LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops would like to announce his starting quarterback within the next week.
His four candidates for the job aren't making that decision easy.
Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown are considering junior Maxwell Smith, sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and freshman Drew Barker to put under center for the Wildcats' season opener Aug. 30 against Tennessee-Martin.
Towles, a high-profile recruit in Joker Phillips' final recruiting class before he was fired during the 2012 season, struggled early in his career.
But after a productive spring, the 6-foot-5 Kentucky native entered fall camp as the front-runner.
Stoops said each quarterback has received equal attention and repetitions since practice began Monday, though Smith has only practiced every other day while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
With each quarterback given the same opportunity to win the job, Towles said the coaching staff has turned up the heat in practice, keeping blitzes coming during all live team drills.
"The guy who's going to win the job is the guy who feels the heat the least," Towles said Friday during Kentucky's media day. "You can't feel pressure and be a quarterback in the SEC."
Smith has started 11 games in his career but said each quarterback has strengths, adding that Towles has the strongest arm, Phillips has been the most consistent and Barker has the widest set of tools despite his age.
Smith lauded himself as the experienced candidate, who has personally felt the pressure of live snaps in the Southeastern Conference.
No matter who earns the nod, Brown said he was confident the position would be improved from last year when Smith and Jalen Whitlow, who has transferred to Eastern Illinois, shared the job.
The 2-10 Wildcats averaged 193.3 yards passing per game to rank 98th out of 123 FBS teams.
"A lot of it has to do with year two in the system," Brown said. "A lot of it has to do we're going to be better around them at running back, the offensive line has matured and every (offensive lineman) is back. We're going to be better at receiver. We have a long ways to go at that position, but we're going to be more talented, and they're going to be more fundamentally sound."
Stoops hasn't given many details about the quarterback competition, and practices have been closed. He said none of his four candidates are perfect, but expects one to step up soon and end a summer of speculation.
"It is wide open," Stoops said. "I think they all — somebody needs to take the reins and be the clear-cut winner of this job, and they need to do that. We're giving them plenty of opportunity. Somebody needs to take it and run with it."