Adam Barmann is finally ditching his white baseball cap.
For eight games, the freshman has been on the sideline signaling plays to other Kansas University quarterbacks. Today at Texas A&M;, Barmann will put on his helmet and make his college debut in front of more than 80,000 Aggie fans at Kyle Field.
"I think he's ready," said senior quarterback Bill Whittemore, who was injured last week at Kansas State and won't play today. "The main thing is his attitude. He's not scared. He's a freshman and he's going to go into College Station. That's a big deal, but I think it's not that big of a deal in his case. He looks forward to it, and he looks forward to leading this team and he's going to be ready."
KU had planned to give Barmann (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) a red-shirt year before Whittemore was sidelined, but backups Brian Luke and John Nielsen were ineffective in a 42-6 loss to the Wildcats.
Barmann was a two-time all-state and all-metro selection at tiny West Platte High in Weston, Mo.
He'll make a huge leap from Class 1A to Division I-A today in a game that could have bowl implications for the Jayhawks (5-3 overall, 2-2 Big 12 Conference).
"He's got good speed and a good arm," Whittemore said. "He has all the intangibles you need to run this offense. He'll do a fine job if he's out there."
Ah, the big if. KU coach Mark Mangino said Barmann definitely would play but wouldn't say how much. He also declined to name a starting quarterback.
Mangino said Luke, Nielsen and Barmann all would be prepared for today's game and that all three could be used in a "quarterback-by-committee" system.
"We just want the best guy to have the job," junior receiver Brandon Rideau said. "Some people might like Brian Luke. Some people might like John or the freshman. We just want the best guy to get out there and play."
Determining the best guy could be difficult. KU's practices are closed, and fans and media have seen little of Luke and Nielsen and nothing of Barmann.
Luke, a third-year sophomore, has played in six career games, including three this season. His outing at Kansas State lasted one play because he was benched after fumbling a handoff.
Mangino expressed confidence in the Californian this week, calling him "one of the most improved players" in the program.
Luke (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) injured a hand during the preseason last year and missed several weeks of practice and games, but he was rushed into duty after Whittemore suffered a season-ending knee injury in the ninth game of the season. The results weren't good. He completed 17 of 47 passes for 214 yards with three interceptions and no touchdowns.
This year he's 6-of-9 for 92 yards with two interceptions and one TD.
Nielsen (6-3, 205), a junior walk-on from Palomar Junior College, made his debut against KSU and completed 8-of-12 passes for 33 yards -- an average of 4.1 yards per pass.
Offensive coordinator Nick Quartaro didn't ask his third-string quarterback to throw downfield.
"Our playbook shrunk," sophomore receiver Charles Gordon said. "It was his first game. Coach Quartaro and coach Mangino wanted to give him easy plays to execute."
The loss was reminiscent of last season when KU suffered three consecutive blowout losses without Whittemore in the lineup. Kansas gained 76 yards against KSU in one quarter with Whittemore and 84 in three quarters without him. He was the second-rated passer in the nation through seven games.
"We are in better shape at that position today then we were a year ago, by far," Mangino said. "It is not even close. Are we asking someone to jump in there and play at the level Bill has played at since the beginning of the season? I think that is asking quite a bit. We would like to see our quarterbacks do what they are capable of doing and play within our system, stay nice and cool and calm while managing the offense and the ball. I think we have a chance to recover from this."
Reason for optimism
One difference between 2002 and 2003 is Barmann (6-4, 210), a mobile quarterback who possesses some of the same attributes as Whittemore. It didn't take long for the coaching staff to notice the newcomer's potential.
"After the UNLV game -- the second game of the season -- we made a decision to take him off the scout team, send him to the quarterbacks meetings every day, stay with the varsity every day and learn," Mangino said. "He hasn't taken many reps with the varsity in practice, but he's been there studying every day. He's been in the game plan each and every week and in the meetings with the quarterbacks and offense, so he does have a pretty good understanding of what we're going to do."
He also has a rocket arm, according to his teammates.
"His arm is outstanding," freshman receiver Moderick Johnson said. "He can get it to me wherever I'm at. He knows how to put it where the defensive back can't get it. He's a real strong quarterback."
What Barmann thinks about making his college debut is something only those close to him know because he -- like Luke and Nielsen -- wasn't allowed to talk with media this week.
Ask his teammates or coaches about Barmann, and you're sure to hear words like "fearless" and "confident."
He'll need every bit of that moxie today at Kyle Field. Aggie fans accustomed to winning are hungry for a victory after watching A&M; (3-5, 1-3) struggle against a brutal schedule that has included losses to Virginia Tech, Pitt, Texas Tech, Nebraska and Oklahoma State.
The Aggies are favored today but aren't likely to be in their final three games against Oklahoma, Missouri or Texas.
"Nothing seems to bother him," Mangino said. "He's a guy that is extremely confident in his ability. No challenge is too great for him. He gets whacked in practice and he gets right back up, smiles and trots back to the huddle. Those are good qualities to have. One of the main reasons why we recruited him is because of his temperament.
"I don't want to make him out to be some kind of wonder kid. Certainly your first college start -- whether it's at home or on the road -- I'm sure he's going to have some of the anxiety that goes a long with that. But of all the kids I've been around that have been put in this position, I think it will effect him the least. That's just because of the way he handles himself."
No more Whittemore
If Barmann lives up to the hype, he could help Kansas avoid the kind of collapse that led to the Jayhawks being outscored 164-27 in the final three games last season.
Not that replacing Whittemore will be easy for anyone.
"When you have a guy who has put up the kind of numbers he has and shown the kind of leadership he has, it has an impact," Mangino said of Whittemore. "How much of an impact it has will depend on how much we let it have. We have a lot of kids on the team, but he is an important guy. The impact of not having Bill available for this game will have a lot to do with how the rest of our team reacts."
A victory today would make the Jayhawks bowl-eligible for the first time since 1995 and guarantee KU would end the regular season with a non-losing record for the first in that span.
"We're still trying to accomplish what we were before Bill got injured," Gordon said. "Whoever's in there, we're comfortable with. They'll give us a chance to win. Now that Bill's gone, we all have to step up. We have to take it upon ourselves to do whatever we can for the good of the team."