AMES, Iowa (AP) This fall was always supposed to be the time Jerome Tiller took over as Iowa State's quarterback.
The redshirt junior spent the past two seasons serving as Austen Arnaud's understudy, soaking up the lessons offered by one of the program's top quarterbacks.
But Tiller might only have another two weeks to prove he's ready to be Arnaud's successor.
The Cyclones have thrown the starting job up for grabs, and Tiller is one of three guys fighting for it.
Hotshot junior-college transfer Steele Jantz was brought in over the winter, stirring up a fan base starved for a quarterback who might turn the Cyclones into serious Big 12 contenders, and redshirt freshman Jared Barnett thrust himself into contention with a strong spring camp.
"The things we're looking for as a staff are decision making, leadership, accuracy and a quarterback that can get the job done with his feet as well as his mind and his arm," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.
The 6-foot-3, 211-pound Tiller certainly appears to have the physical tools to succeed in Iowa State's system. Tiller is also the only one who's played for the Cyclones, most notably starting a 9-7 win at Nebraska in 2009 that remains one of the highlights of coach Paul Rhoads' brief tenure.
"He's the veteran. He's got the most experience. He's got the best knowledge of our offense and probably the best decision-making ability because of that," Rhoads said.
It's putting everything together on Saturdays that's eluded Tiller so far.
Tiller completed 47.6 percent of his passes a year ago, a number that's about 15 percentage points less than offensive coordinator Tom Herman would like. Tiller also threw just one TD last season in 82 attempts, and the Cyclones were shut out by Missouri in his only start in 2010.
"I've got plenty of arm strength. It's putting the ball where it's needed," Tiller said.
Though Jantz has much less experience than Tiller, he'll be on equal footing when fall camp starts Friday.
Jantz might have vaulted into the top spot in spring ball if he'd had more time to absorb the offense. Now that he's had more time with Iowa State's playbook, Jantz is confident he's ready to assume the starting role.
"I think I have closed the gap. Not to say that I don't need to learn more, because I do need to learn more. But I feel like I'm in a good position, and I'm excited to continue that," Jantz said.
Jantz put up the requisite gaudy numbers for City College of San Francisco in 2010, throwing for over 3,000 yards while establishing himself as a valued commodity by FBS programs looking for a spark.
Of course, Jantz has never played on a stage quite like the Big 12.
Neither has Barnett, but Rhoads came out of spring ball saying his accuracy was the best of the three. Rhoads has also made a point of keeping Barnett's name on equal footing with Tiller and Jantz on the depth chart, though he seems least likely to earn the nod for the Sept. 3 opener against Northern Iowa.
"I know personally that I have a better chance than what people think because I know how I am and I know what type of quarterback I am," Barnett said. "I like not being seen as one of the people that's going to be the head, because I like to come from behind. I like to be that guy that comes up and surprises people, and I feel like I did that in the spring and I feel like I'm going to have to do that in fall camp."
Rhoads said Thursday he hopes to name a starter by Aug. 20. He also isn't too keen on rotating quarterbacks.
For Tiller, these next few weeks will likely decide whether he continues on his path as Arnaud's heir apparent or simply remains a backup.
He said he needs "to prove to the coaches that I have what it takes to be on the field. To show them I have the leadership, the qualities to run the offense and control the team," Tiller said.