When Jimmy Clausen opens against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, it will be the fifth time in team history the Panthers have started a rookie quarterback. Based on the first four, it's hard to know what to expect.
The Panthers were just four games into their inaugural season when Kerry Collins took the reins from Frank Reich against Tampa Bay at Clemson in 1995. The team's first-ever draft choice, Collins performed very respectably, completing 18-of-32 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown in a 20-13 loss to the Buccaneers.
It would be six years before another rookie started for Carolina when fourth-round draft choice Chris Weinke put up similar numbers to Collins and earned a win at Minnesota to begin the 2001 season. While Weinke was the star of the day, another rookie also made his debut that would shine much brighter - Steve Smith.
Next was Randy Fasani, a sixth-round pick from Stanford, who was forced into a start versus Tampa Bay in 2002 with starter Rodney Peete and backup Weinke injured. His one and only start proved forgettable as the Panthers dropped a 12-9 decision when Wesley Walls was open in the end zone by five yards but was overthrown by 10.
Matt Moore then started as a rookie against Seattle in December of 2007. The undrafted rookie free agent was very efficient in completing 19-of-27 attempts for 208 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions in Carolina's 13-10 victory.
That's two wins and two losses in four tries, which is considerably better than the record for rookie quarterbacks league-wide in their first start since 2000. They are a composite 13-31.
Success in such situations can be dictated by the circumstances as much as the quarterback. When Fasani started against the Buccaneers in 2002, he went against arguably the best defense in the NFL. Collins' start came after an extra week of preparation with the benefit of the bye week.
But whatever the circumstances, there is nothing easy about making your first start in the NFL. The speed of the game, the skill of the defenders, the anxiety that comes with being the starter are all different than college.
Many times, a rookie is starting as a result of prior problems, which may not be limited to just the quarterback. That's why first-time rookie quarterbacks are often not the immediate elixir as the 13-31 record since 2000 reflects.
In Clausen's case, head coach John Fox is trying to find a spark for an offense that has labored hard with few positive results since the beginning of the preseason.
Sunday could give a hint if he is the right match.
Charlie has been director of communications for the Panthers since 1994 and has worked in the NFL since 1976.