The Pac-12 is blessed with an abundance of returning starting quarterbacks in 2014. With 10 starters coming back, many are wondering if the league is on pace for its best quarterback year ever. We conclude the 10-part series with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Name: Marcus Mariota
2013 passing stats: Completed 245 of 386 passes (63.5 percent) for 3,665 yards with 31 touchdowns and four interceptions. Posted a raw QBR of 84.2 and an adjusted QBR of 88.0.
Career passing stats: Has completed 475 of 772 passes (65.8 percent) for 6,342 yards with 63 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Has a raw QBR of 83.3 and an adjusted QBR of 87.2.
2013 rushing stats: Rushed 96 times for 715 yards with nine touchdowns.
Career rushing stats: Has rushed 202 times for 1,467 yards and 14 touchdowns.
What you need to know about Mariota: Following the departure of Darron Thomas, Mariota was locked in a nearly eight-month competition with Bryan Bennett. Mariota winning the job was considered a mild upset at the time because many thought it would be Bennett, considering he’d backed up Thomas and saw action in nine games the previous season. But a week before the start of the 2012 season, then-coach Chip Kelly pulled the trigger on Mariota, and the Ducks have benefited with a 23-3 mark with him as the starter. He’s a heavy Heisman favorite heading into the season, and many are predicting him to be the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft.
Career high point: Mariota has been lights out against nearly every Pac-12 team, save last year’s loss to Arizona and a pair of losses to Stanford. He’s bested Washington twice with eight passing touchdowns (plus one rushing) to one interception in two games. He’s topped UCLA and won a pair of bowl games. He's been so good in so many games, but for now we'll pick winning the 2013 Fiesta Bowl over Kansas State as a high point. The only thing left to accomplish (besides a national championship, an annual expectation in Eugene) is to get over the Stanford hump. The Cardinal have limited him to just 57 percent passing and three passing touchdowns in two games.
Career low point: Either Stanford game would be a suitable choice. Both times the Ducks were undefeated and on their way to a potential spot in the BCS national championship. But the loss to Arizona last season was a stinger for Mariota and the program. He saw his interception-free streak come to an end by tossing a pair of picks (though he did throw two touchdowns), and the loss knocked Oregon out of the Pac-12 championship game and out of an at-large berth in a BCS bowl. It's worth noting that he played through a knee injury in the final six games of last season.
When he was a recruit: Few recruiting classes provide specific positions with more talking points than Oregon’s quarterback chase in the 2011 class. At one point, the Ducks held commitments from Jerrard Randall and Johnny Manziel, as well as a third quarterback. After Manziel decommitted and Randall didn’t qualify, the Ducks were stuck with the third guy, the No. 123 signal-caller in the country, the lowest-rated commitment in the Ducks’ class -- some kid named Marcus Mariota. Oregon extended the offer before Mariota ever took a snap as a starter and the quarterback committed to the Ducks prior to his senior season. His ESPN Recruiting Nation profile doesn’t exactly project greatness -- few outside of the Oregon coaching staff did at the time -- but it did hit on some key points. “Mariota is a tall and lanky quarterback prospect that is part pocket passer and part runner as he is really athletic ... Mariota could be a guy that develops later down the road and needs to be in the spread offense where he can use his athleticism.”
Opposing head coach’s take: “He’s the best quarterback in the nation. And I think the last couple years he’s been the best quarterback in the nation. I don’t care what they say about anybody else. Tall, fast, athletic, accurate, strong arm, great decision-maker, great kid. He’s one of those guys that you root for until you have to play him. Then you’re scared to death of him.”
Scouts' take: A humble and charismatic individual. The entire athletic department and school faculty speak highly of him. On the quiet side by nature but a strong leader by example. Has become more vocal as he gains experience and showed willingness to get in teammates' faces last year. Excellent work ethic. Willing to put the necessary time in and pay the price. ... A highly competitive and even-keeled player who rarely seems rattled on tape. Benefits from spread, uptempo attack that simplifies reads and creates bigger throwing windows. Has been a very sound decision-maker throughout his first two years as a starter (63-to-10 TD-to-INT ratio). Still will take unnecessary risks at times with late throws he should not make. ... Has a unique ability to deliver accurate throw on the run or from an unbalanced platform. Improved deep-ball projection and overall accuracy. ... Dynamic athlete who has the ability to put stress on a defense with his mobility, both as a thrower and a runner. Very good body control and balance when evading pressure and has excellent escape ability. Has natural improvisational instincts when working off schedule. Above-average elusiveness and rare straight line-play speed. Has a very similar running style to Colin Kaepernick in terms of stride length and deceiving straight-line speed to ruin pursuit angles.
What to expect in 2014: Is it too much to ask for a Heisman? Because that’s the national expectation for Mariota. It’s not his -- or at least something he thinks about (according to multiple interviews) -- but that’s how the rest of the country sees him. It’s more than fair to say Heisman voters were turned off after Mariota suffered a partially torn MCL against UCLA (which was kept quiet for as long as possible), which contributed to losses against Stanford and Arizona. Before that, he was the runaway winner. This season should provide more of the same. Accuracy, efficiency and dazzling dual-threat numbers that make voters gush. But bigger than personal accolades, Mariota returned because of how the Ducks finished the last two seasons. As noted, he’s yet to beat Stanford and thus, he’s yet to win a Pac-12 championship. The Ducks are again the favorites heading into the season. He lost a key receiver in Bralon Addison and a key lineman in Tyler Johnstone to unfortunate preseason injuries. But there is more than enough speed and talent around him for Mariota to elevate the play of his teammates. Mariota is possibly the best player in the country. And the Pac-12 blog expects him to live up to that hype in 2014.
Erik McKinney and Kevin Weidl contributed to this report.