I still remember the buzz around Oregon QB Marcus Mariota back in 2012. The Ducks had just lost the National Championship game to Auburn. Darron Thomas was the quarterback at the time and was only a red-shirt junior. Thomas would declare for the NFL Draft because Mariota started to emerge to the point where Thomas was not the guaranteed starter. At 6’4 with a strong-arm and running a 4.4 forty, it was a no-brainer for then head coach Chip Kelly. Mariota is heading into his third season for Oregon and his popularity with the fans and NFL scouts is at an all-time high. With all the awards and preseason hype, there something that has eluded Mariota since being at Oregon and that is a National Championship.
In Mariota’s first season, the Ducks went 12-1 winning the Rose Bowl to close the season. This past season the Ducks went 11-2 winning the Alamo Bowl to end the season. Both were respectable seasons, but let’s talk about the 2012 loss to Stanford. Here are Mariota’s stats from that game: He was 21/37 207 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also had 87 yards rushing and a quarterback rating of 44.9. Stanford had a great game-plan going into that game and limited the big plays that Mariota and the Ducks could make.
The next season, Mariota had another showcase game on a Thursday night against Stanford and Mariota failed to deliver again. It must be noted that his offensive line couldn’t block Stanford’s front seven to the point where Mariota was injured but here are his stats from that game: 20/34 for 250 passing yards with two touchdowns. But he had -16 rushing yards, some of which were from sacks. I won’t address the Arizona game because I think the team didn’t care about the season anymore.
The point that I’m making is this: Mariota doesn’t have that ‘it ‘ factor when it comes to leading a team in a big game. Every statement game for the past two seasons has been against Stanford and every year it’s the same result. You don’t see his teammates looking to him to lead, he doesn’t look like the star.
Let’s compare him to the guy that he will be up against for the top QB in next year’s NFL Draft, Florida State’s Jameis Winston. When you watch Winston, you can tell that his teammates look to him for encouragement and they respond to him. Do you see this with Mariota? Do you see players gathering around for a speech from Mariota? The answer to both questions is no because in my mind, that’s what separates the two on the football field. Mariota has three games where he will be in the spotlight: Michigan State and Stanford visiting Eugene and on the road to UCLA. Does he have it in him to step up and lead his team to the College Football Playoffs is something that remains to be seen. Time will tell if he can do it.