Could Oregon's Dominance Hurt Marcus Mariota's Heisman Chances?
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota perfectly fits the recent Heisman Trophy mold.
An impossibly athletic quarterback who can kill a defense with his arm or legs, Mariota is cut from the same cloth as recent winners Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel.
However, all three recent winners had something else in common—they all had a Heisman Moment—one spectacular play in a close game against a formidable opponent.
But with Oregon tossing its opposition into the wood chipper and churning out seven-touchdown victories on a weekly basis, will Mariota even have a chance at making a game-changing play when everyone is watching?
Right now, Mariota holds a slight edge in Las Vegas. After Week 3, Bovada listed the Oregon signal-caller as the 9/2 favorite, just ahead of Manziel at 5/1, as reported by Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com
Even despite being the perceived favorite, Mariota still has a long way to go.
Looking through his remaining schedule, the Oregon quarterback may have just one opportunity this season to earn his Heisman with a season-defining moment: when the Ducks take on their only Top 5 opponent in Stanford on Nov. 7.
Newton had numerous moments while traversing a tough Southeastern Conference schedule, including a miraculous comeback in a rivalry win over Alabama. But of all his moments, none was greater than his run against No. 6 LSU.
The next season was all about Griffin, who had his moment on a thrilling play to beat No. 5 Oklahoma.
Mariota has the skill to make a play like Newton or Griffin, but his timing will have to be perfect, much like Manziel's was last year.
The A&M quarterback all but sewed up the Heisman with his near-fumble turned touchdown on third-and-goal against eventual national champion Alabama.
He may have had another moment already this year against the same Crimson Tide team, somehow avoiding a 20-yard sack before completing a pass through traffic downfield.
Thanks to Manziel's heroics, A&M was the only team to beat the Tide in 2012. And although he couldn't muster enough to beat them the second time around, his 400-plus passing yards and five-touchdown performance won't be forgotten, especially considering that the game pulled the highest TV ratings of any regular-season college football game since Miami-Notre Dame in 1990, which was before Manziel or Mariota were even born.
At the exact time Manziel was making his incredible plays before the eyes of millions, Mariota was having a great day of his own, leading the Ducks to a 59-14 decimation of Tennessee.
The UO quarterback threw for a career-high 456 yards and four scores, while running for a modest 27 yards and one touchdown, before being relieved in the third quarter.
But was anyone even watching?
Who will win the Hiesman?
Mariota and Manziel are neck-and-neck in total yardage, and despite Manziel playing 19 more plays, Mariota has a slight edge. Both redshirt sophomores, Mariota has 1,151 total yards, while Manziel has 1,137, slotting them at No. 4 and No. 5 respectively in the nation in total offense per game.
Even if Mariota keeps his statistical advantage over Manziel and the rest of their competition for the Heisman, that might not be enough.
Oregon's schedule gives its quarterback a limited number of opportunities to have a signature performance at a crucial time. UO has three ranked opponents left on its schedule: No. 17 Washington, No. 13 UCLA and No. 5 Stanford, with the potential for another in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
However, Mariota's chances to really impress are limited to that key Nov. 7 date with Stanford.
The Ducks and the Cardinal are scheduled for a massive rematch in Stanford on that Thursday night, slated for a 9 p.m. ET kickoff on ESPN.
With the stage set perfectly, Oregon and Mariota will have their moment together. The Ducks will be looking to take a step toward a BCS championship berth by taking down the one team that kept them out of the title game last year. Mariota will have his opportunity to validate his Heisman bid in the biggest game of his team's season.
It will truly be a make-or-break moment for both. If Oregon falters against Stanford again, the crystal football won't be going to Eugene anytime soon—and neither will the bronze stiff arm.
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