The battle for the Boise State starting quarterback job begins publicly next week.
It started in private about six weeks ago — in the weight room, in player-run passing drills and in the film room.
Each of the Broncos' four quarterbacks — none of whom has started a college game and only one of whom has any significant experience — hopes to prove he is the right guy to lead Boise State into a new era.
Gone are quarterback Jared Zabransky, a three-year starter, and the top four receivers from the Broncos' Fiesta Bowl championship team.
Boise State will begin rebuilding its passing game next Monday with the start of spring practice.
"There is no offseason," sophomore Nick Lomax said. "People think there is, but there isn't."
The quarterbacks worked out four days a week with their teammates during winter conditioning. They also gathered as many receivers, defensive backs and linebackers as possible for 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 drills three days a week in the Caven-Williams Sports Complex.
Between classes and homework, they met with offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin up to two hours per week, studied film of last year's games or their own practice performances and refreshed their playbook memory.
"Now's the time to really be studying," Harsin said.
The candidates for the starting job include senior Taylor Tharp, a two-year backup who has received meaningful playing time in a handful of games; junior Bush Hamdan; Lomax; and redshirt freshman Mike Coughlin.
Harsin plans to give each a chance to prove himself during the first two weeks of spring practice, ending with the first scrimmage March 23.
He hopes to set a pecking order after spring breakso the top contenders get the most quality time during the last two weeks of spring practice.
Harsin wants to focus on one or two quarterbacks in fall camp to make sure the starter is fully prepared.
"Ideally that would be the scenario, but it may not play out that way," Harsin said. "… We'll come out of spring ball with a plan and an idea of what we're doing at the quarterback position."
The quarterbacks always are evaluated largely on four traits — decision-making, consistency, leadership and playmaking.
Harsin also will look for a quick learner, because 15 spring practices will go quickly.
"The big key is how fast and how far do they come in the amount of time they've got," Harsin said. "Who knows? Maybe one guy just clicks."
Tharp is taking the low-stress approach — similar to what Zabransky did last year coming off a pressure-packed, disappointing season. Tharp will graduate in December, so his college days are winding down.
"I'm trying to have fun," he said. "I'm trying not to take everything so seriously to where it's controlling me. I'm with all my buds."
His emphasis is on leadership, a role he inherits — at least for now — as the senior quarterback.
"The most important thing for me is, no matter what happens, being a leader," Tharp said. "Being a positive guy. Doing the right things."
Hamdan might be the most eager of the bunch. He has spent nearly three years on the BSU roster and this is his first chance to compete for real playing time.
He has improved throughout his career, but was stuck behind Zabransky and Tharp the past two seasons.
"I'm just so excited to compete again," Hamdan said. "This is the first time where the opportunity is there."
Lomax spent last season improving his throwing mechanics and learning the offense through observation. As the fourth-string quarterback, he rarely ran the offense.
Lomax struggled last year in fall camp, but improved as the season progressed.
"My mechanics hopefully will be improved enough to give me a chance at earning the spot," he said.
Coughlin is the newcomer. He showed last fall that he has the physical tools to excel — particularly a strong, accurate arm. But now comes the hard part. He will get his first chance to run the offense this spring.
He ran a similar offense in high school and is confident he can handle the college version. He already has a good feel for what it will take to win the job.
"Basically," he said, "it's whoever puts us in the best position to win."
The quarterbacks say they are friends off the field and helpful competitors on it. The four-way battle will be difficult, they know, but they also expect the depth of talent to create a more prepared starter.
"We'll compete in a friendly environment," Lomax said. "We'll joke around and have fun, but we know when it's time to be serious. After we take care of what we need to take care of, we can go grab dinner.
"We're that type of group. … No matter who becomes the starting quarterback, we'll have that support group."