When it comes to Heisman Trophy consideration, you have to like the chances for Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Ohio State's Braxton Miller. After all, the last four Heisman winners were quarterbacks who could run and throw.
Both were heavy favorites last year—Mariota was a longtime front-runner—until injuries derailed those hopes. With Mariota and Miller returning for another year, however, they'll undoubtedly be in the conversation again this season.
So which one has the better chance of making it to New York by year's end and, perhaps, bring home the hardware? Early Bovada Heisman odds have Mariota as a 5-1 favorite, just behind reigning winner Jameis Winston from Florida State, with Miller right behind him at 11-2 odds (h/t Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com).
|Heisman Odds as of February 2014|
|QB Jameis Winston||Florida State||12/5|
|QB Marcus Mariota||Oregon||5/1|
|QB Braxton Miller||Ohio State||11/2|
|QB Bryce Petty||Baylor||9/1|
|RB Todd Gurley||Georgia||12/1|
|QB Brett Hundley||UCLA||14/1|
The first thing to recognize is that both quarterbacks are going to get their stats as long as they stay healthy. Mariota compiled just under 4,400 total yards last season with 40 touchdowns, while Miller had about 1,200 fewer yards and 26 touchdowns. He also missed what basically amounted to three games.
Additionally, both will be playing with some new faces around them this season. Developing chemistry with new starters is a major challenge within itself. Mariota loses his top two receivers from a year ago—Josh Huff (graduation) and Bralon Addison (knee injury)—as well as multipurpose threat De'Anthony Thomas (NFL draft).
Miller has fewer questions at receiver, but the Buckeyes' offensive line has been the subject of a lot of concern lately after losing four seniors off of last year's group. Though it's not official, Ohio State should be getting the services of former Alabama offensive lineman Chad Lindsay, according to Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com. As a graduate, Lindsay will be eligible to play this year.
Both quarterbacks will benefit from a solid stable of running backs, even though the Ducks have the edge in experience. Similarly, both signal-callers play key roles the running game. In terms of protection—a quarterback is only as good as the time he has to make plays—Mariota has the advantage.
It's tough to examine schedules and predict with 100 percent accuracy, or even some accuracy, who's going to face better defenses since teams change from year to year. That said, both quarterbacks will face a common opponent: Michigan State.
The Ducks get the Spartans in Week 2 (Sept. 6) and the Buckeyes travel to East Lansing on Nov. 8. Sparty loses some key contributors from last year's top-ranked defense. Theoretically, Oregon has another advantage playing them earlier in the year. Whether or not that theory holds up remains to be seen.
There are more factors in the Heisman race than anyone can count. What kind of competition did a player face? How important is a player to his team? How does one even measure that metric? Are they a one-man show? Do they fade down the final stretch of the season?
Only Heisman voters will know the answers—and they vary from person to person. Those answers also won't be clear until the season gets underway.
What is known is that the Heisman race has developed a trend. If you're a quarterback in a BCS/automatic qualifier/Power Five/etc. conference that plays in a stat-friendly offense, you have a good chance of being in the race. Again, that would seem to favor Mariota.
The Heisman has turned into a glorified Davey O'Brien Award, given annually to the best quarterback. With that in mind, Mariota has a slight edge over Miller—on paper—in April.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.