Oregon State Quarterback Competition Will Come Down to the Wire

By Justine Hendricks
Douglas C. Pizac-USA TODAY Sports


Of the many quarterback competitions at Pac-12 programs this offseason, the one in Corvallis is undoubtedly the most irritating. The Oregon State Beavers finished spring workouts last weekend with each potential starter playing exactly one series and without any hint about whether head coach Mike Riley is leaning towards junior Sean Mannion or senior Cody Vaz.

It’s rare for a program to crown a brand new starter in the spring because so much can happen before the beginning of the season, but in Oregon State’s case, announcing that the coaches will make a decision when one of the quarterbacks distances himself and wins the job is just silly.

Isn’t that what they tried to do for the last half of the 2012 season?

Mannion had been the starter since early in 2011, but when he injured his knee four games into last season, Vaz initially played well in relief. And the conundrum began. Riley couldn’t decide on a starter for the rest of the year, and he’s not much closer to a decision now.

This isn’t a competition between several inexperienced, untested players, and it’s hard to believe that after 23 combined starts — 18 for Mannion, five for Vaz — preseason camp would shed any light on who is better suited to lead the Beavers this year.

In theory, having two potential starting quarterbacks could be a good problem for Oregon State to have: two talented players vying for  only one spot. Right now though, it just seems like a problem: two quarterbacks who are good, neither of whom is good enough to put himself over the top and win the job.

Or perhaps Mike Riley just has a short attention span when it comes to quarterbacks these days. Back in 2011, Mannion ousted then-starter Ryan Katz in the second game of the year, even though Katz had started every game n 2010.

Had Mannion not injured his knee last season, he could easily be the unchallenged incumbent right now, with Vaz resigned to exhausting his eligibility as a career backup. Instead, Mannion’s teetering on the edge between starter and bench, with exactly the number of starts (18) for the Beavers that Katz had when he was replaced.

For Mannion to win back the starting role (and keep it), his decision-making needs to improve. When he was healthy last season, he threw 15 touchdowns but 13 interceptions, including four in the loss to Oregon. He’s struggled with interceptions throughout his career — he has 31 TDs and 31 INTs total — and he threw another in the spring scrimmage. Maybe it’s something he can fix before it’s time for the coaches to name a QB, but maybe it’s something with which he’ll always struggle.

Vaz’s debut against BYU in relief of Mannion was good enough to make the coaches give him a serious look as the permanent starter, but if he’d played then the way he did in the Alamo Bowl loss to Texas, the Beavers wouldn’t have been able to get Mannion healthy soon enough.

After losing a game-changing fumble in the 27-23 loss to Stanford, Vaz had another lost fumble and two interceptions in the bowl game and was sacked ten times. Mannion came in for one drive early in the second quarter, promptly helped the team down the field for a touchdown, and never got back on the field.

That didn’t make sense, just like it doesn’t make sense that these same two quarterbacks are still locked in the same battle. Mannion has enough experience that the staff should know by now what they’re getting with him. Vaz, a senior, has fewer starts under his belt, but by the time he gains enough for the coaches to make an informed decision, it’ll be time for him to graduate.

It’s anyone’s guess what the final word will be, and there’s also a possibility that the “final” decision may not really be final. If Riley waits until just before August 31 to make it official or even drags it into the season, it’ll be even more agonizing for the rest of us than the coach’s 2012 Twitpics of OSU’s In-N-Out burger feasts.

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