. “Part of me will always be a Buff and thank you to Buff Nation for all the support”. Hirschman transferred to Akron, where last fall he completed 8-of-15 attempts for 162 yards in a backup role for the 5-7 Zips.

John Schrock was next to leave, though his departure was less of a surprise. Schrock, a walk-on who never figured to be in the mix for the starting job, quit football after spring practices to focus on academics.

Shane Dillon left the team last July, stating that he was leaving to return to his first love, basketball. “I always kind of felt my decision that I had to play football was forced upon me a little bit,” Dillon told BuffStampede.com. “People told me I had to make a decision by the end of my junior year between football and basketball because quarterbacks all seemed to commit pretty early. Basketball has always been my passion, and even though I really enjoyed my year here, I felt the time is now for me to make the change.”

Jordan Webb, after being the starter for much of the 2012 season, was never able to get back on the field at CU. After suffering a thumb injury which kept him out of the first half of spring practices, Webb suffered a torn ACL later in spring drills, and was never able to make his case to the new coaching staff. Webb had already graduated from Kansas in three years, and decided to call it a career at the end of the 2013 season.

Stevie Joe Dorman also left at the end of the 2013 season.  Fourth on the depth chart – with Jordan Gehrke and Cade Apsay still looking to join the competition for playing time in 2014 – Dorman could see the writing on the wall, deciding to transfer to West Texas A&M, a Division II where Dorman would be able to play right away. “I’m leaving because I would really like to play my final two years of eligibility, it’s as simple as that,” Dorman told BuffStampede.com in December. “Sefo  Liufau is doing a great job here, and I honestly don’t think I could take his spot. But I really enjoyed my three years here at CU. I liked my coaches,  and appreciated what everyone did for me, especially the academic support you receive here”.

Connor Wood then became the last – and perhaps the most surprisingly – of the 2013 spring roster six to defect. With the Buffs down to three quarterbacks for spring practices, including transfer Jordan Gehrke, Wood decided to give up on football, making his announcement this past week. He intends to walk at graduation in May and finish up his requirements for his degree in Business (Finance) by August; he is not looking to then transfer and complete his career elsewhere.

“First of all, I want to thank my family for sticking by me through the thick and thin,” Wood said. “Whether I was the starting quarterback or battling for third string, their unwavering support for me was beyond compare. Secondly, I want to thank (Texas) coach Mack Brown for giving me a scholarship and the opportunity for me to pursue my dream of playing college football.

“And mostly,” he continued, “I would like to give a special thanks to the University of Colorado football team, and coach MacIntyre for allowing me to be a member of its family for the last three years. Coach Mac has this program going in the right direction, and I’m excited to see the Buffaloes fight their way back to the top.”

So, six quarterbacks were on the roster at the start of spring practices, 2013 … and all six are gone less than a year later.

Does this speak ill of the University of Colorado? Of Mike MacIntyre and his coaching staff? Does it hurt the Buffs going forward

No, no, and maybe.

You have to look at each of the six losses at the quarterback position individually. On the list, only the defections of Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood really count as unexpected losses. The reality for both, however, is that both had their chance with the new coaches, both had accumulated sufficient practice and game time film to make their case, and Mac & Co. felt that the Buffs had better chances to win with another player.

But that leads us to …

Spring Practices, 2014

Where does the loss of six quarterbacks in a year leave the University of Colorado, heading into the 2014 spring practices, and into the 2014 season?

The real problems will come this spring, with only two quarterbacks – Sefo Liufau and Jordan Gehrke – available to take snaps. This will cause organizational issues, but, if the two signal callers can avoid injury, the Buffs could get through. Still, with only two quarterbacks to participate in drills, there will be lost time as wide receivers wait in line to run patterns, and defensive backs wait in line to defend. (One possible solution would be to draft a current player with quarterback experience to assist in drills this spring. Defensive back Josh Moten jumps to mind – if he is willing, and if he is sufficiently healed from his Achilles injury).

This fall, three quarterbacks on the roster should be sufficient. True, CU hasn’t gone a season with just one quarterback in almost a decade, and if Sefo Liufau can’t survive an entire campaign, the Buffs will be throwing a freshman backup – whether it proves to be Gehrke or Apsay – into the fray. But the Buffs played with a freshman quarterback for most of the 2013 season, and that worked out okay.

