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Is Marcus Mariota One of the Best College Football Quarterbacks All Time?

Is Marcus Mariota One of the Best College Football Quarterbacks All Time?

Oregon quarterback and 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota had one of the best seasons a college football quarterback could have this season, and it wasn’t even his first dominant campaign. But exactly which one is it: the greatest or merely one of the greatest?

Suppose that the Ducks do come through as six-point favorites and prevail over Ohio State to win that elusive national title. Where does that put Mariota on the pantheon of great college quarterbacks? Let’s take a deep dive into Mariota’s candidacy and examine the arguments both for and against the Hawaiian being hailed as the greatest of all-time.

In the meantime, don’t miss our coverage of all things college football before and after the big game on Monday in our college football news section.

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Can Marcus Mariota be Considered One of the Best College Football Quarterback of All-Time?

The Case For Mariota

All He Does is Win

From the moment he stepped in as Oregon’s starter as a red shirt freshman in 2012, all Marcus Mariota has done is win. He led the Ducks to a 12-1 record in that season and finished the year No. 2 in the AP rankings after beating Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.

[sc:NCAA240banner ]It’s been much of the same in the two years since. In his three years in Eugene, Mariota has a career win-loss record of 36-4 and has won all three of his bowl games, including this year’s Rose Bowl.

And of course, his biggest win (to date) comes with some handy hardware: this year’s Heisman Trophy, which he won with the second-largest margin of victory in history. And if he does indeed add victory in the national championship game, Mariota would join an exclusive list of just eight college quarterbacks who’ve won both in the same season.

Numbers Don’t Lie

There’s a reason Mariota won the Heisman in such an emphatic fashion: he played the quarterback position as close to perfection as humanly possible. A lethal weapon both with his arms and his feet, Mariota set new career-bests in passing yards (4,121), passer rating (186.3), passing touchdowns (40),rushing touchdowns (15) and QBR (91.9).

He wasn’t too shabby in his freshman and sophomore seasons, either. He finished second in both of those seasons in Total QBR. And with just three interceptions this season, he is on pace to set the FBS record for career interception percentage, with only 13 of his 1,130 career attempts (1.15 percent) going to the other team.

2012 68.5 2,677 32 6 163.2 86.2
2013 63.5 3,665 31 4 167.7 88.0
2014 68.6 4,121 40 3 186.3 91.9
CAREER 66.8 10,463 103 13 172.4 88.7

All in all, Mariota has compiled a record-breaking career in his three years on campus. He’ll depart college football ranked 1st in the Pac-12 in career passing efficiency (172.4), total offense (12,661), total yards per play (8.7), and total touchdowns (132). Of those stats, he’s second in NCAA history behind only Sam Bradford in pass efficiency and total yards per play.

The numbers don’t lie, and every single one of them points toward Mariota as being a highly efficient, highly consistent and highly successful football machine.

The Case Against Mariota

It’s the System

But as good as Mariota has been throughout his career, a lot of credit must go to Oregon’s system. The Ducks’ high-octane offense – first implemented by Chip Kelly and continued by current head coach Mark Helfrich – is one that is highly conducive to big numbers. Without the system, would Mariota have been able to put up similarly superhuman numbers?

2010 D. THOMAS 61.5 2,881 30 9 151.0
2011 D. THOMAS 62.2 2,761 33 7 158.7
2012 M. MARIOTA 68.5 2,677 32 6 163.2
2013 M. MARIOTA 63.5 3,665 31 4 167.7

Compare Mariota’s numbers in his first two seasons with his predecessor, Darron Thomas’, and you’ll find they’re not too far off from one another. Although Mariota is no doubt the more efficient of the two, Thomas’ raw numbers in his first two seasons are enough to make you think some other quarterback can match – or even exceed – Mariota’s production within this Oregon system.

Postseason Resume Still Falls Short

Even if Mariota can add a national championship to his already impressive resume, there are still a handful of other quarterbacks that have also built up a strong case to being called the best college quarterback ever. For the most part, those players built up their case through multiple appearances in the national championship game.

There’s Tim Tebow, Florida’s own dual threat quarterback, who won two national championships in Gainesville (once as a starter) and won the Heisman in 2008. Tebow had ended his college career as the second most efficient quarterback in college football history before Mariota supplanted him.

There’s Matt Leinart, the highly-decorated USC quarterback who went 37-2 as a starter and led the Trojans to two BCS Championships. They’re (since-vacated) title in 2004 was also when Leinart took home that year’s Heisman.

There’s Nebraska’s Tommie Frazier, quarterback of the Cornhuskers’ back-to-back national championship winning years in 1994-95. Although he never won the Heisman, he does have the distinction of being named the MVP in three consecutive national title games.

Sammy Bauch. Danny Wuerffel. The list of contenders for the crown is long and fierce. The stats and the hardware are nice and all, but Oregon’s absence from the national championship spotlight with Mariota prior to this season puts him a ring below the others.


A Heisman and a national title, along with his impeccable career stats, will no doubt warrant Mariota’s inclusion in the discussion for greatest college quarterback for years to come. However, how high he climbs up that list will still be highly dependent on his performance against Ohio State. If he plays to the heights of his Heisman-winning capabilities, he will be right up there. If he falters though, he could go down in history as just another great player not quite great enough to win the big one.

Think Mariota’s greatness transfers to the pros? Create a betting account now to wager for (or against) Mariota’s future NFL team every Sunday.

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Written by Brad

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