Everyone knows the story behind the now legendary Johnny Football. He redshirted for Texas A&M last season behind Ryan Tannehill, who's now in the NFL, and even in last spring he was projected to ride the bench this season. Now, at 20 years old, Manziel is the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy.
Consider this nothing but motivation for quarterback Marcus Mariota.
While many know the story of Johnny Football, few know that in late June of 2010, Manziel had committed to play football at the University of Oregon. Fewer realize that Marcus Mariota committed in the same recruiting class.
After coach Chip Kelly had sent him weekly handwritten letters, Manziel visited Oregon on a recruiting trip on June 27, 2010 that Mariota was on as well. Chip Kelly was impressed with Manziel’s unique ability to change the game with his feet by leaving the pocket.
“You're not coaching that," Oregon coach Chip Kelly told USA Today of Manziel. "But if a guy has that kind of ability, you're not going to tell him to stop. He just goes. He's fun to watch. He’s great for football.”
Chip Kelly offered him a scholarship on the spot.
“You hear all the hype about the jerseys and the facilities, and it’s true,” Manziel told Dan Patrick. “As soon as I got an offer, without a doubt in my mind, that’s where I wanted to go.”
However, only a few months later, Manziel was offered a scholarship to play football at Texas A&M. By September, he had changed his commitment and decided to play football for the Aggies.
“An offer to play quarterback from a school close to home was something I was longing for,” Manziel told MySanAntonio.com. “It’s a blessing to get an opportunity at a top-five program like Oregon, but I just felt so comfortable at A&M.”
Of course, Manziel wanted to make it clear that the decision had less to do with a lack of respect for the Oregon program and everything to do with having his family watch him play.
“Chip [Kelly] is a guy I still respect just as much as anybody in the country,” Manziel told Dan Patrick.
And the Oregon Ducks certainly would have made good use of the Heisman Trophy winner, considering his quick feet and playmaking abilities seemed to be exactly what Chip Kelly looks for in a player.
"It seems like it would be a very good offense for him," says A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. "But we're very glad he's here.”
The Oregon Ducks may have missed out on their first Heisman Trophy by not being located closer to Manziel's home.
But for Chip Kelly and the rest of the program, they ought to be glad that Mariota is here in Eugene, Oregon. While many may speculate the Ducks may be, at least retroactively, spurned by the decommitment from Manziel, the Ducks can still confidently claim that they do have the best quarterback for their system.
"[Marcus] Mariota versus [Johnny] Manziel?” asks Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com. “That's like saying do you want to go on a date with Miss January or Miss February? Take your pick.”
In the SportsNation poll on ESPN.com, 54 percent of the nation picked Manziel.
This is a fair breakdown, considering Manziel is now a Heisman Trophy winner. He had an incredible season for an offensive player in the SEC, as he threw for 24 TDs and 3,419 yards. He also added 19 TDs and 1,181 yards on the ground. Undeniably, Johnny Football had one of the best seasons of any freshman quarterback ever.
Perhaps his most notable achievement that paved his road to the Heisman? As a freshman, he did the unheralded: he beat an undefeated Alabama team on the road.
But there’s still a case to be made for Marcus Mariota, whose offense operates through their running game (Manziel had 400 passing attempts, while Mariota only had 312) and sat him after the first half in six different games this season because of such a lopsided scoring margin.
“If you're asking me which player I'd rather have, I'd say Mariota. Without a pause,” writes Ted Miller of ESPN.com. “Mariota is a better passer.”
This season, Mariota threw for more touchdowns (Mariota: 30, Manziel: 24), he was more accurate (Mariota: 69.9 percent pass efficiency, Manziel: 68.3 percent), he had fewer interceptions (Mariota: 6 INTs, Manziel: 8 INTs), he was sacked fewer times (Mariota: 16, Manziel: 22), he has a better 40-yard-dash time (Mariota: 4.48, Manziel: 4.53), he was more efficient running the ball (Mariota: 7.0 yards per carry, Manziel: 6.4 yards per carry) and he had a higher QB ranking (Mariota: 165.4, Manziel: 155.9).
