At Pac-12 Media Days, Oregon St. head coach Gary Andersen made it clear that he would prefer to not only have 1 clear starter at quarterback this season, and that he would prefer to name that person sooner than later.
But with zero experience between true freshman Seth Collins that most onlookers expect/hope wins the job, red-shirt freshman Nick Mitchell, who has shown flashes of better accuracy, and even red-shirt freshman Marcus McMaryion, whom Andersen installed as the 3rd stringer this spring, its entirely understandable that Andersen asked himself the question of "What if no one emerges?"
Citing a recent season at Northwestern where using multiple quarterbacks had some success, Andersen said that while he's hoping for one of his freshmen to seize control of the quarterback competition, one of them actually has to for him to be able to name that single starter. And so its possible that Oregon St. might need to determine how to employ a quarterback rotation.
With Weber St. first up on the schedule, its entirely possible for the Beaver coaching staff to use that game as an extension of camp when it comes to auditioning for a starting quarterback, and still not necessarily put an opening win unduly at risk.
But if there's no clear winner emerging by then, should Oregon St. even continue in trial mode? Or, with a trip to the Big House on the horizon, followed by a must win game against San Jose St. (in a year where Ws will be hard to come by, a win over the Spartans is a must), and then the Pac-12 opener against Stanford, commit to a 2 quarterback system and go forward?
Oregon St. has seen this show before, first in the Sean Canfield/Lyle Moeavo derby, then in the surprise supplanting of Ryan Katz by a freshman named Sean Mannion, and more recently when Mannion was coming back from injury, and Cody Vaz was the other QB. The results were mixed, though there were also moments of brightness.
Those all came under former coach Mike Riley, who absolutely wanted to find a full time starter, but also couldn't be sure of who that should be under the circumstances.
Under Andersen, as we have discussed, everything is different, and will be, and the handling of multiple quarterbacks is no exception.
Whenever considering any form of platooning, you HAVE to avoid specializing, such that the opponent knows what's coming just by seeing who is in the game. You need only reflect back on Riley's use of Jovan Stevenson as a pass-catching back. Stevenson was actually a pretty good back, and at the catch and run. But it didn't take long for every opponent to know that's what was coming as soon as Stevenson started to trot onto the field, and stack their defense to stop it as a result.
For the platoon quarterback system to succeed, it can't be a wild-cat kind of situation, or even a long-pass/short-pass guy kind of rotation. Both qbs have to have the full play-book available.
Fortunately, though Mitchell isn't as mobile as Collins, he's not a Mannion-esque monument to pocket presence. And though Collins is still working on accuracy on longer throws, he does have the arm strength to go down field.
So while we hope we will hear Andersen commit to a starter within days of camp opening this Saturday, if no announcement is forthcoming by mid-month, preparations better be proceeding with the expectation of a rotation plan, with the main question being whether its an every possession, every other possession, or quarter by quarter plan.
Because whatever the plan is, Oregon St. cannot get to work on it too soon! One of Riley's hallmarks, and sometimes downfalls, was letting circumstances make difficult decisions for him. Andersen, we suspect, won't wait for that to happen, opting for a plan of action sooner than later, even if its plan "B". And in a year where lots of plan "Bs" (and "Cs") are going to be needed, that's a good thing.