Marcus Mariota Will Take Advantage of Oregon's Schedule in Hunt for Heisman

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Marcus Mariota Will Take Advantage of Oregon's Schedule in Hunt for Heisman
Eric Gay/Associated Press
QB Marcus Mariota

The strength of schedule often does aid in enhancing the resume of a potential Heisman Trophy contender.

This upcoming season, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is undoubtedly one of the top contenders to win the iconic award. The Ducks' schedule in 2014 provides multiple opportunities for the talented signal-caller to display his ability against top competition.

The nonconference slate features a showdown against Michigan Stateperhaps the best team in the Big Ten in this season. Mark Dantonio's squad has been ranked eighth in the first 2014 AP Top 25 Poll.

Oregon is currently ranked third.

The theater on Sept. 6 at raucous Autzen Stadium will be absolutely fantastic. A true dichotomy exists: The explosive, offensive juggernaut that is Oregon battling the staunch, fundamentally sound defense of Michigan State. 

The classic green and white of the Spartans should mesh beautifully with the eclectic, ever-changing garb of the Ducks.

Assuming neither team loses its opening game, both will compete against each other as Top 10 teams. In essence, this could be the first massive contest of the entire 2014 college football season.

It will give Mariota an opportunity to prove himself early against what should be a phenomenal defense.

Last year, Michigan State ranked No. 4 in total defense. In '14, safety Kurtis Drummond and all-everything defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun will lead what should be another very good unit across the board.

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Mariota will also go head-to-head against one of the most underrated signal-callers in the countryand perhaps a dark horse for the Heismann Connor Cook.

Moving down the schedule, Oregon has a monumental Pac-12 clash with upstart UCLA on Oct. 11 in the Rose Bowl.

This will be Oregon's toughest road game of the season. The Bruins are also ranked as a Top 10 team heading into this year and poised to break into the upper echelon of the conference.

A considerable sub-headline exists in regard to Mariota competing against fellow Heisman candidate Brett Hundley. UCLA's signal-caller is attempting to propel himself into the conversation as the best quarterback not only in the conference, but also the country.

UCLA also has NFL talent littered all throughout its defense—including the likes of Eric Kendricks, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Kenny Clark, Eddie Vanderdoes and Myles Jack.

Again, this contest provides Mariota with a chance to boost his potential Heisman stock even further. A victory on the road against a Top 10 team—and most notably against a fellow candidate for the award—would theoretically look very good in the voters' eyes.

It could also derail Hundley's prospects in the process.

The last notable game on Oregon's schedule comes in the form of Stanford. Oregon's archnemesis in the Pac-12 North has been a major thorn in the program's side for the past few years.

In 2012, Stanford upset Oregon 17-14, virtually knocking the Ducks out of the BCS National Championship Game. Last year, the Cardinal upended Oregon by a score of 26-20.

As has been the case in recent memory, this game could determine the Pac-12 North winner. Conventional wisdom suggests both teams will be ranked fairly high by the time Nov. 1 rolls around.

This would yet again be an opportunity for Mariota to enhance his Heisman resume and defeat a marquee opponent.

Mariota is also 0-2 in his career versus the Cardinal. This could be even more of a motivating factor.

The gigantic elephant in the room when it comes to Mariota's Heisman chances is Jameis Winston. The Florida State signal-caller will head into 2014 as the clear-cut favorite to repeat as the trophy winner.

Comparing both players is a fascinating endeavor:

2013 Statistics TD INT Completion Percentage Rushing Yards Passing Yards
Marcus Mariota 31 4 63.5 715 3,665
Jameis Winston 40 10 66.9 219 4,057

The strength of schedule between both teams is nearly identical. Phil Steele (h/t FBSchedules.com) has Florida State with the 46th-toughest schedule in the country. Oregon is close at No. 48.

The NCAA strength-of-schedule method (h/t FBSchedules.com) has the Ducks at No. 49, while the Seminoles sit at No. 47.

When looking at Oregon's schedule as a whole compared to Florida State's slate, it appears as if Mariota will be facing tougher competition.

Based on the first AP poll of 2014, Oregon will play four ranked teams (Michigan State, UCLA, Stanford, Washington). Three of those squads—UCLA, Michigan State, Stanford—are ranked within the Top 11 in the country.

At the moment, Florida State would play two ranked teams (Clemson, Notre Dame). Looking at the number of teams from each conference in the Top 25 would indicate the Pac-12 is superior to the ACC.

The schedules for both players represent a minor aspect in winning the Heisman Trophy. Both will need to perform at exceptional levels for success on both a personal and team level.

However, Mariota's quest to win the Heisman Trophy will be buoyed by a strong schedule. If he does indeed win the award, the impressive competition he had to perform against will surely be a contributing factor.

As Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost told Daniel Uthman of USA Today, "I think [Mariota] is one of the very best players in all of college football, if not the best, and I think he was last year."

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