ORONO — Dan Collins and Drew Belcher have been linked in competition for the University of Maine’s starting quarterback position for three years now, with very little separating the two.

Over the last two years they have alternated at the position, with Collins playing 15 games (starting 13) and Belcher playing 19 (starting nine).

Through it all they have remained friends and view the competition as something that will make them – and the team – better.

“Oh yeah,” said Belcher, a junior from Reading, Massachusetts. “We know at the end of the day (the coaches) are going to do what’s best for the team. I think we both help each other on the field. We critique each other with little things we notice. And really, there’s no bad blood. It’s just both of us going out and trying to do our best.”

If there is any bad blood, it might come when the two play video games, especially NBA2K. “Lot of trash talk going on there,” said Belcher.

But on the field their competition is, well, professional.

While there are four quarterbacks on the roster, they are again the lead candidates for the position. Saturday’s first scrimmage of the preseason will go a long way in determining who will be under center Sept. 1 when the Black Bears open the season at Connecticut.

Joe Harasymiak, the first-year coach who replaced Jack Cosgrove, wants to make a decision by Aug. 21, the date of Maine’s second scrimmage. They’re not making it easy on either him or new offensive coordinator Liam Coen, who brought in an offensive scheme with West Coast principles. They’ve both played very well in the early stages of Maine’s training camp.

“With the new system, they’ve shown a little bit of what they can do well and what they can’t do,” said Harasymiak, who was Maine’s defensive coordinator the last two years. “They’re all being asked to do the same thing. And for right now, they’ve got to prove themselves in every aspect of our offense.”

Collins said that because they are both learning a new offense, it’s easy to see who’s doing well in practice. “We go back-to-back on reps,” he said. “So you can tell who has the better ball or the better drop. So you get to come out every day and demand more of yourself to be more accountable to the team. That’s always a good thing. It makes you better.”

Collins, 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, is regarded as the better passer, with 2,485 passing yards and 15 touchdowns in 17 career games. Belcher, 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, is probably the better runner, with 203 career rushing yards and three touchdowns.

“That being said,” said Harasymiak, “Drew can still throw it and Danny can still scramble.”

There really isn’t much to distinguish them.

“The thing about those two kids,” said Coen, “they’re the type of kids who have been here, so they just do the right things. You never have to worry about them not being on time or not being prepared for practice. They do the things you don’t have to coach in terms of being accountable, of being on time, of knowing what they’re going to do in practice. The play will handle itself. They’re both good players. They’ve both played in a lot of games. They just haven’t won a lot.”

Maine has won just eight games the last two years, including a 3-8 record last year.

“They need to learn how to win football games but not by themselves,” said Coen, who was the pass game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at UMass last year (where he was also a four-year starter at quarterback from 2004-08). “There is a little misconception of the position – the quarterback isn’t the guy winning the game, it’s him getting his teammates to win the game. The guys who are the best are those who can facilitate, who can distribute the ball, who can take care of the football. And I think both have done that so far. I’m happy with both.”

He said the starter will be determined by who does better on third-down plays and red zone plays.

“Who can move the chains on third down, make the throws when they’re necessary and ultimately lead the team into the end zone when in the red zone,” said Coen. “When we do those situations in practice, because it is so even, whoever does the better job in those situations will probably end up winning the job. Both of them know how to take care of the ball, both know how to hand off the ball, both know how to make a check at the line.

“But to me, it’s who can make the throw when it’s third-and-11 and everybody knows you’re throwing it, it’s man-to-man (defense) and you’ve got to fit into a tight window. Who’s going to make that throw? I think that’s what it’s going to come down to because they’re even in every other aspect.”

Collins and Belcher take the competition very seriously. “I’ve been competing my whole life,” said Collins. “I had to compete for the job my junior year in high school. So nothing’s new in terms of competition for me. I like it and I think it makes everyone better. It’s something I look forward to every day.”

Redshirt freshman Jack Walsh of Waldwick, New Jersey, is also competing for the spot and has been very impressive in camp. He said the competition is making Maine a better team.

“It’s bringing out the best in all of us,” he said. “If it ends up to be Dan, or Drew, or me, it doesn’t matter because we’re pushing each other every day.”

Coen said it’s obvious they don’t let their egos “get in the way.” They are always making suggestions to each other, especially in the quarterback room.

“We’re all friends in that room,” said Walsh. “We’re watching film and someone makes a good throw, we say, ‘Good throw.’ If someone makes a bad throw, it’s, ‘Ah, what are you doing?’ And if someone trips over their own two feet, we’re all laughing. We’re all working to make ourselves better.”

Belcher knows there’s no time to let up.

“Someone has five great practices in a row and you have five bad practices in a row, he’s probably going to take your place,” he said. “You’ve got to compete every day.”