RALEIGH, NC – A crowded quarterback room can be a blessing, especially for a team that went through 4 starters a season ago.

It also has the potential to be a curse.

There’s nothing in football that can tear a team apart faster or more thoroughly than a quarterback controversy. 

And NC State could have a doozy on its hands this fall, depending on how coach Dave Doeren and new offensive coordinator Robert Anae handle their team’s complicated situation.

It’s a dynamic set into motion by the departures of 3-year starter Devin Leary and former OC Tim Beck. 

Leary’s decision to enter the transfer portal and leave for Kentucky was hardly a surprise. Because he’d previously stated his intention to enter the NFL Draft before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 6, a plan to succeed him already was in place.

That plan became dramatically altered, however, when Beck took the head coaching job at Coastal Carolina and was replaced by Anae.

Instead of handing the keys to the offense directly to Leary’s heir apparent MJ Morris or Ben Finley, the hero of Wolfpack’s upset of rival North Carolina, Anae was instrumental in adding a wild card into the mix by helping to lure Virginia transfer Brennan Armstrong to the Wolfpack.

Anae was Armstrong’s play-caller and mentor when he led the ACC in passing with the Cavaliers 2 seasons ago. It’s hoped that their reunion in Raleigh after a year apart will help the most prolific left-handed passer in conference history regain his form after a disappointing 2022.

Because of their previous success together and the unwritten rule that you don’t bring in a graduate transfer quarterback with only 1 season of eligibility remaining to sit on the bench and watch, the assumption is that Armstrong will be the starter when State lines up for the opening snap at UConn on Sept. 2.

And Armstrong is certainly operating under that assumption.

“I wanted to find a place I could succeed and I thought this place was it with my old OC coming here,” he said Friday. “I just wanted to be a piece that could be picked up and put in. I thought they had a great defense last year and were just looking for a spark on offense. Hopefully I can create that with Coach Anae this year.”

Armstrong’s addition doesn’t only make sense from the standpoint of the coming season. His knowledge of Anae’s game plan and the terminology associated with it, makes him a tremendous asset in helping Morris and Finley learn the offense and have them better prepared to take over when he leaves.

So far, everyone seems to be pulling in the same direction. 

Teammates all working toward the same goal. 

One big, happy family as State prepares to begin its spring practice this week.

“We’ve been working together,” Morris said during a media session last week. “We’re just ready to go out there, compete and help each other out.”

That spirit of cooperation will only go so far. Once the 3 quarterbacks get out onto the practice field on Wednesday, it’s every man for himself.

At least, that’s the way the 2 holdovers are approaching it.

“I don’t think it’s anyone’s position to lose. I think it’s everyone’s to win,” Finley said. “It’s going to be a 3-way competition and we’re going to sort it out as it goes.”

Morris, who said that he was consulted by his coaches before Armstrong was brought into the program, doesn’t sound like he’s ready to concede anything to his new veteran teammate or Finley.

“I wasn’t afraid of any competition from them bringing somebody in,” he said. “They told me, ‘We’re going to bring somebody in and the best man is going to get the job.’ So that’s my mindset. I know my skill-set. I’m confident in my skill-set. All I can do is stay focused, go out there and get a starting job.”

But what happens if he doesn’t?

Morris, who threw for 7 touchdowns and only 1 interception while completing better than 60% of his passes after being pressed into service for 5 games last season, was asked straight out if he’d be open to redshirting next season as a quarterback-in-waiting.

“I’m not thinking about that right now,” he said.

It’s OK for him to put it out of his mind 

But it’s an eventuality for which his coaches should already be preparing. 

Somebody’s ego is inevitably going to be bruised by whatever decision they make. How delicately they handle it will affect the chemistry of their entire team and go a long way toward determining the direction of their 2023 season.

Doeren has already had success with a free agent quarterback following a trusted offensive coordinator to Raleigh.

Finley’s older brother Ryan put together a successful 3-year career with the Wolfpack and ended up getting drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals after transferring from Boise State to play for trusted assistant Eli Drinkwitz in 2016.

But the circumstances are different with a 1-year rental like Armstrong.

Two might be company, but 3 is always going to be a crowd. Especially when that 3rd wheel is an outsider poised to come in, cut the line of succession and head right to the top of the pecking order.