After a long battle that led to much speculation and many predictions, the Oregon Ducks have a starting quarterback.
The Ducks named redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota the starter. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Mariota battled with third-year sophomore Bryan Bennett all throughout the spring and summer. On Friday, it was announced that Mariota had earned the job.
Mariota has drawn many comparisons to former Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon for his smooth demeanor, athleticism and ball fakes in the spread option. The biggest difference? Mariota is more polished than Dixon was at this stage in his career.
Dixon had a magical senior year that might have ended with a Heisman Trophy and a national championship in 2007 if not for a season-ending knee injury. Before his senior season, Dixon was a great athlete with a lot of upside. Once Kelly arrived, Dixon went from an enigma to the best player in college football.
Mariota was redshirted last season as he developed under Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. The Ducks had junior Darron Thomas as a second-year starter and hoped to bring Mariota and Bennett, Thomas' backup last season, along slowly.
Thomas decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft, leaving the Ducks in what many perceived to be a tough spot. But there are those inside the program who believe Bennett and Mariota both bring better athleticism and overall ability than Thomas. They just don't have the experience.
But Thomas didn't have experience when Jeremiah Masoli was booted from the team before the 2010 season. Thomas rose to the occasion and guided the Ducks to their greatest season ever. With his departure, it is Mariota's turn to take the keys to the offense.
Mariota quickly rose to the occasion and had the Ducks faithful on the edge of its seats during the spring game. His performance sparked memories of Dixon's 2007 season that left fans wishing that Chip Kelly would have connected with Dixon before his senior year.
Oregon fans watched nine games of Dixon at his best. With four years of eligibility left, Mariota has the potential to do what Dixon couldn't finish during his senior year.
Many expected the Ducks to take a step back when Masoli was dismissed from the team. Masoli was effective, but he had limits on what he could do. Thomas set records and took the Ducks to new heights while displaying a unique style that left people thinking how good he could be if he tightened up his game.
Mariota is already more polished than Masoli or Thomas. The two previous quarterbacks made amazing plays for the Ducks and had legendary two-year careers in Eugene. They also left fans holding their breath in anticipation of both good and bad.
Now the Oregon program is looking at a future with a possible four-year starter who is already ahead of the game.
Speaking of games, the only one fans have seen Mariota involved in was the Ducks' spring scrimmage. Now he has to prove it against real opponents. An easy opening schedule should provide ample opportunity for Mariota to sharpen things up. It starts Sept. 1 against Arkansas State.