Marcus Mariota: Heisman Prediction and Season Outlook for Oregon's Star QB
After churning out one of the best seasons you'll ever see from a first-year quarterback, Oregon's Marcus Mariota enters 2013 not as a little-known kid from Hawaii, but as a Heisman Trophy favorite and one of the biggest reasons the Ducks are once again expected to contend for a national title.
In case you've forgotten the numbers, Mariota threw for 32 touchdowns, rushed for five more, completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and led the Ducks to 12 wins, including a throttling of one-loss Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.
He moves around in the backfield like a savvy veteran, keeping his eyes downfield until the last possible second before galloping downfield like the wind, whipping past defenders.
His accuracy was on display from the moment the 2012 season started. He completed 18 of 22 passes against Arkansas State in the home opener.
This year, his receivers are back and his offensive line has more experience, talent and depth than ever before. So what will Oregon's star quarterback do for an encore?
Click ahead to find out everything you need to know about Marcus Mariota, including a special look at his odds of winning the Heisman Trophy.
Who He Is
Why He Can Win the Heisman
There are a hundred different reasons why Marcus Mariota can win the Heisman Trophy this season, but let's start with the fact that he stars for one of the best teams in the country.
The Ducks are going to have their highlights shown on every recap show Saturday night, so every great play made by Mariota will be seen by everyone around the country. People want to know how Oregon is doing each Saturday, and the storyline of whether Mark Helfrich can continue in Chip Kelly's footsteps is a juicy one.
Next, let's look at the Ducks offense, which routinely ranks among the best in the country.
Oregon scored under 40 points in just two games last season, with one of those games a 35-17 rout of Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Because Oregon scores lots of points, Marcus Mariota's statistics are going to look pretty good come December.
How about his accuracy? As a first-year starter, Mariota completed 68.5 percent of his throws. For the season, he had just six interceptions, though only one of those came in the entire second half of the season. Heisman Trophy candidates cannot make major mistakes, and Mariota has already proven that he can avoid them.
But you thought we'd forget about his dual-threat nature, didn't you? Oh no!
In addition to having a strong, accurate arm, Mariota is one of the fastest quarterbacks, too, as evidenced by his 86-yard sprint against Arizona State. What makes him so dangerous is that he isn't a threat to simply escape the pocket and pick up a first down, but if the defense is lazy in any way, Mariota will find a hole and outrun the secondary to the end zone.
Finally, how's a guy supposed to win the Heisman if he doesn't play in any big games? The Ducks don't have the most difficult schedule by any means, but games against Tennessee, Washington, UCLA and Oregon State are going to get plenty of viewers.
And of course, the showdown against Stanford takes place on a Thursday night in what I think will be the highest-rated weeknight game in television history.
Marcus Mariota is the definition of an all-around quarterback, and there isn't a positive trait you can think of that he doesn't have. This isn't a case of "If he can learn to do this, then he'll have a chance." He has all the tools necessary, and now it's a matter of improving those tools and showing up ready to play on the big stages.
There seem to be two major obstacles that stand in the way of Marcus Mariota bringing home the Ducks' first Heisman Trophy.
The first is the amount of playing time he's going to receive.
Now, for someone who hasn't seen a ton of Ducks games, questioning the amount of playing time the star quarterback is going to get might sound crazy. What I mean is that with the Ducks' ability to blow the doors off opponents before halftime, Mariota is going to have fewer quarters to put up big numbers than many other candidates.
The ultimate goal is to win the national championship, and keeping Mariota in the game in pursuit of an individual award doesn't fall in line with that goal. Consider that last season, Mariota played all four quarters just twice out of the team's 12 regular-season games.
In some of those contests, he was pulled before halftime.
Regardless of how good Mariota is, there's only so much you can do in two or three quarters of football. When you compare that with other candidates who typically play all four quarters of their team's games, you can see where Mariota is at a disadvantage.
The second major reason is the number of other playmakers on Oregon's offense, specifically in the run game. De'Anthony Thomas is going to get a bunch of different looks, and when he piles up yards on the ground, it takes away from what Mariota could be doing through the air. The same can be said for when Colt Lyerla gets a few carries or Josh Huff takes a pitch on an option play.
The Ducks are going to score however they can, and if the running game is chunking out five or more yards per play, why stray from it? Again, the point is to score however you can, and with all the playmakers surrounding Mariota, points aren't always going to come from the sophomore quarterback.
I briefly considered adding the Stanford game to this list, but these are obstacles that put Mariota behind the eight ball right away. The Stanford game is an obstacle for the Ducks, but Mariota will be given every chance to redeem himself after last year's performance, and it could ultimately be the reason why he wins the award.
But having him distribute the ball or pulling him out of a game before the fourth quarter are obstacles that Mariota will simply have to live with. He'll still have a chance to put up wild numbers while he's in the game, but not being on the field is a pretty big obstacle in the way of the Heisman Trophy.
Saturday, September 14: Tennessee
The game against Tennessee will be Mariota's first chance to put a real mark on the 2013 season. Although Tennessee has struggled in recent years and expects to have more growing pains this season, the Volunteers are still an SEC team with talent on both sides of the ball.
The Ducks will be big favorites, but because it's a Pac-12-SEC matchup, people will tune in anyway and if Mariota delivers with a big performance, it will stick out in voters' minds.
Saturday, October 12: at Washington
The brand new stadium, the rivalry and the first true road test will all be storylines heading into this one, thus giving Mariota another chance to impress Heisman voters. The environment will be raucous and the Huskies have a chance to field a solid team this year.
But if Mariota can show the poise of a veteran and make big plays up in Seattle, it will prove that he can bring his A-game on the road against good opponents.
