Oregon Football: 5 Reasons Marcus Mariota Is the 2013 Heisman Trophy Favorite
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Despite having a number of outstanding players over the past 20 seasons, the Oregon football program has failed to produce a Heisman Trophy winner.
That streak will end next December when the award is given to quarterback Marcus Mariota.
If you cringe at such a statement being made 12 months in advance, you probably aren't alone. But part of the fun of college football is looking ahead and wondering what the next season has in store.
And if we're talking Heisman Trophy, I submit that it starts with Oregon's signal-caller, Marcus Mariota.
Here are five reasons why the sophomore is the leading candidate heading into the 2013 season.
1. Experience in the System
Mariota's eyes turned downfield, determining whether to keep the ball or hand it off.
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Having a year under his belt in Oregon's offense will help Marcus Mariota just as experience would help anybody.
But the Ducks are different, and Chip Kelly along with his coaching staff are known for developing quarterbacks.
Just look at the improvement Mariota showed from the first half of the season to the second, when the schedule became more difficult. Through six games, Mariota threw for 15 touchdowns and five picks. In the final six games, Mariota again threw for 15 touchdowns, but with just one interception. His yardage on the ground increased, as well.
Now Mariota has the benefit of an entire offseason knowing that he's the guy. Given his character, you can expect that he'll be the first one at workouts and the first guy looking for someone to practice routes with.
Chip Kelly turned Dennis Dixon, Jeremiah Masoli and Darron Thomas into dangerous weapons on offense. Now imagine what he'll do in year two with the most talented guy of the entire bunch.
2. The Main Focus on Offense
Oregon coach Chip Kelly
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With the departure of running back Kenjon Barner, the offense will officially hand the keys over to Marcus Mariota.
He was the one who made things happen last season, but his role should expand even further next year.
The Ducks don't return a proven running back, which should give Mariota more opportunities to shine. Don't be surprised to see him run the ball more often next season and build upon his nearly-record-setting freshman year in which he ran for almost 700 yards.
In 2012, you could count on Barner getting 20-25 carries each game. Though the Ducks have a silly amount of talent in the backfield, I'm not sure Kelly wants anyone taking on such a large responsibility next season.
Instead, that hole in the offense will be filled in by Mariota, who should put up even bigger numbers next season with a larger amount of the offensive load falling on his shoulders.
As we all know, stats win the Heisman, and Mariota will have eye-popping numbers in 2013.
3. Returning Receivers
Josh Huff will lead a talented WR group in 2013.
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Last season, Marcus Mariota threw for 2,500 yards to go along with 30 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
Next year, his top five receivers return to what should be the most dynamic version of the Oregon Ducks' offense to date.
Josh Huff will lead the group, as the talented junior came on strong during the latter parts of the season. De'Anthony Thomas had 41 catches, and tight end Colt Lyerla will make a name for himself as one of the top pass-catchers in the country, especially in yards after contact.
The wide receivers were supposed to be a weakness this season, and yet Mariota threw 30 touchdowns. For comparison, AJ McCarron set the single-season record at Alabama by throwing 26.
Now, Mariota will get a chance to improve upon those numbers with an experienced corps of wideouts.
4. Other Candidates' Flaws
Johnny Manziel will be the odds-on-favorite to win the Heisman again in 2013.
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No matter what kind of season Marcus Mariota has, he's probably going to need a little help in winning the Heisman Trophy. Let's take a look at the other major candidates.
It starts with Johnny Manziel, the first freshman ever to win the award who will obviously be returning next season. The problem with Manziel is that he surprised a lot of teams this past season. Nobody in the SEC will be surprised next year. And if you think Nick Saban, Les Miles and Will Muschamp won't have solid game plans to defend Manziel, you're crazy. Manziel will be great, but will it be enough?
Marqise Lee is probably the most explosive player in the game, but players on eight-win teams just don't win the award. I think USC will have a hard time reaching 10 wins, which means Lee would need to put up numbers nobody has ever seen before in order to win.
Braxton Miller is another major player in the Heisman race, but he'll need to improve his consistency in the passing game in order to be considered a serious candidate.
A host of other players will likely enter and exit the race next season, but the top contenders all have issues to deal with, which helps Mariota's chances.
5. Efficient and Mistake-Free
Mariota on the run
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Part of the consideration for the Heisman Trophy comes from analyzing a player's mistakes: how many he makes and when he makes them.
In this department, Marcus Mariota has no equal. He threw just one interception in the final six games, and that came at the end of the first half against Stanford, so it didn't hurt the team very much.
He began the year with some issues with holding on to the ball, but he cleaned those up down the stretch.
Even when he didn't play his best, Mariota didn't make many poor throws, a fact that cannot be overstated.
He finished sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, which is even more impressive when you realize he's only a freshman.
Mariota's ability to limit mistakes is a major reason why he'll be receiving the Heisman Trophy next December.