The Washington Times - July 7, 2008, 09:14AM

There is probably no question Maryland football fans are fixated on less than a month before camp starts than who will be the Terrapins’ quarterback.

So what else is new? It’s been since before the last presidential election that there wasn’t some sort of uncertainty in that regard (even if, in 2006, it was Sam Hollenbach’s job to lose. Or in 2007, it was a quarterback competition in name only).

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But there’s an added element this time around. Though Ralph Friedgen still has the final say so, new offensive coordinator James Franklin will have some significant input as well.

There is no shortage of contenders. There’s the putative incumbent, junior Chris Turner, who can’t seem to shake the knack of not being a good practice player even if he did engineer a couple dynamite victories last season.

There’s the erstwhile starter, concussion-prone senior Jordan Steffy who is back for a fifth season and his last chance to write a happy ending for a once-promising career.

And there’s the athletic Josh Portis, who has taken zero snaps the last two years after sitting out one season because of NCAA transfer rules and another for trying to make a quiz a collaborative effort.

It’ll shake out in another month, and Franklin isn’t ready to make a broad pronouncement. But 15 practices in the spring did create some separation.

“I think it’s Turner and Steffy are in one category, and I think Portis is in another category,” Franklin said in a recent wide-ranging interview. “I think all three have a chance to win the starting job, but I think that’s where it’s at right now. I still think it’s fairly open.”

But here’s the kicker: Franklin would like it to be closed “as soon as possible.”

That would obviously require some help from Turner or Steffy or Portis. But unlike when Friedgen says he’d like to make a quick decision –  then drags out his choice for an eternity –  there’s no history suggesting Franklin wouldn’t want to make a call in the first week of camp and get on with the business of preparing for the season.

There’s no way to know now if that’s how it will play out, though Franklin did place it in the hands of his players to make the decision easier for everyone.

“What I told those guys at the end of spring is I want you to make it clearly obvious to me and everyone else in this organization who the starting quarterback is – that the players are saying ‘It is clearly obvious that [it’s] Jordan Steffy or Chris Turner or Josh Portis,’” Franklin said. “That they’re in there talking in the locker room saying ‘I’ll tell you what, it’s clearly obvious that this guy wants to be the starting quarterback and he’s preparing as such and he’s working his butt off.’

“When I ask anyone else – when I ask the strength coach, when I ask the academic people, if I ask the players, if I ask anyone else, it’s clearly obvious this guy is planning on being the starting quarterback and winning the ACC championship.”

Based purely on results from last year (and those tend to carry some weight with the folks populating the locker room as they form their opinions), Turner would seem to be a favorite.

However, it’s hard to forget how much everyone in the program was lauding Steffy’s preparation about 11 months ago. For all the criticism Steffy took for being too short, or holding onto the ball too long, or whatever, “He doesn’t put enough time into the game” was never tossed at him.

There’s no reason to think a guy who could have graduated and moved on with his life but instead came back for another season wouldn’t study just as hard this time around.

Turner – no slouch, either – figured to do the same. But if one of them happens to be really good in the first full week of August (or, less preferably, one of them happens to be really bad), Franklin might get that quick decision he’s hoping for.

“I want it be clearly obvious to me that you’ve put the work in and separated yourself from the field and said ‘I’m the guy,’” Franklin said.

He’ll find out starting in exactly four weeks.

- Patrick Stevens