Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich has to go into preseason camp feeling pretty confident about his starting quarterback.
After all, Helfrich had no guarantee he would embark on his second season leading the Ducks with a proven starter leading their uptempo offense—not with two-year starter Marcus Mariota projected as a possible first-round draft pick in this year's NFL draft.
Mariota's decision to forgo the pros for at least one more year at Oregon doesn't just mean stability at quarterback. The Ducks have a Heisman Trophy contender already with two years of Heisman-worthy statistics to his credit.
The Ducks lost two reserves to transfer in May: Jake Rodrigues and Damion Hobbs. Their departures cast some uncertainty over the depth chart. But if all goes according to plan, and Mariota remains healthy for the duration of the season, that won't be an issue.
1. Redshirt junior Marcus Mariota
In his two seasons captaining the Oregon offense, Mariota has etched his name in the annals of program history alongside such Duck greats as Dan Fouts, Akili Smith and Joey Harrington. Not bad for a quarterback with 26 total games under his belt.
Mariota returned to Oregon for his redshirt junior season to play in 15 more, the total the Ducks would face with berths in the Pac-12 Championship Game and College Football Playoff.
|Year||Comp./Att. (Pct.)||Pass Yards||Pass TD/INT||Carries||Rush Yards||Rush TD|
Mariota played valiantly through a knee injury in the final month of the regular season. Certainly, the MCL sprain limited his productivity and directly contributed to the Ducks' 2-2 record in November.
And yet, even with a critical element of his game hindered—Mariota's ability to scramble—he still registered 1,131 passing yards and 10 touchdowns in the final four regular-season outings.
Mariota's exclusion from the Heisman ceremony each of the last two seasons is one of the more egregious oversights in college football. But playing behind an offensive line that returns five starters, and having one of the nation's deepest running back corps alongside him, should finally punch Mariota's ticket to New York.
2. Redshirt sophomore Jeff Lockie
Coming out on top of a quarterback competition at Oregon is no small feat, as Jeff Lockie explained to Ryan Thorburn of The Register-Guard in April.
We’re at one of the top five programs in the country playing at a high, high level with high, high caliber players. I think at that point in the competition, it is not easy. ... It’s a high level. Everyone’s good. [Rodrigues] can play, I can play, Taylor [Alie] can play, Damien [Hobbs] can play.
Lockie heads into preseason camp as Oregon's No. 2 quarterback. Aside from Mariota, he's the only player with game experience—limited as it may be.
Lockie appeared in nine games in 2013 but attempted just 13 passes. He did, however, rush for a touchdown in mop-up duty.
3. Redshirt freshman Taylor Alie OR freshman Morgan Mahalak
Walk-on Taylor Alie turned heads in spring practice. Starting tackle Tyler Johnstone was among those singing his praises.
"[He is] one guy that gets talked about a lot on the sidelines. He makes plays out of nothing, a lot," Johnstone said of Alie to 247Sports' Matt Prehm.
Morgan Mahalak was one of the centerpieces of Oregon's 2014 recruiting class. A 4-star prospect from Marin Catholic in Kentfield, California, Mahalak's skill set compares favorably to Mariota's.
However, barring a doomsday scenario, Mahalak should follow Mariota's first-year path and redshirt.