Sean Mannion emerged in August from one of the nation's most closely watched preseason quarterback competitions as the Oregon State starter over Cody Vaz. That competition was particularly noteworthy because it featured two players with significant experience who had mostly played well when behind center.
Mannion's winning the job, however, became a secondary story when the 25th-ranked Beavers lost their opener to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. While Mannion's big numbers against the Eagles merited note -- the 49-46 defeat certainly wasn't the offense's fault -- it was the inglorious defeat that dominated the conversation, including plenty of handwringing over a horrible defensive performance.
But after the Beavers seemingly righted themselves with wins over Hawaii and an overtime triumph at previously unbeaten Utah, it might be worthwhile to check in and see what Mannion has been doing and whether he was a good QB choice as the Beavers prepare for a visit to San Diego State.
Hmm. Mannion is averaging 412 yards passing per game, which ranks second in the nation. His 12 touchdown passes is tied for first in the nation. He has thrown just one interception. He ranks 11th in the nation in passing efficiency, according to the NCAA, and also is 11th with ESPN Stats & Information's Total QBR rating.
So, yeah. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior is mostly validating his selection as the starter.
Mannion thus far has corrected his biggest problem in 2012 -- throwing interceptions in bunches. He hurled 11 of his 13 total picks in just three games, including four-interception performances against Washington and Oregon.
A lot of those is just growth, coach Mike Riley said.
"He's confident, he's seeing things real well, been making good decisions," Riley said. "He's been very accurate with the ball."
Mannion also is not forcing things anymore. He's not afraid to go with short pass in a check-down or even just throw the ball into the stands when nothing is open.
Mannion, the son of a high school coach, also feels like the competition with Vaz helped him.
"It helped me focus on the things that I can control and not worry about anything else," he said." Throughout the competition, I tried to not worry about what other people were thinking or saying and just focus on becoming the best player I could be. I definitely feel like the competition helped me become a better player."
Riley said Mannion was "really obsessive about getting ready for this season."
The loss to Eastern Washington knocked the Beavers off the national radar, but the schedule still sets up for them to get back into the national rankings, starting with a date Saturday with 0-2 San Diego State. While the widely projected 7-0 start no longer is possible, 6-1 certainly seems possible, though a road trip to Washington State on Oct. 12 certainly looks a bit tougher than it did in the preseason. At that point, it will be up to Oregon State to break through against a homestretch that goes: Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon.
Ah, but that's looking ahead or underestimating the present task. That wouldn't be smart. The good news is there has been experience in the locker room handling dispiriting opening losses. Many of the present Beavers suffered through a season ruined by a loss to an FCS team in the opener -- 2011's 3-9 finish that began with a gag-job versus Sacramento State. Mannion said that loss taught some hard lessons.
"When guys have been through it before, I think there is a more conscious effort [to stay focused]," Mannion said. "The guys who were young there have become leaders of our team. Everyone was really conscious of that."
As for being second in the nation in passing, Mannion isn't focused on that.
"I never really look at stats, but it's something you hear about," he said. "It's not something I actively care about. The only stat that matters is winning."
That said, the guy who had to fight to win back his starting job decides to add, "But, it is cool, I guess."