Indiana's quarterback battle is over. Indiana coach Tom Allen announced Monday that redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr. will start for the Hoosiers in the team's season-opener against Ball State on Saturday.
"It wasn't what Peyton (Ramsey) didn't do," Allen said. "It was more of what I believe Mike can be. And so we just let these guys compete, and it was very, as we said all along, it was very close. We made the decision last week so we could get the proper reps. And I'm excited about the future of our program."
Penix Jr. was the only one of the three quarterbacks in the competition --incumbent starter Peyton Ramsey and Utah transfer Jack Tuttle were the others -- who did not participate fully in spring practice, which makes the new starter's rise all the more surprising.
Penix was still rehabbing his knee in the spring after suffering a torn ACL early in the 2018 season, but he is fully healthy now and he had the most impressive camp of the three.
As Allen said, it was close. Of the practices I went to, Penix was most impressive in the majority, but there were certainly days where Ramsey was better.
This, to me, looks like the right decision from Allen. He said that Ramsey would be given every chance to keep the job, and he was, but Penix's talent won out.
It's a risk, clearly, because Ramsey is more experienced and probably more polished at this point, but after two straight 5-7 seasons to start his tenure, Allen isn't content with "good enough." I respect that and I believe this decision will make the program stronger going forward.
Maybe the most important part early in the season will be giving Penix some leash. If he's constantly worried about getting yanked out of the lineup at the first sign of trouble, he won't be able to take chances and make mistakes. Allen seems to be committed to Penix for the long term.
"He's our starting quarterback here at Indiana," Allen said. "It's not a game-to-game decision. But like anybody else, he's gotta perform, you know. But it's not viewed like that. He's our starting quarterback, and so he's gotta go and lead our team, and he knows that we've made our decision and he has my full confidence.
"But I tell you what, and that's why I've said all along it's great to have three guys in that room that can play. It's a long season, a lot of things happen, and it's proven over time that you often play more than one. But Mike Penix is our guy."
Allen said at Big Ten Media Days in July that one of the main characteristics he wanted from his starting quarterback was a belief from the rest of the offense that he could lead them down the field. That's why I always thought that Ramsey had the edge, because he'd proven he could do that last season.
Penix played well in spot duty early in the season, but I figured his injury and not being able to develop that belief further late in the year would put him behind in this competition. Instead, Penix's natural leadership abilities have apparently shown through in the off-season and Indiana's coaching staff believes Penix has the full confidence of his teammates.
"The thing that he brings that you really can't teach and coach is just that natural calm and poise," Allen said. "I mean he has that presence about him. The situation doesn't seem to be too big for him. You put him out there, had he not played in games, you just don't know. But he has, and I've seen that. And so that exudes to the guys around him. You get in those moments, and he's just kind of effortless at times about how he goes about what he does.
"And so I just think that that's a leadership quality that it affects the people, it gives them confidence to know that he believes. He believes in himself, and he plays that way. And he's got a very live arm and athleticism and all those things, but just that quiet confidence about him."
Penix clearly has the strongest arm of the three quarterbacks and he has shown plenty of accuracy in camp. He's fast and has made some "wow" plays in practices already. He was also solid in his limited playing time last season, completing 21 of 34 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 45 yards on seven carries. If he had stayed healthy, there's a chance he would've beaten Ramsey out as last season wore on.
The question now becomes: How does Ramsey handle this? By all accounts, he's been a great teammate throughout the process and he knows that any injury could thrust him straight into the lineup. He has to stay ready.
Penix is The Guy, as he should be. But he can't be the only voice in the room.