Joe Coughlin

Too Much On The Table For Mariota To Leave

Created on Dec. 05, 2013 1:15 AM EST

Some decisions are made out of want. Some out of need.

Most, like Marcus Mariota’s, are a bit of both.

The Oregon quarterback decided to return for his redshirt junior season in 2014 instead of cashing in at the NFL Draft, where he surely would have been an early pick.

It’s a rare thing to see these days — a highly projected talent passing up on big dollars to play another year collegiately.

Mariota said in a statement: “I look forward to earning my degree next year and to the rest of my career at this great university.”

Sounds noble enough, but let’s not anoint the child just yet. In a lot of respects, the choice was made for Mariota.

Sure, he’ll be happy to earn his degree and happy to compete one more year for the school he loves, but in the past month, Mariota has stumbled. Not only have his Ducks lost twice (Stanford, Arizona), but he essentially lost the Heisman and at least a dozen draft spots.

It may not be fair, but the NFL Draft is a fickle beast. As Mariota faltered, a hundred other prospects across the country succeeded in a big spot. To add injury to insult, Mariota has a bum left knee. The QB says all is good, but pro scouts aren’t taking his word for it. They need to see it on the field. And since he’s hurt the knee — in a 42-14 win over UCLA — the Ducks are 2-2 (one win coming in the final seconds to an unranked Oregon State) and he’s thrown his only four interceptions of the season.

The timing of Mariota’s decision says a couple things.

First, he was never comfortable going pro. When many placed him on draft boards, it seemed like a foregone conclusion he was ticketed for the big show. Mariota wasn’t so sure it was the right move all along. If he were, he would have waited to make that call — in either direction — after the season. Seeing as the decision came after a narrow win and a rough month, it’s clear the the adversity swayed the quarterback. I think Mariota wanted to come back all along, but if the Ducks won a national title and he won the Heisman, maybe the big bucks could have turned him away from a level he’d already won, which leads me to my next point.

Mariota is as competitive as they come. In a four-week span, his Heisman, national title hopes, the Rose Bowl and a Pac-12 title all disappeared. For a guy who willingly takes on responsibility, that’s a lot to lose. He took it all personally. Next year will be more about one more chance to get it done than a degree.

And he won’t be alone.

If Mariota were a sophomore on a senior-heavy team, the pros would have been more appealing. That’s not the case. Joining Mariota will be his partner in time, center Hroniss Grasu, as well as up to seven other offensive starters. With those two running the show, however, you can expect more 60-point performances and plenty of good press.

The Ducks will be Pac-12 favorites and among the most talked-about teams in the nation while Mariota will be praised as a Heisman-destined talent.  

While the decision has obvious benefits for Eugene, it means a lot to FBS nation as well. Mariota may have his own reasons for coming back, like wrapping up his career in style, but they won’t matter to fans. With quick college exits an assumed part of the game, it’s good for the sport to have a name return. Mariota is a legitimate superstar at this level. He’ll bring eyeballs to the screen, fans to the stadium and dollars to the swag.

Maybe the best thing about Mariota’s return: the Heisman battle.

Winston vs. Mariota, 2014. We can’t wait.

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