Throughout the Oregon Ducks 30-7 trouncing of the Texas Longhorns in the Valero Alamo Bowl, there was seemingly nothing that could stop Marcus Mariota. The Ducks quarterback suffered from an apparent left leg injury, had to deal with a Texas side motivated by Mack Brown‘s impending departure and saw his running backs repeatedly get stifled, but still pranced around the field and made throw after throw on target.
For the entirety of the bowl game, Mariota completed 18 of 26 passes for 253 yards and one touchdown, in addition to rushing the ball 13 times for 134 yards. Even as he hobbled around the field, there seemed to be a ray of hope every time the quarterback touched the ball, an innate belief from the Ducks that he would make something amazing happen.
From looking at how Mariota was willing to play through pain and make the key plays that were necessary to win the game, one would have thought it was the last game of his college football career. But that was not the case, as recently it was announced he would return for a redshirt junior season, and with an effective performance against Texas took the top spot in the race for the 2014 Heisman Trophy heading into the 2014 college football season.
There is no doubting that this label is influenced by the beat down on Texas, but there are certainly other factors behind it.
Chief amongst these is the statistical output of Mariota over the last two years, as he combined to throw for 6089 yards, 62 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, in addition to running for 1334 yards and 14 more touchdowns. These numbers helped guide the quarterback to the Pac 12 All-Conference First Team in 2012 and 2013, and left him as a contender for the Heisman Trophy Award in both seasons.
In addition to just putting up great numbers and gaining conference awards, Mariota also has attractive playing style necessary to win the Heisman. With the ball in his hand, he is silky smooth, evading defenders with ease and proving to be a menace to track down in the open field. Additionally, when he wants to throw the ball the quarterback has an absolute cannon, making him a dual threat in the mold of a Johnny Manziel type, and he is not afraid to let opposing defenses know of his talents.
There are sure to be some out there who look at all that Mariota has to offer and simply shrug their shoulders, content to anoint Jameis Winston as the 2014 Heisman Trophy front-runner. As the reigning winner conventional wisdom would say, Winston would make sense, but this is simply not true. In recent seasons being the reigning winner of college football’s biggest award has proven more of a burden than an asset, as Tim Tebow, Mark Ingram and Manziel have all found it impossible to repeat. They are not alone though, as the only person to be a repeat winner of the Heisman Trophy was Archie Griffin, who did so all the way back in 1974 and 1975. Suffice to say, times have changed.
With the candidacy of Winston largely torn apart, there is truly no early pick for the 2014 Heisman Trophy Award that can matchup with Mariota’s resume. That leaves him alone as the leading candidate for the award heading into next season, with the opportunity to prove he is deserving of the hype starting August 30th against South Dakota.