Five keys for Oregon's title run

What must go right for the Ducks to earn a berth in first college football playoff

Updated: April 1, 2014, 5:41 PM ET
By KC Joyner | ESPN Insider

MariotaSoobum Im/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota must stay healthy for Oregon to remain in the national title hunt.
There may not be another team in college football with as wide of a set of expectations as the Oregon Ducks. Some have the Ducks finishing as one of highest-ranked teams in the country (including ESPN Insider Brian Fremeau), while others believe Oregon could end up outside of the AP Top 25 by the end of the 2014 campaign.

A case on either side of the debate can be made, but in reviewing the game tapes, metrics and scouting notes, it's apparent that there is a clear path for Oregon to a Pac-12 title and national championship playoff berth.

Five elements will be key to Oregon achieving this goal.

A fully healthy season from Marcus Mariota

Mariota is one of the few players who can give reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston strong competition for the 2014 version of that award.

Last season, Mariota led all college football QBs by posting an 89.5 mark in Adjusted Total QBR. (This metric revises the Raw QBR mark by strength of schedule and thus balances showings in this statistic.)

He also set a modern Oregon single-game record with seven total touchdowns (five passing, two rushing) against Colorado and set a Pac-12 record by going 353 passes without throwing an interception.

What makes the Total QBR and zero interception numbers even more amazing is how well Mariota fared against Washington, UCLA and Stanford -- even though the Stanford game was a clunker based on the outcome. These three teams all finished in the top 32 in Adjusted Total QBR allowed and Mariota's composite performances against them yielded a 90.3 Adjusted Total QBR that was actually slightly higher than his season-ending total in this category. He also racked up zero bad decisions in these contests (defined as a mental error that leads to a turnover opportunity for the opposing team) and thus protected the ball just as well as his overall numbers would suggest.