Entering the 2013 college football season, the Oregon Ducks are primed for a run at an NCAA championship. Yes, it’s true that their leader on the sidelines, Chip Kelly, is gone for the NFL, but the players on the field are the ones who will propel the team to another great season.
De’Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota will be the ones leading the way, and if all goes according to plan, they’ll be making names for themselves on an individual scale as well.
According to Cappers Picks, the two Ducks’ superstars are among the early favorites to land the Heisman Trophy. Both are in the top 11, and both highlight the top 22 as the only representatives from the Great Northwest.
As expected, Johnny Manziel leads the pack with 17/4 odds. He’s the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, and he’s likely to improve heading into his sophomore season.
But while “Johnny Football” looks to bring in his second-straight award, De’Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota look to spoil his fun. The future has yet to be told, but you know that nobody wearing yellow and green will lack confidence in 2013.
Marcus Mariota (16/1)
Mariota nearly breaks the Top 10 on Cappers‘ list, and rightfully so. The quarterback, a redshirt sophomore, has the type of game that fits Oregon’s system perfectly. He’s a quarterback who can run—not the other way around—and he has the brains to make quick decisions.
He was perfect in Chip Kelly’s system, but the question becomes: can he find as much success playing under Mark Helfrich?
All indications thus far point to a resounding ‘yes’. According to ESPN’s Ted Miller, the Ducks look the same entering the summer as they did with Kelly running the show. The pace is still fast, Mariota still looks like a Heisman contender and the team is as detail-oriented as before.
So long as nothing drastic has changed, Mariota will still be leading the way.
In fact, there’s reason to believe that the Ducks will be running less of a run-oriented offense in 2013 than they ever did with Kelly. More throwing opportunities are a good thing for a player with Mariota’s instincts, giving him a real shot at improving upon the year he had as a freshman (2,677 YRDS, 32 TD, 6 INT, 163.2 RAT).
De’Anthony Thomas (14/1)
At 14/1 odds, Thomas ranks eighth on Cappers‘ list. He’s behind only one other Pac-12 player in the rankings (Marquis Lee, USC), and he is the second running back behind T.J. Yeldon of Alabama.
What Thomas has going for him is that he’s never been, and never will be, limited to just the tailback position. Chip Kelly always referred to him as a taser, meaning he can hurt from anywhere on the field.
In 2012, Thomas was the team’s leading receiver with 45 catches. He scored five touchdowns through the air to go along with his 11 on the ground, and he was put on the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, which is given to the nation’s most versatile player.
Unfortunately for Thomas, despite strong starts in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, he’s quieted down toward the end of both years. He’s always been a second option behind either LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner, and his seasons have typically ended in quieter fashion than they’ve began.
Luckily for Thomas, James and Barner are long gone to the NFL, and he just might find himself as a No. 1 option down the stretch of the season.
It’s true that a talented roster will still make it difficult for Thomas to earn touches at times. He doesn’t have the body of a bruiser at the collegiate level, and players like Josh Huff and Thomas Tyner will look to make plays as the year goes on (Don’t forget about Byron Marshall, either).
But with Thomas now the man both in the backfield and in the slot, don’t be surprised to see him carry momentum all the way til the end, and possibly, all the way to New York.