BERKELEY -- The two Pac-12 quarterbacks from the Oregon schools have a combined 42 touchdown passes and only three interceptions at the midway point of the season. But it's the Ducks' Marcus Mariota who gets most of the national attention.
Cal quarterback Jared Goff says Oregon State's Sean Mannion deserves to share the spotlight.
"He's putting together almost a Heisman year," the Cal freshman said.
While Mariota has helped keep No. 2 Oregon unbeaten, Mannion is the nation's leader with 2,511 passing yards and 25 touchdown passes. Projected over the entire season, that's more than 5,000 yards and 50 TDs.
But OSU coach Mike Riley's favorite number? Mannion's three interceptions in 289 pass attempts.
"That is huge for us," said Riley, whose Beavers (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) visit Cal (1-5, 0-3) on Saturday night. "He is making good decisions, being accurate and careful with the football, but still throwing the ball down the field. He's got real good confidence going right now."
Mannion, a junior from Pleasanton, has passed for at least 350 yards in a school-record five consecutive games. He had 493 last week at Washington State and threw six touchdown passes against Colorado.
But the absence of interceptions has been a key to the Beavers' five-game win streak after a season-opening 49-46 upset loss to Eastern Washington. In his first two seasons, Mannion was intercepted 31 times.
"It's just an extra year of experience. I'm getting older and wiser, learning from a lot of the mistakes," Mannion said this week. "We're emphasizing how important checkdowns are, throwaways and accuracy."
Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre was impressed by Mannion's willingness and ability to make any throw.
"He's kind of a daredevil when he throws it," MacIntyre said. "He threw into double-coverage three times against us and three times (receiver Brandin) Cooks came up with it. "We should have had three picks, but Sean Mannion can throw the football."
Riley said Mannion's success is as much the result of film study and summer throwing sessions with his receivers as arm strength.
"He loves football, spends a lot of time with it," Riley said. "He's a coach's kid, a grounded guy who doesn't lose sight of why this is happening. It's not an accident."
What Mannion has achieved is all the more impressive because the Beavers field one of the nation's least-effective running attacks, producing less than 74 yards per game on 2.6 yards per try.
Given that shortcoming, Pac-12 Networks analyst and former coach Rick Neuheisel calls Mannion's performance "heroic."
None of the success Mannion is having this year was a given when he was battling senior Cody Vaz in fall camp. Despite having passed for 5,774 yards and 31 touchdowns his first two seasons, Mannion wasn't named the starter until Aug. 26.
John Mannion, who coached his son at Foothill High, said the competition tested Sean.
"It was difficult for him. But he handled it very well," said John Mannion, now the coach at Silverton (Ore.) High. "He knows you're only as good as what you do next."
Riley said the competition was "very real" and believes both quarterbacks benefited.
Certainly Sean Mannion did. His teammates elected him a captain for the second straight year and he's at the top of his game.
"Whether I knew it at the time or not, the competition made me a better player," Mannion said. "When I think about where I was the year before, I definitely feel like I've made a lot of improvements."
William Mancebo/Getty Images
Oregon State (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12)
at Cal (1-5, 0-3), 7:30 p.m. ESPN2