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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

December 3, 2013 at 8:23 PM

Ducks add the year’s biggest recruit: Mariota

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota announced Tuesday he’s returning for his junior season next year at Oregon, and it’s a splash of terrific news for the Ducks.

It was a relatively dreary November for Oregon, which first got manhandled at Stanford, then lost badly at Arizona, then needed some last-minute heroics to upend Oregon State. If the Beavers had held on to win — they were a huge underdog — there might have been a mini-revolt in Eugene.

Mariota’s announcement, along with the news that his all-league center, Hroniss Grasu, is coming back, is huge news for Oregon, and not only because Mariota is a Heisman-level player. There’s some doubt about Oregon’s reinforcements at that position, 2013 backups Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie, and in any case, Oregon would have been entering 2014 with both of them as major questionmarks.

There’s also true freshman Damion Hobbs (6-2, 195), who could be the answer eventually. But again, he would have represented a completely unproven commodity entering 2014. If there’s doubt among Oregon coaches about capable depth at that position, they can address it before signing day, while Mariota comes back stronger next year.

While there was considerable sentiment he should leave — he’s projected as a top-15 NFL pick — I think he might be making the smart decision. He’s only 20 years old and can surely use more physical development and seasoning.

His move mirrors a recent trend in the Pac-12 — of veteran quarterbacks projected high in the draft sticking around for another year — and if you’re a fan of the league, you should like it. Jake Locker did it, Andrew Luck did it, and so did Matt Barkley. It worked great for the first two, and hopefully will for Mariota as well.

Now the focus turns to UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, both of whom have eligibility left (Hundley two years) but could leave.

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