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The Sports Daily > Duck Stops Here
Poll dance: Ducks 2nd, Mariota 3rd

The new AP poll is out today and the Ducks are second behind Alabama, moving ahead of Ohio State after the Buckeyes struggled a little with Buffalo in their home opener. Ohio State remains second in the USA Today/Coaches Poll, which figures directly in the BCS formula.

Poll position doesn’t absolutely matter until December, when it matters a lot. Teams in the number one and two slot get a $23.6 million payout for their conference, plus the opportunity to play for the Crystal Football. Until then it’s chiefly bragging rights and bulletin board material for opponents, except it’s much easier to finish in the Top Ten if you start the season there. For example, a loss to Clemson at Memorial Stadium only knocked #5 Georgia down to #11–they can still climb into contention, something a lot of 0-1 teams will have trouble doing.

Numbers game: Particularly because he plays on the West Coast, Marcus Mariota needs a certain threshold of statistical excellence to stay in the Heisman race. The Ducks need his A-game to run the gauntlet in the PAC-12 (Oregon Athletic Department image).

In other poll moves, Marcus Mariota finished third in the latest straw ballot at heismanpundit.com, behind leader Tajh Boyd of Clemson and Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville. Mariota got the voters’ attention in Week 1 with 234 yards passing and 113 rushing versus Nicholls, accounting for three touchdowns.

To stay in the hunt for Oregon’s first Stiff Arm Trophy Mariota has to break out of what has become something of a mini-slump: in three of his last four games, his accuracy numbers are way down in a high-percentage offense.

Mariota completed just 57% of his passes against the Colonels. He threw downfield more than usual, missing targets high on several occasions, and long on an attempted pass to a wide-open Daryle Hawkins down the right sideline.

That follows two of his worst statistical performances of the year last season. In the Fiesta Bowl game against Kansas State he was 12-24 for 166 yards, 50%, and against Stanford on November 17th he was 21-37 for 207, 56.7%, with 1 touchdown and a pick. It has to be said: Darron Thomas had better accuracy in big games than the youthful Mariota has achieved so far.

Overall Mariota has done a fabulous job as the Oregon starter, 13-1 in his career. But the design of the Quack Attack produces a lot of high percentage throws, and you’d expect his accuracy number to stay closer to his 2012 season mark of 68.5%.

Speaking about Super Mario’s Game One performance, Mark Helfrich told Oregonian reporter Andrew Grief Monday,  “His decision-making, almost without exception, was excellent. Yeah he had some physical errors, again I thought his eyes and his head were ahead of his body, his feet, which as a quarterback you’re going to run into accuracy problems, and that’s something that Marcus has been outstanding at in the past and we expect a lot more of in the future.”

The eyes and head ahead of the body produce those missed connections. At times it looks like he’s pressing a little, and you’d like the gifted quarterback to be a little more fluid and consistent delivering the football. 

If the Ducks want to survive in the 14-week game of king of the hill for those top two spots, and claim that first-ever Heisman Trophy, they need their superb sophomore quarterback to relax and trust his accurate right arm. He needs to get in the precise rhythm he displayed throwing 10 tds in two weeks versus USC and Cal at the start of November last season, for 681 yards, 47-57 passing in those two games, 82.4% completion percentage.

That’s the quarterback Mariota is capable of being. While it’s not always possible to achieve those dazzling numbers due to scheme and matchups, that’s the potential he has triggering the offense. Combine that with his running ability and the Ducks have the most potent quarterback weapon in college football.