Tennessee vs. Oregon: Marcus Mariota Makes Strong Case for Heisman Front-Runner
Marcus Mariota is the best candidate for the Heisman trophy right now and would be the front-runner if the award was given out today. The Oregon quarterback delivered a statement performance against the Tennessee Volunteers that showcased his abilities.
His career high 456 passing yards combined with the five total touchdowns he scored vaulted him right to the front of the Heisman race. He's got 889 yards passing and 262 yards rushing this season already and is on pace for 3,556 yards passing, 1,048 yards rushing, 28 passing touchdowns and 16 rushing touchdowns.
In other words, he'd have stats comparable to Johnny Manziel's freshman Heisman campaign with a team that should be in the thick of the national title chase. The combination of a great team and Mariota being a great quarterback should put him right at the top.
And while yes, he is a great player surrounded by weapons, he makes them better. And while yes, he's a pass-first quarterback, he can gain a ton of yards on the ground and embarrass teams with his legs. And on top of all of that, he doesn't make a ton of mistakes.
Mariota is surrounded by weapons, but his talent makes them better
The best quarterbacks in college football always have good targets. Marcus Mariota is lucky because he has arguably the best group of players around him in college football. From his running backs to his receivers, he may have a Heisman competitor and potential winners of positional awards on his own team.
Who could give Mariota a run for the Heisman from his own team?
Sure, De'Anthony Thomas is a road runner as an offensive weapon both at receiver and out of the backfield.
Sure, Colt Lyerla and John Mundt are great receivers at tight end with great body control and hands.
Sure, Josh Huff, Bralon Addison and Daryle Hawkins can create plays out on the edge at receiver.
But without Mariota going out there and finding the wide-open man on almost every play, the offense doesn't work nearly as effectively. Without his throws finding spots where only his receivers can catch them, the Ducks aren't nearly as effective on offense. They don't score as much. And they sure as heck aren't a top-five team this year.
Mariota is the man who makes the offense work. He's the man who elevates the play of all of his receivers, and the man who makes it all work. And for that, he should the top Heisman contender.
Mariota also has wheels to rack up the rushing stats
The last immobile quarterback to win the Heisman trophy was Matt Leinart in 2004. So having some rushing ability will be helpful for the next quarterback who wants to win a Heisman. Marcus Mariota definitely has that rushing ability and is comparable to the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick in his playing style.
He's a pass-first quarterback who can run. He makes plays with his legs when his number is called, and his pace of over 1,000 rushing yards on the year is more than exceptional for any quarterback, let alone one who is also on pace for a 3,500-plus yard passing season.
He's just so fast, and with his vision, he causes headaches for defenses with the pass-run option plays that Oregon runs. Do you try to cover D'Anthony Thomas on his intermediate route or do you try to play the contain on Mariota when he can burn you either way?
It makes it tough to truly defend the quarterback. Mariota can bring the rushing yards that only enhance his passing abilities and stats. For this, as well, he deserves to be the top candidate for the Heisman.
And most importantly, Mariota doesn't make mistakes
Yes, Marcus Mariota is great at racking up stats. But a great unheralded strength is his ball security. In the first three games this season, he's yet to throw an interception and has just one fumble—that he recovered.
Nobody is perfect, but Mariota is very careful with how he carries the ball. He makes sure to tuck it in properly and never has those, "Why are you carrying it like a loaf of bread?!" moments that you see with other mobile quarterbacks.
Add that to his excellent ball placement on his throws, and Mariota possesses a unique blend of talents that most quarterbacks don't have in college. He has yet to see his first true test against a stout opposing defense, but with what he's done early, he's yet to make a stupid mistake against some bad ones.
So sure, Johnny Manziel may post great stats, and AJ McCarron could as well. But the Oregon Duck will make sure that he doesn't have any stupid mistakes that can lose a game. And for that, finally, he deserves to be the top Heisman candidate.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac and Rotoworld. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
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