Costa or Thomas for Ducks?

While running back LaMichael James sitting out Oregon's season-opener inside friendly Autzen Stadium against woeful New Mexico most likely won't slow the Ducks down, it's fair to assume them losing a potential Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback is a bigger issue.

Game two is at Tennessee, after all. Big loud -- orange -- stadium.

So who steps in for Jeremiah Masoli after he was suspended for the 2010 season?

The unanticipated competition, which will commence March 30 when spring practices begin, will be between senior Nate Costa and sophomore Darron Thomas.

Costa? It's possible Masoli would be an obscure backup today if both of Costa's knees hadn't crumpled. Recall that Costa was once the hot-shot prospect to run Chip Kelly's spread-option offense after Dennis Dixon headed to the NFL after the 2007 season.

Now a senior, Costa has suffered major injuries on both knees, but he knows the offense and he's got a veteran's savvy. He stayed healthy last year and even led the Ducks to a win over UCLA, filling in for an injured Masoli, and his maturity might be meaningful for an offense that is seemingly rudderless after losing a two-year starter.

Then there's Thomas, who burst onto the scene with an impressive performance off the bench as a true freshman against Boise State in 2008, throwing for 215 yards and three touchdowns. Thomas redshirted in 2009, but the 6-foot-3, 205 pounder has tremendous upside as a dual-threat quarterback.

The issue is this: Even without Masoli, the Ducks are a top Pac-10 contender, see 18 returning starters. So who gives them their best chance to maximize their potential in 2010?

That's a big question that will hang over spring practices.

And, just to throw it out there, Kelly left the option open for a Masoli return in 2011, if he opts to redshirt and fulfill requirements to regain his good standing.

Just imagine if Thomas wins the job and leads the Ducks to a second-consecutive Pac-10 championship and a Rose Bowl berth.

Then Oregon will go into 2011 with two quarterbacks who have conference championships to their credit.

That could be interesting.