Only one quarterback can be named the starter. Only one can take the most reps during practices and play the most during games.
All the others hold clipboards, signal in plays, or pat the starter on the butt after possessions and during timeouts.
And they wait.
Wait for an injury, which they really don’t want to happen. The starter, after all, is their buddy.
They wait for the starter to struggle. They don’t want that either.
Both, though, happen throughout a college football season.
In the case of the two teams playing Saturday in the 83rd Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, their backups redirected their seasons and led them to the College Football Playoff semifinal at AT&T Stadium.
Looking back at the past three months, it looks like it was a no-brainer for both No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Notre Dame to switch quarterbacks in September.
“It went about as well as it could,” Fighting Irish center Sam Mustipher said. “I mean, we’re here right now.”
But the Tigers and Irish were undefeated when they handed the keys to the offense, and the fate of their seasons, to true freshman Trevor Lawrence and sophomore Ian Book, respectively.
Neither team has looked back.
“It was a very difficult decision, for sure, because you’ve got a guy that has won for you and all that,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “But, at the same time your team changes every year. And, at the end of the day, my job is to play the best guys.”
Lawrence was regarded as the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2018 and the expectation was he would play this season behind Kelly Bryant, who guided Clemson to the CFP last year.
Clemson was 3-0 when it went to Georgia Tech on Sept. 22. The offense struggled the first two series behind Bryant, and Lawrence was sent out the next time the Tigers had the ball.
He threw three touchdowns passes in the first half and another in the second half in a 49-21 victory. He was selected as the starter the next week, and Bryant opted to transfer out of the program.
Dealing with that might have been the toughest part of the switch. The offense, meanwhile, was about to show more of its potential.
“There was a lot of talk everywhere else, but I feel like around our team we were pretty good,” Lawrence said. “Kelly leaving was tough and all the guys were close, so that was tough and we had to get through that. But other than that, the teammates were really supportive, and I felt like we just took off from there.”
Lawrence was injured in his first game as the starter, and Clemson (13-0) survived a close one against Syracuse. From there, though, the Tigers scored 63, 41, 59 and 77 points their next four games and didn’t score fewer than 27 after the change.
Lawrence has a big arm and sees the field well. He is more mobile than might be expected from a 6-foot-5 quarterback, and more mature than the average true freshman.
“He works harder than anyone else on the team,” offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt said. “He’s always studying film, always studying something. And it’s fun to see him mature. When he got that starting job, he … just took it upon himself to go work even harder.”
Book replaced another successful quarterback when Irish coach Brian Kelly pushed senior Brandon Wimbush down the depth chart after their third game. They had scored 24, 24 and 22 points under Wimbush, who threw only one TD pass while tossing four interceptions.
Notre Dame (12-0) scored 56 in Book’s first start the next week and never looked back. The Irish weren’t as prolific as Clemson offensively, and Wimbush started for the injured Book (ribs) Nov. 10 in a 42-13 win over Florida State.
Book, whose strength is his accuracy, started the next two games to end the season. Wimbush is expected to transfer, leaving Book as the undisputed starter after making the most of his opportunity.
“It was my chance to play and show my skills and show the offense that I can lead this team to victory and be a leader for the guys,” Book said.
The Irish went through a quarterback change in 2016 when DeShone Kiser replaced Malik Zaire, and it didn’t go over well with many on the team. That hasn’t been the case this season.
“Our locker room just split. And it was awful,” linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “It was everything you hoped to stay away from in regards to just team camaraderie and togetherness. It was like there were two different camps almost.
“This situation has been totally different. You would think the guys were best friends, Ian and Brandon. They’re always trying to make each other better, always talking, always dabbing each other up. Some guys on the team are better friends with Brandon, but it’s like they equally support Ian and it’s been great for us.”
There also weren’t any issues in the Clemson locker room and neither team looked back.
They are two wins away from a national championship.
“The transition wasn’t that hard,” Tigers running back Travis Etienne said. “Trevor got reps the first four or five weeks in practice. It wasn’t really that hard for everyone. It’s a game of football. Everyone rallied around Trevor and just helped him to be who he is.”
