Marcus Mariota already leads the Heisman race. But against UCLA on Saturday afternoon, he has a chance to significantly widen the gap.
The sophomore quarterback out of Honolulu sports a "video game on easy mode" type of stat line through Oregon's first seven games: 62.4 percent completion rate, 2,051 passing yards, 493 rushing yards (on 10.1 yards per carry), 28 total touchdowns and zero (zero!) interceptions.
Moreover, he has led the Ducks to seven wins by an average of just over 40 points per contest and has them sitting at No. 2 (No. 3 in the BCS) in America.
ESPN Heisman Experts’ Poll: 1. Mariota 2. Winston 3. Manziel 4. Mannion 5. Petty 6. Gordon 7. McCarron 8. Boyd 9. Bridgewater 10. Seastrunk— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) October 22, 2013
But it never hurts to strengthen your case. For the notoriously stingy Heisman voters, Mariota would seriously benefit from some continued dominance against more top-tier opponents.
He turned in a near-perfect performance against then-No. 16 Washington in Seattle, and he tallied close to 500 total yards and five scores in a drubbing of SEC-school Tennessee. But other than that, Oregon's schedule so far has been a who's who of mediocrity.
That changes on Saturday.
According to TeamRankings.com, the No. 12 Bruins are 12th in America in points allowed per game, giving up a stingy 4.5 yards per play (also 12th) and 6.1 yards per pass (14th).
Anthony Barr, a potential top-10 pick next May, absolutely terrorizes quarterbacks as one of the most dangerous outside linebackers in America, while defensive end Keenan Graham has tallied 5.0 sacks on the season. The Bruins have the speed and pass-rushing ability to make life at least uncomfortable for Mariota and the Ducks' fast-paced offense.
Remember, in early September, UCLA sacked Taylor Martinez—a player who is similar to Mariota in his ability to make plays with his legs, albeit far less talented—several times and held him to negative rushing yards.
Can UCLA slow down Mariota and the Ducks?
At this point, Mariota just needs to avoid disaster. He is the front-runner, and the stiff-arming trophy is his to lose.
But Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston are rare talents capable of doing unbelievable things, and creating some separation wouldn't be a terrible idea for Mariota. Torching a talented UCLA defense—with a future first-round pick in his face all night—like he has everyone else this season would do just that.