UCLA coach Jim Mora has told NFL scouts that Oregon star Marcus Mariota will be a star at the next level.
Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley is also projected to play in the NFL, but he may be dealing with a patchwork offensive line again as he enters off a rough effort.
These star quarterbacks meet Saturday in Eugene, and the second-ranked Ducks expect running back De'Anthony Thomas to return from a three-game absence to face the No. 12 Bruins.
Mariota has developed into one of the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy with an astounding 19 touchdown passes to no interceptions along with nine rushing scores for Oregon (7-0, 4-0 Pac-12).
"I had a couple guys ask me, NFL guys, if I thought he could play at the next level," Mora said. "I said, 'Have you not watched him? I mean, he'll rip it up at the next level.' I mean this guy is ripping it up at this level. He's really special."
It's possible that part of what makes Mariota special is his approach this week after he lost two fumbles in last Saturday's 62-38 rout of Washington State. Even though he threw for 327 yards and two scores and carried eight times for 67 yards and another TD, Mariota is focused on improvement.
"Obviously I've got to take care of the ball a lot better," Mariota said. "I was pretty non-chalant with it in the pocket and we can't have that."
Scouts who travel to Oregon this weekend to check out Mariota will also get a chance to see another dual-threat QB in Hundley.
The UCLA junior will try to bounce back after he was held to a season-low 192 yards passing while getting sacked four times by then-No. 13 Stanford last Saturday. He played behind an injury-plagued line in that 24-10 defeat.
"Hundley's the type of guy that can work with that, being an athletic guy, being a versatile guy, who can run, who can throw, who can make plays, (the) quick game down the field, all the things that they do," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.
It didn't help the Bruins (5-1, 2-1) that running back Jordon James missed a second straight game with an ankle injury. UCLA was held to a season-low 74 yards on the ground without James, who is averaging 115.8 yards.
Left tackle Simon Goines exited with a knee injury and his status is also uncertain.
The Ducks are getting healthier since Thomas expects to play. Thomas suffered a sprained right ankle on the opening kickoff of a 55-16 win over California on Sept. 28, and hasn't carried the ball in a game since two weeks prior to that against Tennessee.
Oregon's rushing attack hasn't missed a beat in the last four games Thomas hasn't carried the ball, with Byron Marshall totaling 550 yards and seven rushing touchdowns in that span.
Thomas, who totaled 330 yards and six TDs on the ground in his first three games, has returned to practice and enjoyed what he saw from the sideline.
"It's great just to go out there, see guys having fun," Thomas said. "I hope we can continue that, and put more points up on teams and I feel as long as we keep winning games, we should be successful."
The Ducks trail top-ranked Alabama and No. 3 Florida State in the first BCS standings of the season, but insist they aren't concerned.
"That's their opinions, we have no control over that," Mariota said. "We'll just continue to take it one game at a time."
Mariota will have to worry about UCLA star linebacker Anthony Barr, who Helfrich feels presents a big matchup problem. Barr leads the Bruins with 11 tackles for loss.
Although UCLA suffered its first loss last week, Mora felt his team can draw on plenty of positives after going on the road and nearly beating one of the conference's powerhouses.
"I believe that last week, we started seven true freshmen if you include the punter against one of the best teams in America and we took it down to the end," the coach said. "It was 17-10 there with 2:29 or whatever left on the clock. I think that's a testament to the way our guys compete, I think it's a testament to our coaching."
These teams did not meet last season. The Ducks have taken the last four matchups and totaled 109 points in the past two.
Top 25 Overview
Oregon continues to be dominant on both sides of the ball, scoring 57.6 points per game and while its defense is allowing 17.3 points per game. UCLA's young offensive line got younger with more injuries across the front. Brett Hundley has been sacked 65 times over the last year and a half -- 10 more times than any other FBS quarterback. Oregon ranks third in the league with 20 sacks this season.
Oregon sophomore Byron Marshall has stepped up for injured junior De'Anthony Thomas, who hasn't had a rushing attempt since an ankle injury on the opening kickoff vs Cal in their 4th game of the season. As a result, the Ducks have the 2nd-ranked rushing offense in the FBS (332.4 ypg).