Take it to the bank: Lopina will get the nod

Well, I'm a little late to the whole Saturday scrimmage party at this point, but between being out of town all day yesterday, getting back at noon today, and then having my brother and his wife over for lunch/dinner this afternoon/evening, this is the first chance I've had to sit at a computer and digest all the coverage of yesterday's initial scrimmage of camp and reflect on its significance.

Most of the days reports focus on the same thing: The quarterback battle.

In a nutshell, Kevin Lopina looked sharp (6-of-6, 94 yards, TD), Marshall Lobbestael looked a rusty guy coming off reconstructive knee surgery (4-of-7, 34 yards), and Jeff Tuel looked like the kind of quarterback that could start next year and for the three after that (5-of-6, 74 yards with the 3rd stringers against the 3rd defense).*

*Before we go any further with this conversation, let's just get one thing straight: Tuel is not going to play this year, barring more injuries like last year or absolutely catastrophic play from Lopina and Lobbestael. He might look as awesome as awesome can be, but this staff values its redshirts. So, no comments below on how you think Tuel should go ahead and start as a true freshman. Ain't gonna happen. Don't even suggest it.

Clearly, one of those lines sticks out above all the others, and I'll go ahead and say it now: Lopina will be the starting quarterback against Stanford. And to be honest, I'm beginning to run contrary to the general line of thinking in Coug Nation and  come around to the idea that it's not such a bad thing.

I think that a lot of our general bias against Lopina becoming the starter derives from the fact that he just doesn't pass our WSU eye test. We love our big, strong-armed quarterbacks. I remember during my freshman year fans chanting Ryan Leaf's name as Chad Davis threw what seemed like every 10-yard out to a defensive back. And we all remember the calls for Gary Rogers to supplant Alex Brink for three years, even as Brink was completely rewriting the record books.

Lopina is big (6-foot-3, 234 pounds), but he doesn't have the sexy quarterback build we've come to expect from our lineage of great signal callers. And about that arm ... watch that throw in the Apple Cup again to refresh your memory (at about the 3:00 mark). It took everything he had to throw the rock 55 yards. It was great that he made the play, but let's be honest -- a stronger armed quarterback who is able to put a little more air on that thing allows Jared Karstetter to walk into the end zone.

Predictably, the idea of Lopina starting this year is met with one giant, collective yawn. Give us Marshall Lobbestael, who, with his lanky build and silky smooth throwing motion, looks infinitely more the part. Give us Jeff Tuel, with that rocket launcher dangling from his right shoulder. Don't give us a guy who looks more like a linebacker than a quarterback -- a guy who's a senior, who's not going to pay any future dividends from playing in what figures to be another rebuilding year.

But it's starting to occur to me that we spend entirely too much time what Lopina can't do, rather than what he can.

Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said the starter would be the guy who gives them the best chance to win, detailing what exactly gives a player that quality (I'm paraphrasing):

  1. Commitment to the program and its goals.
  2. Dedication to the position's responsibility of being a full-time leader.
  3. A passion for football and a commitment to being the best he can possibly be at his position.
  4. He has to make plays.

Sound like anyone you know? Say, a guy who has publicly and vocally bought into Paul Wulff's program? A guy who stood up week after week to face the media in the wake of a string of embarrassing losses? A guy who played through a broken back because his team needed him? A guy who ripped his teammates after getting spanked by Stanford? A guy who has consistently been out in front as a leader in this camp, even though he hasn't officially won the job?

About the only thing that doesn't sound like Lopina to a T is No. 4, but even in that, I find Sturdy's choice of words intentional. Notice he didn't say he has to make "great throws" or has to "be a great passer." He's got to "make plays," something Lopina has shown he can do, whether with a timely throw or with his feet.

I felt from day one that if Lobbestael wanted this job he was going to have to take it from Lopina -- that he was going to have to display an exceptional ability to move the ball with his arm. That just doesn't seem to be happening. Sean over at WSUFB sums it up perfectly: "(A)fter eight practices and a scrimmage now in the books, the 'boy Marshall Lobbestael looks good' buzz has been noticeably absent from camp reports."

Don't let the most over-quoted statistic in the history of mankind -- 11 interceptions, zero touchdowns -- limit what you think Lopina is able to do. Yes, he occasionally showed questionable decision making that was exacerbated by the fact that his arm isn't strong enough to squeeze the ball into little spaces. But he did complete nearly 60 percent of his passes, and after a year in the system, he ought to make better decisions overall. That's not even taking into account how much healthier Lopina is now than he was at the end of last season.

There's just so much more to quarterbacking than making throws, and I think that's indicated not just in the characteristics Sturdy highlighted, but in the order he presented them. In the absence of a guy who can overwhelm us with his ability to do No. 4, I'll gladly take a guy who seems to be exceptional at Nos. 1-3 and merely average at the other.

If that guy is Lopina -- and I'd be willing to lay even money that it is -- I'm OK with that.

If you didn't catch all the coverage of the scrimmage from Saturday, here are the relevant links:

Also, here's some other stuff:

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