Mariota announced his decision to return to Oregon for his redshirt junior season last week, and in so doing, he embraced the challenge that next season is sure to represent. In what will be his third season at the controls of the Ducks offense, Mariotta will be the leader of an Oregon team that again will be a preseason Pac-12 and College Football Playoff favorite. Plus, Mariota's previous two years of outstanding individual performance should have him leading the Heisman narrative.
In fact, the Heisman buzz for Mariota has already begun. He joins 2013 winner Jameis Winston atop SI.com's initial 2014 Heisman watch list. Others in college football media, like Oregonian columnist John Canzano, have taken Mariota's candidacy a step further.
After much deliberation, my early Heisman-watch 2014 list: Marcus Mariota. That's it. That's the list.— John Canzano (@JohnCanzanoBFT) December 16, 2013
Pundits and fans alike obviously recognize Mariota as a Heisman contender right now, which makes his snub in last week's balloting all the more confounding. And when you compare the Oregon sophomore's statistics to the four quarterback invitees to New York City last Saturday, his falling out of the top 10 becomes downright maddening:
Fewer interceptions (four) than AJ McCarron (five), Jordan Lynch (seven) or Winston (10) with more pass attempts (360) than McCarron (306) or Winston (349), and just nine fewer than Lynch.
More rushing touchdowns (nine) than Johnny Manziel (eight) in 52 fewer carries, and a higher yards-per-carry average of 7.2 to Manziel's 5.2.
Nearly 700 more passing yards than Lynch with fewer attempts and one fewer game played.
|Player (Year/Team)||Passing/Yards||Pass TD/INT||Rushing Yards/Carries||Rush TD|
|Marcus Mariota (RSo./Oregon)||227-360/3,412||30/4||582/81||9|
|Jameis Winston (RFr./Florida State||237-349/3,820||38/10||193/77||4|
|Johnny Manziel (RSo./Texas A&M)||270-391/3,732||33/13||686/133||8|
|A.J. McCarron (RSr./Alabama)||207-306/2,676||26/5||21/24||0|
|Jordan Lynch (RSr./Northern Illinois)||233-369/2,676||23/7||1881/274||22|
So is the bar higher set for Mariota than it is for other candidates? What does Mariota need to do to win the Heisman?
The first and most obvious criteria is performance in late-season games. His remarkable tumble on Heisman ballots after losses at Stanford and Arizona reflects the significance of November games in the eyes of the award's fickle voters.
These games are not only meaningful in terms of the national title race, but they're also more fresh in voters' minds.
Voter fatigue also seems to set in over the course of a season. Preseason favorite is not the most desirable place to be. Consider that the last two winners were freshmen, and before them, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III emerged over the course of a campaign.
Griffin's run to the Heisman is noteworthy because the former Baylor quarterback also bested the last Pac-12 finalist who had a realistic shot at winning the award, Stanford product Andrew Luck.
Luck entered 2011 as a runaway Heisman favorite and did nothing to harm his own campaign. His individual play was stellar—he threw for more touchdowns and yards than the previous season and led his team to an 11-1 regular season—but the hype leading up to the Heisman elevated the expectations for Luck into another stratosphere.
Such was the case for Mariota in his two months as Heisman favorite. In that stretch as college football's premier quarterback, his play set such a high bar that a month with 10 passing touchdowns on an injured leg was considered subpar enough to remove him from the Heisman's top 10.
Because critics already know he's great, Mariota is expected to be greater. Perhaps it's a different standard than that given to other Heisman contenders, but it's Mariota's standard, and meeting it is his only way to hoist the trophy a year from now.