Oregon State QB plot will thicken when Moevao gets healthy

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Oregon State coach Mike Riley is universally considered one of the nice guys in coaching, but he's going to face a potentially cold-blooded decision at some point during the coming weeks.

And he knows it.

Quarterback Lyle Moevao lost his starting job due to injury -- plain and simple. The odds are he would be starting Saturday against Portland State instead of Sean Canfield if he didn't hurt his shoulder late last season and have offseason surgery that knocked him out of spring and preseason practices.

It's long been a sports conundrum: Does an athlete lose his starting job because of an injury?

Sure, ask Wally Pipp.

Moevao isn't ready to play. Yet. Said Riley: "[Moevao has] everything but the final stage, which is the zip on the ball."

While Moevao has been out, Canfield has been impressive. He played great during spring practices and that carried over into the fall. He also grew as a leader, which was a previous shortcoming in the three-season comparison with Moevao.

So, when Moevao gets healthy -- perhaps by the start of the Pac-10 schedule on Sept. 26 -- where does he stand? Does he automatically get some playing time, even if Canfield is playing well?

"That is a great question," Riley said.

But Riley says that a lot to inquiring reporters -- remember: he's a nice guy -- even when the question is far closer to mediocre.

Riley has negotiated this delicate situation well so far, doing everything he can to include Moevao in his commentary about the team.

But, eventually, he's going to have to make the cold-blooded call.

Both are seniors, so we're talking about a major issue in their lives that also could affect their futures.

"I really don't want to think about it right at this time because it won't be easy," Riley said. "We're looking at a guy [Moevao] who had a tremendous year for us last year and is a heck of a quarterback and we're looking at a guy [Canfield] who I think has grown tremendously as a quarterback and has had an outstanding camp and has earned our No. 1 job right now."

There are a handful of options available to Riley based on how Canfield plays while Moevao is sidelined.

If Canfield is lights out, he should remain the full-time starter. Period. If the Beavers are 3-0 when Arizona comes to town, a major change could potentially hurt the team by shaking up its rhythm.

Even before issues of fairness with individual players, the team must come first.

If Canfield struggles, or reverts to the interception machine of 2007 when he hurled 15 picks vs. nine touchdowns as the starter ahead of Moevao, then Moevao deserves a shot and will get it.

But few think that will happen.

Then there's the gray area, when Canfield's performances end up ranging from good to OK, and Moevao looks like his old self in practice.

The guess here is Moevao sees some action in that scenario.

And then, of course, you could end up with the dreaded "quarterback controversy." Beavers fans will head over the Building the Dam en masse and debate the issue like it's health care legislation.

There also is the sneaky, roll-the-dice option: Sit Moevao out, say his shoulder isn't ready and petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility.

With Moevao coming back in 2010, the Beavers prospects would be bright. Very bright.

It will be interesting to watch how things play out over the coming weeks.

What would be ideal -- unless you're, say, an Oregon fan -- would be for all the parties to get enough of what they want to be satisfied.

And, of course, for the parties to gleefully combine for what matters most: Lots of victories.