When you throw for 3,665 yards, 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions with one of the best quarterback ratings in college football (167.7), there's not much to improve on, right?
You'd think so with Oregon's Marcus Mariota.
But every quarterback can get better, and Mariota is no exception. Considered the front-runner for the Heisman last season before a pair of losses to Stanford and Arizona, Mariota didn't even finish as a Heisman finalist. He also battled a knee injury late in the year that clearly affected his mobility and his passing game.
Now fully healthy, Mariota enters 2014 as an early Heisman favorite again. What can he do this spring to make sure he lives up to expectations?
This is probably priority No. 1. Mariota didn't throw an interception until the Nov. 23 loss to Arizona, but that doesn't mean he was great with ball security. Mariota had a fumbling issue, which was most notable in a win over Washington State and a loss to Stanford.
It's something that Mariota was more than aware of when he discussed it with the media last October after the win over the Cougars.
Fumbling wasn't just a Mariota problem, though. Only three teams fumbled the ball more than Oregon last year: Nebraska, Maryland and Texas Tech. This is an area where the Ducks have to improve. Most of the time, the only thing that can stop Oregon is when Oregon gives the ball away.
If he holds onto the ball better, Mariota becomes that much more dangerous.
This isn't so much an area of concern as it is a chance to be even better. Oregon's offense doesn't require Mariota to throw deep often, which is a shame in some ways since he has excellent arm strength.
But when Mariota does go deep, his accuracy is off at times—usually a bit high or behind. Because he's surrounded by great players who are able to make catches, Mariota's numbers don't reflect an "inaccuracy," per se.
Don't be mistaken—Mariota made plenty of great on-target throws down the field last season. There were also times when a long pass play could have resulted in a touchdown or a few more yards if he was more accurate with his downfield throws.
This is more about refining that skill set than anything else.
Confidence in the Pocket
Any quarterback can look good when he has a great offensive line. Similarly, any quarterback can look mediocre at best when he doesn't have time to throw the ball.
Mariota's been fortunate to have a stout offensive line for most of his time as a starter. The biggest issues for the Ducks up front have been injuries. According to Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com, Mana Greig was hampered by a knee injury he sustained in 2012. Filling in for Greig was freshman Cameron Hunt, who, like any first-year player, had plenty of ups and downs.
So when things break down up front, it can be easy for a quarterback to get happy feet or be trigger happy. As great as Mariota is, he's not immune to that characteristic. Largely because of injuries to Mariota and other offensive players, however, the Ducks offense just wasn't quite the same in November, a trend that continued all the way through to the Alamo Bowl win over Texas.
Namely, against the Wildcats, Oregon couldn't get anything going. Mariota looked uncomfortable the entire day. In his final two games of the season, Mariota tossed all four of his interceptions for 2013.
The good news is that Oregon's offensive line should be a veteran group in 2014. Mariota just has to trust in his linemen and show some more confidence in the pocket, even when things break down.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. H/T Kyle Kensing.
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