One week ago, the Oregon State football team had just suffered a tough 31-27 loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
Fans in Beaver Nation were stunned that OSU had given up 14 fourth-quarter points and walked out of the Alamodome with an excruciating loss to the Longhorns.
Many blamed coach Mike Riley (what’s new, I know).
They wanted to know why Riley left quarterback Cody Vaz, who hurt the same previously injured ankle that caused him to miss two games late in the season, in the game when Sean Mannion was healthy and ready to go on the bench.
Vaz struggled early with an interception and a fumble that helped Texas keep the game close when the Beavers’ defense was stifling the Longhorns and had them on the ropes.
It wasn’t the first time this season Riley was criticized for sticking with his starter too long.
It happened first at Washington, when Mannion was making his first start following a two-game absence to have minor knee surgery.
Vaz had played well with Mannion sidelined, winning at BYU and at home against Utah.
But Riley went back to Mannion, who never appeared comfortable on that cold, rainy night at CenturyLink Field.
Finally, after Mannion’s fourth interception that helped set the Huskies up to take a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, Riley turned to Vaz.
All Vaz did was lead the Beavers to a tying touchdown before the Huskies drove for a game-winning field goal.
Fans were in an uproar as to why Riley didn’t make the move to Vaz sooner.
Had he, they say, the Beavers would have won.
Many of those fans were in the same uproar last week when Riley stuck with Vaz the entire game, save for the relief appearance and five handoffs Mannion had when Vaz left to have his ankle retaped.
It’s been interesting the way Riley has handled the quarterback position the past two seasons.
And, for some, a bit alarming.
It began when Riley pulled Ryan Katz, the starter the previous season, at halftime of the 2011 season opener.
We all remember that game: The Beavers were down 14-3 at the half to Football Championship Subdivision opponent Sacramento State.
Instead of allowing Katz an opportunity to make some adjustments, Riley sent Mannion in for the second half.
Riley claimed after the game the plan all along was to give Mannion some playing time. It makes sense, as one would have thought the game would have been out of hand at some point.
The next week at Wisconsin, Katz started, played the first two snaps, was replaced by Mannion, then saw a couple more snaps and that was it: His OSU career was essentially over.
It was Mannion’s team from that moment.
And despite a 3-9 campaign, Mannion gained valuable experience — and leadership — and was part of a group that kept the players motivated throughout the offseason and a major reason the Beavers finished 9-4 this season.
So what now?
Who will be chosen to start in 2013?
Your guess is as good as mine.
Maybe, neither quarterback has done enough to sell the staff that he is the man to lead the Beavers.
Had Mannion not gotten hurt, who knows how the season would have turned out. Maybe the Beavers are in the same position, win-loss wise that is.
They would certainly have stability at the most crucial position on a football team.
Instead, the Beavers enter the offseason with a major question mark.
And, quite possibly, confusion amongst the players as to who their leader should be over the next three-plus months until spring practice begins in April.
The Beavers must find their starting quarterback by the time spring practice ends.
Then they need to stick with him.