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ATQ's "20 in 20" - No. 4 - Marcus Mariota

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ATQ's 20 best players of the last 20 years continues with Marcus Mariota, a kid from Hawaii trying to solidify his spot as the greatest quarterback in Oregon history.

Jonathan Ferrey

I’ve been around Oregon football on a regular basis since 2009 when I came to the University of Oregon as the latest freshman transplant from California. I spent the first three years as a crazed fan in the front rows of the student section, and the last two from a media standpoint. I’ve seen the likes of Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas, heck, even Nate Costa for a little bit. But never have I seen a quarterback quite like Marcus Mariota.

I watched Mariota from high atop Autzen Stadium in the press box during his redshirt freshman season in 2012. Darron Thomas had led the Ducks to a long-awaited Rose Bowl victory the season before, and it was up to Mariota to build on that success. That’s exactly what he accomplished. Mariota became the first freshman in 23 years to be named to the Pac-12 All-Conference 1st Team. His 32 touchdown passes set a new conference single season record and needed just one more touchdown pass to tie Oregon’s single season record. He was deadly accurate, too. Mariota completed 68.45 percent of his passes, just shy of Sam Bradford’s NCAA freshman record of 69.5 percent back in 2007. He also proved himself to be a dual threat quarterback, rushing for 752 yards, more than any other quarterback in one year in school history. Had Oregon beaten Stanford that year, Mariota would have found himself at the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York. Had he gotten a chance to lead Oregon in the national championship game, he would have been hoisting that trophy.

Mariota followed up his freshman season with another brilliant year in 2013, throwing for 3,665, 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions. And all four of those interceptions came in the final two games of the season.  In the first two games of the season, Mariota rushed for over 100 yards in both games, becoming the first quarterback in school history to run for over 100 yards in consecutive games. But just like in 2012, a late season stumble was potentially all that stood in the way between Mariota, a Heisman Trophy and a national championship. Stanford started the collapse and Arizona finished it. Stanford has been a thorn in Mariota’s side during his time at Oregon, a thorn that he will have to rip out this season when the Cardinal come to Autzen Stadium on November 1.

That matchup on November 1 will make or break Mariota’s legacy at Oregon. It comes at the end of a brutal October in which Oregon will have to get redemption against Arizona, travel to UCLA in a potential preview of the Pac-12 championship, attempt to knock off Washington for the 11th straight year, and then travel to California, which always seems to be a trap game when in the Bay Area. If Mariota can survive all of those games, it’ll be a relatively clear path to the College Football Playoff with only Utah, Colorado and Oregon State left in the way, none of which I believe to have any chance at beating Oregon.

If Mariota can finally beat Stanford and get to the College Football Playoff without stumbling like he and the Ducks have the past two seasons, he’ll ride off into the sunset to the NFL as the greatest quarterback in Oregon history. If he can’t, he’ll always be known as the quarterback who couldn’t win the big games when it mattered most.

The ball is in your hands, Marcus. What are you going to do?