In Marcus Mariota, Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks have found a match made in heaven for the driver's seat who will steer their emerging popularity.
With the Oregon Ducks now one of the most prevalent teams in college football, it had become increasingly necessary for the quarterback to keep a level head when he was to be tested in front of the thunderous crowd at Autzen Stadium.
Fortunately enough, Marcus Mariota's calm nature has helped propel him into brilliant success.
It was one thing to perform well in the unimportant spring game. But fans would hardly recognize Marcus Mariota until the home opener, coming off of a year in which the Oregon Ducks rebounded from a surprising 0-1 start after a disappointing loss to LSU at Cowboys Stadium.
Thankfully, Oregon fans had nothing to worry about. In his first six minutes of collegiate play, Mariota showed pinpoint accuracy and was 8-for-9 over 102 yards and 1 TD. By the end of the night, Mariota was 18-for-22 and recorded 200 yards with 3 TDs.
“Upon further review: Marcus Mariota, 8MM, was 18-22 in his debut, and 3 of the 4 incompletions were drops. Cool, poised and precise,” wrote Dale Newton on Twitter earlier this week.
The Era of Mariota, a rare college freshman at the quarterback position for the Oregon Ducks, had begun, and the deliverance unto celebrity had evolved into the rawest form. In his first game as an Oregon Duck, the successes of Marcus Mariota were to be seen across the world from Autzen Stadium in Eugene.
The location in Eugene, OR hardly has the same national weight from a football perspective that a city like Los Angeles or Seattle would. The institution is missing the academic pedigree of a Stanford or a Berkeley. Even the football team lacks the history that many in the SEC carry with them.
But with the help of big-time booster Phil Knight and a forward thinking Athletic Department, the Oregon Ducks' savvy marketing team has helped the football team take on the name of a national brand, with presence and meaning stretching diligently across the globe.
"Oregon's widespread innovations have made an impact on schools and programs all over the map," wrote Brandon P. Oliver. "The financial backing of powerful boosters and general community support have helped the program grow into a national brand that has everyone's attention."
Accordingly, the Oregon Ducks market their team as if they were a professional football team. With the absence of an NFL team but sports-media interest across the state, the Athletic Department at the University of Oregon has done a noble job to step up and fill the need.
“We want to be ‘the’ national brand in college athletics and certainly having the following in the nation’s largest city will help us achieve that goal,” said Athletics Director Craig Pintens.
Such is the reason why “Arkansas State Red Wolves at Oregon Ducks” was a prime-time game on ESPN amidst the opening Saturday night of college football.
Each and every year, the Oregon Ducks have become a more marketable team, with rooting interest spreading across the country.
As more fans in remote places develop an interest in the Oregon Ducks, so too do the number of high-school recruits that find themselves picturing a home in Eugene. Mariota, who attended the same high school as former Oregon Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, once represented one of those recruits.
So where does Marcus Mariota fit into all of this?
The Oregon Ducks have been ranked in 46 consecutive Top 25 polls in the Associated Press. Every time a new Nike uniform combination of the Ducks takes the field, a television market expresses inevitable interest.
Even while the Oregon Ducks were up 50-3 with an entire half of football to play, watching their high-tech and eye-catching uniforms conduct a hurry-up offense and dance into a blur on the screen created a more compelling television interest than many others in the Pac-12.
People want to watch Marcus play football when he wears the Nike greens and yellows of the Oregon Ducks.
With that kind of exposure and inherent pressure, one indicative trait of a successful quarterback is tested composure.
With that in mind, then the obvious question arises: Is there a single better fit for the offensive-leadership position than someone as calm, cool and collected as Marcus Mariota?
Besides the obvious locational symmetry (Mariota’s island home is approximately five hours by air) that serves to be more revealing to the national brand than the Oregon Ducks now manifest, his tropical hometown is known for many of the same laid-back characteristics that affectionately create the collective zeitgeist of Eugene.
“He’s really calm,” Ducks linebacker Michael Clay told the Oregon Daily Emerald. “He’s very calm and collected. Whatever he does . . . he’s really calm, and he just has things under wraps and he’s not really frenetic or anything like that.”
At times, his demeanor can be misinterpreted for a lack of interest. But that’s hardly what Mariota, a diligent student of the game, feels about football.
“He was kind of too laid back,” high school coach Darnell Arceneaux explained to The Emerald. “And at first it kind of struck me like, "Maybe this kid doesn’t want it.’”
This, of course, is something that one would never expect to hear out of the Oregon Ducks' coach Chip Kelly. Undeniably, Mariota has proven that he is an individual hungry for success—a staple of the Oregon Ducks.
“He’s the perfect fit for what we do offensively,” Kelly said on signing day a year ago.
The offense simply seems to work better under Mariota. Perhaps, however, his most impressive trait is his undying interest in readying himself for the next challenge and opportunity that he will be given while serving as the quarterback for the Oregon Ducks.
“In my interview with Mariota yesterday,” wrote Rob Moseley of The Register-Guard, “he said one of the things he took from watching Darron Thomas over the last year was not to force anything, in order to avoid mistakes but also to put together series of plays that allow the Ducks to exploit their tempo on offense.”
Amidst a quarterback controversy with Bryan Bennett heading into the season, there was significant media focus on who would get the first snap (and subsequent majority of the snaps) of the season for the Ducks.
Amidst the general preseason narrative about the usual judgment of the iconic quarterback (e.g. arm strength, accuracy, speed, etc.) was a focus on the ability to stay calm and enjoy the game in front of him. When he plays for the Oregon Ducks, Mariota does exactly that.
"It was surreal," Mariota said in a postgame interview. "For me, I just had a lot of fun.”
The more fun that Mariota has on the field, the more convinced I am that the mature Hawaiian is indeed the perfect player for Chip Kelly to have put in command and run the blur offense of the Oregon Ducks. There's still many tests for Mariota to pass before fans have a full idea what talent level he is at. But with the newly ranked No. 4 ranked team in the nation entering the limelight week after week, get ready to hear a lot about Mariota in the coming weeks.