Johnny Manziel was once committed to the Oregon Ducks. He decided to flip his commitment and stay closer to home instead, however, signing with the Texas A&M Aggies. Chip Kelly may not be kicking himself too hard, though, for letting Manziel get away because he got a special quarterback of his own in Marcus Mariota. But which would be the better fit for Oregon?
Manziel has been a sensation this season for Texas A&M. He has single-handily successfully guided A&M through their first season in the SEC with his ability to make plays, highlighted by the Aggies upset win on Saturday over the Alabama Crimson Tide. He has been special, earning accolades from everyone and even has earned some Heisman Trophy buzz in the process.
On the season, Manziel leads his team in both passing and rushing, throwing for 2,780 yards with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions while rushing for 1,014 yards with 15 touchdowns on the ground. His 379 total yards of offense per game rank second in college football and his 33 total touchdowns are as many as Geno Smith and Matt Barkley have scored this season. Pretty good company to keep as a redshirt freshman.
But Mariota has been just as impressive for Oregon. After winning the starting quarterback job in August, the redshirt freshman has done nothing but win, leading the Ducks to No. 2 in the BCS standings and a perfect record with three games to go, including the Pac 12 Championship game. Mariota has backed up Chip Kelly’s decision to start him by showing unreal poise for a freshman quarterback.
On the season, Mariota has passed for 2,164 yards with 28 touchdowns to just five interceptions. He’s added 516 yards rushing with three touchdowns on the ground as well. He’s even caught a touchdown pass, giving him 32 total touchdowns on the season.
His raw numbers don’t match up with Manziel, as Mariota is averaging just 268 yards of total offense per game, but the Oregon quarterback is making the most of every opportunity. Mariota has attempted just 251 passes this season (85 fewer than Manziel), but has completed over 70 percent of his passes and thrown for 12 more touchdowns than the Aggies quarterback. Mariota has thrown a touchdown pass on 11 percent of his attempts this season and his passing efficiency rating of 176.96 is the best in the country.
In short, Kelly and the Ducks may have come out ahead with Manziel’s decision to decommit. There’s no question that Johnny Football is exceptional and would have flourished wherever he went, but Mariota may end up being the better quarterback.
Manziel is racking up more stats because he is the Aggies’ offense. That gives Manziel every opportunity to pile up yards and touchdowns as the high-powered A&M offense rolls. Oregon is still very much a team that flows through their running backs with Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. Mariota isn’t called on to carry the team as much, he just contributes greatly to it.
To that end, Mariota has been much more consistent this season than Manziel. Johnny Football has had some incredible high moments this season, like when he set the SEC record for total offense in a game against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, but he’s also struggled to some tragic lows. Against the LSU Tigers, Manziel threw three interceptions and failed to find the end zone, which ultimately cost his team the game.
Mariota, on the other hand, has been a steady hand all season long. The Hawaiian-born signal caller is the best natural passer that Chip Kelly has ever had, even though he doesn’t get to show off his arm that much.
He has thrown a touchdown in every game this season, has completed less than 60 percent of his passes just one time and hasn’t thrown an interception since October 6. Oh, and he can run with the ball as well. As he continues to grow and take over this offense, he’s only going to become more potent and dangerous.
Both quarterbacks are incredible talents that can make plays with their arm and their legs. Manziel is getting the Heisman buzz early as a freshman and he’ll be in the discussion the rest of his collegiate career. But Marcus Mariota is quietly playing just as well, if not better, and will be joining the Heisman race himself sooner rather than later.
So did Oregon miss out on not landing Johnny Football? Sure. But they made up for it by hitting it big with Marcus Mariota.