Anyone associated with Oregon knows what Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton can do. After all, Newton capped his remarkable single-season career at Auburn by leading the Tigers to a 22-19 win over Chip Kelly's Ducks to win the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.
Now, Newton has erupted over the last three weeks, re-establishing himself as one of the most talented young signal-callers in the NFL. But former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti, now an analyst for ESPN, says he thinks current Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota will be better than Newton at the next level.
"I think he'll be a fine quarterback at the (NFL) level, much like a (Colin) Kaepernick-type guy ... better than Carolina's quarterback right now," Belotti told WFNZ-FM's "The Drive" on Tuesday.
Bellotti said Mariota is a "better student of the game" than Newton, and that Newton -- a 6-foot-5 and 245-pound physical marvel who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds at the combine -- has been able to rely on his natural gifts to get by.
"Cam has never had to work as hard, and I think he is finally now starting to get it and spend time in the classroom with the coaches," Bellotti said. "A lot of things come really easy to Cam. I think he still thinks he can just go out there and do it. I think Marcus is a combination of the athlete and the student."
"I don't know if he is quite as good a pure passer (as Griffin), but he is a better combination because RGIII is more of a sprinter as opposed to a football runner, and so he puts himself in situations where he can't protect himself," Bellotti said.
Mariota, a redshirt sophomore, has emerged as one of the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy this season, passing for 2,281 yards with 20 touchdowns and no interceptions and rushing for 511 yards and nine touchdowns. With Mariota under center, the Ducks are No. 2 in the BCS standings with an 8-0 record.
Newton, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011, was the NFL's offensive rookie of the year after setting the single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. Knowing what he and Griffin, the 2012 offensive rookie of the year, have already accomplished in the NFL, Bellotti is setting the bar awfully high for Mariota.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.