Oregon Ducks Football: 'Johnny Football' Manziel or Marcus Mariota?

Sam SchwartzCorrespondent INovember 14, 2012

BERKELEY, CA - NOVEMBER 10:  Marcus Mariota #8 of the Oregon Ducks drops back to pass against the California Golden Bears in the first quarter of an NCAA College football game at California Memorial Stadium on November 10, 2012 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The race for the BCS Championship Game received a major facelift following this Saturday’s action. The 11th week of the college football season was dominated by two freshman quarterbacks. 

Johnny Manziel, better known as “Johnny Football,” helped lead Texas A&M to the upset of the year. Manziel’s 254 yards and two touchdowns through the air, combined with nearly 100 yards on the ground, helped the Aggies crush Alabama’s dreams of repeating as champs.

“Johnny Football” did not only climb his team into the top 10 and a possible BCS appearance, but he also launched himself right to the top of the Heisman race.

With Alabama out, Oregon’s redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota overcame injuries to lead his team to an easy win in Berkeley. After Heisman contender Kenjon Barner was hurt in the first half, Mariota went off for a career high 377 yards and a school record of six touchdowns.

While Oregon is more than satisfied with Mariota as their quarterback, there was a time when “Johnny Football” was ready to join the Ducks. Manziel, a native of Kerrville, Texas, initially committed to play for Chip Kelly, but decided to go to A&M instead because he wanted to be closer to home.

Manziel redshirted behind Ryan Tannehill a year ago. With Tannehill now playing for the Miami Dolphins on Sundays, Manziel has helped the Aggies begin their new era in the SEC the right way. He has flourished in Kevin Sumlin’s system; by setting records with 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns through the air to go with his 15 scores and over 1000 yards on the ground.

Failing to secure Manziel two years ago may seem like it was a huge blow to Oregon, but they are more than satisfied with the quarterback that they brought in as part of their 2011 recruiting class. Mariota, out of the Saint Louis School in Hawaii, has been nearly flawless in his first year as the conductor of the Ducks’ fast-paced offense.

After winning a close quarterback battle with sophomore Bryan Bennett, Mariota has thrived. He is not only the most mobile quarterback that Kelly has had as head coach, but he is also a much better passer and decision maker than both Jeremiah Masoli and Darron Thomas were during their days in Eugene. Let’s also mention that he is just a freshman and can only get better from here on out.

His stats would certainly make you think he was an upperclassman, as Mariota has thrown for 2,164 yards and 28 touchdowns in an offense anchored by a strong running game. He has also run for over 500 yards, including an 82-yard sprint for a touchdown in a win over Arizona State.

While “Johnny Football” is getting all of the accolades, Mariota has been just as impressive in his first year at the college level. It’s hard to believe that there was a time when these two great quarterbacks could have been on the same sideline.

If both of these players keep it up, then one thing is for sure: they are going to be compared to each other endlessly.  Luckily for Oregon fans, they could not have lost with either Mariota or Manziel. If I were asked which of them I would rather have on my team, I would not be able to choose between the two.

Manziel is always going to be given the edge because he plays in the SEC, but Mariota is the leader of the highest scoring offense in the country and has been much more consistent as a passer. His 177.0 QB rating is the best in the country and is getting higher every week.

Manziel has gotten better as the year has moved along. He had his worst passing performance in a season-opening defeat to Florida and his worst game on the ground in a loss to LSU. Since he threw three interceptions against the Tigers, “Johnny Football” has been much better, with road wins at Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama. The win in Tuscaloosa made him the first freshman quarterback to knock-off a No. 1 team on the road since the 1970s.

You can look at the numbers as much as you want, but for now, Mariota is the leader in this “contest.” Oregon is undefeated and in the driver’s seat to make a trip to the BCS National Championship Game. Texas A&M has shown that they are SEC material and are going to be a major threat as long as Manziel is on their side.

While nothing is certain in college football, there is a pretty good chance that you are going to be hearing the names Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel mentioned together a lot during the next few years.