Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter has said it on more than a few occasions: He'd like to settle on a starting quarterback by the start of Mountain West play.
If that timetable remains intact, Brian Burrell or Brandon Connette have one final game to impress with Fresno State (0-3) hosting FCS program Southern Utah (0-3) in the Bulldogs' final nonconference game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Bulldog Stadium.
So far, neither has shown consistency throwing downfield, making reads quickly and leading drives that end in the end zone.
Just like the first three games, a starter won't be announced until close to game time and both are expected to play.
Connette was out last week with a hand injury but said he's healthy and ready to play. During practice this week, the quarterbacks split nearly equal reps with the first-team offense.
"The position is constantly being evaluated, and the best way to see how they're performing and progressing is with live reps in games," DeRuyter said. "You'd like to have a starter by conference play; you'd like to have a starter going into a season.
"Because of our circumstances, this is what we've had to do. We didn't have a clear-cut guy to devote all of our first-team reps to. You try to give equal reps, then make your evaluations."
Burrell has started the first three games and played all of last week's 55-19 loss to Nebraska.
The junior has completed 49 of 94 passes for 439 yards and three touchdowns to one interception. Connette, a graduate transfer from Duke, has connected on 23 of 41 for 245 yards and one touchdown with three interceptions. Their passing efficiency is nearly identical, with Burrell at 99.8 and Connette at 99.7.
Burrell also has rushed for 81 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries (4.8 yard per average per attempt). Connette has gained 53 rushing yards and one touchdown on 23 attempts (2.3-yard average).
As a unit, though, Fresno State has struggled regardless of the quarterback with the offense averaging 333.7 total yards (105th in the nation) and 19.7 points per game (108th).
"Right now, we're trying to build trust, haven't exactly clicked on everything but we're getting better," Burrell said. "It's just trusting everything. Trust that I'm going to make the right reads and the right throws. Trust that the O-line is going to hold up their blocks. Trust that the receivers are going to make the contested catches.
"Bottom line is: We're trying to win. Both Brandon and I have talked about this, and we don't care who plays. I mean, we care who plays. But we care more about the team winning. We just need to build on what we've done and get better each week."
DeRuyter said there was a possibility both quarterbacks still would play in conference play, though he stressed his preference for one to significantly separate himself from the competition.
Connette said the idea that only one quarterback would get most of the reps at practice after Saturday would not impact his approach.
"You don't do anything different," Connette said. "As soon as you start trying too hard or start thinking, 'I've got to do something great on this play, because me starting the rest of this season is on the line,' that's when you make mistakes.
"I'm going into this like I'm already the starter, whether I'm the backup or starter, and focus on every single rep and see how much I can get out of it for the team."
The Bulldogs coaching staff has admitted having some difficulty in gauging player performances, particularly at quarterback, in light of Fresno State facing three straight Power 5 conference programs. Each of Fresno State's opponents so far have had bigger and faster talent, plus more depth.
Mistakes by the receivers and offensive line have made assessing quarterback play more challenging, too.
But the Bulldogs might finally catch a break of sorts against Southern Utah, which is giving up an average of 31.7 points and 471.7 total yards per game.
Fresno State has won 22 straight games against FCS programs with the last loss occurring on the road in 1982 against Nevada when it was a lower-division program.
Fresno State is already 0-3 for the first time since 1998 and trying to avoid its first 0-4 start since 1974.
"We definitely need a win, and they need a win, too," Connette said. "One thing Coach DeRuyter talked about was a winless team is like a mouse backed into a corner. That's when a team is going to fight the hardest -- not when you're 3-0 and feeling good about yourself.
"The fact that we're both 0-3, that means we'll both be clawing out and fighting. We've got to be ready."