The Washington State Cougar football team had the day off today for the beginning of classes and another semester.
With the break in fall camp activities we'll conclude our series on the WSU offense for 2009 and take a look at the position with the highest profile on any football team—the quarterback.
Like many teams in the Pac-10 the Cougs have enjoyed a battle for the starting position between a couple of extremely capable players.
Coach Paul Wulff has just under two weeks of fall camp remaining before the season opens against Stanford in Pullman, WA. That timeline is significant because one of the most important decisions for this Cougar football team has yet to be announced.
Who will be the starting quarterback for WSU on September 5th?
Let's look at the options.
Going in to fall camp, senior Kevin Lopina was atop the group of young men listed as quarterbacks.
From an experience standpoint, Lopina has more experience as a starter at this level than the rest. He played in nine games last year, starting eight of them. One of those starts led to a memorable performance in an otherwise forgettable season. He was able to engineer a victory over cross-state rival Washington in THE game of every season, the Apple Cup.
No question that Lopina gained a measure of experience last year, but most of his playing time came after suffering a back injury against Portland State. That injury put him on the shelf for three games.
Unfortunately, much of Lopina's college career description begins with the word "if".
"If" he wasn't injured most of last year he would have been a difference maker for WSU.
"If" he wasn't fighting for playing time when All-Time WSU passing leader Alex Brink was on the team he would have lived up to his billing coming out of De La Salle high school rated as the No. 2 player in the Bay Area.
"If" Coach Bill Snyder had not retired as head man at Kansas State after his redshirt freshman year he might have been a star in the Big 12 by now.
This is the final chance for Kevin Lopina to enjoy playing college football at the Division I level. He has worked as hard as anyone on the team in the offseason. Though not a pure drop back passer in the mold of other Cougar greats, Lopina is accurate under pressure. Getting pressure on a healthy Lopina is a challenge for any defense because the guy can scramble and run.
Number two on the depth chart at quarterback is Marshall Lobbestael. Like Lopina, Lobbestael gained playing time experience last season. He played in five games, starting three. Lobbestael was lost for the season after injuring his knee against Oregon State.
The timing of Lobbestael's season-ending injury coincides with hopes fading for Cougar football last year. Before he went down, it appeared he was just starting to get a good feel for running the offense. The familiar refrain of "...if only" can be heard once again.
It's ironic that the No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks for the Cougs are side-by-side in the media guide. They are side-by-side on the numerical roster listing with Lobbestael wearing No. 8 and Lopina No. 9. When neither is in the lineup, they typically can be found side-by-side on the sidelines.
Heck, considering that Coach Wulff has yet to announce his starting quarterback, these two players find themselves side-by-side once again.
This almost sounds like a Vaudeville act or a Boy Scout Jamboree. Well, it's neither.
Both players will say they just want to see the team win football games, but they each have a burning desire to be "the guy". It's competition for the starting job that will bring out the best in both and benefit the entire team.
How strong are these two players?
They are solid enough that the No. 3 quarterback going into fall camp, J.T. Levenseller, left the team and has transferred up the road to Eastern Washington in search of getting some playing time.
As if there wasn't enough competition between Lobbestael and Lopina, consider who's chasing them for playing time.
Jeff Tuel is a true freshman who has impressed coaches and teammates throughout fall camp.
Tuel came to WSU as a highly touted quarterback from Clovis West high school in Fresno, CA despite just one year as the starter. He didn't start until his senior year for a very good reason. He was playing behind Beau Sweeney who is the quarterback of the future for Coach Jeff Tedford at Cal.
Yet in just one year of starting at quarterback, Tuel had a bevy of college suitors and was an all-everything award winner. Here's the shocker about Tuel so far. This student/athlete is exceeding expectations on the field. He might just have the best arm of the three.
Did I mention that Tuel is another typical Coach Wulff recruit? Not only is he a top performer on the field, he's an outstanding student. Tuel was on the honor roll every semester in high school, carried a 3.6 GPA and was the 2008 Student-Athlete Award winner.
Here's Coach Wulff's take on the quarterback position:
"The nice thing about the quarterback group is we have (two) quarterbacks who have taken snaps in games where those (two) players at this time last year had never taken a snap in college football. The expectations are that will be improved and truly should be able to now lead us down the field and put us in a position to score points and more importantly, take care of the football. Securing the football is the number one goal...those guys should improve in that area and should be an excellent competition between the (two) veteran players."
So the question remains, who will Coach Wulff start at quarterback?
The guy who gives WSU the best chance to win a football game.
Originally published on Examiner.com