Brandon Connette came to Fresno State partly to become the starting quarterback of the football team.
But barring injuries to Brian Burrell and Zack Greenlee during the final three regular-season games, that will never happen.
A graduate transfer from Duke, Connette has gone from vying for the starting spot through the season’s first four games to essentially a place holder. He’s no longer in the Bulldogs’ plans to find a starting quarterback down the stretch.
“We’re going to look at competition everywhere, and the quarterback position is one we’re going to look at,” Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. “We’ve got to feel confident that whoever lines up can effectively run our entire offense and be able to communicate it and lead.
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“I think at times (Connette) has demonstrated that. Other times, he’s not been able to make some of the play we’ve needed him to make.”
Connette spends most of practices these days lining up at other positions, though he’s still part of special packages that have him operating as a wildcat quarterback and primarily running the ball. Coaches declined to divulge which positions Connette has been practicing outside of quarterback.
It’s quite a change after Connette seemed in line to become the starting quarterback after two games in the season. But Connette injured his right throwing hand late at Utah, which forced him to miss the next game against Nebraska.
Connette came back to play against Southern Utah the following week, splitting time with Burrell. But the hand injury still was affecting Connette as he completed just 5 of 11 passes for 51 yards and a touchdown and missed his targets by a wide margin on a few of those incompletions. It was the last time Connette received regular playing time at quarterback.
He has continued to play -- in cameo roles twice in the past five games, both times playing briefly as a change-of-pace quarterback.
Connette has attempted one pass since the Southern Utah game, and that was out of a fake field goal. Instead, Connette was strictly used for zone-read plays that either consisted of him running or handing off to a running back or a receiver on a fly sweep.
“Things fell how they did,” Connette said. “So there’s nothing I can do about that. It’s out of my hands. It’s not my decision. I trust the coaches’ decision, trust that they know what’s best for the team. So I’m just doing everything I can in my power to help this team.”
How did a quarterback who a season ago passed for 1,212 yards and 13 touchdowns and run for 337 yards and 14 touchdowns at Duke fall out of the starting quarterback race at Fresno State? Connette’s problems began when he got a late start trying to learn Bulldogs’ no-huddle, pass-oriented spread offense, arriving to Fresno State in May after his release from Duke.
And though he was able to learn the offense through tutoring from offensive coordinator Dave Schramm in the classroom during the summer, Connette still trailed the other quarterbacks in playbook knowledge, especially when it came to executing on the field.
“Had he been here in the spring and had a chance to go through spring ball, it would’ve been better,” Schramm said. “Some of the things we do protection wise, he’s capable in the meeting room. But when we come out here (on the field), it’s kind of moving a little bit fast.”
With Fresno State sticking to its pass-oriented spread rather than changing up the offense to better suit Connette and his running skills, Connette found himself dropping behind Burrell and then Greenlee on the depth chart.
“The main thing is, you just can’t give three guys reps,” said Schramm, who is evaluating practice this week to determine if Burrell or Greenlee will start Saturday against San Jose State. “There’s not enough time. We’re only out here two hours.
“We want to try a way to get (Connette) out on the field and give him package stuff if the situation allows. He’s doing a great job. He’s a great teammate. He’s working hard.”
Connette began taking reps at other positions 2 1/2 weeks ago during Fresno State’s bye. He didn’t take the field other than as place holder last week during a 45-17 loss to Wyoming.
“Really, all I asked for when I came was a chance to compete (as starting quarterback) and I got that,” Connette said. “I love the program. I’ve enjoyed all the opportunities that I’ve gotten. I never came in and said, ‘If I don’t do this, I’m going to be disappointed.’ As soon as you do that, you’re setting yourself up for failure.”
Fresno State is one loss from failing to qualify for a bowl. The Bulldogs, however, still have an outside chance to reach the Mountain West title game, though they’d need to win out and have San Diego State lose at least one more game.
Meanwhile, Connette’s previous school already has secured bowl eligibility with Duke (7-1, 3-1) in first place in the Coastal Division of the ACC and ranked No. 20 in the USA Today coaches’ poll and No. 22 in the Associated Press Top 25.
Connette said he’s never second-guessed his decision -- or thought about quitting at Fresno State.
Though becoming a starting quarterback was one of his goals at Fresno State, Connette also transferred to be closer to his family after his mother, Nancy Connette, had emergency surgery to remove a brain tumor in December.
“The No. 1 decision for my transfer wasn’t trying to be a starter somewhere,” Connette said. “It was to try to be able to see my mom more, be around my family more as we go through some things. I’ve been able to do that. I’ve been able to see them way more than if I stayed at Duke.
“That was my number one goal, and I accomplished that. So that’s been good. She’s getting better. ... I’m doing fine. There’s a core of guys I’ve kept in contact at Duke, guys I’m going to be friends with my whole life. There’s friendships I’ve developed here, too, that I’ll keep for the rest of my life. It hasn’t ever crossed my mind once about quitting.”