Oregon State’s quarterback shuffle is emblematic of what has been happening around the Pac-12 Conference all football season. Injuries and inconsistency have dogged many teams in a league that has always been known for its strong quarterbacks.
The No. 15 Beavers started out the season with Sean Mannion under center. Because of injury they went to Cody Vaz. Then it was back briefly to Mannion. The OSU starter this week is undetermined.
Other Pac-12 teams that have switched quarterbacks include No. 14 Stanford, which started with Josh Nunes but swapped him for dual threat Kevin Hogan, and beleaguered Colorado, which started the season with Kansas transfer Jordan Webb but is now looking toward Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman.
Washington State has gone back and forth between Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday.
Injuries are also an issue. Cal senior Zach Maynard is nursing a sprained left knee. Arizona quarterback Matt Scott missed a game with a concussion and might not be back in time to face Utah on Saturday. They Utes are expected to start true freshman Travis Wilson, who unseated Jon Hays.
This week, as Oregon State (7-2, 5-2) prepares to host California (3-8, 2-6), the starting quarterback is still up in the air — on both sides.
The Beavers’ situation is certainly unique.
Mannion took over the Beavers as a redshirt freshman last season when the team finished just 3-9 overall. He got off to a strong start this year, leading Oregon State to four straight wins while passing for an average of 339 yards per game.
But Mannion’s fortunes took a turn when he injured his left knee on a handoff against Washington State on Oct. 6. Two days later, the Beavers announced he needed surgery, and the timeline for his return was uncertain. So Oregon State turned to Vaz, who had not started since high school but coolly led the Beavers in victories over BYU and Utah, helping the team to its best start since 1907.
Mannion made an unexpectedly quick recovery and returned to start the next week at Washington. He struggled, however, throwing four interceptions in the Beavers’ first loss of the season. So Oregon State turned back to Vaz, who helped the team to a victory against Arizona State.
Vaz started last week in a 27-23 loss to Stanford, but he injured his left ankle during the game’s waning moments. Mannion was taking snaps in practice earlier this week while the Beavers waited to see if Vaz would be cleared to play.
Oregon State is lucky. Since Vaz has had a few quality starts, the Beavers know what they’re getting with either quarterback.
“With either guy, we just decide what’s going to be best to do against the upcoming team," OSU coach Mike Riley said. “They’re both passers first, they both manage the offense, and I think they’re both good players. They don’t really bring something different than the other guy, nor do we have to tone some things down in regard to either guy. That’s the beauty of the thing, they both — in spring practice and fall camp — basically shared the turns for two years. We just run our offense."
On the other side, Maynard was also iffy for Cal. If he cannot go, Allan Bridgford will start for the Golden Bears.
If Hirschman is not cleared from a concussion, Colorado (1-9, 1-6) will start Wood against Washington (6-4, 4-3) on Saturday.
Washington State coach Mike Leach, who has plenty of other issues to worry about this week, has said he plans to start Tuel this weekend when the Cougars (2-8, 0-7) visit Arizona State (5-5, 3-4).
If Scott is unable to go for Arizona (6-4, 3-4), junior college transfer B.J. Denker will start for the Wildcats at Utah (4-6, 2-5).
Probably the most daunting task this weekend belongs to Stanford’s Hogan, who will face No. 1-ranked Oregon at Autzen Stadium.
If the redshirt freshman has any advantage at this point against the Ducks, it may be that last season he led Stanford’s scout team in their preparation for Oregon.
“Obviously, you can only do so much in a week. They’re doing it all the time," he shrugged. “So it’s pretty hard to simulate."
With a victory, Stanford (8-2, 6-1) would claim the Pac-12 North title and knock the Ducks out of national championship contention — something Oregon did to the then-No. 3 Cardinal last season with a 53-30 victory in Palo Alto.
A few Pac-12 teams have been lucky with their quarterbacks this season. Two of them are in Los Angeles and face off this weekend in a battle for the Pac-12 South.
USC senior Matt Barkley has not lived up to some expectations this season, but he still ranks 14th in the nation with an average of just over 297 yards passing per game for the No. 21 Trojans (7-3, 5-3). He leads the conference with 33 touchdowns, but he has also thrown a league-high 13 interceptions.
UCLA freshman Brett Hundley is not far behind Barkley with an average of 274 yards passing per game for the Bruins (8-2, 5-2).
The other stalwarts among the league’s quarterbacks this season are steady Washington junior Keith Price, Arizona State sophomore Taylor Kelly, and undefeated Oregon’s redshirt freshman, Marcus Mariota — who is hearing Heisman Trophy candidacy whispers prior to his final two regular-season games.