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Marcus Mariota clears his highest Heisman hurdle left

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Marcus Mariota is way out in front of the Heisman horse race.

The front-runner

QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon Ducks

Current Odds: 1/2

A month ago, I wrote that the "status quo of this Heisman race will be 'Mariota leads by significant margin' until or unless he does something to slip from the front."

In the interim, Mariota committed the game-sealing mistake in a loss that moved his Ducks out of a top four spot in the College Football Playoff race ... and he's still the runaway favorite for the Heisman, with odds just as short as he had back then.

Maybe most importantly, Mariota also cleared the high bar of Stanford's defense last weekend, which tripped him up in his last two meetings with the Cardinal. He has now completed 60 percent of his passes in at least one game against every Pac-12 team. He's also thrown for at least 200 yards against every team other than Arizona State, which he put up a paltry 46 yards against in 2012 (while also rushing for 135 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries), so there's your storyline for what looks like the potential Pac-12 Championship Game.

At this point, it sure looks like Mariota's going to win this thing. His competition is falling off, he keeps clicking off brilliant performances, Oregon keeps getting better, and it just doesn't seem likely that any of that will change.

Fading down the stretch

QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State Bulldogs

Current Odds: 4/1

I watched zero minutes and zero seconds of Mississippi State's grinding win over Arkansas, but I've seen mention that Prescott, who limped and plodded through the Bulldogs' win over Kentucky two weeks ago, is hurt. But aside from some interceptions and a lower rushing total, his last two box scores wouldn't really suggest something's amiss:

Prescott, 2014 season: 253.1 passing YPG, 61.1% completions, 90.6 rushing YPG, 26 total TDs, seven INTs
Prescott, last two games: 278.5 passing YPG, 60.0% completions, 74.5 rushing YPG, four total TDs, three INTs

Dak's bigger problem is that he's just not Marcus Mariota. He might stay on his own statistical pace, but there are good statistical paces, and then there's Mariota's. And Prescott can't beat Mariota without the trump card of an undefeated record, surely — so he's going to have to help his Bulldogs beat Alabama and Mississippi on the road, then win the SEC title one week after a grinding rivalry game against a team with an exceedingly physical defense, while also hoping Mariota slips again.

All of that happening seems unlikely.


Dak Prescott, Photo credit: Photo credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The dark horse

QB Jameis WinstonFlorida State Seminoles

Current Odds: 33/1

The presence of two statistically dominant quarterbacks on undefeated teams is diluting the value of that status.

Winston's now throwing interceptions in bunches (three multi-pick games this year, and just two games without one) and needing more and more help from Florida State's ridiculously talented roster to win close games.

On the other hand, Winston is pretty clearly the best passer in college football, one of the better ones ever at this level, and just torched a very good Louisville defense for 401 yards and three touchdowns.

As always, Winston's off-the-field everything makes a lot of what he's done on the field immaterial. Winston's chances of repeating this year hinged on giving Heisman voters no choice but to vote for him again, and that's simply not happening. With similar stats, would a Heisman voter rather vote for Prescott or Winston? Prescott, right? But that it's even a choice means that there are multiple apples to compare.

So, yes, I really do think we could see a quarterback who has never lost a college game in two seasons of starting get passed up for the Heisman Trophy. I think we could see the quarterback of an undefeated SEC team getting passed up, too. Mariota's a rare bird, and, almost as importantly, an orange in a field of apples.

The workhorse

RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin Badgers

Current Odds: 10/1

Gordon's not slowing down, not by any realistic standard of collegiate running backs. But he is by his own high standards. Gordon has gone three games without averaging more than seven yards per carry, the longest stretch of his career since he started getting carries as a backup in 2012, and he's gone two games without topping 140 yards on the ground for the first time this season.

In those games, he still rushed for a combined 250 yards and five touchdowns, and Wisconsin won by a combined score of 89-7. Because he's Melvin Gordon.

But, well, the Maryland and Rutgers teams that took those losses are now 98th and 99th in rush defense. Purdue, this week's opponent for the Badgers, is 86th, and has given up more than 750 rushing yards over its last three contests. Gordon's doing plenty, but if his program wants him in New York, it should consider feeding him and allowing him to do more.


Melvin Gordon, Photo credit: Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Losing tickets

QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Current Odds: 10/1

"I totally believe the QB who has to keep throwing and running to keep Notre Dame on the fringe of the Playoff conversation after the Irish lost their only game to date against a top-50 F/+ team will eventually win the Heisman. Yeah, sure." The person who said this to you is a liar or a crazy person.

And Vegas will take those 10/1 bets all day. And probably at night!

QB Nick Marshall, Auburn Tigers

Current Odds: 14/1

Assuming health for everyone, for Marshall to win the Heisman, I think every player in front of him in this column needs to have their teams lose at least once while Auburn wins out. Mariota might need to lose and look like he's forgotten what football is; Prescott might need to lose twice just to hand Auburn its spot in the SEC title game. Marshall has the fifth-best odds at Bovada at the moment, somehow, but the Heisman just isn't going to happen for him without a whole lot of luck.

But, y'know, he does play for Auburn.

The FBS Steed of the Week

WR/PR Nelson Agholor, USC

The Line: Eight catches, 220 yards, TD; two punt returns, 71 yards, TD

291 yards on 10 touches is okay, I guess. Agholor's shortest touches (a catch, and the punt return that wasn't his 65-yarder) covered six yards each, so it was really more like eight touches for 279 yards and then two things any human could've probably done.

Oh, and if you're not kicking to Agholor on kick returns for USC, it's because you're kicking to Adoree' Jackson, who runs about a 10.7 in the 100 meters. (And both Agholor and Jackson picked USC over Florida on National Signing Day. I'm not bitter! I swear!)

The FCS Steed(s) of the Week

QB Caleb Berry, Lamar

The Line: 15-for-22, 391 passing yards, seven TDs, one INT

Lamar beat Houston Baptist 72-14 on Saturday, so that stat line isn't that crazy.

Until you learn that Berry did all of that before halftime, and didn't play after it.

The whole dang Jacksonville State running game

The Line: 60 carries, 416 yards, seven TDs

Florida ran the ball 60 times for 418 yards against Georgia in their Jacksonville, and Jax State rushed for two fewer yards and two more touchdowns in their Jacksonville ... and the games happened at the same damn time. Symmetry!