Opening the mailbag: Helmet sticker controversy!

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
6:29
PM ET
Happy Friday.

Follow me on Twitter. And maybe I'll invite you over to my new pad.

To the notes!

Julia from Portland writes: How could you not give De'Anthony Thomas a helmet sticker? Or is it just you being a Husky?

Wright from LA writes: No, Aaron Pflugrad on the helmet stickers? Weren't you at the game?

Ted Miller: Etc. Etc.

First, the Pac-12 blog has talked with other ESPN.com bloggers about the passion folks seem to have for the ole helmet stick program on the blog network. That you care so much is a good thing.

What I have learned about helmet stickers: There's always someone deserving who gets left off, and that clearly-- without question! -- is an injustice of monumental proportions, which probably emerges from my fundamental evilness. And that Oregon fans believe every player on their team deserves a helmet sticker every week, and if that doesn't happen it's clearly because, at 30 years of age, I moved to Seattle from the Southeast and during my nine years living there was infected by a purple Huskies passion.

Here are some guidelines for helmet stickers, which my bosses tell me should number only five or so but I always go over.

First, big numbers in big games get priority. If Cliff Harris returns two punts for TDs this weekend against Missouri State, I probably will not give him a helmet sticker. If he does so against Stanford, I will.

Second, it's mostly one per team, unless something outrageous happens or it was a particularly big game. You'll note Colorado got two helmet stickers last week -- in a loss no less. Well, that's what happens when two players set school records in major statistical categories (yards passing, yards receiving) against a quality opponent.

That's why Arizona State receiver Aaron Pflugrad didn't make the cut. To me, QB Brock Osweiler's performance was more significant, though Pflu did have a great game. Call it a QB bias.

Same for Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas. Ducks QB Darron Thomas threw six TD passes. Thomas had a heck of a game, particularly bouncing back from his fumble-itis against LSU, but... well, six TD passes.

Some questioned the inclusion of Utah receiver DeVonte Christopher, who "only" caught 11 passes for 136 yards in a loss to USC. First off: Did you watch the game? Christopher looked like the best player on the field, and that field included a lot of good players, including USC receiver Robert Woods.

But "spreading the wealth" also played a role, and will continue to. It seemed to me somebody from the USC-Utah game deserved notice, other than grumpy sports books in Vegas.

But Julia and Wright, to make it up to you, here's a helmet sticker. Just for you two.

Matt from Keizer, Ore., writes: My Oregon Ducks are playing the FCS Missouri State Whatever-they-are this weekend. I found out that they were originally scheduled to play respectable Utah, except that was scheduled WAAAAYYY back in the days of the antiquated Pac-10. So they canceled it because it would have been a conference game and Oregon already had enough of those on it's schedule. But yet just last week, California traveled to Colorado and played their game, yet it just wasn't counted as a conference game. Can you give me any insight as to why this similar situation played out so differently?

Ted Miller: Know what I like? Being lazy.

Others have done the work answering this question for me. Ken "Greenlight" Goe explained that Oregon and Utah rescheduled because the Utes needed to shuffle things in order to keep BYU on its slate. And, really, a nonconference slate of at BYU, Oregon and at Pittsburgh is kind of masochistic.

And Jonathan Okanes -- of the Contra Costa Okaneses -- explains here that California and Colorado decided to keep the game because, well, it was easier than finding new opponents.

Ricky from Dallas writes: Is it just me, or does the poor offensive and QB play at Oregon St seem like it should be blamed on the coaching staff? Katz seemed to do so well during his first 2 years under center, but the coaches have a terrible and inconsistent rotation at the QB position right now, so neither QB can get anything going. Should the Beavers stick with Katz, and realize that losing your 2 biggest stars actually does hurt your QB too? I think he will get better as the season progresses, if given the shot.

Ted Miller: Seems like you could throw blame around a lot of places at Oregon State.

Let's start with this, though: Injuries. Give the Beavers receiver James Rodgers, tight end Joe Halahuni, defensive tackle Dominic Glover (academics) and cornerback Brandon Hardin, etc., and they might not be sitting here at 0-2 with all sorts of problems.

As for Katz, he is a second-year starter (not third) who had a promising 2010 season. He has a big arm and is a good athlete. So just about everyone -- including me -- believed he was headed for a star turn this year.

But here's the deal. Redshirt freshman Sean Mannion started catching his coaches' fancy in spring practices and that continued this preseason. The way Mike Riley has described it is Katz hasn't regressed -- though I suspect there might be some frustration that he doesn't look better -- but that Mannion has asserted himself.

To put it simply, when Katz and Mannion practiced, side-by-side, Mannion looked like the better quarterback on a consistent basis. If that is the case, and you believe Riley and his coaches really, really want to win, then how could they not go with Mannion?

Think of it like this: What if Andrew Luck transferred to Oregon State in August? Would you say that Katz should remain the starter because of seniority? Or would you go with the guy who makes more plays in practice?

That said: I can understand Katz's frustration. He basically became the No. 2 guy after he played poorly in the first half against Sacramento State. After all he did in 2010, he got a quick hook and wasn't given a chance to redeem himself.

But Riley has emphasized that this wasn't just about the first half of Sacramento State. It was about Mannion coming into the game in the second half and validating a growing feeling about him: That he's the Beavers best QB right now and in the future.

Did it go down ugly? Sure. But benching a QB is never easy. Should Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf made the change before the opener? Maybe. But I'm guessing they were hoping that Katz would prove a "gamer" and be lights out to start the season and change their minds.

Look, Pac-12 football is a big-boy game. I feel for Katz. But Riley made a decision that he feels is best for the team. This isn't Riley's first rodeo. My guess is that he's probably right.

Tyler from Phoenix writes: What happens to Washington State in the event that they are undefeated, or are even just doing well enough so that they question Tuel as the starter? Does he regain his place?

Ted Miller: So you're asking me if Washington State is undefeated when QB Jeff Tuel gets healthy in six or so weeks, should coach Paul Wulff keep Marshall Lobbestael as the starter or go with Tuel?

Before I answer, let's pause and let Coug fans soak in the glory of that query. You guys have missed such speculation, eh?

If the Cougs are 6-0 and fresh off a win over Stanford, there is zero chance of Wulff sitting Lobbestael and replacing him with Tuel. In fact, Tuel would probably would go, "Are you nuts?!" if he were told to get ready to start against Oregon State.

It does become a legit issue if Lobbestael continues to play like he has, though. If the Cougs are, say, 4-2, should Wulff make a change? Should a starter lose his job because of an injury? Or should Wulff decide that he's not going to break up the rhythm of a team that's (finally) winning?

I don't know if there's a correct answer to that. My guess is Wulff will go by "feel." What's his gut tell him is the right thing to do? He'd consult his assistants, talk to both players and make a call.

He might opt to play two guys. Or go with Tuel only if Lobbestael has a downturn. Or he could just say, "Tuel is our guy."

If you want to know what I'd likely do -- and, really, how could you not -- I'd be reluctant to mess with the chemistry of a fast start. If Lobbestael ranks among the Pac-12 leaders in passing efficiency six weeks into the season, I'd stick with him.

And there is this: Tuel, a true junior, has an available redshirt year.

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