Each week of the college football season NCAA.com will take a look at the most impressive individual performances. Some weeks it may be one player who stands head and shoulders above everyone else. This week, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and his consistency prove he's one of the Heisman frontrunners.
Marcus Mariota receives the snap, drops back, scans the field, analyzes whether he should run or pass, decides, then acts. Whatever he chooses, he will return to the huddle, call the play, then snap, drop back, scan, analyze, decide, act again. And he will do this again and again and again and more effectually than any quarterback in college football.Read enough about Mariota and one constant will be repeated: his repetitive preparation. Before the 2011 season, when he redshirted, Mariota already knew Oregon’s full playbook. When he tried to wrestle away the starting job in high school, his coach offered a challenge: Whoever can complete more passes in practice for one week would start. Mariota won handedly, but coach started his incumbent quarterback regardless. When his name was called, Mariota led his high school to an 11-1 record and a state championship.
A third-year starter, Mariota infuses a level of precision previously unseen in the Ducks’ offense. The detail in his play astounds for how easy it looks. Through practice, Mariota has sharpened Oregon’s complex offense to its irreducible simplicities and punished defenses. Save for a fumble that cost a game against Arizona, Mariota has performed more dependably than any other quarterback.
We’ve reached the point where the Heisman race starts to clarify itself. It happens each year around this time and our conversation shifts from who can win the Heisman to who should; who will we hand the Heisman.
The award goes to college football’s most outstanding player by definition, but the interpretation of what that means varies year to year. Does it simply mean best? Most valuable? Greatest asset? Most interesting narrative? Best player on the best team? Top statistical stud?
Some variables that don’t change: a) Heisman winners must impact his team enough that they’re in contention for the national championship or at least a major bowl, b) a team leader and c) perform near the top statistically at the player’s position. A compelling or surprising narrative earns extra points.
If we’re looking at it in terms of consistency and playing at a potent, elite level week in, week out with little to no mistakes, it’s Mariota’s. Nobody has a cleaner sheet than Mariota. The dude’s pristine. Look at his numbers compared to other Heisman contending QBs.
He has the best passing percentage and most passing TDs. Mariota doesn’t seem to compare with pure total offense yardage output, but it’s because he’s playing a different game than the rest. Among starters, he has the second-highest total offense yards per play average at 9.25. (Alabama’s Blake Sims is No. 1 at 9.28.) Remember, Mariota’s about efficiency over time, not pure yards. To back that up, he has the highest quarterback rating in all of college football (187.21) and highest passing yards per attempt among starters (10.2).
So what we’ve got with Mariota is a statistical freak, not stud, leading a frontrunner to the College Football Playoff. Mariota and the Ducks finally hurled the Stanford monkey off their back last week, defeating the Cardinal 45-16. Outside of Florida State, Oregon has the easiest remaining schedule to the CFP, the two toughest games being No. 17 Utah this week and whoever emerges from the cannibalizing Pac-12 South in the conference championship game.
There isn’t so much a frontrunner as there are frontrunners currently for the Heisman. Mariota’s one of them. As a guy who could’ve won last year’s Heisman barring injury, and including off-the-field acts like dropping in on the Boys and Girls Club, voters may choose to reward Mariota for playing college football The Right Way. Should he continue this prolific practicality, able to avoid mistake at all costs and finally jumping the hurdle into postseason play, it’s hard to argue against Marcus Mariota winning the Heisman.
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