PULLMAN (AP) — The Apple Cup game on Friday may be Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel’s last appearance as a Cougar. Or it may not.
The NCAA has not decided whether it will grant Tuel an extra year of eligibility, and Tuel has not decided if he would return even if another year is offered.
It’s been an emotional season for Tuel, who has been in and out of the starting lineup as coach Mike Leach has juggled him and sophomore Connor Halliday.
Tuel started last weekend’s game against Arizona State, but was yanked in favor of Halliday when the Cougars didn’t move the ball. They ended up losing 46-7.
Leach said Tuel will likely start Friday’s game against archrival Washington.
Tuel acknowledged it’s frustrating to be in and out of the lineup.
“I’d like to have some consistency at the position, but you’ve just got to go with it,” Tuel said after the Arizona State game. “It’s not our decision to make and you’ve got to try to make the most of it.”
Leach has consistently praised Tuel for his toughness, his good attitude and his willingness to come back from injuries during his career.
“Most people would have quit,” Leach said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s an example to everybody on the real commitment to playing football.”
Tuel has had an embattled career since he was recruited out of Fresno by former coach Paul Wulff.
He was pressed into service as a starter his freshman year, joining Drew Bledsoe as the only true freshmen to start at quarterback for Washington State. He appeared in six games, throwing for 789 yards and six touchdowns before a knee injury ended his season.
His best season was his sophomore year, when he started all 12 games and threw for 2,780 yards with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He was an all-Pac-10 honorable mention.
With hopes high for the 2011 season, Tuel suffered a broken collarbone in the season opener against Idaho State and ended up appearing in just three games. He is seeking a medical redshirt for that season, but said he isn’t sure he will come back if it is granted.
“I’m not going to make a decision just out of emotion or on the tail end of the season,” Tuel said. “I want to make the best decision for myself, so just sit down and think about it and weigh all my options.”
Leach’s Air Raid offense is certainly attractive to quarterbacks. The Cougars have already set team records this season with 571 pass attempts and 330 completions.
The load has been split about evenly between Tuel and Halliday. Halliday has thrown for 1,878 yards, with 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season. Tuel has thrown for 1,737 yards with eight touchdowns and six interceptions.
“They both have done some good things and both have a level of inconsistency,” Leach said. “Some of that is probably my fault.”
Neither quarterback has managed to cement the starting job.
“One gets hot, and then fades, and the other leapfrogs over them,” said Leach, who added he tries to gauge which quarterback has the hottest hand when picking the starter.
Tuel also had to deal with watching one of his best friends, receiver Marquess Wilson, quit the team recently. Wilson contended he had suffered mental and physical abuse from the coaching staff, although he did not provide details.
Tuel stood by his friend, while remaining committed to the team.
“A friend is a friend,” Tuel said. “I have the guy’s back.”
But at the same time, “we have football to play,” Tuel said.
Even though the Cougars have no bowl game coming, they still play for pride, Tuel said.
“We’re playing to win, guys,” he said. “We’re going to fight and scrap.”
Despite the injuries and lineup shuffling, Tuel is climbing in the career statistics of Washington State quarterbacks. He ranks first in career completion percentage (.616), and fifth in completions, sixth in passing attempts and seventh in passing yards (5,519) and touchdowns (33).