Compare the statistics between Northwestern quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, and it's hard to tell who's the starter and who's the backup.
Both players played in all 12 games and have similar passing numbers. Colter was 92-of-134 for 796 yards, 8 TDs and 2 interceptions, an efficiency rating of 135.2 this season. Siemian's numbers read 116-of-197 (58.9 percent) for 1,192 yards, 6 TDs and 2 picks, good for an efficiency mark of 117.7.
While the numbers between the two are fairly even, the one lopsided category between the two is the number of quarterback starts. That's where Colter holds a 10-2 edge this season and that alone spells the biggest difference between the two.
Colter has 10 starts at quarterback and one as a wide receiver. Siemian wears the fireman's hat, coming in at times to revitalize a stagnant offense, including several rescues which helped secure a Northwestern win. When Siemian did get an opportunity to start a game, he made the most of it. He opened at quarterback against Indiana and proceeded to throw for a career-best 308 yards on 22-of-32 passing.
Ironically, Siemian's favorite receiver that day? Colter, who had nine receptions for 131 yards.
If you get the picture that Colter is versatile, you've nailed it. His rushing totals confirm that. He carried the ball 158 times, good for 820 yards and 12 scores with an average gain of 5.2 yards per carry. Starting tailback Venric Mark is the only Wildcat player with better numbers toting the ball as Mark averaged just over six yards a carry en route to a 1,300-yard season.
It's obvious either Colter or Siemian could be a full-time starter for most teams. Yet neither has a problem with his current role for the Wildcats. Colter says he doesn't think about the fact that sooner or later, Siemian will be coming into the game as his replacement.
"If you think about him coming in to replace you, you can't really focus on anything else," said Colter, a true junior who's played in all 25 NU games the past two seasons. "You push that to the back of your mind and focus on the plays and going out there and doing your best. If you're out there doing your best and you throw a pick or fumble, so be it. You don't think about that, you just try to do your best.
"If they need Trevor in the game and that gives us the best possibility to win, then they'll do that. Whenever we're out on the field, I want to see Trev do his best and he wants me to do my best. There's no conflict or anything between us. When we do run the two-quarterback system, it's to help the team win, that's why it works so well."
Even when he is replaced by Siemian, it doesn't necessarily mean that Colter is coming out of the game. In the two games that Siemian started - Indiana and Penn State - Colter saw plenty of action as a receiver and in backing up Siemian. He had a career best of nine receptions for 131 yards against the Hoosiers, and still found time to rush for 161 yards in 14 carries from the quarterback spot while scoring a school record-tying four rushing touchdowns.
"I don't mind going in at wide receiver," the Denver native said. "If I'm going to have a chance to play at the next level, it probably won't be at quarterback, so any chance I get to go out there and showcase my abilities, I'm going to take advantage of it.
"I love playing quarterback, I've been playing it my whole life, but wherever the team needs me I'm going to go out there and play."
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has instituted the two-look system at quarterback and it's worked out well for the Wildcats offense. NU averaged 397.8 yards per game and scored at better than a 30-point clip per outing.
"We believe we've got two young men that we can win with," the Wildcats coach said. "We watch a lot of NFL teams that don't have one. We're very fortunate to have two.
"Cain is a very dynamic athlete who does a lot of things very, very well. He's a terrific leader, has had a great, great season.
"We've put Trevor in some tough situations and he's handled them incredibly well this season. He's had a great finish for the year and has a really, really bright future. These are two guys who we feel strongly about, that we feel we can win with and do things at a very high level. That's why we're here. We've rode their coat-tails, and obviously they're going to need to play well against Mississippi State."
Siemian's only two starts this year showed that he is worthy of being a full-time starter. He was a combined 43-of-68 (63.3 percent), good for 443 yards with one touchdown and an interception in games against Indiana and Penn State. Six times this season he's had double-digit pass completions. Five times he's passed for over 115 yards.
Siemian is more the pro-style passer at 6-3, 210 pounds compared to Colter's 6-foot, 190-pound frame that enables him to escape danger much easier than Siemian. The latter makes it clear, he'd like to start. But he's a "team player", someone who's more concerned about helping the Wildcats gain a win than complaining about not starting.
"I'm just thankful for the opportunity to come in and move the offense when I get my chance," said Siemian, an Orlando native. "That's my job to be a leader on this team. I want to be the starter, but it doesn't matter what I think. I'm just a player, my job isn't to coach. I'm just glad to be here and contribute when I can to help us win.
"Kain and I have a good relationship. It's been good for both of us to get on the field. Obviously our styles are a little different, but we're both out there trying to help each other."
Two quarterbacks, two styles, two unselfish players. It's proven to be a winning combination for Northwestern this season and could be the factor that helps the Wildcats to their first bowl game win in 64 years.