Ideally, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota will stay healthy the whole season. He may even win the Heisman and lead the Ducks to a national championship.
Of course, things rarely go exactly as they should. That's why winning a national championship is so hard. Teams can have great rosters led by whiz coaches, but there are a lot of things that need to go right as well.
One of those underappreciated factors is depth. That can be hard to notice from the bleachers unless someone important gets hurt. At no other position is it more noticeable than quarterback—although placekicker would be another one—if for no other reason than it's a one-man show.
Which is why the pair of reported transfers behind Mariota are interesting. Last week, redshirt sophomore Jake Rodrigues told Brianna Amaranthus of Comcast Sports Network Northwest that he was seeking a transfer. Less than a week later, Justin Hopkins of 247Sports (subscription required) reported that Damion Hobbs would be leaving the program as well.
Of the two, Rodrigues would be the bigger loss. Last season, he completed three of six passes for 67 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Another backup, Jeff Lockie, remains on roster. He attempted 13 passes for 57 yards and a pick.
Lockie would appear to be the natural No. 2 guy, though the Ducks did sign 4-star dual-threat Morgan Mahalak in February.
The point, though, is that it probably doesn't matter who backs up Mariota, who has attempted nearly 93 percent of the team's passes the past two seasons. The redshirt junior is the cornerstone of the offense. Though Oregon has done as good a job as any program in recent history of successfully implementing the "next man up" philosophy, it's hard to imagine replacing an injured Mariota without at least some drop-off.
|Jameis Winston||Florida State||2013||14|
It may be a stretch to say the key to winning a national championship is a healthy quarterback, but it is nevertheless important. The last team to win a championship without its starting quarterback playing every regular-season game was LSU in 2007. That year, Matt Flynn sat out an early-season game against Middle Tennessee State because of an ankle injury.
But it's not like Flynn needed to start that game, either.
Can Marcus Mariota stay healthy all season?
The champions of the BCS era have a common trait: they had a healthy quarterback the entire season—or, at least, relatively healthy. AJ McCarron, for example, said he wasn't healthy at Alabama, but he didn't really miss any time because of it.
There are plenty of other factors that contribute to a championship run, but that's a tough trend to ignore.
In other words, Oregon's national championship hopes theoretically rest, at least in part, on whether Mariota can stay healthy and play in every game this year. Mariota was hampered by a knee injury late last season and the difference was noticeable.
If Mariota can't play the entire season, history strongly suggests that hinders championship hopes. Who backs up Mariota, then, seems less important.