Coaches in the Mountain West Conference are unafraid to take a player less than a year removed from high school and start him at football's most visible and important position.
It worked last season when freshman quarterbacks led Utah and Wyoming to bowl appearances and victories.
Three other Mountain West teams have handed the reins to freshmen this season, including Colorado State's Pete Thomas. He has taken every snap for the Rams, who host UNLV (1-5, 1-1 MWC) at 11 a.m. PDT Saturday.
Though Colorado State (1-5, 0-2) is off to a shaky start against a tough schedule, Thomas is providing hope for the future. He has completed 67.5 percent of his passes for 1,333 yards and five touchdowns with eight interceptions.
"If he continues doing what he's doing this season ... I think he's going to be an elite quarterback here," Rams coach Steve Fairchild said.
In Colorado State's lone victory, a 36-34 win over Idaho on Sept. 25, Thomas completed 29 of 37 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns. He struggled in the next two games against top-seven pass defenses in Texas Christian and Air Force.
Thomas has the chance to bounce back Saturday, facing a UNLV pass defense that is improved from last year but still has holes. The Rebels are 44th nationally, allowing 193.2 yards passing per game.
Even if the statistics don't necessarily reflect it, Thomas said he sees improvement in his performance.
"I'm a lot more comfortable in the offense," he said. "I'm a lot more comfortable with the speed of the game."
Landing the 6-foot-5-inch, 218-pound Thomas was considered a coup for the Rams. Recruiting expert Tom Lemming named Thomas, from Valhalla High School in El Cajon, Calif., the nation's sixth-best pro-style quarterback prospect. Rivals.com had him at No. 16.
Thomas first committed to Arizona State, but he pulled back when offensive coordinator Rich Olson was fired in December.
Harvard was also interested in Thomas, who graduated a semester early with a 4.0 grade-point average. But Ivy League schools don't offer athletic scholarships, and sending Thomas to Harvard would have been a financial burden for his parents.
He turned to Colorado State because of Fairchild's NFL coaching background and the Rams' pro-style offense. Thomas also knew he had an excellent chance to play immediately.
"From the get-go, I wanted to be the starter here," he said.
Thomas went through spring practices and began to show why he was so highly rated. Though he didn't win the job in the spring, he quickly won it in fall camp. Simply competing in spring practices proved to be a huge advantage.
"You have no chance of playing (without spring) even if you show up in the summer," Fairchild said. "He needed that spring to learn the offense, to get those 15 practices and really to interact and train with his teammates to develop the leadership you need at that spot."
Now it's a matter of continuing to improve. It's too soon to tell whether Thomas will develop into the quarterback Colorado State believed it was getting, but he has shown plenty of signs he will get there.
"I like where he's headed," Fairchild said. "I think he's got a very, very bright future. I think he's played well for us at times, and I'm excited about what we can do with him."
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914.