Brent Schaeffer must be wondering how it came to this? How did so much talent and so much acclaim fade into so much doubt and so much uncertainty?
How is it that a guy who started three football games as a freshman quarterback at Tennessee, earned junior college All-American honors and five-star prospect status as a sophomore and was awarded the Ole Miss starting job before arriving in Oxford as a junior finds himself in danger of riding the bench as a senior?
That's the situation facing Schaeffer. He was error-prone last fall and was outplayed by former walk-on Seth Adams this spring, prompting coach Ed Orgeron to acknowledge recently that Schaeffer may not be the Rebels starting quarterback in September.
"(Adams) has a leg up on Brent right now," Orgeron said last week. "Brent has had some good days and inconsistent days, and we're keeping (the quarterback job) open. But Seth having a leg up on Brent now doesn't mean Schaef won't be our quarterback."
The fact that the job is open shows how far Schaeffer's five stars have fallen. He was so disappointing during last season's 4-8 campaign that critics said he didn't deserve to be the starter.
"I know last year was probably my worst season ever as a football player," he said. "Something needs to be done. I welcome the competition (with Adams). Competition makes people better and you strive harder."
Orgeron is counting on that.
"We really want to see him be a little more motivated," Orgeron said. "He needs to be more consistent. He would make a great play and then miss a read and have a turnover or interception.
"Seth is more reliable. He understands and reads defenses a little more. What we have to weigh is do you go with the better athlete that can make a big play or the steady quarterback and know what you're getting?"
Schaeffer's ability to freelance may actually have hurt his development. He has always had amazing athletic ability and has been able to rely on that.
But Ole Miss offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dan Werner made it clear that's not enough.
"When you're a quarterback – and I don't care who you are or who's around you – you have to play within the system," Werner said. "You need to read your progressions and do the things you're taught to do. Usually, a quarterback learns the system and then gets bored and tries to do things outside the system and gets into trouble. But you have to do exactly what you're taught to do first."
That might explain why Schaeffer actually threw more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (nine). He completed just 47.1 percent of his attempts and only threw for 1,442 yards on the year. He never passed for 200 yards in a game.
Ole Miss quarterback Brent Schaeffer was expected to give the Ole Miss offense a boost last season, but his passing numbers compared to other SEC quarterbacks who will return in 2007 show why he is fighting for his job:
He rarely did anything worthy of his stellar reputation. But to be fair, he didn't get a lot of help. The Ole Miss running game was feeble, and the Rebels allowed 29 sacks. Plus, he did not arrive on campus until August, so he had very little time to learn the system.
Still, he's at a loss to explain why last season went so awry.
"I could probably make up 100 reasons why," he said. "I just don't know. My expectation as a football player and a competitor is to win, and we didn't win the majority of our games. It was a tough season."
So tough, in fact, that long days on Saturdays often were followed by long nights the rest of the week.
"Sometimes, I lost sleep over it. It gets to you sometimes," Schaeffer said. "My mom says everything won't go your way all the time, so you have to work at it to get better. I just need to polish the little things and avoid a turnover here and there."
Schaeffer remains convinced he can be the player Ole Miss fans anticipated when he was named the starter before arriving in Oxford.
"You always have to play like you have something to prove," Schaeffer said. "I know what I can do. I just have to get out there and do it. This is my last year. It's real important for me. I'm trying everything possible to achieve my goals."
For now, his main goal is securing a place in the starting lineup.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.