The general consensus among the local media heading into Thursday's final scrimmage was that Costa led entering preseason practices but Thomas had been coming on strong. Still, most reporters thought it was too close to call and some felt a tie would go to the more experienced Costa.
But Thomas turned in superior numbers during the close scrimmage -- completing 14 of 23 passes for 125 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions versus Costa's 17-of-35 for 138 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
It's unlikely a single scrimmage decided things in coach Chip Kelly's mind -- he'll talk about his decision following practice Saturday -- but it probably made the ultimate decision easier.
Thomas will make his first career start against New Mexico on Sept. 4 in Autzen Stadium. His bigger test will be the following weekend when the Ducks head to Tennessee to play in front of 105,000 hostile fans in the southern humidity.
Of course, the 6-3, 212-pound Thomas is a native of Houston. Humidity might be his cup of tea.
Thomas saw his only action in five games in 2008, the vast majority of it when he came off the bench and led an impressive comeback against Boise State that fell just short. Thomas completed 13-of-25 for 210 yards and three touchdowns in the 19-point fourth quarter of a 37-32 loss. In his other four appearances, he had only three completions for 58 yards.
So what does this mean? Here's my reading before Kelly speaks.
Thomas won the job. I think a "tie" would have favored Costa. Kelly is not interested in upside. He's not thinking about 2011. He's got a veteran team that is the favorite to win the Pac-10. His choice of Thomas reflects only one belief: He is our best quarterback today.
That said, let's face it. The future benefits are obvious. Oregon might end up with a three-year starter.
Kelly, who made the announcement on twitter, isn't conservative. Picking a sophomore over a steady fifth-year senior with Costa's leadership skills shows that Kelly is willing to roll the dice when his instincts tell him to.
Many Oregon fans see Thomas as the next Dennis Dixon. When I said that to Kelly, he mostly scoffed. But he does that a lot. He'd probably scoff at Dora the Explorer. And I'm also not sure if that's a real accurate projection, but you certainly could do worse. It's fair to say that Thomas won't resemble the power-running Jeremiah Masoli.
Don't completely count out Costa. There is a chance that Thomas won't thrive when the lights come on, and that could send Kelly to the bullpen to get Costa. Moreover, seven Pac-10 teams used multiple quarterbacks in 2009, mostly due to injury. Costa made his only career start at UCLA because Masoli was hurt. Thomas may play every important snap in 2010. But it's hard to go through a season at quarterback without getting dinged at least once.
Kelly has yet to fail to tutor a quarterback since he arrived at Oregon in 2007 as offensive coordinator. That bodes well for Thomas. Or is this the time Kelly's magic fades? If I were a gambler, and I am, I'd lay this $5 bill on the former.
For more, here's The Oregonian story.