And just like that … Marcus Mariota is out the door and ready to start what promises to be a brilliant career in the NFL. After such a historic season, it is natural to see him take the leap to the next level. Even though many Duck fans would love to see him return, he made an understandable decision after having given more than enough to the Ducks throughout his three-year starting dynasty.
But as Mariota opens the doors to greet the NFL, another door bursts wide open in Eugene. Who will take his place and sit at the helm of a program that just had the best football season in the school’s history?
For most, the logical answer might be Jeff Lockie. He is the only QB on the roster who has game experience at the collegiate level, and he has proven that he can run the offense efficiently (at least in garbage time). As a six-foot-three red shirt sophomore, Lockie threw for 207 yards on 21-28 passing and one TD over his three appearances this season.
Lockie also had the most time under Mariota and Scott Frost to develop. Learning from Mariota and one of the best assistant coaches in the country cannot go overlooked, especially in a sport where experience is so valuable.
However, in recent years experience hasn’t proven as valuable as advertised. In fact, when he was a red shirt freshman Mariota actually took the quarterback job from highly touted Bryan Bennett in 2012. Bennett had been backup to Darron Thomas and proved himself in practice. But a young, athletic and humble Hawaiian QB had something to say about that …
Even before that, Darron Thomas stole the job from Nate Costa in 2010. Costa was ready to become the starter in his senior year after Jeremiah Masoli’s departure, but was beaten out by Thomas, who ended up leading Oregon to a national championship game and a Rose Bowl victory.
So while the current consensus is that Lockie is the guy for the job, let’s not jump to any conclusions.
Morgan Mahalak could be what the Ducks need to fill the gaping hole that Mariota’s leaving will create. The current freshman, hailing from Marin Catholic High School, had a monster senior season, racking up 2795 yards and 38 TDs on only four interceptions.
Mahalak has a fast throwing motion and quick feet to escape pressure. His playing style and 6’3, 190 lb frame has drawn many comparisons to Mariota. While he may not be quite as fast, he has the potential to be a great pocket passer with enough speed to keep a defense guessing. For more on Mahalak, check out the FishDuck.com video analysis from Will Hewlet, JC Boice and Charles Fisher.
Another potential starter could be recent Duck commit Travis Waller. The will-be freshman from Anaheim has a decent arm, but is even more dangerous as a runner. Although he too is fairly slight at 6’3, 194 lbs, a little time in the weight room could quickly help him overcome what he lacks in size. Waller has an accurate arm, and his athletic ability is off the charts. If the position was based on potential alone, he could very well be the Oregon starter.
Waller received offers from Alabama, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Arizona, just to name a few. The only question that remains is if he has what it takes to compete for a starting job right out of high school. For more on Travis Waller, check out this article.
But wait … there’s MORE!
Another guy with an outside shot at starting next year is Georgia native Ty Griffin, brother of five-star running back recruit Taj Griffin. The 6′, 191 lb freshman possesses a lot of the same athletic ability as his younger brother, but he can throw the ball as well.
Ty recently transferred from Georgia Tech to reunite with his brother at U of O. While only a two-star recruit, Griffin’s athleticism and speed could be beneficial to any team. Griffin helped the Ducks prepare for Jameis Winston in the Rose Bowl by emulating the former Heisman winner in practice.
With so many different options at QB next year, the Ducks needn’t worry about who gets the starting job. Seeing Mariota leave is almost like watching a beloved child leave the nest for the first time. Like saying goodbye to your best friend, who you talked to in an elevator one time and ogled over for the entire four-flight descent.
Mariota’s departure strikes a chord with Duck fans everywhere, but if the next starter to take his place can become anything like him, then I will for one be happy. Oregon has the talent; now all that’s left is to harness it and let the games begin to see who will take over.
Top photo by Kevin Cline