After an excellent freshman season in 2012, Oregon's Marcus Mariota is arguably college football's best dual-threat quarterback heading into 2013.
Duck fans cringed when Darron Thomas made the seemingly ill-advised decision to declare early for the NFL draft following the 2011 season. However, after watching Mariota play, it became clear that Thomas may have left due to fears of losing his starting job to the freshman phenom.
The native Hawaiian provided the Ducks with a seamless transition away from Thomas, as Oregon's high-flying offense maintained its elite production throughout the year.
The long, speedy freshman, who stands in at 6'4", 200 pounds, reminded many Ducks fans of Dennis Dixon, a former standout dual-threat quarterback at Oregon who was on his way to a Heisman Trophy before an ugly knee injury back in 2007.
Now, there are plenty of other players who could make a case to be the best dual-threat quarterback in the FBS returning for the 2013 season. Ohio State's Braxton Miller proved almost impossible to take down in the open field in 2012, and Jordan Lynch surprised everyone by taking his Northern Illinois Huskies to a BCS bowl.
However, the main obstacle standing between Mariota and the title of college football's top dual-threat signal-caller is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel.
Manziel completely took over the SEC a season ago, racking up over 5,000 yards of total offense on his way to becoming the first ever freshman to win the Heisman.
So, how do Mariota and Manziel compare?
Well, in fairness, Manziel has Mariota beat in many of the major stat categories. He had 1,410 rushing yards to Mariota's 752. "Johnny Football" also eclipsed Mariota's passing yardage total by over 1,000 yards.
However, other factors must be considered. For example, except for the Stanford, USC and Kansas State games, Mariota had given the Ducks such significant leads that he was pulled from the game by the early fourth quarter, sometimes even as early as the second quarter.
This is reflected in the numbers. While Manziel had Mariota beat in passing yardage, he threw the ball over 100 more times than Oregon's signal-caller.
The same goes for rushing yardage, where Manziel rushed 201 times to Mariota's 106 carries. In fact, the "Flyin' Hawaiian" even beat out the Heisman winner in yards per rushing attempt (7.9 to 7.1).
Oregon's freshman standout also had the edge in completion percentage (68.5 to 68), passer rating (163 to 155), passing touchdowns (32 to 26) and interceptions (6 to 9).
Manziel was also protected by two future first-round NFL draft talents in tackles Luck Joeckel and Jake Matthews, which must be taken into account.
Now, this is not to say that Manziel did not deserve the Heisman Trophy while Mariota did. I think it was clear that "Johnny Football" had the best season among any quarterback in college football last season.
However, a quarterback's job is to protect the ball, put points on the board and win football games. Save for the Stanford game, Mariota did those things better and more decisively than any other quarterback in the nation last season.
Of course, the numbers do not tell the whole story, and Mariota certainly seems to have the edge in terms of the intangibles as well.
Watching the Ducks' quarterback play is a thing of beauty. He was poised beyond his years under center, reflected in his 19 touchdowns and zero turnovers in the red zone. He also has a very fluid throwing motion and smooth stride with deceptive speed.
While Manziel is a true magician with the ball in his hands, he often picks up yardage on broken plays that look quite chaotic.
Obviously, that does not exactly take away from his talent, but there is something to be said for the steady hand that Mariota displayed in 2012.
Based on his skill set, some of the numbers, which should only improve in 2013 with increased experience and more focus on the passing game due to the loss of Kenjon Barner, and his intangibles, I would argue that Marcus Mariota will prove himself to be the best dual-threat quarterback in the FBS this season.
That includes Johnny Manziel.
Keep an eye on Mariota as he leads the Ducks to what is sure to be another push for a national title.
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