Manziel was also less consistent, as he threw three picks against LSU and failed to throw for a touchdown in three different games this season. There was not a single game in which Mariota failed to throw a touchdown pass, and he even recorded six through the air on the road against California.
And while Manziel had the advantage in strength of schedule, Mariota had a better record (Mariota: 3-1, Manziel: 3-2), more TD’s (Mariota: 12 TDs, Manziel: 5 TDs), fewer picks (Mariota: 3, Manziel: 4) and a significantly higher QB rating (Mariota: 153.7, Manziel: 133.0) against Top 25 teams.
Much of this comes from the fact that Mariota has a better gauge for sitting in the pocket than Manziel, who will immediately take off and run if he can’t find an open man. This comes from a certain sense of poise from Mariota, who is just as athletic and can break the big runs but chooses not to if he can find the open man.
“I think Marcus Mariota is the most impressive freshman in all of college football,” said ESPN commentator Matt Millen.
This is, of course, a bold statement from Millen. But there is something to be said for the fact that, in his freshman year at Oregon, Mariota has already earned more All-Conference honors than Matt Barkley did in his four years at USC.
“Marcus Mariota, to me, is a bigger, faster, stronger type a guy and would probably lead the pack,” added Millen, when comparing Mariota to Manziel.
With his 6’4” frame, Mariota is also a more physically imposing and dominant quarterback than Manziel could ever be when it comes to NFL recruiting.
Johnny “Football” Manziel may already tout a Heisman Trophy to his immortalized name, and he deserved it. But the work is not done for Marcus Mariota. Manziel would have been an incredible quarterback at Oregon, but what Mariota is doing is certainly something to write home about.
In his freshman year, Mariota led Oregon to an 11-1 season and will face Kansas State and Heisman Finalist Colin Klein in the Fiesta Bowl on January 4th.
Perhaps the biggest test for Mariota will come next year, when Oregon star Kenjon Barner will declare for the NFL draft and Mariota will be expected to return to the roster as a team leader. While Oregon’s offense is centralized on the ground, Mariota will certainly have some weapons to work with next season with an emerging offense.
Barner and Will Murphy will no longer be on the team, but De’Anthony Thomas (sophomore), Colt Lyerla (sophomore), Josh Huff (junior), Bralon Addison (freshman), Byron Marshall (freshman) Keanon Lowe (sophomore), B.J. Kelley (freshman) and Daryle Hawkins (junior) will all be returning to action next season.
Their 2013 recruiting class isn’t too shabby either, and it features prominent offensive names like 4-star athlete Dontre Wilson, 4-star running back Thomas Tyner, and 4-star receivers Tyree Robinson and Darren Carrington.
Considering Mariota is a better passer than Manziel and that he doesn’t need to control the entire offense like Manziel does at Texas A&M, it may be the case that Mariota may be the better fit for Oregon after all.
Chip Kelly had the right idea in finding the obscured names of Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota, who were ranked as the No. 39 and No. 123 QBs in the 2010 recruiting class by ESPN, respectively, and were both overshadowed by then-Oregon commit Jerrard Randall.
Randall failed to make the Oregon roster due to academic ineligibility and has yet to play a down for LSU. Manziel may have a Heisman Trophy, but we will never know who would have started between him and Mariota.
Let’s not forget that Mariota already may have chased one quarterback out of Eugene with his talent (Darron Thomas), and speculation says that he may be on his way to chasing another (Bryan Bennett) by next season.
Johnny Manziel can hoist that Heisman Trophy for all of the Texas A&M fans, but Oregon has something truly special in Marcus Mariota. There should be no regrets for Chip Kelly and this football program.
For all we know, Marcus Mariota may be hoisting that very Heisman Trophy next season.