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Oregon is Pac-12 favorite after Mariota's return

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 23, 2014 at 7:43 pm •  Published: July 23, 2014
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Although Marcus Mariota knew he would be under a spotlight when he stepped onto the famed Paramount Studios lot Wednesday, the Oregon quarterback is getting quite comfortable in his starring role.

"I've had to get used to it and come out of my shell a little bit, but I'm trying to enjoy it," Mariota said at the Pac-12's media day. "I take it as an honor and a privilege, and hopefully an opportunity to provide a good influence."

Coach Mark Helfrich and Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott both used the league's first session of its two-day Hollywood kickoff event to praise Mariota for staying in school. The rest of the Pac-12 isn't quite as excited about the Heisman Trophy candidate's return after two dynamite seasons for the Ducks, but he's just one reason why they're favored to win their highly competitive league again.

Mariota and Oregon were picked to claim the Pac-12 title in the preseason media poll, topping that chart for the fourth time in five years. The verdict was an unsurprising vote of confidence in the mobile passer and the perennially powerful Ducks, who highlight an impressive list of contenders in the West Coast's power conference.

Mariota is the biggest reason for excitement around the Ducks, and the quarterback is working to raise his leadership skills to the level of his play after turning down untold NFL millions for another shot at a national title.

"A lot of guys talk a good game, but everything that guy does is gospel," Helfrich said. "If I'm the backup guard and I see that guy forgo what he could have made — it's not some lip-service dream, this is a reality of a ton of money. Like, 'That guy turned down how much? OK, I'll watch him.' That's huge. I think it speaks to the type of guy he is, and hopefully to the type of program that we have."

Mariota said he returned to enjoy university life in Eugene. Since he's only taking golf and yoga this fall to finish up his degree, he'll have plenty of time.

"First and foremost, I wanted to get my degree," Mariota said. "My family has always valued education, and that was basically the major factor that brought me back. Secondly, it was to come back and enjoy college. You experience so many new things, and I wasn't ready to leave all that just yet."

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