Why Has Marcus Mariota Been Written Off by Everyone in the Race for the Heisman?

Brandon OliverContributor INovember 23, 2013

Even Stanford knows that they were facing a different Marcus Mariota when he nearly led the Ducks back from a 26-0 deficit.
Even Stanford knows that they were facing a different Marcus Mariota when he nearly led the Ducks back from a 26-0 deficit.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Heisman Trophy is the most renowned individual award in sports, but it's also the most media influenced and subjective award there is.

Oregon fans remember the 2007 season well. The Ducks were ranked No. 2 in the BCS when they traveled to Arizona. Oregon had kept Heisman front-runner Dennis Dixon's knee injury off the national radar, but it knew one wrong step by Dixon and its season would be all but over.

But when Dixon's knee gave out for good in Oregon's upset loss, forcing him to miss the final three games of the season, he still finished fifth in the Heisman voting.

So, with Marcus Mariota still playing and the Ducks likely headed to another BCS bowl, why is the prevailing thought that Mariota's Heisman hopes are in the rear-view mirror?

Statistics for Dennis Dixon (2007) and Marcus Mariota (2013) Through Nine Games
PlayerCompAttComp %YardsTDIntRushYardsAvgTDRecord
Dixon17225467.72,1362041055835.698-1
Mariota16425963.32,531220624957.9898-1
http://www.cfbstats.com/players

Over the course of a season, a number of Heisman favorites emerge, based on big wins, big losses, off-the-field issues and media coverage.  

Of late, the Heisman has become an award for quarterbacks on highly ranked teams. So, with Mariota yet to throw an interception this season, why is it that No. 5 Oregon's star quarterback has been completely written off by the majority of pundits? 

Sure, the loss to the Stanford Cardinal was a nationally televised, Thursday night game, which allowed more people than usual to watch the Ducks lose their only game of the season. But his numbers were solid against an elite defense and, as it turns out, the Ducks remain No. 5 in the BCS standings.

Mariota has all of the unwritten requirements to be the Heisman winner. If nothing else, he has all the necessary credentials to still be in the discussion for an invitation to New York for the Heisman ceremony. Should a six-point loss on the road to a highly ranked opponent eliminate him from the discussion?

The one thing he is missing is that one play, drive or game to give him the Heisman moment that guys like Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson and Eric Crouch all had to boost their campaigns. It was out of Mariota's control, but he almost had the opportunity in the biggest game of the year.

If the Ducks were able to get one more fortuitous bounce on an onside kick against Stanford, Oregon would have had all the momentum and the ball with two minutes to go. Had the Ducks gotten the ball back and marched down the field for a quick scoring drive to complete a 26-point comeback in the final minutes, Mariota would have cemented his place in history.

Mariota was playing on a sprained MCL, which was courageous in and of itself. One more big play by the special teams unit would have set the table for Mariota and the Ducks to complete a miracle comeback that would be remembered forever. It would have vaulted Mariota into legendary status and given him the Heisman moment that the voters seek.

But Oregon's defense couldn't stop Stanford all night, keeping Mariota and the offense on the sideline for long stretches of time. When they were on the field, Mariota's knee kept him from using his legs to keep the Cardinal defense on its heels.

Instead of the fairy-tale ending, the Ducks lost the game; and with it, they unfairly lost Mariota's Heisman hopes. If his worst game of the season consists of playing through a knee injury to go 20-of-34 for 250 yards and two touchdowns against one of the nation's top defenses, then he should be in the discussion until the very end.

Oregon played its worst game of the year on the biggest stage, but how is it any different from Texas A&M's loss to Alabama? Mariota contributed to the poor performance by struggling to hit open receivers and being unable to avoid pressure from the Cardinal defense, but he didn't make any unforgivable mistakes.

With a lucky bounce, Mariota could've had his Heisman moment.
With a lucky bounce, Mariota could've had his Heisman moment.Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Defending Heisman winner Johnny Manziel has seemingly overcome the negative attention stemming from his off-the-field activity. Even with the negative media rush over the summer and a defense that has been the cause of both of Texas A&M's losses, Manziel is right there near the top of the list.

With the defensive struggles in College Station, Manziel has needed to play complete games to try to lead his team back from a deficit on a number of occasions. He has had the ball in his hands with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, giving him the opportunity to create a Heisman moment.

Losses work against some players, but in Manziel's case, they haven't seemed to matter. His staggering numbers against Alabama were impressive, but his mistakes helped to create the deficit that made it possible to even have a shot at a near heroic comeback. Manziel threw two interceptions in the game, one of which was returned for a touchdown. 

The subjectivity of the award leads to wild momentum swings in the Heisman race. Too often, a change near the top of the list comes as a result of things that are beyond the control of the candidate.

