As the 2015 NFL Draft is fast around the corner, much of the noise around the league is focused on who will go Number one. Jameis Winston has largely been tabbed as the number one pick and rightly so; Marcus Mariota of Oregon is viewed to be solidified in the two spot. Two picks, two Heisman-winning quarterbacks. One national champion. Not a bad way to start the draft if things go as planned.
Which brings me to another lesser known name who will possibly hear his name called on draft day: Bryan Bennett. Some may know Bennett as the Southeastern Louisiana quarterback and Southland Conference Player of the Year, but that’s doubtful.
Nope, you probably remember Bennett (if at all) as the brief backup to Marcus Mariota at Oregon. What most, if not all forget however, is how hotly contested the battle was for the starting job. Rewind to the summer of 2012 and the Ducks are looking to replace Darron Thomas, who left early for the NFL. Mariota was a little-known redshirt freshman, while Bennett was a sophomore that had already seen game action replacing Thomas while he was injured. Bennett had played in nine games and thrown six touchdowns, mainly in spot duty. The competition went down to the wire, as Oregon didn’t give Mariota the nod until the end of August.
As we move back to the present day, Bennett is an after-thought and Mariota a bona fide superstar, but during that summer all we knew was that two extremely athletic quarterbacks were fighting for a starting spot. The idea of the two getting equal reps during the season until one proved themselves was still plausible.
What should be truly fawned over looking back is that there was someone good enough to push the reigning Heisman winner to the end of summer camp. I think much of the conversation now would sound something like this; “I know, can you believe Mariota almost lost the starting job?” or “How could Chip Kelly not start Mariota from day one? Someone doesn’t have an eye for talent.”
In reality, the truth is that their talent was nowhere near as far apart as you would think. There is no doubt in my mind Mariota will have the better pro career, assuming Bennett even gets a shot. But the real story is the level of recruit that Oregon gets where two quarterbacks can duke out a starting job and one ends up a Heisman winner and potential top pick while the other still may get drafted.
What’s even scarier to envision is that Johnny Manziel also committed to the Ducks briefly and Oregon could’ve been facing a depth chart nightmare. Albeit one that any coach would kill for. The idea of three potential pro quarterbacks fighting for a college roster spot, one of whom has already started an NFL game, is quite the “truth is stranger than fiction” scenario. What really gets me is another less-thought-of truth although still speculation: if Mariota were to win the quarterback job, would people be viewing Manziel the same way they view Bennett today? I’m not a Bryan Bennett superfan or anything, but I think people fail to realize how differently things can pan out under different circumstances.
It’s obvious that Manziel, like Bennett, would’ve transferred but it’s very difficult to make the claim that Manziel would’ve still won the Heisman at another school. Everything came together for him in College Station but without the Aggies’ conference change the Heisman is a near impossibility. Manziel’s Heisman moment came against SEC power Alabama, whose conference Texas A&M had just joined that fall. My point being not about A&M’s conference change but rather that there’s no guarantee Manziel would’ve picked A&M or another SEC school for that matter. Look at it this way, instead of a hot-shot recruit, Manziel is a backup from a Pac-10 school who just got beat out by a still relative unknown (although Mariota had a great first season). Does Manziel wind up as far down as Bennett at a similar lower D-1 school? I don’t think so. I think it’s pretty clear that Manziel’s talent would’ve landed him at a major D-1 school, where he becomes a star in his own right more or less regardless of the school. Does it merit him the Heisman trophy and/or a first-round draft selection? We will never know, much like we will never know how the Three Musketeers could’ve turned out. Yeah, that could’ve been a thing.