Why Marcus Mariota Will Win a National Championship at Oregon
Try to remember back just a few short months ago, when most Oregon fans were worried about replacing Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas.
Seems like a lifetime ago, doesn't it?
It started at Oregon's spring game when redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota erased all doubts of those in attendance who would win the coveted starting QB job.
Mariota was the clear winner over Bryan Bennett in all categories on that fine spring day: leadership, speed, accuracy, coolness.
In Oregon's first game against Arkansas State, Mariota was a marvel, and Duck fans settled in for the next four—maybe three—years, content that the Ducks had their man.
Mariota was a secret from the nation for awhile, but eventually his talent was too obvious to ignore.
Now, with the accolades pouring in, only one question about Mariota remains: Will he win a national championship for Oregon?
Yes, and here's why.
Through the regular season, Marcus Mariota is ranked No. 5 in the nation in passing efficiency.
The four guys ahead of him are all juniors. In fact, you have to go all the way down the list to No. 17 to find another freshman.
Yes, Johnny "Football" Manziel of Texas A&M.
Mariota's completion percentage is 69.8; Manziel's is 68.2. Mariota has 30 passing touchdowns on the year; Manziel has 24.
Manziel beats out Mariota in rushing TDs, 19 to 4.
To put Mariota's season in perspective, preseason Heisman favorite, USC senior Matt Barkley, who you might recall has a couple of decent receivers, is No. 11 on the passing efficiency ladder.
To achieve what Mariota has achieved statistically in his freshman campaign is nothing short of amazing.
Mariota and his teammates understand exactly what it takes to get to the national championship game.
It's really hard.
It requires being at your very best each and every week. There is no room for slip-ups, especially if you play college football on the left coast.
Which reminds me, can someone please explain why a one-loss Alabama team that lost decidedly to Texas A & M is better than a one-loss Oregon team that lost in overtime to Stanford?
But I digress.
My point is that once you have been within view of the top of the mountain, you understand precisely what it takes to reach the top. Mariota knows that if he had not had one bad game at the wrong moment, the Ducks would be winging their way to Miami.
Knowledge is power.
I've been fortunate to be present at a lot of big football games in my life: BCS National Championship games, several Rose Bowls, the Cowboy Classic, etc.
But I've never been in an atmosphere quite like this season's USC vs. Oregon matchup at the L.A. Coliseum. It was absolutely electric, and 93,607 people would not have chosen to be anywhere else in the world at that moment.
As much as I had admired Marcus Mariota's performance for the Ducks so far in the season, I remember thinking: This kid is going to walk in here and puke.
Not only did he not leave his lunch on the Coliseum grass, Mariota picked apart the USC defense all night long.
And he responded each and every time the Trojans fought back.
Mariota was calm, he was gritty and he did his job on one of the biggest stages you can imagine.
19 years old?
One of Mariota's teammates is "The Fastest Man In Football."
Another one has had rocket burners on his heels all season and may run all the way to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.
But you know what? Mariota is not exactly a slug himself.
It's easy to get sidetracked by De'Anthony Thomas' and Kenjon Barner's ballistic speed when you watch the Ducks, but Mariota, with his long legs and easy gait, has outrun defenders time and time again.
There were dozens of times during the season where it looked as if Mariota would be tackled. Instead, he would emerge quickly five yards down the field, with defenders grasping at air behind him.
If they can't catch you, they can't tackle you—a handy trait for a spread-option quarterback.
It's not like Mariota will have to claw his way back into BCS National Championship Game contention all by himself.
Oregon's excellent recruiting classes the past few years are paying off.
Returning players like De'Anthony Thomas, Colt Lyerla, Byron Marshall, Keanon Lowe, Bralon Addison, Arik Armstead, the Amoako brothers—the list goes on and on—will ensure that the Ducks don't see much drop-off in 2013.
One reason why Mariota didn't have as many rushing touchdowns as Johnny Manziel is because he didn't need to. The Ducks have so many weapons on offense that it's not necessary for the QB to do it all.
No one player, no matter how good he is, can take a team all the way by himself.
Looking ahead, the Ducks are stacked, and if Mariota does not experience a sophomore slump, look out.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.