Originally posted on The Duck Stops Here  |  Last updated 11/1/13
Joey Harrington has said that Marcus Mariota is the best quarterback ever to put on the Oregon uniform, and the statistical case is mounting to support that conclusion. Mariota is 20-1 as a starter. He's thrown 52 tds and 6 interceptions, with a career quarterback rating of 169.4. Of course the sophomore from Hawaii has also enjoyed the best supporting cast in school history. Happy-watermelon-face smile of a champion: this future Oregon quarterback won't be ready for 13 years, so the Ducks have to prepare Lockie, Rodrigues, Hobbs and Mahalak to do the job in the mean time.There's rampant speculation that Oregon's best shot so far at a Heisman is leaving at the end of the year. The NFL will offer him millions if he opts for the league draft in May. He could even be the number one pick. Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel, the first two selections of last year's draft, got contracts worth over $36 million apiece. Pretty hard for a working class kid to say no to that for the joy of the college experience, the lure of competing for another run at the national championship and Heisman and the opportunity to get his degree. Mariota is close to his, a General Science major. It'd be a shock if he stays, but that part is old news. When the NFL offers elite talents like Mariota and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu a great deal of money to complete a dream they've had since they were in Pop Warner, it's really hard to say no, particularly when the player and his family factor in the risk of injury. Having exceptional players succeed at the highest level is ultimately good for Oregon and recruiting, but what about the immediate impact? What kind of team will the Ducks have next year if they lose these two stars? Will they regress? Is this the high water mark for Oregon football? This season is a window of opportunity for the Ducks, a team with great leadership and depth on the defensive line, two NFL prospects at cornerback, three potential all-league players anchoring the offensive line. This is Oregon's best chance to win a national title, the first and only team with four full classes of Chip Kelly's players, deep, fast, and talented. This is a special group. It doesn't mean Oregon won't have good teams in the future, but this so far has been a year when it all comes together. The most serious injury has been to De'Anthony Thomas; the only serious off-field casualty was Colt Lyerla, and the Ducks dealt with both of those chunks of falling space debris with two quick blasts of the laser. When Mariota goes, fans will miss the cool, efficient quarterback, but it won't be the end of the empire. The offense has continued to be prolific through four quarterback changes. It hummed under Dennis Dixon. It rolled up a 65-38 win over the Beavers with Jeremiah Masoli scooting around defensive ends and trucking safeties. It made a national championship game when Masoli abruptly left, with a redshirt sophomore quarterback, Darron Thomas, who had a so-so arm, a long but not exceptional stride, but a knack for standing in and delivering the ball. Thomas too left abruptly, inadvisably it turned out, and the Ducks turned to Mariota, who's exceeded the achievements of the other three. The Oregon offense is bigger than one guy. Mariota's exceptional, no doubt. Quarterbacks who are 6-4 and run a 4.4 40 aren't three-deep anywhere. Whether Lockie or Rodrigues or Hobbs or Mahalak take over, the Ducks will still be potent. They will be different, but still effective. The mix will have to change. None of these four have the explosiveness Mariota has; they aren't going to break as many 57-yard runs and outrace angles at the second level the way he does. But they can all throw and run and lead, and they'll be joined in the backfield by one of the strongest group of running backs the Ducks have ever had in Marshall, Tyner, Benoit, Freeman and Tony James, a ridiculous assemblage of talent. At least two of the standout trio at offensive line should return, Grasu, Johnstone, and Fisher. Offensive linemen don't leave early all that often. The Oregon offense should return a good nucleus, and the losses on defense aren't crippling. The Ducks lose five defensive tackles, but Buckner, Armstead, Washington, Prevot and Balducci are coming back, and they've shown a lot of versatility. Safeties Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson graduate, but there is a lot of talent behind them. Oregon can still win in 2014 and beyond. But they will have to win differently. Marcus Mariota is a once-in-a-generation player. He's an incredibly skilled, incredibly steady guy. He still dates the same girl he took to his junior prom. Not much alters his focus, and he has a gift for sound decisions. Replacing him will take a sustained effort from the entire organization. One guy wouldn't have a chance.  
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