Oregon vs. Oregon State: Marcus Mariota Will Lead Ailing Ducks to Victory

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2012

Marcus Mariota has led the Ducks to an impressive, yet somehow disappointing 10-1 record in his freshman season.
Marcus Mariota has led the Ducks to an impressive, yet somehow disappointing 10-1 record in his freshman season.Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

The Oregon Ducks were in prime position for a second BCS National Championship appearance in three seasons.

But along came Stanford, and Oregon is on the outside looking in.

If the last two weekends taught college football nation anything, it's that the often-used phrase of "no team is safe" is absolutely true.

No. 1 Alabama? Lost.

No. 1 Kansas State? Pounded.

No. 2 Oregon? Shocked.

The Ducks dropped to fifth in the latest BCS rankings and are watching their slim national title hopes dwindle.

Unless UCLA can take down the Cardinal, Oregon will miss the Pac-12 Championship Game as well.

Enough negativity, let's flip it to the positive side.

Chip Kelly's crew is still in the hunt for the big game. Notre Dame travels to rival USC, Alabama and Georgia play each other next week after facing their respective rivals this weekend and Florida travels to Tallahassee to take on the Seminoles.

Remember, no team is safe.

But first, the Ducks head to Corvallis for the 2012 edition of the "Civil War" against the Oregon State Beavers.

Head coach Mike Riley shot down speculation (per John Hunt of The Oregonian) that a "blueprint" for beating Oregon exists now that Stanford took down the fast-paced team.

His Beavers do, however, boast the 26th-ranked defense in the nation and allow a measly 109 yards per game on the ground.

The Cardinal held the Ducks' top playmakers—Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas—to an identical 109 yards on 28 carries, but that number does not count quarterback Marcus Mariota.

He ran for 89 yards last week and led the Ducks into scoring territory five times, but Oregon came away with only 14 points in the game. Mariota is a key factor in this matchup.

In the Ducks' first 10 games, the freshman QB was simply a distributor.

Mariota led the nation in passing efficiency, as Oregon's speed was too much for the opposition to handle. But during last week's loss, he turned into too much of a playmaker at times.

He threw his first interception in six games against the Cardinal, so turnovers have not plagued the freshman throughout the 2012 season—a huge advantage for this game.

The Beavers have intercepted 17 passes while giving up 14 touchdowns to their opponents, giving Oregon State the 17th-ranked passing efficiency defense in the country.

If Mariota can settle back into his distribution role, the Ducks will avoid turnovers that Oregon State is so good at forcing.

When OSU faced Stanford a couple of weeks ago, the Cardinal had no trouble running the ball against the Beavers. The Ducks have weapons and speed all over the field—especially in the backfield.

Barner has run for 1,426 yards and 19 touchdowns while Mariota and Thomas have combined for another 1,169 yards and 11 scores.

Even on the outside, though, seven players have recorded 19 or more catches for Oregon, making the offense balanced.

All these playmakers are Mariota's to use. He just has to find them.

Mariota must lead the Ducks to a win over the rival Beavers to stay in National Championship and Pac-12 title contention, but Oregon isn't worrying about what other teams do.

The Ducks are focused on Saturday. Rob Moseley of The Register-Guard quoted Oregon linebacker Michael Clay saying what the team is playing for: “Pride. It’s the Civil War. How can you not be ready for the Civil War?”

Clay is ready. Mariota is ready. Are you?