- Brock Huard, ESPN Insider
From May 27 to July 3, Insider's college football experts will preview the season for the 25 teams with the best chances to make the inaugural College Football Playoff, based on Brian Fremeau's post-spring projections. This is the entry for the Oregon Ducks.
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Projected finish: 11-1 (8-1)
Chance to make playoff: 48 percent
Chance to win Pac-12: 49 percent
Toughest games: Sept. 6 vs. Michigan State (76 percent chance of winning), Oct. 11 at UCLA (64 percent), Nov. 1 vs. Stanford (67 percent)
Why they will make the playoff
1. Marcus Mariota returns
However you want to evaluate Mariota -- the eye test, the stat test, the "measurable" test -- the redshirt junior passes with flying colors. Had he declared for the NFL draft in May, Mariota very well could have been the Houston Texans' No. 1 pick. Instead, the once-in-a-generation talent returns to school so that he might achieve what Matt Barkley, Andrew Luck, Sam Bradford and others in the Pac-12 couldn't: winning a national championship.
Mariota had the best QBR in the country last year because his decision-making ability is sensational. When healthy, he's quick enough not only to slow down the rush but also to convert critical third downs. In the spring, coach Mark Helfrich told me that Mariota "may just be our fastest player on the field." Committed in the weight room and in the pocket, Mariota is the unquestioned leader of Oregon's offense and one of the most dangerous players in the country.
With Marcus Mariota back, the Oregon Ducks are loaded again in 2014. Can they make the College Football Playoff?