If the college football season ended today, there is no doubt that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota would win the Heisman Trophy. Not only is Mariota tearing apart the Pac-12 with his arm and legs, but he’s carrying the Ducks toward a sport in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
The question right now isn’t whether Marcus Mariota is the Heisman Trophy front-runner at this point of the season, but rather can anybody catch him?
According to Bovada (via Odds Shark), Mariota is currently a 1-5 favorite to win the Heisman. To put that into context, the odds of the second player on the list, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, are 13-2. In short, the bookmakers believe that Mariota is far and away the best player in the country and will win the award.
Can Mariota finish the job and lead his second-ranked Ducks to a Pac-12 title and a spot in the CFP? Let’s take a look at his season so far and analyze what he needs to do from here on out to win the award.
After Mariota and the Ducks took down Michigan State 46-27 in the season's second week, it was clear that the Oregon quarterback was a lock to get an invite to New York, at the very least, as long as he stayed healthy. Regardless, there were a couple things that he needed to accomplish in order to secure an invite, as I chronicled back in September.
The first thing I thought Mariota needed to do to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy was to throw for 3,500 yards and score 35-plus touchdowns. Moreover, based on the averages of the past nine quarterbacks to win the award, Mariota needed to throw 35 touchdowns and run for at least 10 touchdowns. Not only is Mariota on pace to equal those numbers, but he's likely going to surpass them.
Here are Mariota's stats through 10 games this season:
Here’s a breakdown of the last nine Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks and how Marcus Mariota’s 2014 season would compare based on his projected stats through 13 games.
*Projected stats based on 13-game schedule
While everyone believed that Mariota was a top-flight college quarterback at the start of the season, there were questions about whether he could finally lead the Ducks to a Pac-12 title game. In order to win the Heisman Trophy, Mariota was going to have to be a better player and leader in order to win the most coveted award in college athletics. That meant he had to beat his Achilles’ heel: Stanford.
Mariota emphatically marked Stanford off his Heisman checklist with a resounding 45-16 victory. The redshirt junior quarterback was fantastic as he went 19-of-30 for 258 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another 85 yards and two more touchdowns.
Mariota took down Stanford, is on pace to match the statistics of past Heisman Trophy winners and has been the leader of a Ducks team that has already clinched the Pac-12 North.
So what else does Mariota need to show the Heisman voters? He needs to show them he can close the door in November and help the Ducks win their last three games of the season—including the Pac-12 championship.
But, for now, Mariota has a sizeable lead in the race. Want proof? We’ve got it.
Where Mariota Stands Now
While the bookmakers in Las Vegas are certainly confident that Mariota is going to win the Heisman Trophy, it’s important to look at writers from various sites in order to get a sense of what the Heisman voting community is thinking.
Taking a look at ESPN’s Heisman Watch, it’s clear that the 10-member panel has Marcus Mariota well-ahead of the pack. Mariota received eight of the 10 first-place votes as well as two second-place votes. Out of a possible 50 points, Mariota earned 48.
Coming in second is Dak Prescott who earned the other two first-place votes. He was followed by Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Graham Watson of Yahoo Sports has the same top-five candidates as ESPN and Sports Illustrated, but he has Mariota first followed by Gordon, Boykin, Prescott and Cooper in that order.
Needless to say, there’s a clear-cut top five, and Marcus Mariota sits atop almost everyone’s poll. However, is there a chance that Dak Prescott could jump Mariota if he plays an outstanding game against Alabama and leads his Bulldogs to victory? Chip Patterson of CBSSports.com wonders the same thing.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is pulling away in the Heisman Trophy race, if you judge such things by the updated information released by oddsmakers. Mariota's odds moved past even money already and have continued to improve as the Ducks defeated Stanford and Utah in back-to-back weeks. Now listed at 1/5, it seems Bovada agrees with CBSSports.com in Mariota's chances to win the award if Oregon makes the College Football Playoff.
But what about Dak Prescott? Mariota won't have the stage Mississippi State's star quarterback has in the final weeks of the regular season at Alabama and Ole Miss. The type of voters who demand "Heisman moments" will have a close eye on Prescott in each of these contests, hoping for a performance that will solidify their decision. Oregon does not have a game of that magnitude left until the Pac-12 title game but that could be a good thing. As we saw with Everett Golson and Nick Marshall this week, a quarterback's Heisman chances take a sizable hit with a loss of any kind.
As of right now, all six of CBSSports.com's Heisman pundits have Mariota leading their poll. It’s possible those rankings may change if Prescott has the game of his life against Alabama, especially when you consider how dominant the Crimson Tide have been at home this season.
Mariota likely won’t have the chance to make a huge splash on a national stage until the Pac-12 Championship Game. The best-case scenario for Mariota’s Heisman hopes would be for the Ducks to take on No. 6 Arizona State in a clash of one-loss teams.
If both Oregon and Arizona State have one loss coming into the title game, it will essentially act as a College Football Playoff quarterfinal with the winner grabbing a spot in the actual playoff on Jan. 1.
If Mariota is able to put on a show in a game of that magnitude, the trophy is his.
Mariota's Trophy to Lose
We’ve established that Marcus Mariota is the Heisman front-runner and that if he’s able to lead the Ducks to victory in their next three games the race will be officially over. But one thing that is often overlooked when considering the Heisman Trophy is the person and not just the player.
The Heisman Trophy “recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work,” according to the Heisman Trust mission statement.
No one has been more superb on the football field this season, but perhaps more importantly, Mariota by all accounts is a sportsman, a good person and a man with integrity.
For a moment this season, the Heisman Trust “erroneously omitted” the words “with integrity” from its mission statement during a redesign of its website, according to Sports Illustrated.
While the words may have been omitted (they’ve since been re-added), there may be no more important words in the Heisman Trust’s mission statement. Moreover, there may not be a player in the country who exemplifies integrity better than Marcus Mariota.
I don’t know if Marcus Mariota is going to save the Heisman, but if he does win the award as anticipated, he will have certainly earned the award based on his performance on and off the field.
At this point in the season, Mariota is playing the role of Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie Catch Me if You Can. The only difference is there’s no Tom Hanks in this version of the movie to run Mariota down.
Sure, the Ducks could lose, and the dream could go up in smoke. But that’s on the Ducks. No one is going to chase Mariota down for the Heisman Trophy. It’s his to take and his alone.
Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.
Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.
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