It’s been well established that Johnny Manziel, 2012 Heisman winner and star for the Texas A&M Aggies, was an Oregon Ducks commit to play quarterback. After evaluating the level of talent the Ducks had accumulated (Darron Thomas, Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota who was going in the same recruiting class) Manziel uncommitted and eventual landed with the Aggies in his home state of Texas.
It’s easy to see the appeal of playing for A&M. Manziel could stay near home while playing in college football’s most elite conference, the SEC. In his first season with the Aggies, and the school’s first season post-Big12, Manziel put up 4,600 total yards (3,419 passing, 1,181 rushing) and 43 TDs. He completed 273-400 passes (68.3%) and had a QB rating of 155.9.
All of these accomplishments are down right impressive. Add in the fact that he’s a mobile quarterback, it’s easy to have the Manziel vs Mariota debate. But really, these two are not at all the same player.
Mariota had a remarkably successful season as well. In 12 games, Mariota recorded passing, rushing and even a receiving touchdown for a total of 35. He finished with 3,203 total yards and the fifth best QB rating nationally at 165.4. He recorded all of these remarkable statistics while riding the bench late in games for most of the season.
Due to Oregon’s dominating performances, Mariota was kept out of games to avoid injuries. Also in games like Arizona State, the Ducks relied on its loaded offense to produce. Kenjon Barner stole the show while Mariota on passed for 46 yards.
Even in games where Mariota shined, he was lost in the spotlight by the remaining stars. Take USC for instance. Mariota completed 20-23 passes for 304 yards with four TDs and 0 interceptions. But the talk after was all about Barner’s record-setting night.
Manziel was able to shoot into the spotlight because, to be blunt, no one else on the A&M offense really has any national presence at all. Want to know just how much Manziel IS the A&M offense? He’s the team’s leading rusher as a quarterback, and responsible for nearly 70% of the team’s total production. His leading receiver, Mike Evans, is a freshman and has no national notoriety.
So the point here is that, yes, Manziel benefits from a star-less team. Mariota had to share the spotlight and votes with Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. Manziel also got the majority of his campaign steam from a huge win over Alabama. Had Oregon beat Stanford and been in the national title game, I guarantee you that Mariota would have received an invitation to NYC.
These two players are very close in skill level, but Mariota has one key component that makes him a much better fit to be Oregon’s starting quarterback. I’ll give you a moment to think about what that is…
Oregon runs a zone-read offense. The key component to Chip Kelly’s system is the zone-read where the quarterback reads the defense and decides to either hand the ball off or keep it. In order to play quarterback for Oregon, you must be able to effectively hide the progression of the play.
Darron Thomas was an incredibly efficient operator of the spread-offense due to his lanky build and quick decision making. Mariota at 6’4″ possess the same lanky build, thus allowing him to hold on to the ball longer. Manziel, while by no means short, stands in at 6’1″ and does not have the arm length of Mariota.
It’s uncertain how well Mr. Johnny Football could operate the zone-read, but I think it’s fair to assume he wouldn’t be on Mariota’s level.
While Manziel may be the first freshman to win college football’s most prestigious award, Oregon fans should know they have the right man to lead their team. Mariota will do big things for the next three seasons.