After one week, one football game and one come-from-behind win, the UConn Huskies already have a quarterback controversy. In early August, newly-hired Head Coach Randy Edsall made a splash when he announced junior college transfer David Pindell would be the 2017 starting quarterback for the Huskies over redshirt senior Bryant Shirreffs. Shirreffs had been at the helm of the Huskies’ offense for 21 games over the past two seasons including an appearance in the St. Petersburg Bowl. This decision didn’t last very long.
In their first game of the season the Huskies found themselves in a deep hole, down 20-7 late in the third quarter to a Holy Cross team that most Husky fans had penciled in as an easy win. Running out of time and options, Edsall decided to put Shirreffs into the game. The rest is history. The Huskies stormed back, scoring three unanswered touchdowns, and came away with a 27-20 win behind Shirreffs. Tuesday morning, coach Edsall decided to go with the hot-hand and give Shirreffs the starting quarterback position for Saturday’s game. Campus correspondents Kenny Beardsley and Brandon Carney debate who should start Saturday against the nationally-ranked University of South Florida Bulls in this week’s edition of Point/Counterpoint.
Kenny Beardsley: Pindell needs to start on Saturday. I bleed blue like everyone else, but the program has to face the music. I don’t want to be a pessimist, but the Huskies pulled out a gritty come-from-behind win on the shoulders of senior quarterback Bryant Shirreffs. 1-0, it’s a great feeling, especially as a UConn football fan. However, this team is not going to go undefeated, or compete for a national title. It’s not going to win the American Athletic Conference or even the AAC East Division.
Heck, winning another game might be unrealistic. Look at the schedule this year and find me two more games that this team is going to win. Boston College? Lost to them in 2016, 30-0. East Carolina? Lost to them in 2016, 41-3. This team made Holy Cross look like they played in the Atlantic Coast Conference instead of the Patriot League. Winning one game cannot overshadow the long-term success of the program. While the priority for any team should always be winning the next game, the coaches and administration should also have an eye on the future. As the roster is currently constructed, whether fans like it or not, the future is in Pindell’s hands.
After this season, Shirreffs will be gone and the program will be looking for an answer at the quarterback position, again. Personally, I would rather go into the 2018 season knowing Pindell’s potential in the NCAA and in this system. Maybe he stinks. The smart move is to figure out who Pindell is while the pressure is on and the games still mean something. Inserting Shirriffs into the lineup is a Hail Mary pass for an invite to the Gasparilla Bowl.
Brandon Carney: One game is obviously an incredibly small sample size. David Pindell is more than capable of becoming a quality starting quarterback down the line despite his terrible first half against Holy Cross. But for right now, Randy Edsall would be foolish to deviate from what worked. I don’t necessarily agree with the assessment that UConn football will struggle to win three games. Of course, a 7-point win over a Football Championship Subdivision team doesn’t look encouraging on paper. But when you consider the Huskies outscored Holy Cross 20-0 after Bryant Shirreffs came into the game, you might have a better idea of what UConn’s ceiling is this season and who their better option at QB is.
Let’s break down Shirreffs’ first two seasons at UConn. In 2015, while his stats were underwhelming, he played well enough to lead the Huskies to a bowl game, their first since 2011. In 2016, he was seriously injured in the third game of the season, an injury which Bob Diaco failed to disclose to the public. He was benched in favor of Donovan Williams shortly after that because of “poor performance,” which was almost certainly caused by what Shirreffs described in his own words as the most painful injury he has ever suffered. So, when healthy, Shirreffs is quite capable of leading his team to more than a few wins.
As far as planning for the future goes, regardless of who starts this year, next year will be Pindell’s last in a Husky uniform. So, while Shirreffs is obviously not the long-term solution for UConn, as he’ll be gone after this year, Pindell isn’t the long-term solution either. Edsall should go with the QB who will win him the most games this year and potentially keep fan support and attendance up. UConn fans don’t deserve another abysmal season. Shirreffs could be the key to preventing one.
Kenny Beardsley: If you think UConn will reach or surpass the three-win mark, which games do you see them winning? The Huskies fortunately get a rematch with two of the teams they beat last year in Virginia, 13-10, and Cincinnati, 20-9. Unfortunately, this time around, they play both games on the opponent's turf. Neither of last year’s games were dominated by UConn, and one or two big plays could’ve shifted the scores the other way. So, aside from this team being average at best, being on the road will make the Huskies underdogs. Basically, the easiest games on the schedule got a lot harder.
Additionally, the most winnable game in the AAC, a matchup with Tulane is not on the Huskies schedule this year. Instead, Tulane is replaced with a promising Southern Methodist Univsersity team that put up 58 points in their season opener. The schedule this season is treacherous, and going winless the rest of the way is more realistic than making a bowl game.
The priority should always be to win every individual matchup, but as a program in a rebuilding phase the 2018 season should be just as important. The idea that Pindell’s 2018 season is his last is irrelevant because that is the future. He is the future of the program more so than Shirreffs is. Shirreffs, at best, can help this team win four games. Is winning four games worth wasting 2018 trying to decide if Pindell is good enough? Let Pindell showcase his talents in 2017 in games that still matter instead of playing him when the team is 1-5 and there is no pressure to perform. Sometimes the best way to move forward is to first risk moving backwards.
Brandon Carney: This isn’t so much about the games I think UConn will win− it’s about the games they can win. And there are plenty of those on the schedule. Barring a miracle, the Huskies will not beat USF this Saturday. Other than that, UConn has a fighting chance in most of their other games. It’s overly pessimistic to assume this is a lost season, even with all the turnover that occurred in the off-season. Now I’m not suggesting the Huskies will make a bowl game; even I admit that finding 6 wins on their schedule is a tall task. But I’m also not saying it’s impossible. Until this team proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it has no chance of winning five-plus games, the best quarterback needs to continue to start. As of right now, Edsall’s squad sits at 1-0 and anything is possible. If a month goes by and UConn is suddenly 1-4 with their pipe dream bowl game hopes down the drain, then bring in Pindell. That way, the team has its best chance to win games early in the season with Shirreffs, but if they prove to be as inept as you believe them to be, they still have the chance to see what Pindell can do and get him some in-game experience heading into 2018.
If the season is lost, then of course, bring in the younger guy who will at least be here next year. But don’t do that until the season is definitively lost. Until then, start the guy who gives UConn a reasonable chance to win in games that could go either way. Start the guy who gives UConn a chance to beat conference foes like Temple, East Carolina and Cincinnati. Start the guy who gives UConn a chance to beat non-conference opponents like Virginia, Boston College and Missouri. Don’t start the guy who struggled to move the ball against an FCS team.
Kenny Beardsley is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. Brandon Carney is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.