Glad he got that out of the way.
On Tuesday, at Northwestern’s first spring practice of 2014, Pat Fitzgerald announced that Trevor Siemian is the Wildcats’ starting quarterback. "[If] we're playing Saturday, Trevor's our quarterback," he said, according to Rivals.
There was plenty of talk during the offseason about how redshirt freshman Matt Alviti should get a shot at the starting job. This didn’t make a lot of sense: Alviti hasn’t played a single down in college, nor has he – at least to my knowledge – done anything in practice over the past year that’s so extraordinary it calls into question the obvious fact Siemian is the best option NU has at quarterback right now.
It would be wrong to say that Siemian is so good, even discussing the possibility that he could be challenged for the starting job is a waste of time. But Siemian is better than Alviti and better than Zack Oliver, who reportedly took No. 2 reps over Alviti Tuesday. Siemian wasn’t great in 2013. He struggled for much of the season while dealing with a heel injury we learned about only after Siemian delivered a masterful 414-yard, four-touchdown blitzkrieg against Illinois in the season finale.
It’s not a huge leap in logic to suggest that, when healthy, Siemian can be much better than the guy who completed about half of his passes and recorded a quarterback rating above 100 only twice during NU’s seven-game losing streak. You saw what he did in the Illinois game. But let’s ignore Siemian’s performance and look at NU’s alternatives at his position. There is Alviti, Oliver and true freshman Clayton Thorson. Neither of the latter two is likely to earn the starting job, so I’m not going to address them in detail. It’s Alviti that’s worth discussing.
Throughout the offseason, some fans clamored for Alviti to replace Siemian as the starter. That seems unlikely, but if it does happen, it appears Alviti will first need to beat out Oliver. Word out of practice yesterday (full disclosure: I wasn’t there) was that Oliver looked better than Alviti. It’s too early to make proclamations about certain positions on the depth chart – some, like, say, Ibraheim Campbell starting at safety, are guarantees – but let’s assume, for the sake of this discussion, that Oliver wins the backup job.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think fans will still be calling for Siemian to get benched if the next guy in line is Oliver. The belief that Siemian shouldn’t start, at least from what I can tell, is rooted in the idea that Alviti’s lofty recruiting status means he will be a great college quarterback. They want to see how a former four-star recruit with a nice offer sheet will operate an NU offense that, if healthy, should be pretty good. They have seen Siemian play, and seen the offense be at times merely OK and bad under Siemian’s command. With Alviti, the thinking is, NU’s offense could be great.
Alviti may grow into an excellent quarterback. His high school credentials speak for themselves. But right now, he’s not as qualified as Siemian – and may not be as qualified as Oliver – to lead NU’s offense. The reason fans believe Alviti deserves a shot at the starting job is a common one. They crave the unknown. They yearn for the next best thing. If they think the guy who hasn’t played could be better than the starter, even if he hasn’t proven as much, they believe he deserves a shot at being the starter. They know what the starter can do, and it’s just OK, but not great, and when you’re a sports fan settling for just OK is boring. You've heard this cliché before: the backup quarterback is the most popular guy on the team.
The funny thing about this situation is Alviti may not even be the backup. As of Tuesday morning, Oliver is. Unless something happens in spring practice that shakes up the depth chart, this won’t need to be addressed again. Siemian is the starter and probably will be the starter when NU opens its season against Cal on August 31. Alviti is a promising prospect, but right now he’s not as qualified to lead NU’s offense as Siemian is.