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Spring Quarterback Breakdown: How Will Colter and Siemian Split Time?

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

With spring practice set to begin, we’ll go through each position unit and let you know the biggest things to look out for throughout the spring. We’ll start with the quarterbacks, where everyone returns from an impressive 2012 campaign. NU gets its “1.A. and 1.B. “ players back, as Pat Fitzgerald would like to say, and it adds a recruiting gem in four-star Maine South QB Matt Alviti. This group has the opportunity to be special and continue a tradition of solid quarterbacks under Fitzgerald.

Returning starters: Kain Colter (Sr), Trevor Siemian (Jr)

Others returning: Zack Oliver (So), P.J. Carollo (So), Christian Salem (Rs Fr)

Incoming recruits: Matt Alviti

Biggest spring question: How will Colter and Siemian split time?

This has been one of the biggest questions surrounding Northwestern football since the beginning of last season, when Colter put up big numbers against Syracuse before Siemian came in to lead the game-winning drive. At first we saw more and more of Siemian, then his snap count decreased until the end of the season. It was an erratic pattern, which involved both and arbitrary and situational rotation.

Everybody and their mother had an opinion about who should play more, but here’s what we know for sure:

1. Colter was always going to be the starter, and that’s not likely to change next year. NU went 10-3 with Colter as a starter, and the three losses were never because the Wildcats didn’t score enough points. Colter will go into the spring as the starter, and barring a collapse or vast improvement from Siemian between now and the start of the season, he’ll likely retain that spot.

2. Siemian really is 1.B. Fitzgerald likes to use that term, and at first it seemed like his way of saying Siemian was playing really well, but Colter was playing better. However, they’re essentially “co-starters” in terms of playing time.

3. When Fitzgerald wants to establish the run, he’ll play Colter. When it’s a two-minute drill, he’ll play Siemian.

Regardless of your opinion, those three things are pretty much set in stone. Part of the reason Colter is better fit for a starter in this system is that he gives NU more options in the running game. Fitzgerald likes to establish the run from the get-go, so it makes more sense to go with Colter, who is more of a threat on the ground than Siemian. NU can also incorporate the option and the zone read with Colter, with makes running back Venric Mark even more effective.

Contrary to popular opinion, Colter can throw. He had 69 fewer attempts than Siemian, but he had a better completion percentage (67.8 to 58.7) and had 8 touchdowns to 4 interceptions. The more he throws, the more opponents will have to respect that part of this game, and the more the run game will open up. However, Siemian has a better arm and has proven himself more as a downfield passer. Colter can throw it downfield, but Siemian has been extremely effective in the two-minute drill, so it’s tough to see NU switching that up.

NU’s quarterback rotation will continue to evolve, and we’ll continue to see new ways to use both players since they’re both so dynamic. However, the basic blueprint became clear after last season, and it’s tough to see that changing a whole lot, considering how well it worked. What spring practice could do is give us a glimpse of how time may be split, and it could allow Colter and Siemian to settle into more defined roles earlier in the season. One thing is for sure though — those roles will continue to evolve throughout the year.

Position Battles

Colter vs. Siemian: This isn’t really a position battle, because as we explained earlier, they’re both going to see time. However, it will be interesting to see how time is split.

Our best guess at the depth chart

1.A. — Kain Colter
1.B. — Trevor Siemian
No. 3 — Zack Oliver
No. 4 — P.J. Carollo
No. 5 — Christian Salem
Redshirt — Matt Alviti