And so the plot thickens.
The Oregon Ducks entered the offseason expecting a full-blown quarterback competition. Tyler Shough started every game for the Ducks in 2020, but his inconsistent play and questionable decision making led to backup Anthony Brown seeing plenty of snaps throughout the team’s final two games. With Brown opting to remain at Oregon for his final year of eligibility, it was assumed that it would be Shough and Brown duking it out over the spring and summer.
It turns out that the Ducks still have a quarterback controversy on their hands, but it’s not between Shough and Brown. The former surprisingly entered the transfer portal, declaring his intentions to play elsewhere for the remainder of his collegiate career. Instead, Brown will have to fend off a handful of former blue-chip recruits to claim the starting job in 2021.
None of those former star prospects enters the offseason with as much hype as freshman quarterback Ty Thompson — Oregon’s highest-rated quarterback signee in program history. The coaching staff will likely have an open competition, including other talented options Jay Butterfield and Robby Ashford, but Thompson and Brown have to be considered the way-too-early frontrunners.
That begs the question, how should the coaching staff handle the quarterback situation?
Thompson is undoubtedly the future of the program. It’s a matter of “when” not “if” he’ll start. He has all of the necessary attributes — the size, the arm, the athleticism — to succeed both at this level and the next. But does he give the Ducks the best shot to win right now?
In his limited action in 2020, Brown looked like an ideal fit in offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s RPO-heavy offense. His dynamic running ability, good field vision and apparent understanding of the system suggest that he’ll be an upgrade over Shough, who himself put up good numbers despite his shortcomings. If Brown had gotten a chance earlier in the season, who knows if Oregon would have even lost a regular season game?
Thompson has the potential to be great, but Brown has actually shown that he can be productive at the collegiate level, which is good reason to be the unexpected favorite to start in 2022 for the Ducks. He may not be the talent that Thompson is, but with a loaded roster, Oregon can likely get away with “good-enough” quarterback play and still win most — if not all — of its conference games.
However, it’s nearly impossible to win a championship in today’s game without a true difference maker at the position. A quarterback has to have the ability to put the team on his shoulders and take over the game when facing elite competition. The Ducks have title aspirations; good-enough quarterback play won’t get the job done in the Playoff, or even against Ohio State in Week 2. It’s unknown whether Thompson is game-ready right now, but his ceiling is sky high. If he plays to his potential, he gives the Ducks the best chance to beat the premier programs that the Ducks will eventually run into in the pursuit of a championship.
So, what’s the verdict? Should the coaching staff turn to the proven option in Brown, or should they roll the dice on Thompson’s upside next season?
Morgantown, West Virginia
Top Photo by Tom Corno
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