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Columnist: For Ducks QB, tie goes to Costa

8/26/2010

Oregon is holding a double-super-secret scrimmage Thursday afternoon that should go a long way toward revealing who will be the Ducks' starting quarterback, either senior Nate Costa or sophomore Darron Thomas.

It should go a long way toward a definitive answer mostly because it will get us closer to Saturday, when coach Chip Kelly will bang his gavel and announce a verdict.

It's rare that reporters covering open practices don't reach a consensus on who's going to be the guy. This is one of those rare instances.

Yet here's a reasonable vote that Costa will take the first snaps against New Mexico on Sept. 4. George Schroeder, who's been covering college football for a few years, mostly sums up my own position on this, writing:

If coaches are thinking along the same lines — with Kelly, we should never be sure — a tie goes to the veteran leader.

To beat out Costa, Thomas has to be clearly better. And to this point, though you can make a very nice argument based on the sophomore’s performance during the preseason, any edge isn’t significant.

The Ducks are going to pound New Mexico, whoever plays quarterback, and even without suspended running back LaMichael James.

The next week, however, they visit Tennessee. This isn't your father's Volunteers. The Ducks should be able to take care of business. But the Vols will have enough talent that a three or four-turnover afternoon from the Ducks could be a problem.

And Neyland Stadium is an intense place. It's going to be humid, hostile and loud -- 105,000 fans can do that.

Thomas has never started a game, much less a game on the road. It's entirely possible that the player he's been in practices since the spring won't be the player who would walk behind center in Knoxville.

Why do I type that? Because you see youngsters struggle in those situations so often. How many young quarterbacks have face-planted in Autzen Stadium, for example?

Costa started last season at UCLA. Not the same intensity, but at least he knows how things go.

Some have used that lackluster start against Costa, though it was a 24-10 victory. They shouldn't, in large part because Kelly doesn't. He's told me so.

"We were a little conservative when we played UCLA," Kelly said. "That was because we didn't have anyone else."

Kelly noted that if Costa got hurt, Oregon would have had to burn Thomas' redshirt season or used true freshman Daryle Hawkins. And Kelly is quick to point out that Costa rushed for 1,709 yards his senior year of high school and was set to be the Ducks starter in 2008 before he injured his knee.

"People might never have heard of Jeremiah [Masoli] if Nate was there," he said.

First of all: Who is Jeremiah Masoli?

Second: Costa starting game one, which seems the wisest course, doesn't mean we won't see Thomas this season. Sure, Kelly has repeatedly said he doesn't want to play two quarterbacks, but that's only because he wants the guy he chooses to play well in 12 games and then the Rose Bowl.

If Costa is ragged in the first two games, there's no reason to believe Kelly wouldn't want to see what Thomas could do against Portland State and then make a call with the Pac-10 schedule ahead. Moreover, quarterbacks get hurt. Seven Pac-10 teams started multiple players at quarterback last season and, you know, Costa has suffered through three knee surgeries.

The gist is this: It makes sense that Costa would get the nod on Saturday.

But it's also not unreasonable to believe there will be other plot twists at the position for the Ducks this season.