Saturday, October 26: UCLA
This game will contain plenty of buzz because it pits together Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley, another outstanding young quarterback. The intensity will be heightened if Hundley comes in on a hot streak and the game becomes a true duel between two of the game's best. If Mariota puts up big numbers against an athletic defense and the Ducks prove to be a superior team, it will be another notch in the Heisman belt.
Thursday, November 7: at Stanford
This is without a doubt the biggest game for Marcus Mariota and his chances of winning a Heisman.
Simply put, a big game here can put him in prime position to bring home the hardware, and a poor effort will all but take him out of the race. That may not seem fair, but with the Cardinal handing the Ducks their only loss last season, Mariota and Co. must prove they can get revenge against a defense that held them to just 14 points.
Heisman trophy winners have great games on big stages, and there will be no bigger stage than this one. And with much of the country realizing that Stanford does indeed boast one of the best defenses in the land, what better way for Mariota to prove himself than to have a monster game against the best of the best?
Friday, November 19: Oregon State
A lot could be riding on the Ducks' final game of the season. The Beavers will come to Autzen with hopes of destroying whatever the Ducks are still playing for, and it could be Mariota's last real chance to impress Heisman voters, excluding a potential appearance in the conference championship game.
If he can leave one final mark on the season that showcases his all-around ability, it may push his Heisman chances over the top.
What I Love About Him
What's there not to love about Marcus Mariota?
From the moment he stepped on the Autzen Stadium turf against Arkansas State, Mariota showed the maturity and poise of a seasoned quarterback. You have to love a guy who forgets about the previous play and puts all his physical and mental energy toward making the next one great.
He's smart, and he's shown the ability to get better. He threw just one interception in the entire second half of the season, and it came in the first half against Stanford without much consequence.
Mariota simply doesn't make plays that will hurt his team.
I also love his attitude on and off the field. We see his calm demeanor in games, and it all makes sense when you watch his interviews. He has a quiet aura about him, but also a clear hunger to improve in all aspects of the game. This was evident in a Register-Guard post-practice report last spring that talked about Mariota being hoarse from urging his offense to speed up. You never would've seen that from him last fall.
Finally, I love that he's just a redshirt sophomore, which means he has many years ahead of him to hone and perfect his craft. Regardless of how long he decides to stay at Oregon, Mariota has an extremely bright future ahead of him, and it's going to be a real treat watching the 2013 season play out with him at the helm.
What Others Are Saying
You've made it through six slides of me gushing over Marcus Mariota. But hey, I'm not the only one who sees great things out of the Ducks' star quarterback. Here are several others who recognize his greatness and potential to be the game's very best.
Mark Helfrich had this to say about Mariota (from B/R writer Adam Kramer):
His physical attributes are special. He has a great release, plenty of arm strength, he's deceptively fast and our guys to love to play for him. Marcus is special because he has tremendous ability, but he also has a greater desire to be special.
From Heisman Pundit:
He’s got early-season games against Virginia and Tennessee to give him some momentum (and some exposure on the East Coast) and late-season showdowns against Stanford and, potentially, in the Pac-12 title game, to help him seal the deal. Mariota should emerge as the Pac-12′s leading Heisman candidate.
Wide receiver Keanon Lowe, on Mariota's leadership via Oregon Live: "He's not the most vocal guy but when he talks we listen. He realizes that so he'll say something and get on guys."
Stats Predictions for This Season
When it comes to making a prediction about Marcus Mariota's stats in 2013, the possibilities are endless.
I don't think he'll do worse than last season (and I believe I'm not alone in that regard), so that means the very minimum numbers I could come up with would be 32 passing touchdowns, five rushing touchdowns, 2,677 yards passing and 752 yards rushing, or in other words, what he did last season.
But does anybody seriously think, after a full year as the starting quarterback, with numerous weapons in the backfield and at receiver, with an NFL-ready tight end plus capable backups and with an offensive line led by a trio of potential all-conference players, that Mariota will simply match his numbers from last season?
That seems, ahem, unlikely.
Even though I expect Mariota won't be playing the the entire game very often, I do think his statistics will improve. But where he could really stake his claim for the Heisman Trophy is his completion percentage. He won't be in the game long enough to put up Johnny Manziel numbers or Cam Newton numbers, but if he completed 75 percent of his throws, that would be remarkable.
So here's my stab at what Marcus Mariota's stats could look like at the end of the season: 3,300 yards passing, 36 touchdowns, four interceptions, 844 yards on the ground, eight touchdowns and a completion percentage of 74 percent.
Sound crazy? Guess we'll find out.
Predicted Heisman Finish
There are so many factors that go into who wins the Heisman Trophy, and it's impossible to break them all down in a single slide.
I expect Marcus Mariota will make it to New York for the ceremony, but I don't see him as the winner.
Well, I think coming out of games is going to hurt him, and I think many other top candidates will have a chance to put up better numbers because of this.
For example, Texas A&M beat Louisiana Tech 59-57 last season in a game where Johnny Manziel threw for almost 400 yards and rushed for over 180. Those numbers are insane, but they wouldn't be so crazy if the Aggies had simply jumped out to a big lead, because Manziel probably wouldn't have stayed in the entire game.
Where Mariota could sneak up and snag the trophy is in the completion percentage category, but even then it may not be enough. A monster game against Stanford may be his best shot.
I think somebody else, whether it's Manziel, Braxton Miller or Teddy Bridgewater, will put up better numbers and lead their team to an undefeated or one-loss season, giving him the edge in the Heisman Trophy voting.
From where we stand today, I think Marcus Mariota will finish in second or third place.