There are a number of elite college football programs that are loaded with talent and depth. But how many could lose one of the most exciting players in program history and be even better?
You can make that case for the Oregon Ducks, who have proven to be even more dynamic while their biggest playmaker has been sidelined with an ankle injury.
Since running back De'Anthony Thomas was hurt on the opening kickoff against Cal, other players have risen to the occasion and become stars for the No. 2 Ducks.
RB Byron Marshall, the 5'10", 205-pound sophomore, has filled the void left by Thomas at running back, rushing for more than 100 yards in all five Pac-12 games.
Marshall took over as the leading rusher, but wide receiver Bralon Addison has taken over as Oregon's biggest playmaker. He had been on the verge of breaking out before Thomas was sidelined, but once the junior RB went down, Addison, a sophomore, wasted no time in making an impact, returning two punts for touchdowns against the Golden Bears.
The 5'10", 181-pound receiver has been on fire ever since. Against Colorado, Addison caught five passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. He was even better against Washington, with eight catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns.
With 38 receptions for 609 yards and seven touchdowns, Addison is in the midst of a breakout season. As a punt returner, he leads the Pac-12 with a 19.25 average and two touchdowns,.
Addison might be the most versatile of the bunch, but senior WR Josh Huff has stepped up as well. Oregon's leading receiver already has career highs of 38 receptions and 703 yards. His next touchdown catch will tie his career high of seven for a season, set last year.
Freshman RB Thomas Tyner has shown steady improvement throughout the season. He was at his best in the fourth quarter against UCLA. In seven games, Tyner has rushed 68 times for 437 yards and eight touchdowns. He has also caught nine passes for 105 yards.
|Player||Rush Att||Rush Yds||Rush TD||Rec||Rec Yds||Rec TD|
|QB Marcus Mariota||56||511||9||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|RB De'Anthony Thomas||52||369||7||6||75||0|
|RB Byron Marshall||130||879||12||11||150||0|
|RB Thomas Tyner||68||437||8||9||105||0|
|WR Bralon Addison||2||15||0||38||609||7|
|WR Josh Huff||5||27||0||38||703||6|
Marcus Mariota can make all the throws, and his improvement in the read-option is evident every time he steps on the field. His ability to hide the ball on fakes makes him dangerous, because he is often the fastest man on the field. All it takes is a split second of confusion by the defense, and Mariota is finding a gap and streaking for a long run.
Mariota, one of the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy, is a threat on every snap. He has thrown for 2,281 yards and 20 touchdowns without an interception. He has added 511 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
The Ducks have threats all over the field whether Thomas is healthy or not. With Thomas sidelined, the offense spreads the ball around even more and hasn't seemed to miss Thomas' big-play capabilities.
Having a player like Thomas is clearly an advantage that any team would like to have, but with the talent the Ducks have at every position, Thomas has proven to be a luxury.
After seeing Thomas get knocked around in his first Pac-12 action, the Ducks could choose to limit him until the Pac-12 Championship Game or the BCS Championship Game, should they make it to those contests.
They have the weapons to get that far without him, and having a healthy Thomas in the biggest games of the year would be an added bonus for Oregon when everything is on the line.