Luke DeCock

UNC’s Larry Fedora isn’t getting any pleasure from keeping this decision quiet

Head coach Larry Fedora watches quarterback Brandon Harris (6) during a drill as the UNC Tar Heels hold football practice at Kenan Stadium on August 2, 2017.
Head coach Larry Fedora watches quarterback Brandon Harris (6) during a drill as the UNC Tar Heels hold football practice at Kenan Stadium on August 2, 2017. cseward@newsobserver.com

When he had two elite quarterbacks to choose between, Larry Fedora thought it was great fun to keep his decision a closely guarded secret. “It gives me pleasure,” he said, when he was in the enviable position of selecting either Marquise Williams or Mitch Trubisky and refused to reveal his choice.

Three years later, with less than a week to go before North Carolina opens against California, with three different quarterbacks listed as potential starters, it’s just giving Fedora indigestion – and a bad case of the ORs. There are 12 different positions with multiple players listed as starters on North Carolina’s initial depth chart. Quarterback is just one of them, but likely the most important.

“That was tongue in cheek when I said I get pleasure out of not telling you,” Fedora said Monday. “I would prefer somebody had separated himself two months ago and we had named a starter and went forward as a starter, but that’s just not the way it is in this situation. That’s just what we’ve got to deal with.”

So Fedora hasn’t been quite as glib about the quarterback situation this fall, with exponentially more uncertainty surrounding who his starter will be and, from the outside at least, no option that comes close to approaching either Williams or Trubisky (a decision made privately two weeks before Fedora announced it publicly, Williams would later confirm).

The only quarterback with any experience is a graduate transfer from a program not exactly known for sterling quarterback play – which isn’t to paint Brandon Harris with some broad LSU brush, only to point out that’s not necessarily the store where you want to go quarterback shopping if you have a choice about it. The problem may entirely be the program and not the players, and whether Harris is the starter Saturday or not he’ll almost certainly get his chance to show what he can do here at some point.

Redshirt freshman Chaz Surratt appears to be the other likely contender, but is just a redshirt freshman. And if any of the four – sophomore Nathan Elliott and redshirt freshman Logan Byrd are the others, with only Harris, Surratt and Elliott listed on the initial depth chart – had distinguished himself to this point, Fedora probably would have taken the opportunity to publicly rejoice in that fact rather than play things this closely.

The answer may yet be out there. Someone will start Saturday. Maybe two or three or even all four will play. Maybe even all at once. (Probably not.) But unlike 2014, Fedora doesn’t know yet. (Probably.)

This has not been a common issue for North Carolina, which has gone from T.J. Yates to Bryn Renner to Williams to Trubisky in relatively smooth fashion. Even the Williams-Trubisky selection in 2014 was a choice between two future all-ACC quarterbacks.

The last time North Carolina found itself with this kind of scramble under center was long before Fedora arrived, when Yates was getting booed off the field in 2009 – how long ago that seems now, and how jarring – and Trubisky’s meteoric rise has everything to do with the position the Tar Heels are in now.

You can recruit and prepare and plan, but how do you prepare for Mitch becoming Mitchell? You can’t. You just regroup in the spring and again in August, a process that hasn’t so far delivered Fedora a great deal of pleasure.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, @LukeDeCock

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