- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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The clear reason to watch Oregon State's spring game on Friday (10 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network) is to figure out who will be the starting quarterback for an intriguing Beavers team that will be ranked in the preseason top 25.
After all, spring games are always incredibly revealing of the inner workings of a program.
I jest. Hardy har har.
Spring practices are going to end for the Beavers with what coach Mike Riley called a "very difficult separation job for us" between quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, both of whom Riley said played "pretty well" over the past month or so.
Odds are if there is any separation, we won't be told about it.
See how much Riley enjoys the oft-repeated quarterback competition questions in this video. That might be a legitimate frump from the nicest guy in coaching when he replies to a query about "clarity" with, "That it's a tough competition. That's the clarity."
It will be a mistake to read too much into what will be a glorified practice Friday, just one of 15 at that.
Yet if Mannion or Vaz plays decidedly better than the other, then message boards and some professional opiners will light up with, "But, of course, it's got to be Vaz/Mannion. He just played so much better when the pressure was on!"
That reaction won't mean much, but it also won't be completely illegitimate. A rough parallel perhaps could be drawn to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Kelly" moment in the Ducks' spring game a year ago, when he decisively outplayed Bryan Bennett, who began the spring as the favorite to replace Darron Thomas.
While at the time it seemed smart not to read too much into a single afternoon, there also was plenty of "he's legit" buzz about Mariota. That proved entirely founded when the 2012 season rolled around. That's why Bennett migrated away from Eugene.
This is a different sort of competition, though. Both Mariota and Bennett were unknown quantities at the time. We'd seen little of Bennett and nothing or Mariota, a redshirt freshman. Further, unlike Oregon State, Oregon had closed practices, so we had little idea what transpired in the other 14 practices.
So we extrapolated with the little we had and that purely theoretical exercise ended up validated.
But we know Vaz, a senior, and Mannion, a junior. Both have starting experience. Both have played well. And poorly. We know their strengths and weaknesses. Reporters have watched them the entire spring. And neither has earned front-runner status.
This from Gary Horowitz probably sums up the thinking of many observers, if they were to take a position: "My hunch is that Vaz would need to have a clear edge in fall camp to win the starting job because Mannion has two years of eligibility remaining, and college programs are always building toward the future."
What are Vaz and Mannion saying? Not much. I've not read a revealing quote from either yet, nor have their teammates intimated that one or the other is rising.
Here's a video of Pac-12 Networks’ Ashley Adamson chatting with Vaz. Did that help you figure things out?
Pac-12 spring practices began with five wide-open quarterback competitions. It feels like we know more now about the candidates at Arizona, California, Colorado and USC. There is more clarity with those four. Guys have been weeded out. You could hazard an educated guess -- B.J. Denker, Zach Kline, Connor Wood and Cody Kessler -- for each.
Yet Mannion/Vaz doesn't feel that way, unless you assume the tag will go to the younger guy if things are close to equal.
It probably would help Riley out if one or the other started an implacable surge on Friday, one that might provide credence to a budding hunch, inside and outside the locker room. As Riley said of the rest of his team, "We have a pretty good idea of who quite a few of the starters will be."
Still, whatever the post-spring game momentum, it can be reversed. For every Mariota, there's a Taylor Kelly, who got off the canvas after a poor spring a year ago for Arizona State and rose from No. 3 to No. 1 on the depth chat.
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