Marcus Mariota wins Oregon QB job

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
2:10
PM ET

It turns out Marcus Mariota's strong spring game performance for Oregon was, in fact, indicative of where his quarterback competition stood with Bryan Bennett.

While Mariota made plays with his arm and legs and looked poised, Bennett struggled. At the time, it seemed unreasonable to extrapolate too much from one performance, considering every other Oregon practice has been closed. But the result -- Mariota was named the Ducks' starting quarterback on Friday, as first reported by The Oregonian -- is that Mariota eclipsed Bennett, despite Bennett having an edge in game experience.

Mariota will make his first appearance on Sept. 1 against Arkansas State in Autzen Stadium.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Don RyanMarcus Mariota won Oregon's QB competition with an impressive spring game, completing 18 of 26 passes, and rushing for 99 yards.
Is this an upset? Yes. A mild one. And not unlike coach Chip Kelly's decision to go with Darron Thomas over Nate Costa in 2010.

That one worked out OK. Thomas led the Ducks to the national title game and a Rose Bowl victory before opting to leave early for the NFL draft. No matter how bad Thomas' decision to leave early was -- and it was truly bad -- he's still perhaps the most accomplished quarterback in team history.

So, will Mariota, a 6-foot-4, 196-pound redshirt freshman from Honolulu with no game experience, match or even eclipse Thomas? Maybe. Folks have been raving about him since his first preseason camp. His "hello world" moment -- his only public performance as the Ducks' quarterback -- was the spring game, when he completed 18 of 26 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 99 yards and two scores, including an 82-yard scamper for a touchdown.

He's the quintessential quarterback for the Ducks' offense, a true dual threat with outstanding athletic ability and a quality arm.

It's reasonable to imagine Bennett, a redshirt sophomore, isn't thrilled. Who can blame him? The scuttlebutt on him has always been positive, at least until the spring game. In fact, more than a few Ducks fans previously wondered if he was going to legitimately challenge Thomas for the starting job -- and we're not only referring to if Thomas came back this fall.

Bennett played in eight games in 2011, going 25 of 46 for 369 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Bennett also carried the ball 23 times for 200 yards. He played well coming off the bench when Thomas was hurt against Arizona State, then won his only start at Colorado.

The good news for Mariota is he gets to ease into the starting job. The Ducks' first three games -- Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech -- function almost as a preseason, as the Ducks will be multiple touchdown favorites in each. He won't go on the road until Week 5 at Washington State.

And the Ducks will be heavy favorites until the visit to USC on Nov. 3, in a game with major Pac-12 and national title implications.

That game, when Mariota will be matched against Matt Barkley, will likely define Oregon's season, though there could be a rematch in the Pac-12 title game on Nov. 30.

Of course, there are no guarantees. If Mariota struggles early, it will be interesting to see if Bennett gets an opportunity to show what he can do. And will Kelly want to get Bennett quality playing time early in the season in any event? He didn't feel the need to do that with Costa after Thomas won the job, but every situation is different.

What Ducks fans are surely excited about is Mariota probably had to look pretty good to beat out Bennett, who showed every sign he could be a quality starter. That certainly bodes well, not only for this season, but the future.

Ted Miller | email

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