In a world where we largely recognize Marcus Mariota as a dual-threat quarterback, the Oregon signal-caller proved on Saturday just how good he can be when one of those threats are taken away.
He threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns, as the Ducks recovered from their loss to Stanford with a 44-21 beatdown of Utah. Though the Oregon offense at times scuffled—especially in the first half—Mariota was consistently solid despite playing at less than 100 percent.
With a knee injury essentially rendering him immobile, Mariota rushed four times for minus-18 yards. And by rushed, I mean he was sacked. The Utes, who lead the nation in sacks, took him down three times in the first half, as Oregon got off to only a 17-7 halftime lead.
Oregon's offense picked up in the second half, but Mariota ran the read-option in name only, resembling an early-season Robert Griffin III. As a result, the Oregon coaching staff understandably treated him with kid gloves. The sophomore quarterback rarely left the pocket and only attempted 26 passes before giving way to Jeff Lockie down the stretch.
If you're the narrative type, one could credit Mariota for his toughness while playing through the injury. But since Oregon's national title hopes are dead and buried, the intrigue for this team comes from its quarterback's chances at winning the Heisman.
"Toughness" isn't exactly high on the requirements list.
In terms of the Heisman race, this did just about nothing to alter Mariota's chances. He was very good as a passer and proved he could play well as a stationary quarterback, but Utah has just one Pac-12 victory.
Heismans aren't won against 4-6 teams; they're only lost. Mariota can probably hang his hat on impressing a few pro scouts with his evening, but that's about it.
The race is almost entirely out of his hands. Arizona's loss to Washington State on Saturday defanged the once formidable Wildcats, which means voters will put about as much stock into that game as they will Oregon's win over Nichols State in Week 1. Rivalry games always spark some interest, and Sean Mannion's presence will make the Ducks' contest against Oregon State draw more eyeballs than usual.
Realistically speaking, though, Mariota is dependent on his top two competitors screwing up. Otherwise, his invite amounts to little else than a chance to eat a world-class dinner, smile knowingly at the cameras and not say anything stupid when he sits down with Rece Davis.
For Jameis Winston to go down, the path is easy: Florida State has to lose.
He is the prohibitive favorite and looked stellar in the Seminoles' 59-3 win over Syracuse this week. He completed 19 of 21 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns, again watching much of the second half from the sidelines. Winston will almost certainly win the bronze statue if the Seminoles take down Idaho and Florida in the next two weeks and then defeat their ACC Coastal counterpart in the conference title game.
One loss, though, and Winston's chance at the Heisman would be nil. Fair or not, a majority of the narrative in Famous Jameis' push comes from the Seminoles' undefeated record—much the same way it did with Mariota. There will probably be enough ballots turned in to get him an invite to the ceremony, but Winston is a freshman whose stats are great but not otherworldly. In the world of famously crotchety Heisman voters, that loss would be a death knell.
And it'll open up the race for Johnny Manziel to swoop in and become the first back-to-back winner since Archie Griffin. Few around college football would argue that anyone has been more individually dominant than Manziel this season. Though his running statistics are markedly down from his freshman campaign, Johnny Football is dwarfing his passing numbers.
Through 10 games in 2012, Manziel had a respectable 2,780 passing yards and 18 touchdowns. Through 10 games in 2013, he's thrown for 3,313 yards and 31 scores. While there is no Alabama win on Manziel's resume, Texas A&M finishes the regular season with road games against LSU and Missouri. Win both of those, and Manziel has a damn good case.
Lose one? Have another three-interception game? Then we're looking at a possible come-from-behind story for Mariota.
Oh, I forgot Bryce Petty, the other statistically dominant quarterback leading an undefeated team? Yikes. Petty only has a chance if Baylor stays undefeated, which looks likely after last week's win over Oklahoma.
If that sounds like a lot of conjecture and ifs, you're starting to get a good idea of what it would take for Mariota to win the Heisman. Nonetheless, he has a chance—no matter how slim. He's still the best player on one of the nation's five or six best teams. He has not thrown an interception since Nov. 17, 2012.
That's got to count for something, right? Sure. I guess so. But Mariota's bid to become the first Heisman winner in Oregon history is on life support. Nothing that happened in Week 12 is going to change that.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: