A 26-20 loss to Stanford last weekend proved costly for Oregon, as it all but shattered the team’s BCS title dreams and left quarterback Marcus Mariota playing catch up in the race for the Heisman Trophy.
But it also nearly guarantees something else: Mariota will return to Eugene for a fourth season in 2014.
That wasn’t always the case.
Entering Week 11, the Ducks were 8-0 and No. 3 in the BCS Rankings. As for Mariota, he was safely situated atop ESPN’s Heisman Watch polls and the odds-on-favorite to win college football’s most-coveted hardware.
Furthermore, NFL media analyst Bucky Brooks gushed about the redshirt sophomore’s potential at the next level, ranking him as his No. 1 QB prospect as recently as last week.
In fact, according to NFL media insider Ian Rapoport, one GM went as far as to predict that Mariota would be the top pick in next May’s draft:
@MoveTheSticks had a GM tell me he thinks Mariota will be the first pick of the draft. You see him like that?— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 7, 2013
That would leave Mariota with a decision to make by mid-January.
Either he could return to school and only hurt his draft stock or he could declare for the NFL early, become a top-five pick in the draft, get handed the keys to a struggling franchise and have one heck of a payday in store for him.
Mariota would be foolish to consider anything but the latter.
Unfortunately, the loss to the Cardinal changes all of that.
Through three quarters, one of the nation’s most prolific offenses was left stumped.
Oregon was held scoreless and Mariota was just 12-of-26 for 135 yards. He went 8-of-8 for 105 yards with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but by that point the Ducks were already losing 26-0.
Even more shocking, Mariota was held to negative 16 rushing yards—the lowest total in his career.
The consequences following the loss were severe.
Oregon dropped four spots to No. 6 in the latest BCS Rankings and face the possibility of missing out on the Pac-12 title game for the second consecutive year. Just like last season, the team can credit that to a loss against Stanford.
As Brooks’ writes:
The dismal performance raised some concerns about the redshirt sophomore’s accuracy, ball placement and awareness. Although those issues haven’t diminished the groundswell of support Mariota enjoys in NFL circles, it will prompt scouts to do a little more digging on his overall game before anointing him the next great thing at the position.
And if they dig, there’s a good chance they’ll discover that most of those fears are backed up.
In 22 career games, Mariota has completed less than 60 percent of his passes seven times. That inaccuracy was evident against the Cardinal, as he misfired on a couple underneath throws, as well as under-throwing a wide-open deep ball in the first half that would have likely resulted in a touchdown.
In comparison, other top QB prospects such as Teddy Bridgewater (seven in 35 games), Johnny Manziel (twice in 24 games) and A.J. McCarron (six times in 36 games) have fared a lot better in the category.
Mariota’s awareness inside the pocket also came under fire as he looked vulnerable to the blitz against Stanford:
ESPN Stats and Info
Twice inside the red zone, Mariota failed to recognize the rush. It resulted in two critical fumbles that the Ducks couldn’t afford to give up.
Should Mariota come back to school in 2014?
Either way you spin it, it’s obvious that he has some polishing up to do.
If Mariota’s smart, he’ll come back for another year. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’d be a Heisman favorite and that Oregon would likely be ranked in the top five once again.
However, like Brooks’ mentioned, there are plenty of NFL circles who would love to pick him up.
But at the end of the day, the decision ultimately comes down to Mariota.
It’s up to him to decide what is more important: A fat paycheck or being the best NFL quarterback he could possibly be.
What will it be?
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com.