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WSU off to strong start despite quarterback controversy

Dean Hare
AP Photo
WSU's Jeff Tuel (10) congratulates Marshall Lobbestael (9) after a touchdown against Idaho State last month. Tuel broke his collar bone in the game. Lobbestael has played well, leading to a potential controversy now that Tuel has recovered.

Washington State University is enjoying the best start to its football season since 2006. The Cougars are 3-1 heading into Saturday's game at UCLA. And they're doing it with their backup quarterback.

Tale of two quarterbacks

Starting WSU quarterback Jeff Tuel broke his collar bone in the first game of the season against Idaho State. He's now recovered and should be ready to play next weekend.

But KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says backup quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, a senior from Oak Harbor, has done a stellar job leading the team.

"He has been a revelation-turned-folk hero on the Pullman campus. Lobbestael is actually putting up numbers better than Tuel did in his full year of 2010. So, it would be very difficult for Paul Wulff, the head coach, to pull Lobbestael when you've got the hot hand going."

Art says it's a good problem – and very rare – to have to choose between two really talented quarterbacks.

Coaching controversy quieted for now

WSU coach Paul Wulff is no stranger to controversy. His record in his first three years at WSU was 5-32. That had a lot of people calling for his ouster. But Art says he seems to be turning things around this season – with another opportunity to win Saturday against a struggling UCLA team.

"Wulff seems to have put his critics at arm's length for the moment with this start. Particularly with last weekend's come-from-behind win at Colorado, where Lobbestael was the hero. I think that if Wulff pulls this one off, it's going to be a remarkable turnaround from three wretched years."

Wulff inherited a troubled team from former coach Bill Doba, who took over after Mike Price left. WSU had three 10-win seasons in a row under Price, capped by a Rose Bowl appearance in 2002.

But the team faltered under Doba, who Art says wasn't successful in managing people or problems. Then Wulff was hired from Eastern Washington – a school in a division below the Pac-12. That caused some controversy, even before the team's poor showing during Wulff's first three seasons as head coach.

Appetizing Apple Cup?

Art says this season is about WSU becoming respectable again. And, with the University of Washington also off to a good start at 4-1, Art says the annual battle between the two rivals could prove very interesting.

"It could make for a most entertaining Apple Cup at CenturyLink Field at the end of the season. There could be bowl bids awaiting both teams."

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.
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