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Tuesday, November 10, 2009
As the Cincinnati quarterback world turns


Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Another day, another twist in the continuing saga that is the Cincinnati quarterback situation.

Zach Collaros will start Friday night against West Virginia, but Tony Pike will play in a role that coach Brian Kelly declined to divulge. Confused? That's understandable.
 
 Frank Victores/US Presswire
 Zach Collaros will start for the Bearcats Friday against West Virginia.


Kelly said Saturday night that Collaros, who set a Big East record with 555 total yards against UConn on Saturday, had played so well that he'd have to rethink who would start for the Bearcats when Pike was healthy. On Monday's Big East teleconference, Kelly emphatically stated that Pike was his starter when healthy. Then on Tuesday, the coach announced that Collaros would start but Pike would play.

Kelly's reasoning goes like this: Pike still isn't 100 percent, though he's close. And since Collaros has been magnificent, there's no reason to rush back Pike, especially since the senior has missed so much practice time. The fact that there's still some risk with Pike's injured left forearm also allows Kelly to keep the red-hot Collaros in while not alienating Pike.

So why play Pike at all this week? Kelly said there are things that Pike can bring to the offense that give the Bearcats an advantage. He didn't say this, but it's also a good way to maybe knock some of the rust off the quarterback without putting the team at risk in a must-win game for Cincinnati's Big East and national title hopes. And it makes the Mountaineers have to prepare for both quarterbacks in a short week.

Of course, Kelly said last month that he didn't want to play two quarterbacks because he'd rather have the receivers keep a rapport with one player. He's reversed field on that, calling it a "fluid situation." He said that's because Collaros has played so well that the receivers have the utmost confidence in him as well as Pike.

"They feel great with whoever the starter is," Kelly said. "That now becomes a moot point, relative to who feels better with what quarterback, because they have a comfort level with both."

Kelly emphasized that there would be no quarterback controversy on this team. He said Pike and his family were part of the decision-making process because he is the one who would have to risk his health by playing.

"Our team has absolutely no concerns over who's leading them," Kelly said. "Where controversy comes in is when the room is split. There is no split. Our guys know they can win and win at a high level with both those guys. That's a very, very unique circumstance, and I seem to attract unique circumstances."

Kelly said Pike would start the Nov. 27 Illinois game after the bye week. But remember, this is a fluid situation.

The other news from Cincinnati today is that second-leading rusher Jacob Ramsey won't play this week because of a foot sprain. He's in a walking boot. Isaiah Pead will start at running back, and John Goebel and Darrin Williams are in the mix as the backups. Goebel has a broken hand, but Kelly said the training staff has arranged a cast so he can carry the ball through the injury.