Ducks Can Still Compete Despite QB Woes
by Trevor Whenham - 09/25/2008
Imagine if someone tried to make you go to this movie - a bizarre string of freak injuries has ravaged a football team, so that all they are left with is their fifth string quarterback - a guy who wasn't supposed to play this year. He enters the game and no one expects much, but he throws three touchdowns and looks like a star. Sounds like brutal Disney crap, doesn't it? Well it would be if it weren't true. That is exactly what happened with the Oregon Ducks last weekend. A knee injury to their starter before the season, a concussion, another knee injury, and some terrible play by a freshman not ready for primetime led the Ducks to end Darron Thomas' redshirt season eight games too early. Thomas was more than up to the challenge, tossing for 210 yards and three touchdowns in just a quarter. It wasn't a perfect effort - he threw an interception, only completed 52 percent of his passes, and the Ducks still lost to Boise State - but it was a heck of a performance for a guy mired that low on the depth chart.
This all makes for a good story (as long as you aren't an Oregon fan), but for bettors it represents a real challenge. Assuming you have a desire to bet on Oregon and the Pac-10 you have to first figure out what this all means for the team and how to handle their quarterback situation. It's obviously an imprecise science, but here's a look:
Status of players - Nate Costa was the preseason choice to replace Dennis Dixon under center. Hopes were high, but he didn't even make it to the season. He went down in the preseason with a left knee injury, and needed surgery that will likely keep him out for the season. Next up was 21-year-old sophomore Justin Roper. He got off to a solid start, but it only lasted into the third game. Against Purdue, Roper went down with a knee problem of his own. He has a partially torn MCL, and he's out for two to four weeks.
The next victim was Jeremiah Masoli. This guy has a Disney-esque story of his own. He came out of a junior college, so going from that level to starter in four games is an accomplishment. Unfortunately, he won't remember much about his first shot at starting. He took a knee to the helmet in the first quarter and had his bell rung. He was on the sidelines in shorts for the second half, and it was time for the next volunteer. That was true freshman Chris Harper. He'd appeared in all four games, and had a 31-yard pass and a TD against Utah State as highlights to his career. He didn't take well to being thrust into action unexpectedly, and failed to find a rhythm against a hungry Boise State defense.
So where are we now? Masoli has been cleared to return to practice. He'll be competing with Thomas and Harper, though the latter stands little chance of coming out on top, for the starting nod against Washington State this week. Coach Mike Belotti says that it will be a game-time decision, but it certainly seems reasonable to think that Thomas has the edge.
Reliance on QB - This is where the heart of the issue for bettors comes. This is a mess of a situation, but if there is a team in the country that is prepared to handle it it's Oregon. Last year they got a crash course in QB woes when Dennis Dixon went down. They didn't handle that perfectly, but they survived. As if that wasn't enough, the losses of Costa and then Roper have this team mentally prepared for almost anything at this point. It wouldn't make much sense to mentally count this team out over what has happened.
There's another aspect, too. The mere fact that Thomas was able to do what he did despite only starting to take significant snaps in practice a week before is testament to the fact that the Oregon system is a good one. Thomas was the fifth stringer, so he shouldn't have been ready to do what he did. He did, though, and that means that it shouldn't really ultimately matter who is taking snaps. Roper looked decent. Masoli was very promising in his limited action. Harper was good enough to avoid a redshirt. It seems reasonable to think that this team can perform reasonably well regardless of which one of those players is at the helm. That's not true for a lot of teams, but it seems to be the case for Belotti's squad.
Schedule - This is another factor that certainly helps the Ducks. They have three wins under their belt already. That means that they will cruise to bowl eligibility thanks to relatively easy games against Washington State, UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State. They'll lose to USC, but that was going to happen anyway. That leaves Arizona State, Cal, and Arizona as contested games that Oregon stands a decent chance in. Though this team is destined to lose a couple more games, there is nothing about their QB situation that really changes what they were a few weeks ago - a decent team with a shot at finishing second in a weak conference. Assuming anything else would be an overreaction.