DALLAS — Clemson and Notre Dame weren’t even a month into this season when they made unexpected quarterback switches while undefeated with seniors who had won a lot of games.
Neither of those senior starters was even injured, but the Tigers and Fighting Irish decided to make early changes. Both teams are still without a loss and now in the College Football Playoff.
Trevor Lawrence was named Clemson’s new starter going into the Sept. 29 game against Syracuse after the true freshman had played behind Kelly Bryant each of the first four games. That was a week after Ian Book supplanted Brandon Wimbush as Notre Dame’s No. 1 quarterback .
“I knew what my goals were and I knew I wanted to play for a championship, but I wasn’t really sure how everything would work out,” Lawrence said. “I didn’t have a plan as far as how the season would go exactly, so I didn’t really I guess have too many expectations on how we’d get here necessarily. It’s definitely been a crazy year.”
Bryant, who plans to finish his college career at Missouri, almost immediately left Clemson’s program to save his final season of eligibility after going 16-2 as a starter and helping lead the Tigers to their third consecutive ACC title last year. Lawrence, the AP’s ACC top newcomer, made it four in a row this season.
Notre Dame was 3-0 when Book, the junior who led a late comeback victory in last season’s Citrus Bowl against LSU, took over after Wimbush had gone 12-3 in his starts.
“Both of us are very fortunate, couldn’t be in a better situation. And the season goes by so fast,” Book said Wednesday. “There’s certain times where you kind of just sit back and realize where you are and how fast this whole season has gone by, and again, just how fortunate we are to both be here and playing in such a big game.”
Lawrence and Book go head-to-head Saturday in the Cotton Bowl. The winner of the semifinal matchup between second-ranked Clemson (13-0) and third-ranked Notre Dame (12-0) advances to play No. 1 Alabama or No. 4 Oklahoma for the national title.
Wimbush is still with the Irish prepping for the playoff. But several media reports say Wimbush, who already has a degree and can go play immediately at another school as a graduate transfer, has notified Notre Dame that he intends to transfer after the season.
Right after Lawrence was named Clemson’s starter, in a switch that could have potentially created a divide among the team, All-America senior defensive tackle Christian Wilkins took the young 6-foot-6 quarterback to breakfast.
“I just felt like it was something that needed to be done, me setting the tone, I’m behind you, I got your back,” Wilkins said. “If I’m a guy who is pretty well respected on the team and I can do this for a young guy who’s going to be in the lead, taking charge of the program, then everybody else should follow suit essentially.”
Lawrence has 2,606 yards passing with 24 touchdowns and four interceptions. He had 600 yards and nine TDs before even starting a game.
Coach Dabo Swinney would like to see Lawrence keep being more aggressive with his legs — he has 76 of his 144 rushing yards in the last three games.
“I was pretty confident in where he was mentally and obviously his ability to throw the football and all of that stuff but we need him to get more comfortable scrambling,” Swinney said. “He’s sometime too confident in his arm.”
Before splitting reps with Bryant this season, Lawrence was an early enrollee at Clemson and went through spring practice when five-star quarterback Hunter Johnson was still there before transferring to Northwestern.
“He works harder than anyone else on the team” offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt said. “He’s always studying film, always studying something. It’s fun to see him mature. When he got that starting job … he just took it upon himself to go work even harder.”
Book has thrown for 2,468 yards with 19 touchdowns and six interceptions for Notre Dame, which has averaged 35 points a game in his eight starts — a touchdown more than four games started by Wimbush. The accurate junior has completed 197 of 280 passes (70 percent).
“We’ve just been able to open the playbook and he’s been able to make all the throws,” said Irish leading receiver Miles Boykin, who had the go-ahead 55-yard TD catch from Book with 1:28 left in the Citrus Bowl. “He’s extremely accurate. … Having a quarterback like that, you know he’s going to place the ball where only you can get it. The rest is left up to us to go and make the play.”