When you look back at the list of recent winners, it is obvious that losing games isn't a nail in the coffin for a player's Heisman hopes. In the past six years, there have been two winners who have been on a team with at least three losses. Mariota's numbers compare very favorably to them and the rest of the recent quarterbacks to win the award.

Heisman Winning QB since 2000
PlayerReg. Season LossesCompAttComp %YardsTDINTRushYardsAvg.TD
Chris Weinke (2000)126643161.74,16733113097-3.21
Eric Crouch (2001)110518955.61,5107102031,1155.518
Carson Plamer (2002)230948963.23,942331050-122-2.44
Jason White (2003)125539065.43,20535923-56-2.40
Matt Leinart (2004)026943165.73,81533649-44-0.93
Troy Smith (2006)o20331163.52,542306722042.81
Tim Tebow (2007)423435066.93.2863262108954.323
Sam Bradford (2008)132948367.94,720508424711.15
Cam Newton (2010)018528066.12,8543072641,4725.5820
Robert Griffin III (2011)329140272.44,2933761796993.910
Johnny Manziel (2012)229543468.03,7062992011,4107.0121
http://www.sports-reference.com

A missed field goal that causes a loss, a successful Hail Mary pass from the opposing team, unfounded off-the-field rumors or a defense that allows 40 points a game can all cost a player a chance at the award.

What if a quarterback leads the team down the field in the final minute and there is a bad snap, bad hold or blocked kick on special teams? What if a team suffers a loss or two because of a defense that can't stop anybody? In reality, a poor defense can actually boost a candidate's profile because of the need to match the opponent on the scoreboard.

Oregon's defense wasn't awful against Stanford, but it couldn't get the ball back for the offense. Mariota didn't throw any interceptions against the Cardinal, and he hasn't thrown one against any other team either. In fact, he has thrown a Pac-12 record  285 passes this season without being intercepted.

Anytime a quarterback owns a record in the Pac-12, they are doing something at a historic level. In a league best known for wide-open offense and legendary quarterbacks, Mariota holds the conference record by throwing 353 consecutive passes without an interception.

The 6'4" sophomore broke the Pac-12 record of 216, held by USC's Brad Otton, during the Washington game earlier this season. He is in the midst of one of the most impressive streaks in college football history. That should be something that Heisman voters take into account.

After throwing 26 times against Utah, Mariota now holds the NCAA career record for lowest interception percentage. In 621 career attempts, Mariota has thrown just six interceptions.

Even monsoon-like conditions can't make Mariota throw an INT.
Even monsoon-like conditions can't make Mariota throw an INT.Steve Dykes/Getty Images

In 1991, Virginia quarterback Matt Blundin went the entire season without throwing an interception. He holds the FBS record for most passes in a season without being intercepted with a minimum of 150 attempts. During the Cavaliers' 12 games that season, Blundin went 135-of-224 for 1,902 and 19 touchdowns.

Boise State's Kellen Moore holds the record for lowest percentage of passes intercepted in a season with a minimum of 350 passes attempted. In 13 games during the 2009 season, Moore was 277-of-431 for 3,536 yards and 39 touchdowns and three touchdowns.

Of the 22 single-season interception leaders since 1991, just six have thrown more than 285 passes, which Marota has done in just 10 games.

With four games remaining, Mariota potentially will eclipse Moore's record away if he continues his streak. Mariota has thrown 285 passes through 10 games this season. If he continues to average 28.5 attempts per game, he would finish with 399 attempts.

Here is a look at what his statistics would be through 13 games, all of which would come before the Heisman ceremony.

Marcus Mariota projected statistics through 13 games
CompAttComp %YardsTDINTRushYardsAvg.TD
23837064.33,665330866217.212
http://www.cfbstats.com/2013/player/529/1041116/index.html

Even though Oregon has firmly established itself as a national brand, a fixture in the BCS and a big ratings draw on TV, the Stanford game was the only Oregon game many voters will see this season. 

To those who have seen other Oregon games over the past two seasons, Mariota was nowhere near his normal self against Stanford. As far as many of his critics and Heisman voters are concerned, that is what they will remember about him.

When you compare his numbers and his team's place among the elite in college football, there is no logical explanation for his exclusion from the Heisman discussion.

Top QB candidates this season
PlayerRecordCompAttComp %YardsTDINTRushYardsAvg.TD
Winston10-018626171.22,943287581552.73
Manziel9-220027672.52,867268955535.88
Mariota9-118328564.22,816250664777.29
Petty10-015323465.43,002241531272.410
http://www.sports-reference.com

It's unfortunate for the humble sophomore, who has done nothing on or off the field to potentially keep him out of New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation. What he has done on the field is nothing short of spectacular.

If Mariota finishes the regular season with a Pac-12 championship, a top-five ranking and zero interceptions, it would be a snub of epic proportions if he were to be left out of the Heisman ceremony.