Only 76 players in the history of college football have earned the designation of Heisman Trophy winners. First awarded in 1935, the Heisman Trophy is considered the sport’s pinnacle of individual achievement.
SaturdayBlitz.com is tracking the race to the 78th Heisman Trophy throughout the 2013 college football season via the Heisman Top 25. Every week throughout the season, we are tracking the progress of the contenders, both their on-field impact and media presence.
In virtually any other season, Marcus Mariota is the talk of college football: a freshman starting quarterback, registering eye-popping numbers while leading his top 10 ranked team to a double-digit-win campaign.
Alas, Mariota’s stellar debut season was overshadowed by the first Heisman Trophy-winning freshman, Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel. Were it not for Manziel’s season, perhaps Mariota could have become the first freshman recipient of college football’s most prized individual honor.
An argument can even be made that Mariota was every bit as deserving of an invitation to the Downtown Athletic Club as Manziel. Manziel rushed for many more yards and touchdowns, but Mariota had the same average per carry (7.1). Mariota also threw six more touchdowns, yet three fewer interceptions. UO also finished with a better record.
Such comparisons come naturally, because Mariota and Manziel will be forever linked. That former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly recruited Manziel is one of those factoids that lost its novelty a few hundred references ago, sort of like Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley are roommates. It’s so much woven into the fabric of the current college football landscape, it was a likely factor in Oregon vs. Texas A&M appearing in the NCAA Football 14 demo.
If a player must be compared to another, a Heisman winner isn’t bad company.
How Mariota Wins The Heisman
Oregon’s offense means big points and big numbers. But it’s also a group effort. The Ducks spread the workload in a manner that keeps opposing defenses off-balance, but limit the garishness of individual production. To wit, Mariota was one of college football’s best dual-threat quarterbacks in 2012 and Kenjon Barner was among the nation’s top rusher. Neither was a Heisman finalist.
Barner is gone, but exciting junior De’Anthony Thomas is already very much on the Heisman radar. There’s such a fine line Heisman contenders walk. Yes, team success is vital to winning the award. For as much credit as Manziel and Cam Newton received, and for as much of a percentage of their offenses they accounted for, both had talented supporting casts surrounding them.
In Eugene, opportunities for yards and touchdowns are shared more than at most other programs. A 30/20 touchdown season like Newton’s in 2010, or a 5100-yard campaign like Manziel’s just aren’t likely in the confines of Oregon’s system.
Should Mark Helfrich turn over a few more of the scoring opportunities to Mariota though, the ensuing boost would still be considerable. He already scored 37 total touchdowns last season, and that was with Barner reaching the end zone 21 times. A bump in output from Mariota doesn’t necessarily have to come at the expense of Thomas or the Ducks’ other running back, whether that is Byron Marshall or Thomas Tyner.
A backfield trio of Mariota, Thomas and Marshall/Tyner can function similarly to Auburn’s Newton/Onterio McCalebb/Michael Dyer triumvirate in 2010.
UO has found a winning formula, this season playing for its fifth consecutive BCS bowl. Mariota will have national attention as a result, but having the Ducks in the national championship race is essential to his campaign. Heisman winners can have losses on their ledger, but the short attention span of voters renders November losses more detrimental. The Ducks have lost in November each of the last two seasons, and candidates LaMichael James, Mariota and Barner were all left home on Heisman weekend.
Mariota must lead Oregon to a strong finish if he is to earn a trip to New York.
• 230-336 passing (68.5 percent complete); 2677 yards
• 32 passing touchdowns
• 752 yards/106 carries (7.1 ypc)
• 5 rushing touchdowns
Compared To Past Heisman Winners
- Johnny Manziel, 2012: As mentioned above, Mariota and Manziel are forever linked. The two are very different in several meaningful ways: Mariota is listed three inches taller, though is probably closer to 41/2 inches taller than Manziel. Mariota is also called upon to shoulder less of his team’s offensive responsibilities. His rushing abilities accentuate the Duck attack; Manziel’s define A&M’s.
Still, Manziel set the benchmark for Mariota’s candidacy. Twenty-four of Manziel’s 43 regular season touchdowns came via the pass; 19 were on the ground. Mariota is unlikely to touch the latter number, but he could certainly hit that same overall number.
- Charlie Ward, 1993: The Florida State legend and Hall of Fame inductee Ward was known for his ability to tuck the ball and break off huge gains. However, Ward was first and foremost an outstanding passer. His explosiveness on the ground complemented that element of his game. He threw 27 touchdowns with just four interceptions in his Heisman winning seasons, and tacked on another four rushing scores.
Mariota’s production is more like to mirror that of Ward than Manziel or Newton.