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Lieberman: Bryan Bennett isn’t a lock to start as Oregon’s quarterback next season



Just when it seemed like the never-ending cacophony surrounding Oregon football had quieted to a hush, Darron Thomas had to shatter the silence.

As the first few weeks of 2012 unfolded, most Ducks fans were content relishing their first Rose Bowl victory in 95 years. Then on Sunday, the program’s all-time leader in touchdown passes announced that he was foregoing his final season of NCAA eligibility to enter the NFL Draft. @@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=3383&SPID=233&DB_LANG=C&ATCLID=205361039&[email protected]@

A multitude of people have offered opinions on Thomas’ decision. Many, many people. In fact, there’s such a myriad of voices that it’s a bit overwhelming. Then Thomas compared himself to Cam Newton. Eek. But that’s not what I’m here to debate. Instead, let’s look forward and discuss the fortuitous player that Chip Kelly will entrust with his sacred spread offense.

Notice that I didn’t explicitly say Bryan Bennett — that’s not a typo. I’m not claiming that the rising sophomore won’t be the Ducks’ starter come next fall. All I believe is that, upon closer examination, Bennett’s 2011 season does not make him a lock to lead the Ducks against Arkansas State on Sept. 1. @@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=3378&SPID=233&DB_LANG=C&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=204971236&[email protected]@ @@http://special.registerguard.com/web/sports/26789610-41/[email protected]@

Let’s take a quick glance at Bennett’s career statistics, all from the 2011 season:

Passing: 25-46, 369 yards, 6 touchdowns, no interceptions

Rushing: 23 attempts, 200 yards

Not bad, right? Sure, he only completed 54 percent of his passes, but the numbers don’t lie. @@I HATE this expression. Numbers don’t lie, but you can make ’em say whatever you [email protected]@Bennett was efficient, effective and electric (8.7 yards per carry) under center for the Ducks in game action.

However, take a step back. Can you remind me what teams Bennett put up those numbers [email protected]@…and that’s what I’ve always said about Thomas. 6 TDs against New Mexico State? Chill, [email protected]@

In actuality, 20 of Bennett’s 25 career completions (and all six touchdowns) came against Colorado, Missouri State and Washington State. Their combined record last season: 9-27. Translation: The Ducks had more wins last year than those teams could collectively muster. @@http://pac-12.org/SPORTS/Football/[email protected]@ @@http://www.mutigers.com/sports/m-footbl/sched/[email protected]@

To top things off, Missouri State is an FCS school. Even worse, both the Cougars and Buffs allowed more than 30 points per game last season, finishing in the bottom quartile in the NCAA in scoring defense. @@http://web1.ncaa.org/onlineDir/exec/sponsorship?sortOrder=0&division=1AA&[email protected]@ @@http://www.pac-12.org/portals/7/images/Football/2011-Stats/HTML/[email protected]@

By now, Bennett’s sterling resume should look a little less attractive. That is, unless you’re gazing at the Ducks through Rose Bowl-tinted glasses.

Remember the believers in Bennett that were calling for Darron Thomas’ head last season? Consider this: Bennett has yet to throw his first interception in an Oregon uniform. And until he has that first momentous misstep, how can we know how he (or the fans) will react? I have no grounds to question Bennett’s legitimacy as a leader, and I can’t doubt that he’ll overcome adversity. That doesn’t mean I won’t keep a close eye on what the masses cry when the glow starts to fade on their newly anointed golden boy.

In fact, while Bennett does have one impressive road start under his belt, what makes him unquestionably more appealing than redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota? @@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=3378&SPID=233&DB_LANG=C&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=205238133&[email protected]@

Both are wicked fast: Bennett’s 40-meter time in high school was 4.52, while Mariota clocked in slightly faster at 4.48. Both also display impressive size: Mariota stands 6-foot-4, weighing 200 pounds while Bennett is slightly smaller at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds.

Admittedly, Bennett was a better pocket passer in high school and likely remains one today. Even more, he’s proven he can hold his own against Division I teams. But without seeing Mariota take the field in any meaningful play, can we really rule him out of the race?

Kelly remains adamant that every position remains open to competition heading into spring practice. Considering that Bennett has only a sliver of experience against legitimate defenses, I think that holds true for the quarterback position more than ever.

When ESPN asked Thomas what he could bring to an NFL team, he replied, “leadership, (a) winning attitude, hard work and I can make big plays.” In my mind, those are the same traits Kelly will be looking for in his quarterback next season.

Thomas took over as Oregon’s starter two seasons ago similarly inexperienced. We all know the results that he produced. Consequently, if Bryan Bennett successfully takes over Oregon’s vaunted spread attack, I won’t be even slightly surprised. But before you pencil him in as a proven entity, take a critical look at the evidence laid out before you.


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