Ed’s Note: On Friday, Jeff Spiegel wrote a column championing Nate Costa for the starting quarterback job. Today, I strike back. As always, leave your thoughts in the comments.
“I really want to have one quarterback. I don’t believe in playing two quarterbacks. I believe if you’ve got a two-quarterback system that means you don’t really have a quarterback.”
Those are the words of Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
Nate Costa. Darron Thomas.
Come the New Mexico opener on September 4th, Kelly will have picked his man. And it should be Thomas — by a long shot.
Costa would be a great story: The little engine who could. But that’s all it would be, a great story. More importantly, it would be a huge mistake.
He came to Eugene as a three star recruit. There was no big press conference, no parade, no jaw-dropping high school highlight reels. In fact, this was the top result from a quick Google video search of “Nate Costa high school” — it couldn’t be further from a football field.
Once at Oregon, Costa proved a hard worker, a smart kid — gobbling up the play book and holding a clip board like nobody’s business. Finally it came Costa’s turn. In 2006, Costa was viewed as the future quarterback for the Ducks after completing all five of his passes in two games as a true freshman. But then came the knee injuries. Four years and three ACL tears later, Costa is still waiting for his turn.
Costa is proof that nice guys finish last.
While Costa brings experience, accuracy and a game-manager-like quality, Thomas couldn’t be any more the opposite. Flash, speed, potential and play-making ability define the highly touted redshirt sophomore. And to the delight of Duck fans, he strikes a stunning resemblance to our beloved Dennis Dixon — who not-so-coincidentally came into his own his first year under the tutelage of Kelly.
With 17 starters coming back from last years’ Pac-10 championship-winning team, and an injection of fresh talent with its top-15 recruiting class, Oregon is a quarterback away from being a national title contender. Sure, you could play it safe with Costa and have a decent shot at returning to the Rose Bowl, but that’s the ceiling — at least two losses, guaranteed. If Thomas pans out, the Rose Bowl becomes an afterthought. If Thomas becomes even Dixon-lite, name one team on Oregon’s schedule who you can’t see the Ducks beating.
Everything else is set up for Oregon to make a BCS title run. It’s a risk worth taking. It’s a risk Oregon must take.
Thomas may be raw, with just one quarter of experience under his belt, but oh what a beautiful quarter is was: passing for 210 yards and three touchdowns, while earning the label “next”. He even came off the bench in the Civil War for one of the greatest trick plays I’ve ever seen.
It’s no surprise that Dixon broke out in Kelly’s first year. Or that Justin Roper stepped right in to lead Oregon to 56 points in the Sun Bowl. Or that a once-5th string quarterback could become the best player in the conference. Kelly system gets the most out his quarterback.
But if that’s the case, then why not Costa?
People like to use the “Costa experience” argument quite often, but I’m not buying. He’s been in Kelly’s system just a year longer than Thomas, and only has three quarters more playing time. Not necessarily a resume draped with experience. Also, with Costa, the threat of the QB tucking the ball and running 40 yards isn’t there. On any given play, the defense would have to put a spy on Thomas, making sure he actually gets rid of the ball before turning their heads and running with the receivers — something we’ve taken for granted the past few years with Dixon and Masoli.
I know it’s a small sample size, but DT’s quarter against Boise State was far more inspiring than Costa’s seven-point offensive production in a 14-point win over middling UCLA last season.
One more big reason for choosing Thomas over Costa is age. Even the biggest Costa supporters will say the gap between the two isn’t all that big. If that’s the case, why waste another year of Thomas’ eligibility for a lower-ceiling — albeit safer — choice. Imagine how good DT will be when he suits up as a third-year starter in 2012. Dixon may become an afterthought.
Oregon is a flashy program. The newest uniforms, the coolest facilities, the most innovative offense. Why go completely against their grain and pick the “safe” choice as quarterback? It doesn’t make sense.
No guts, no glory. For Oregon to reach its highest potential this year — a legitimate shot at the BCS title game — Kelly must pick Thomas. And don’t even get me started about the future.