Tuesday, 27 August 2013

40 Players in 40 Days: Number 2 Marcus Mariota

Michael Arellano/Daily Emerald
39 Days ago, we started this countdown of the top 40 players in the Pac-12 and now here we are with only two more to go. The next subject in this series is arguably the nation's best quarterback and a man responsible for running college football's most prolific and exciting offense. His demeanor my be calm and soft spoken but his play is anything but. After instantly becoming the premier QB in the Pac-12 as a redshirt freshman, this young man has his sights set on the Heisman Trophy for himself and a national championship for his team. The second best player in the Pac-12 for 2013 is Oregon sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Here is a full rundown of the previous players on the countdown:

40. WR Chris Harper, Cal
39. OLB/S Dion Bailey, USC
38. S Alden Darby, Arizona State
37. OT Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
36. DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado
35. S Deon Bucannon, Washington State
34. LB Shaq Thompson, Washington
33. DE Taylor Hart, Oregon
32. DT DeAndre Coleman, Cal
31. CB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
30. C Hroniss Grassu, Oregon
29. DL Henry Anderson, Stanford
28. QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford
27. LB Carl Bradford, Arizona State
26. RB Storm Woods, Oregon State
25. QB Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
24. DL Cassius Marsh, UCLA
23. S Ed Reynolds, Stanford
22. OT Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah
21. TE Colt Lyerla, Oregon
20. RB Bishop Sankey, Washington
19. DT Leonard Williams, USC 
18. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State 
17. OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
16. OLB/DL Trent Murphy, Stanford
15. OL David Yankey, Stanford
14. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
13. LB Shayne Skov, Stanford
12. DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State
11. RB Marion Grice, Arizona State
10. LB Eric Kendricks, UCLA
9. DE/OLB Morgan Breslin, USC
8. CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
7. RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
6. QB Brett Hundley, UCLA
5. RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
4. OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
3. DL Will Sutton, Arizona State
When Mariota enrolled at Oregon in 2011, he wasn't projected to enter Oregon's lineup until this upcoming season. At the time, Darron Thomas had just led the Ducks to the national championship game as a sophomore and had two years of eligibility left. Thomas was never looked at as much of an NFL prospect so it seemed likely that Thomas would stay in Eugene and use both of his remaining years of eligibility. Thomas had a strong junior campaign in 2011 and led Oregon to its first Rose Bowl win in over 90 years. Shortly after the Rose Bowl, Thomas declared that he would stay for his senior year and help the Ducks pursue a national championship. But, suddenly Thomas changed his mind and decided to leave school after all and enter the NFL draft where he was not selected. Thomas' surprising departure was a blow to the Ducks who thought they were going to have their all-time winningest QB lead a veteran team in 2012, but the QBs surprising departure opened a door for young redshirt freshman Mariota.

However, it was a door that many did not think Mariota was going to walk through. Standing in his way was sophomore Bryan Bennett, who started one game and came off the bench to finish a few others while Thomas was hurt in 2011. With Bennett guiding the Ducks against Arizona State, Colorado, and Washington State, the Ducks looked better than ever. Thomas was not an especially great runner but Bennett was electric, opening up Oregon's zone read like never before. With Thomas taking off to pursue professional football, many expected Bennett to take over as the man in Eugene. After all, Bennett was a year older, had practical game experience, was a great runner, and had a very strong arm. Oregon's Spring Game rolled around and Mariota stepped up and vastly outperformed Bennett, flipping the QB competition on its head. Practices were closed to the media and the public throughout the summer so every day it was a guessing game as to who was in the lead. Then coach Chip Kelly made a few heads explode when he said that Mariota "learned the offense better in one year than Darron Thomas did in four." With that quote and Mariota's strong spring game, the public became convinced that Mariota was the man to lead the Ducks and low and behold, it was Mariota who was named the starter for the opener against Arkansas State.

And what a debut Mariota had once he was named the starter. He completed 18 of 22 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns (in about a quarter and a half) in his debut and led Oregon to touchdowns on his first nine drives as Oregon's pivot. By the end of the year, Mariota had a accumulated 2677 passing yards and 32 touchdowns with just six interceptions plus 752 yards and five more touchdowns rushing. Oh, and he also found time to score a receiving touchdown. Those numbers are impressive any way you look at them but, remember that Oregon blew so many teams out that Mariota didn't play the 4th quarter in over half of Oregon's games. Mariota threw for 2503 yards and 28 touchdowns in the first three quarters of games. But, Mariota only had 174 passing yards and four touchdowns in the fourth all season. If you adjust his fourth quarter numbers so they are merely on par with the other three quarters, he would have had 834 yards and nine touchdowns. That would put Mariota at 3337 yards and 37 touchdowns. Suddenly, he looks a little better doesn't he?

I'm sure you've figured out my little drill by now. I post a video and point out specific plays where Player X demonstrates a specific talent that makes him a superstar. In Mariota's case, there's just too much to point to. Watch the entire clip above and try to point out any flaws in his game. He has good presence and awareness in the pocket, he goes through his full progressio, never locking onto a receiver and never predetermining where to throw the ball (unless the play class for him to do so, i.e. a screen pass), he has laser-point accuaracy, he spreads the ball around to all his receivers, he's incredibly fast, he holds the ball properly and doesn't risk fumbles, he doesn't force dangerous passes, he has a great grasp of the offense and gets everyone lined up before the play, and he calls out protections and helps the offensive linemen do their job. 
The one and only criticism I can come up with for Mariota is that while he does have a decently strong arm and throws a pretty good deep ball, he is not blessed with elite arm strength. But in Oregon's offense with most of the pass concepts running within 25 yards of the line of scrimmage, he doesn't need that. Furthermore, Mariota claims to have put on a lot of weight and muscle this offseason (he did look a lot thicker at Pac-12 Media Day than he did at the Fiesta Bowl) and that will undoubtedly allow him to throw the ball at least a little further.

All that ability and production was good enough for Mariota to be the coveted first team All-Pac-12 quarterback and the Pac-12 offensive player of the year in 2012. Quite frankly, you can have Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd, or any other QB you want. I'm taking Mariota every time because he is the best quarterback in college football. There are many great QBs out there but none of them are blessed with the flawlessness that Mariota possesses. That above all else, is why Mariota could be heading to New York to accept the Heisman Trophy during his preparation for the national championship game.

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