If Marcus Mariota's Heisman Hopes Weren't Dead Already, Arizona Left No Doubt

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2013

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 23:  Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Oregon Ducks reacts during the college football game Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota came out flat—as did the rest of his team—at Arizona on Saturday, bookending a blowout 42-16 loss with two bad interceptions while watching his Heisman chances turn to dust.

As far as the Heisman Trophy is concerned, one bad game can be forgiven. Johnny Manziel played a terrible game against LSU last season, but with a spotless profile beyond that sole hiccup, he was able to take home the hardware.

By that token, Mariota entered the week as a legitimate candidate for the award. He played the one bad game against Stanford, but anybody could play a bad game against Stanford. It's Stanford. That defense eats quarterbacks for breakfast (just ask Jared Goff).

With another bad showing against Arizona, though, Mariota's candidacy went up in towering, majestic flames. The numbers don't appear awful on the surface—27-of-41 passing, 360 total yards and two touchdowns—but the general lack of cohesion Oregon showed on offense was damning to say the least.

After the game, Mariota reflected on this first blowout of his career, coping with the pain of being massacred for the first time in his football life:

The Ducks are supposed to be an unstoppable force, a finely tuned machine, a superhero with just one Kryptonite in Stanford. Mariota was supposed to be the quarterback who didn't make mistakes, entering the game with zero interceptions on the year. That is the platform Mariota's Heisman bid was founded on: He was the conductor of a train that couldn't be stopped.

But on Saturday, that train was stopped by a very ordinary defense. It mustered just nine points in the first three quarters, against a unit that allowed USC to score 38. Mariota set the tone with an interception on the game's first play from scrimmage, and his team fell out of whack instantaneously.

The pick wasn't Mariota's fault, but the team's response to it was. It was shell-shocked and hopeless and lost. Mariota couldn't rally the troops to recover in the face of a new adversity; for a Heisman candidate, unlike one bad performance, that cannot be forgiven.

The only thing working in Mariota's favor (re: the Heisman) is turmoil for the other major candidates. Jameis Winston is embroiled in a sexual assault case, and it remains to be seen if or how that will affect his stock. Manziel struggled again to beat LSU. There isn't a sure-fire leader in the clubhouse at this moment.

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 23:  Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Oregon Ducks is hugged by defensive tackle Ricky Havili-Heimuli #90 on the sidelines during the final moments of the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on N
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Still, after this second poor game, it would be hard to envision Mariota even getting invited to the ceremony in New York. Especially with Oregon's BCS chances also in serious doubt, his stock took a profound tumble.

The Ducks officially lost the Pac-12 North with the defeat at Arizona, ceding the title back to Stanford, which beat Cal on Saturday and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Oregon. Mariota will not get a chance to shine in the conference championship game.

No conference championship game means no Rose Bowl for Oregon, which would now need to get an at-large bid if it plans on reaching the BCS. Doing so will be no small feat with two losses on its resume, especially given the ugly nature of Saturday's performance.

A quarterback with two losses on his profile, who didn't play well in either of those defeats, who can't lead his team to a signature bowl game, is not the strongest candidate for the Heisman. No matter what his stats say, Mariota can bury any aspirations he had for hoisting the stiff-arm Trophy.

At least this year, that is. There's always a chance he can win it next year. Before Week 13, that might have sounded preposterous, since Mariota was an assumed lock to leave for the NFL draft and become a top-five draft pick.

But after Week 13? That doesn't look like such a sure thing.