When QB Darron Thomas elected to leave Eugene early for the NFL draft, most thought Oregon would take a major step back in 2012.
Sure, the Ducks still boasted some of the best running backs in the country with Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, but questions were rampant about how a championship-caliber team could do with no experience under center.
Enter Marcus Mariota, who has been downright unstoppable in his first collegiate season, taking the reins of the most prolific offense in college football without a hiccup.
Mariota burst onto the scene in his NCAA debut, tossing for 200 yards and three TDs with no interceptions. Since then, his numbers have remained consistently dominant, as he has piled up 1,787 yards passing with 22 touchdowns.
The 6'4", 196-pound specimen has also shown flashes of dual-threat versatility, rushing for 474 yards and three scores on the ground and hauling in a touchdown catch.
His only statistical demerits are five interceptions and 12 sacks, but those are acceptable numbers, especially for a first-year starter.
Mariota's production is an obvious reason to get excited for his future, but even more important is his character and leadership ability. The freshman has put the Ducks on his back and led his undefeated Top Five team through every challenge, including a media-frenzied showdown with USC in the L.A. Coliseum.
Not only did Mariota march Oregon to victory over the Trojans, he did it without breaking a sweat.
Mariota was crazy efficient, completing 20 of his 23 passes for 304 yards, four TDs and no interceptions. In case math isn't your strong suit, he connected on 87 percent of his passes, giving the emerging superstar a gaudy QB rating of 255.4.
If Mariota shows that kind of cool composure in his first season at the helm, there's no reason to think he won't become even more dominant as he gains experience.
And if he can lead the Ducks to the BCS title right away, Mariota is a safe bet for Heisman front runner heading into 2013.