Zach Collaros Has Earned the Right to Start for Cincinnati

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Zach Collaros Has Earned the Right to Start for Cincinnati Is it OK for an athlete to lose his starting job while he's injured?

In professional sports, the answer has to be yes. Professional teams must try to win at all costs, so little is out of bounds. Just look at the Patriots. If Drew Bledsoe had been given back the starting job after he healed during the 2001 season, then the Pats would never have become a dynasty. Bledsoe was a good player, but Tom Brady was and is a better one.

But what about college sports? Do the same rules apply?

This season, Cincinnati starting quarterback Tony Pike was hurt against South Florida. In his place, backup Zach Collaros has started the past three games, and each week Collaros has improved. Last Saturday he had a terrific game against UConn, accounting for more than 550 yards of offense.

Until recently, Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly said Pike would regain his starting quarterback job once he was fully healed, which appears to be now. But Kelly is re-thinking that position. According to the Associated Press, when asked about his future starting quarterback, Kelly said, “I've changed my mind based on the way [Collaros has] played the last three games. I think I have to reconsider my decision.”

So what should coach Kelly do?

In big-time college sports, you don’t owe anyone anything. Coaches must use whatever players they believe give them the best chance to win. It is not fair to the rest of the team to start a player who is anything less than the best option you have.

You can replace a highly touted recruit with a walk-on, you can use a more experienced player even though he is not as talented and you can certainly lose your starting job while injured.

For Cincinnati, I would stick with what works. The offense has been playing well with Collaros, so there is no need to change. Yes, that is tough news for Tony Pike, but a coach must do what is right for the entire team, not one individual player. Neither Cincinnati nor Collaros should be penalized for sentimental reasons.

Quarterback is also a special case. It isn’t like linebacker or wide receiver. If the starting quarterback plays well, then the backup will rarely play, so you never really get to see what they can do in a game. The only time a backup plays an extended role is when the starter gets injured or proves to be completely ineffective. If a starting quarterback goes down and the backup shines, then the backup should be given the opportunity to keep the job.

There are no guarantees in college sports. The best players available should play, no matter where on the depth chart they began the season.

Connecticut (4-5, 1-4 Big East): 45
No. 4 Cincinnati (9-0, 5-0): 47

Cincinnati racked up a mind-boggling 711 yards of total offense. Backup (for now) quarterback Zach Collaros had his coming-out game, and it was on national television for the entire country to see. Collaros ran and passed for a combined 555 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers.

In sports, it is assumed that an injured player will always regain his starting spot once healthy. However, after a performance like this, Collaros may have stolen the starting quarterback job away from Tony Pike.

For UConn, the song remains the same. They can hang with any team in the Big East, but they can’t finish anyone off. The Huskies have had a fourth-quarter lead in each of their five losses, including this one. Their 4-5 record is not indicative of their potential. However, as Bill Parcells famously said, “You are what your record says you are.”

Syracuse (3-6, 0-4): 10
No. 14 Pittsburgh (8-1, 5-0): 37

The easy part of Pitt’s schedule is now over, and they have fared extremely well. Their remaining three games are against Notre Dame, West Virginia and Cincinnati. Those games will decide the Panthers' ultimate fate.

The biggest story of the week for Syracuse was that star wide receiver Mike Williams quit the team when he was reportedly about to be suspended. In any event, had Williams continued his terrific play on the field, he was sure to be an early-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft. Now, who knows? This is the second time in the last two years that Williams has either been kicked out of the school or left on his own. He has a lot of work to do to prove to a NFL team that he deserves to be drafted.

Louisville (3-6, 0-4): 9
West Virginia (7-2, 3-1): 17

Yes, West Virginia won, but the Mountaineers' offense has looked less than stellar the past two games. In this one, they only gained 273 yards and punted seven times. That’s not very good offensive production against a bad Louisville defense. Next Friday, West Virginia plays at Cincinnati, so this team had better improve its offense if it plans on making a game of it.

Louisville plays Syracuse next week. That will be both teams' best chance to get a Big East victory this season.

What we learned
1. Cincinnati has an offense that can score on anyone.
2. UConn confirmed that a physical, power rushing attack can cause Cincinnati fits.
3. Pitt still controls its own destiny in the Big East and is a legitimate threat to win the conference.

Respect barometer
On national television, in prime time, Cincinnati showed the country just how potent its offense is, putting up a ridiculous 711 total yards. The Bearcats find themselves ranked fifth in both the AP poll and BCS standings.

Pittsburgh also cracked the AP top 10 this week, landing at No. 8. With Iowa and Oregon losing, the Big East is continuing to look better and better. A strong finish from Cincinnati and Pitt would put the Big East in the same discussion with the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-10.

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