Still, it should come as little surprise that the Buff Nation is out there, everyday, searching for quarterback No. 4 to add to the roster.

Almost every announcement that a quarterback at a Division 1 school is leaving their team has spawned a thread in the chat rooms, wondering whether that player would become a good fit for Colorado. Alabama’s Luke Del Rio, he of Highlands Ranch origin? Sorry, he’s heading to Oregon State. Florida’s Tyler Murphy? Heading to Boston College. Former Buff commit Brock Berglund? Leaving North Texas for Northern Colorado. Minnesota’s Philip Nelson? Texas Tech’s Michael Brewer (or Baker Mayfield)? Indiana’s Cam Coffman?

Yes, there has been much speculation about a transfer coming to play quarterback at Colorado, but little basis in reality to date. (Okay … Air Force’s former quarterback, Jaleel Awini, might actually sign on with Colorado, but that remains a big “if“).

The thing is, while having three quarterbacks on the roster is not ideal – especially with all three being underclassmen – it could prove fruitful in recruiting for the Class of 2015. If Colorado improves its play on the field, a quality recruit from the Recruiting Class of 2015 could look at the CU roster and see an opportunity for quick advancement. Even if Sefo Liufau cements his role as the starter, he would be a junior in 2015, which would be the new recruit’s true freshman year. Sefo would then be a senior when the new star would be a red-shirt freshman. Thus a quarterback recruit who believes in Mike MacIntyre & Co. could look at the current CU depth chart and see a very good opportunity to become a three-year starter come 2017.

That, however, is making a lot of assumptions for a program which can’t seem to generate a roster with a proper changing of the guard. Due to attrition and changing coaching staffs, too many of the current Buffs have been forced into action as true freshmen. The current roster for 2014 shows 22 seniors – a fair number. Of those 22, however, nine of them never used their red-shirt season. Think of it: How much better would the 2015 Buffs be if they still had the likes of D.D. Goodson, Tyler McCulloch, Juda Parker, Brady Daigh, Woodson Greer, K.T. Tu’umalo, and Greg Henderson coming back for their fifth years?

Yes, attrition is a way of life in college football.

No, the University of Colorado is not immune to attrition.

But, as the loss of six quarterbacks in one year attests, attrition can significantly impact a program.

And if either Sefo Liufau or Jordan Gehrke get hurt this spring, the Buff Nation will – unfortunately – see just how much of an impact attrition can have.



4 Replies to “Quarterback Attrition at CU”

  1. If the issue is getting WR and DB reps, why can’t an assistant throw the ball for them? Grad assistant? Don’t know the rules on this though.

  2. I wonder how much cynicism had to do with the departure of the Hawkins holdovers.
    It may sound harsh but its probably just as well those victims be purged sooner than later.
    The koolaid related shock for me was the end of Dillon’s CU career. His participation in the Elite 11 and the glowing reports of his performance on the scout team left me totally unprepared for the unprepared QB I saw in the spring game.

  3. Lots of unplanned (or perhaps planned) movement here, and also says something about the state of recruiting under the previous regime.

  4. Stuart,

    Good catch on Josh Moten, who I somehow overlooked in my QB “emergency” list of Isaac Archuleta and Richard Yates II. Moten seems to have been the best high school QB of the three. My only concern about Moten is that he seems sorely missing from the the final stats column the last several years. He played a few snaps in four games a couple years ago, but does not show up even in the special teams area this past season. Did he redshirt last year perhaps?

    Also, have you heard anything about highly unlikely possibility that the NCAA will grant Webb another year?

    If not, Mac could hire Webb as a graduate assistant who could certainly help during spring practices, especially as an extra guy to throw to the receivers. He’s also got a LOAD of game experience, so having him available to work with the young QB’s wouldn’t hurt. Hell, if Cody Hawkins can be a Grad Asst for Ohio State, Webb ought to be able to do the same thing for CU. The guy is very smart and graduated in three years at Kansas. Of course, T.C. McCartney (one of the current grad assistants) also played QB at LSU and has a national championship from his days at LSU to show for it.

    Whatever happens, it will be interesting to see what Mac and his staff come up with. It’s one of the reasons head coaches make the big bucks.


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