Sick of the Vikings? Click Over Tonight and Watch Marcus Mariota.

Oct 26, 2013; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) throws the ball against the UCLA Bruins at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Due to a bizarre and rather unfortunate scheduling quirk, the Vikings tonight will be featured in prime time for a whopping third time in just four weeks. Any chance that next year the NFL could implement flex scheduling earlier in the season? I’m sure TV executives would be in full favor of such a move, if it saved them having to feature a team as terrible as Minnesota three times in the space of a month.

I don’t know about other Viking fans but all this prime time exposure is making me feel a little sheepish. I have this urge to apologize to people for the ineptitude they’ve been forced to witness, as though I were somehow personally responsible.

But hey, at least tonight all us fans have an interesting alternative to the hideous Vikings, without having to resort to reality TV or whatever garbage sitcoms are currently populating the network schedule. While the Purple are toiling away on NFL Network, trying probably in vain to avoid their fifth straight loss, ESPN will be showcasing a player who has become highly intriguing to fans not only of the Vikings but lots of stink-bomb teams around the NFL.

I’m speaking of course about Marcus Mariota, the dynamic starting quarterback for the Oregon Ducks. Thursday night Mariota and the high-octane Oregon offense will be pitted against the Stanford Cardinal in a clash of Pac 12 powers. Dang, I should write copy for ESPN promos.

Hype aside, this is a very interesting game for Mariota-watchers. The QB has racked up Heisman-worthy numbers so far this year and seems on track to be the #1 overall selection in next year’s draft, but there are still doubters out there who want to see Mariota compete against more good teams before they make up their stubborn, empirical-evidence-demanding minds.

Stanford would constitute a stiff challenge for Mariota and Oregon, possibly their stiffest of the season. Last year Stanford somewhat shockingly stuffed the explosive Oregon offense and went on to beat the Ducks 17-14 in overtime. Stanford’s defense is stout again this year, and there are some who expect tonight’s game will once again be a low-scoring slugfest despite Oregon’s usually defense-obliterating ground-and-air attack.

Mariota himself will be looking for a touch of redemption against Stanford. He was not entirely healthy for last year’s game, but this year he should be 100% physically. If he performs at a Heisman level against a team as good as Stanford, it will go a long way toward stifling his remaining critics.

In short, this is a huge game for Oregon and a huge game for Mariota. It’s a great test for the young QB and one that may end up figuring highly when NFL scouts break down his college career. The Vikings themselves I’m sure will be watching Mariota very closely. If you’re at the game and you spy someone who looks suspiciously like Rick Spielman? It’s Rick Spielman (or Guy Pearce; I sometimes get them confused).

Don’t worry, we won’t hold it against you if you decide to watch Oregon and Mariota instead of another Vikings crapfest. Even NFL Network executives would probably understand. I’m guessing next year the Vikings won’t be getting three prime time games. Unless they draft Marcus Mariota and shoot up the standings. Then maybe they’ll get flexed into some national games. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

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