Last updated: February 16. 2013 7:25PM - 57 Views

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EUGENE, Ore. — Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota has won the job as starting quarterback for No. 5 Oregon.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly announced Friday that Mariota earned the position over sophomore Bryan Bennett, who was Darron Thomas' backup last season. Thomas left school early to declare his eligibility for the NFL draft.

Oregon went 12-2 last season and defeated Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks open this season at home against Arkansas State on Sept. 1.

Mariota is the first freshman to start in an opener for Oregon since Danny O'Neil in 1991.

Kelly, Mariota and Bennett were not available for comment until workouts on Saturday, the school said.

Bennett was the more experienced of the two, having completed 25 of 46 passes for 369 yards and six touchdowns last season as Thomas' backup. Bennett started in a victory over Colorado when Thomas was out with a sprained knee.

Mariota, a 6-foot-4 native of Hawaii, emerged as competition for Bennett during the annual spring game, when he completed 18 of 26 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 99 yards and two scores — including an 82-yard scoring run — to lead his team to a 41-14 victory.

The status of the competition in fall camp was difficult to decipher because Oregon closes practices. Kelly often said that last season had no bearing on the current competition.

Part of what made Mariota's emergence so intriguing was that the spring game was the first time that most fans got a close look at him. Last season he was part of the practice squad.

Bennett completed 19 of 32 passes for 209 yards and a TD in the spring game. ,

Oregon's decision Friday was met with enthusiasm by former Ducks running back LaMichael James, who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers.

"He will possibly be the best qb to ever play at Oregon!," James posted to Twitter. "He's the real deal."

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