Alabama's Amari Cooper has been targeted with 161 passes in 2014. That is a big number, but it's not unprecedented. Washington State's Vince Mayle was targeted 163 times (and in one fewer game) this year, Tulsa's Keevan Lucas was targeted 154 times, etc.
But of the 13 players targeted more than 130 times, only two (Cooper and ECU's Justin Hardy) had a catch rate higher than 71 percent, and only four (Cooper, FSU's Rashad Greene, Arizona State's Jaelen Strong, and UMass' Tajae Sharpe) averaged more than 14 yards per catch. Only one did both. And in the SEC, no less.
Only two true wide receivers have won the Heisman Trophy. Tim Brown raced past Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson and Holy Cross do-everything Gordie Lockbaum in 1987 to become Notre Dame's seventh Heisman winner, and in 1991 Desmond Howard became Michigan's second winner, destroying any and all comers; he swept all six regions of the voting and ended up with 2,077 points, 1,574 more than runner-up Casey Weldon.
(Fun fact: Casey Weldon was once the Heisman runner-up!)
In their respective Heisman campaigns, Howard and Brown combined to catch 111 passes. Cooper has 115 in 2014. Granted, the two didn't get to play a 13th game and combined to eclipse Cooper in receiving yardage (1,831 to 1,656), and, granted, they also combined to rush for 324 yards and score five return touchdowns. Cooper rushed five times for 23 yards and has not returned any kicks.
Still, Cooper has put together a resume that is comparable to the combined work of two Heisman-winning receivers. Not bad.
Last week, in previewing the SEC Championship, I called offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin's Alabama offense a bellcow offense. There's no need for equal ball distribution, even among a field full of blue-chippers; Kiffin identifies his best weapons and gives them the ball as much as they can stand. For Alabama in 2014, that has meant 208 intended touches (rushes and targets) for running back T.J. Yeldon and 165 for backup Derrick Henry. Yeldon is 6'2, 221, and Henry is 6'3, 241. Cooper is a receiver, albeit a big one (6'1, 210), and he has received 166 intended touches. He has been targeted with 40 percent of Alabama's passes and has more catches than Bama's No. 2 through 7 targets combined.
All of this on the No. 1 team in the country, no less.
Florida State quarterback and defending Heisman winner Jameis Winston threw 17 interceptions in 2014. Among FBS' 100 most prolific passers, only NMSU's Tyler Rogers (23), Idaho's Matt Linehan (18), and UNLV's Blake Decker (18) had more. While "character" issues (in quotes because that word means whatever we want it to mean at any given time, from deeply serious to incredibly trivial) probably doomed Winston's bid for a repeat right from the start, so did his play. He dealt with a nagging injury and an inexperienced receiving corps, and his per-quarter stats this season are actually pretty funny.
|Completion Rate||Touchdowns||Interceptions||Passer Rating|
Second-half Jameis might be the best player in the country. First-half Jameis isn't all-conference.
In the recruiting class of 2011, Rivals.com rated Marcus Mariota 12th overall among dual-threat quarterbacks. Now, this was a loaded list -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller was No. 1, UCLA's Brett Hundley No. 2, and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, typecast from the beginning, was No. 6. Solid players like NC State's Jacoby Brissett (No. 3), Oklahoma State's J.W. Walsh (No. 4), and UNC's Marquise Williams (No. 9) filled in the top 10. And hey, Johnny Manziel ranked No. 14, and TCU's Trevone Boykin was No. 24. (Wow, what a year for quarterbacks.)
Still, Mariota was a humble three-star recruit, not even ranked No. 1 in the state of Hawaii. (That honor went to defensive end and Colorado captain Juda Parker.)
Here's another number: 12. That's how many interceptions Mariota has thrown in three seasons and 1,094 passes, almost impossibly low. And four of those picks came in a two-game span late in 2013 when he was dealing with a knee injury. Take out last year's Arizona and Oregon State games, and his career TD-to-INT ratio is 96-to-8.
And he has rushed for 2,136 yards. He has completely redefined the perceived capabilities of a dual-threat quarterback.
Mariota's stats have been magnificent in 2014. He dealt with a banged-up, inexperienced line and captained an offense that currently ranks second in Off. F/+. He lost his No. 1 receiver in the spring and completed 68 percent of his passes with a good-for-a-video-game 38-to-2 TD-to-INT ratio. He rushed for 114 yards against Utah and threw for 367 against Oregon State. Against Stanford (remember when Oregon had a "Stanford problem"?), he threw for 258 and rushed for 85. He produced a passer rating of at least 150.0 in every game; only 17 FBS starters even averaged a 150.0 rating, and nobody came within 15 points of his 186.3 average.
Mariota has done everything a quarterback can do to guide his team through tough spots, and his Ducks are the No. 2 seed in the inaugural Playoff because of it.
In the last 20 years, six running backs have won the Heisman Trophy: Alabama's Mark Ingram, Wisconsin's Ron Dayne, Texas' Ricky Williams, Ohio State's Eddie George, Colorado's Rashaan Salaam, and USC's Reggie Bush.
In their respective Heisman seasons, these six backs produced this average stat line: 299.1 carries for 1,923 yards, 27.5 catches for 299.2 yards, and 22.5 touchdowns.
Melvin Gordon's stat line in 2014: 309 carries for 2,336 yards, 17 catches for 151 yards, and 29 touchdowns.
In his first three years in Madison, Gordon carried 288 times for 2,328 yards; that's a per-carry rate of 8.1 yards, which would be virtually impossible to replicate as a feature back getting over 300 carries. Technically, Gordon didn't replicate it -- he managed only 7.6 yards per carry. Of the 37 FBS players with at least 200 carries (of which only Boise State's Jay Ajayi had more carries than the junior from Kenosha), only one could even come close to Gordon's per-touch explosiveness: Indiana's Tevin Coleman.
Both Gordon and Coleman were the feature backs in predictable offenses, but while Coleman had to run behind Indiana's line instead of Wisconsin's (which perhaps should have made Coleman a Heisman finalist as well), Gordon still topped him.
In 13 games, Gordon rushed for fewer than 122 yards twice and averaged worse than 5.5 yards per carry three times. His last week has been rough (26 carries for 76 yards in the Big Ten title game, followed by an unexpected coaching departure four days later), but he has combined durability and explosiveness in a way that few backs have managed. He exploded onto the scene by rushing nine times for 216 yards in the 2012 Big Ten Championship, and almost to the number, he produced a Heisman-caliber stat line in his final season.
There will be only one winner. And it will be Mariota. All three finalists have more than looked the part, but when it comes to the Heisman, tie goes to the quarterback.