This Better Work

Chip Kelly’s decision to go with Darron Thomas over Nate Costa at quarterback makes sense coming from a man known as a risk taker, but there may be one off-the-field risk he didn’t take into account when choosing his starter.  Costa, a 5th year senior who has fought back from injury over and over again, has more experience in the sense that he’s more familiar with the playbook, and was supposed to be the starter 2 years ago before hurting his knee.  This in turn has earned familiarity and respect from his peers in the locker room.  How much backlash could be coming from the upper classmen on the team over this decision to go with the inexperienced sophomore instead of Costa?

The Ducks Quarterback Controversy 2010 has been billed as experience vs. potential.  If you want veteran leadership and in-depth knowledge of the playbook, you want Costa.  If you want high-risk, high reward, big play potential, you want Thomas.  Just think back to the big 4th quarter explosion against Boise State two years ago, when Thomas went for 210 yards and 3 touchdowns in the period while almost rallying the Ducks back from a 19 point deficit.  After it all played out and the announcement was made on Friday, I’m not sure it was that simple.

Chip Kelly has a “win-now” mentality.  He realizes he has a very talented, experienced team (17 returning starters) that’s favored to win the Pac-10 this year.  The potential future benefits of giving Thomas the reins speak for themselves.  He could a 3 year starter, in the same mold of player as Dennis Dixon.  Since Kelly only cares about the now, not the later, this means Thomas most likely won outright in the competition against Costa.  He’s not in there for his potential.  He’s in there because right now, he’s the better quarterback. 

This drastically helps his case against any possible backlash.  Even though an older player will have paid his dues, if the younger player is simply better, then he should be the one taking the field.  Hopefully, most of the upperclassmen will realize this, despite any loyalty they may feel towards Costa. 

The real problems will come to a head should Thomas flounder in any of the early games.  The Ducks’ non-conference schedule could very well have them at 3-0 going into Pac-10 play.  First up will be New Mexico, a seemingly simple Mountain West opponent that only won one game last year.  Then the Ducks have to travel to Tennessee to take on the Volunteers in a very winnable matchup against an average SEC team.  Then they wrap up the non-conference schedule back home against the lowly Portland State Vikings, a Big Sky team whose biggest news this offseason was that they were going back to their familiar green jerseys.

The Lobos and Vikings games should be cakewalks for Thomas and the Ducks.  Any struggles he shows there should be red flags, and the concerned upperclassmen will have their concerns validated.  Mark the Tennessee game as the first genuine litmus test of the Darren Thomas decision.  An inexperienced, young, underclassman quarterback making his second career start on the road in the SEC will face a very uncomfortable situation at Neyland Stadium.  If he’s successful, this will be a good sign for the Ducks.  This year’s Vols team is of about the same quality as most other Pac-10 teams.  If he struggles, expect to hear cries to bring on the Senior.  Hopefully, for Thomas’, Kelly’s, and the Ducks’ sake, Thomas will not struggle early on, because locker room dissonance can only hurt the situation, especially during an in-season quarterback controversy.