Don't write-in Mariota or write-off Bennett

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
5:30
PM ET
The Pac-12 blog loves hype. It loves to throw down bait and watch you folks go at each other.

Such as: Oregon's recent success trumps Washington's historical dominance of the Northwest ... discuss.

But with our subject today -- Oregon's quarterback competition -- we're resisting hype, hyperbole and grand pronouncements.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Don RyanMarcus Mariota had an impressive performance in Oregon's spring game, completing 18 of 26 passes.
Yes, the Pac-12 blog watched Oregon's spring game. Yes, redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota impressed me. A lot. And it wasn't just him completing 18 of 26 passes for 202 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Or an 82-yard TD run that included an option fake that screamed, "DENNIS DIXON!"

It was his smoothness. He looked poised and completely in control. And Bryan Bennett did not.

Yet the best reaction to this as we head into the offseason probably should be, "Hey, that was interesting!" And little else. For one, if both were lousy, Ducks fans, would you be in a panic? No. Everyone would be insisting, "There's no need to panic. This, really, is the Pac-12 blog's fault."

Every spring, players break out or flop. And then they do the opposite in the fall when we play actual games. Last year, I wrote that Colorado defensive tackle Conrad Obi and UCLA defensive end Datone Jones looked like dominant players. I wrote that because they looked like dominant players when I watched them and their coaches supported what my eyes told me.

My eyes were wrong.

Two springs back, I felt fairly confident that Nate Costa would beat out Darron Thomas for the Ducks' starting job. That's what my eyes told me. And it was also a strong hunch. My eyes and hunch were wrong. Two springs ago, I wasn't very impressed with Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler. Three days ago, he was picked in the second round of the NFL draft. In 2000, I saw nothing from Washington's spring game that suggested the Huskies were going to win the Rose Bowl and finish ranked in the top 5.

My point: While it's impossible to not be impressed with Mariota and to give Bennett a deduction, it's premature to hand the job to Mariota. Based on the little we know coming out of closed spring practices, the distance between the two during the previous 14 workouts wasn't great.

Remember how well Bennett played coming off the bench for an injured Thomas against Arizona State last year? Remember how well he played in his one start at Colorado? While it wasn't good that Bennett seemed rattled Saturday, the guy already has shown poise in pressure situations. Know what I think was bothering him? I think -- and this isn't really a good thing -- that he was frustrated by how much worse his offensive line was performing compared to Mariota's

Bennett's team, which lost 41-14, couldn't run the ball and it yielded three sacks. Bennett was consistently under pressure, Mariota was not. Mariota also had De'Anthony Thomas and a much better cast of receivers. Bennett had Kenjon Barner, who had one carry. For one yard.

Bennett labored under adverse conditions, but he did have some nice moments. Mariota thrived under better conditions, but he wasn't perfect.

This isn't over.

So what are some fair takeaways?

  • Rumors of Mariota's impressive potential are true.
  • Oregon has two solid options to replace Thomas. This is not a position that will keep Chip Kelly up at night.
  • Whatever they did in previous scrimmages behind closed doors, Mariota, er, won the day when the doors were opened and the pressure was on.
  • At the very worst for Mariota, he and Bennett head into the offseason in a dead-heat.
  • Mariota now knows his candidacy is serious. And so does Bennett. Now how will each react to that knowledge?
  • Closing 14 practices -- and two previous scrimmages -- may have skewed perception of this competition. The burden for that now falls on Bennett, who will have to deal with everyone acting like Mariota will win the job. Yes, it will be annoying for him.

Before spring practices, I believed Bennett was a solid favorite. As of today, I'd rate -- again, with limited information -- Mariota a slight favorite. My opinion, by the way, means not a thing.

The spring game was interesting. Perhaps even revealing. But we probably won't know the accuracy of anyone's hunches until a week before the opener against Arkansas State on Sept. 1.

Ted Miller | email

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