I can say with almost near certainty that Chris Relf will be the opening-day starting quarterback for MSU. I'm pretty sure, mostly.
I speak in such a non-committal tones because trying to figure out what Dan Mullen is really thinking is like trying to decipher the lyrics of "Louie Louie" (without using Mr. Google). It will only lead to frustration and confusion.
That's because Mullen won't fully let on how he thinks the quarterback situation will pan out. It's an open competition, he says. And that's fine, because everything Mullen does is about competition; it's his way of keeping his guys motivated, and it seems to work.
I asked him last week if the job was Relf's to lose. Mullen said, "I don't know even look at it that way. We just let them all go, and we'll evaluate them all. For him, he's going to have the edge in the experience and the confidence. He's been in a game when things have gone bad, and he's had to play through that. The other guys are still trying to figure all that out."
That's a big edge to have, and it's something Tyler Russell and Dylan Favre can't learn in practice. Russell got a good amount of playing time last year, but none of it was crunch time. And as I've said before, Relf losing this job would require a combination of him regressing terribly and/or Russell (or Favre, but probably Russell) looking like the next Peyton Manning, with his spinning of the football giving off a sound like angels singing.
That's what it would take. But Relf, by all accounts and by what I've seen, continues to improve. His release is tight, his throws are accurate and his confidence is high. As kicker Derek DePasquale noted yesterday, Relf (a fifth-year senior) has been more talkative than ever this year, which suggests a higher degree of comfort with who he is and where he fits into this team.
Mullen, however, is focused on seeing each of his QBs make strides.
"What I want to see is, I want to see Chris make the plays, I want to see Tyler have the demeanor on the field, and I want to see Dylan manage. Not work on their strengths, but their weaknesses."
Relf has made plenty of plays in his career – ask Ole Miss and Michigan, in particular. He said Saturday that he's focusing right now on his footwork.
"I think I've got my throwing down pat," he said, "but just sitting back in the pocket and moving my feet and making the correct throws, that's all."
Last season, Relf completed 58.6 percent of his passes (129 of 220) for 1,789 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions (half those INTs came in the first three games of the season). In seven games, Russell completed 58.2 percent (39 of 67) for 635 yards, five TDs and six picks (half of his INTs came against LSU after Relf was hurt).
You watch Russell, and there's no doubt he's got a bright future, so long as his head is on straight (it seems to be). Like Favre, he was a Parade All-American in high school, and that ought to tell you just how far Relf has come.
So this is Relf's job in 2011. I'm sure of it. Almost definitely.