Mariota: Learned lot about myself this month
Tuesday was a statement day for the University of Oregon football program. In many ways:
- First off, the Ducks stole the Pac-12 spotlight from USC. I hope you don't think it was an accident that Oregon made the announcement of the return of Hroniss Grasu and Marcus Mariota at the same time USC was officially introducing Steve Sarkisian as its new coach. UCLA, by the way, chose the same time, too, to announce it was signing Jim Mora to a contract extension. But make no mistake, the Oregon announcement was the lead story in the conference Tuesday. It was one big "In your face, Trojans and Bruins." (And yes, the Mora announcement was one big "In your face, Huskies.")
- Mariota's return was beyond critical for this program. I just don't see any sign there was anyone on campus right now at Oregon who could lead the Ducks to the kind of season Mariota is capable of producing. The guy will go into the season as a top three Heisman candidate but more important, he's the sort of dynamic player that's an absolute necessity in the spread offense in order to achieve maximum success.
- Mariota has one advantage a lot of other players do not have when delaying a start to his NFL career. The Duck quarterback is still just a redshirt sophomore. If he's injured or his NFL stock goes down for some reason next year, he could actually choose to come back to Oregon for yet another season. Of course, it's a long shot -- but it's insurance for him against a bad season of some sort. Insurance? Oh yeah, he'll get some of the real kind of insurance, too.
- Grasu is also a critical player returning next season. He's going to be a candidate for all the offensive lineman awards and a possible first-team All-America selection. More to the point, though, he's a big-time leader on the team who will anchor an offensive line that certainly needs improvement. And his presence will make it easier for everyone else up front.
I want to say one more thing about next season: If I were the Ducks I would consider something different from their usual recruiting philosophy. I believe I'd look hard at the junior colleges to fill some immediate needs -- something they don't often do. There must be a couple of offensive linemen and a few nasty linebackers out there somewhere in the JCs that could fill some glaring holes the Ducks need to address.
Make no mistake, the decision by Mariota to come back means the Ducks should be going all in for next season. His presence means a national championship could be in play if the right moves are made around him. That's how big Tuesday's announcement was.