Spring football practices are set to begin soon and recent events have brought my attention to the quarterback situation for the upcoming season. Wazzu traditionally had solid quarterback play even through Doba's last four bowl-less seasons. Guys like Thompson, Rypien, Bledsoe, Leaf, Gesser, and Brink found their way onto NFL rosters.
Then the 2008 season arrived.
Many Cougs were excited that Gary Rogers was finally going to get his chance. He aced the eye test, could throw the ball a mile, and there was that one fateful drive at Auburn. He subsequently showed us why he could never surpass Alex Brink as the starter. To be fair, he was playing in a completely new offensive system. To be truthful, he still consistently missed wide open receivers. As we know, he eventually lost his job to Kevin Lopina (how bad do you have to be to lose your job to Kevin Lopina?). Then his season ended during the Great Portland State Quarterback Massacre of 2008. Now, entering the 2009 season, the quarterback position is not so clear with two guys returning who logged multiple starts last year.
First, we have the most experienced returning guy, the aforementioned Kevin Lopina. He can't throw the ball deep. He can't throw the ball with accuracy. He makes bad decisions. He has never thrown a touchdown pass in his college career. So what does he do well? He has decent speed and is adept at finding running lanes. This bodes well for him with Wulff, who likes to work in designed quarterback runs and some option plays.
Do I see this offense being productive with Lopina at quarterback? No. He just doesn't make good throws consistently enough to sustain drives and his arm strength makes Alex Brink look like Brett Favre. I know he played much of last season with a back injury, so hopefully playing healthy will have a positive impact. But for this offense to begin moving in the right direction (that would be toward the end zone) someone else will need to step up and make sure Kevin stays on the sideline with a clipboard in his hand.
That person will most likely have to be Marshall Lobbestael. He instantly became a fan favorite after his second half performance against Portland State. There is the added advantage of awesome nicknames such as "Rock Lobster" and "Ocho Rojo." He put together a few scoring drives against the Oregon schools before blowing out his knee. He will not be participating in spring ball and recovering from major knee surgery is not something that happens quickly. Marshall has better physical skills than Lopina and a much higher ceiling.
So can Ocho Rojo lead the offense back to the glory days? Probably not this year. He will probably be the starter at some point during the season, if not right away. His best performance was against Portland State, a bad FCS team, He played decently against Pac 10 competition. I wouldn't expect him to light up the scoreboard just yet, the knee is a great worry and could limit his effectiveness. Some experience this year as the starter could prove dividends for his junior and senior seasons, when all these "youngins" on the roster have had time to grow up and his knee has strengthened.
That is the situation we are left with at quarterback. Great WSU football teams are often associated with great players at the QB position. This is partly due to the fact that WSU was operating in the spread offense for the last 20 years, but also because quarterback is the one position above all else on the field that can take a team of average talent and make it great. I don't see that being the case this year. Let's hope Ocho Rojo or Kevin Lopina prove me wrong.