The quarterback situation has been a mixed bag, and a controversial one, all season for Oregon State, as freshman Seth Collins has fluctuated between fantastic and frustratingly freshmanesque. This week, the saga has reached new heights though.
First, it was selectvely leaked on Sunday that Gary Crowton, a former BYU coach and assistant/offensive coordinator at a host of locations, including Oregon, had been brought on board as a consultant. Head Coach Gary Andersen acknowledged the addition in his Monday press conference, and though Crowton can't directly coach the players, he can sit in on all meetings, and has been attending practices.
Today, he said he "...will be here as long as they will have me; I'm planning to be here through the end of the season."
What he hasn't said, and neither has Andersen or anyone else, is why Crowton abruptly decided to leave Southern Utah early this month, where he was the Offensive Coordinator. Crowton's only comment has been that it was the right time, though, even though its an FBS program, the middle of the season isn't usually the optimal time, especially when it comes as a complete surprise to the head coach. And doubly especially when that team isn't struggling; the Thunderbirds started 0-2, but against Mt. West upper division competition, Utah State and San Diego State, and only lost to the Aggies by 3 points. Since then, Southern Utah has won 4 in a row, and sits atop the ultra-tough Big Sky Conference.
Regardless of exactly what the circumstances around his departure from Cedar City are, Crowton is clearly in Corvallis to help Oregon State quarterbacks coach Kevin McGiven, who happens to be Crowton's nephew, try to figure out how to get some consistency out of Collins.
McGiven came to Oregon State with 14 years of experience in assistant coaching, but this is his first gig in a Power-5 conference, and seems to be in a bit over his head trying to get a true freshman ready to deal with Pac-12 secondaries, who routinely face the best and most diverse array of offenses of any conference in the country.
Collins has hit some big plays, usually to Jordan Villamin, but has also hovered around a 50% completion rate, which wont cut in the this conference. Not that its unreasonable as a freshman; UCLA's freshman Josh Rosen has also run into something of a wall once he ran into Pac-12 competition, and Washington's freshman Jake Browning is presiding over a Husky offense that's competing with Oregon State for worst in the conference.
And there's recent precedent; just 2 years ago Cal's Jared Goff, now the best quarterback in the Pac-12, and the odds-on favorite to be the first quarterback taken in next year's NFL draft, was similarly wildly inaccurate, himself about a 50% thrower. Goff was benched against both Oregon and Oregon State, as he struggled to lead the Bears to a 1-11 season.
Rosen and Browning are generally regarded as their team's quarterback of the future, just as Collins is Oregon State's future, and Goff has obviously grown up enormously.
And as Beaver fans will recall, a Sean Mannion as a freshman led the Beavers to a 3-9 season, only to go on to rewrite the Pac-12 passing record book.
McGiven at least has a quarterback in Collins who can run in the meantime; something Goff, Rosen, and Browning can't do. But he also has to get this figured out, and start making some progress as soon as possible. To say that the pressure is building on McGiven, as well as Collins, Andersen, and offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin, is the understatement of the year, so some insight from an experienced family member, one whom McGiven readily admits taught him everything he knows about coaching quarterbacks, only makes sense.
So what is Oregon State getting in Crowton?
One of the early adopters and innovators of what has become the prevalent spread offenses that dominate college football today.
Crowton preceeded Chip Kelly as Offensive Coordinator for Mike Bellotti at Oregon, in 2005 & 2006, Bellotti's first attempt at moving away from the style of offense that dated to the Jeff Tedford era. Kelly would of course have much more success with the Ducks in the move to the spread concepts, but its worth noting that Crowton and Kelly were cooperators at the white board working on design when Kelly was still an assistant at New Hampshire.
And Crowton has a National Championship ring to his credit; after he left Oregon in a move that cleared the way for Kelly's arrival, he spent 4 years at LSU as offensive coordinator, and the Tigers claimed the BCS National Championship in 2008.
Crowton record isn't unblemished though; his major gig as a head coach came at BYU. He had 3 non-loosing seasons at Louisiana Tech in the late 90's, back when the Bulldogs, and a number of other members of what would become the Sun Belt Conference, were all independents, which meant there were no bowl game tie-ins.
After assuming the helm in Provo, Crowton got the Cougars off to a 12-0 start, and talk of a second National Championship was running wild. But then BYU took a 72-45 thrashing in Hawaii, and proceeded to lost the Liberty Bowl to Louisville.
The next 3 years things went off the rails for BYU. All 3 years were losing seasons, which happen to be the only losing seasons in Provo since the early 90's, and Crowton has never been a head coach again, even though he did land on his feet, with the Oregon and LSU gigs.
After that, Crowton spent 1 year at Maryland, and 2 with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL, before the aborted stint at Southern Utah.
Could the dreaded 2-quarterback system be back?
The quarterback picture got even cloudier this week, when the depth chart, and the practice plans, came out, and Nick Mitchell had suddenly arisen from from third string to displace Marcus McMaryion as the second string quarterback.
Mitchell, who had been listed as "1B" to Collins' "1A" in the quarterback competition coming out of spring practice and into summer camp, quickly disappeared to the scout team after a disastrous showing in one of the scrimmages, while McMaryion was credited with a strong summer after he had been the one demoted in the spring.
However, McMaryion was a train wreck in his last outing, completing only 4 of 10 in a brief sting in relief of Collins in the blowout loss week before last at Arizona.
Andersen has said Collins is still the starter, but both he and Baldwin acknowledged that Collins is a little beat up, after 23 carries for 124 yards, both game highs by a wide margin, at Washington State, and that both he and Mitchell "could play against Colorado."
Andersen and his staff get credit for not standing pat when things aren't going well, and Andersen has also said he's with some frequency brought in consultants as an extra set of eyes with a different perspective to analyze how Andersen is doing previously in his career.
Had Mike Riley considered such a move, its possible none of the current events would ever have happened, and Riley might still be in Corvallis instead of Lincoln.
And as discussed, it became necessary to set down Goff for his personal safety and mental health on multiple occasions. That eventually worked out pretty well.
Whether these moves can salvage the season, on next year for that matter, only time will tell, and this season going south instead of ending up somewhere around .500 was always a real possibility.
Lets hope it all proves to pay off in the long run, and aren't signs of desperation.