It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
When John Bunting arrived in December 2000, the offensive plan was to first build up the line and then add quality depth at the quarterback position.
But when heralded 2003 signees’ Nick Cangelosi transferred due to homesickness just prior to last season and Roger Heinz’s health took a serious decline due to a back injury, Bunting's plan reached a major hurdle.
“We’ve fallen off there,” Bunting said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday regarding UNC's lack of experienced depth at the quarterback position.
To begin ’05, the question wasn’t as much who would be the starter, but rather who would be the backup. Baker has avoided serious injury and exceeded expectations in terms of production. He's thrown for 2,185 yards and nine touchdowns, heading into Saturday's regular season finale.
But next year, it could be one of as many as four different underclassmen to get the nod when UNC opens at home against Rutgers on Sept. 2.
Judging from Bunting’s comments, Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey and redshirt freshman Cameron Sexton are the leading candidates in the competition.
Dailey, who started every game for the Cornhuskers the previous season (throwing for 2,025 yards and 17 touchdowns) and has two years of eligibility remaining, entered the ’05 spring practice No. 1 on Nebraska's depth chart. But a few weeks later he had slipped to fourth.
“There were five guys going for one spot,” Dailey told HuskerExtra right after he announced he would seek a transfer. “I felt I was prepared. But things didn’t fall into place as I hoped they would.”
Sexton, a film-study guru with excellent speed, enrolled last winter and was beginning to impress until he broke his ankle sliding into the Kenan Stadium hedges during spring practice. He had just run for a touchdown in a scrimmage setting.
“Cameron Sexton is going to be healthy,” Bunting said. “I know he feels quite confident in that, and I do also. I think Joey Bozich has made some progress over the season. He’s a young, young player we didn’t even expect to have last year as a freshman; we thought he was going to prep school. So he’s probably another year away.
“I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Joe Dailey running the scout team,” Bunting said. “He’s started in 11 or so games at Nebraska, so he’s played against great competition. He’s been out there and done that.”
And Bunting isn’t ruling out redshirt freshman Bobby Rome, whom he says is the most gifted athletically of the bunch.
“He’s certainly a specimen,” Bunting said.
“So I expect to see a lot of competition in the spring from these quarterbacks. And I’m really anxious to get two or three in this recruiting class.”
Finally, while veteran offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Gary Tranquill has been quoted in the newspapers as saying he’ll retire after this season, Bunting hasn’t given up hope yet of once again persuading Tranquill to stick around.
After this season, Bunting says he’ll make one last pitch to the 65-year-old Tranquill.
”I certainly will try,” Bunting said. “I’ve only had one very brief conversation with him (about it), and right now I’m going to wait to have the next conversation with him when this game is over.
“He loves the sport, he loves the practice part of it and he loves the game part of it. We’ve got a pretty nice place here for him to do all that.
But, I don’t know.”
Bunting has said that if Tranquil doesn't return, that he expects wide receivers coach Dave Brock to assume the quarterbacks coach duties, while the new offensive coordinator would likely be promoted from within the current staff.