Thursday, August 14, 2014
History split on Mariota's Heisman odds
By Chantel Jennings
Without a doubt, redshirt junior quarterback Marcus Mariota has cemented himself in the Oregon football history books. He holds the school records for most rushing yards by a quarterback and the best completion percentage. The two-time All-Pac 12 selection will likely own the total touchdowns, touchdown passes and total offense records by the end of this season.
What he doesn't have is Heisman trophy. And what does history have to say about that?
For starters, he's a quarterback, which means history is on his side. Twelve of the last 13 winners were signal callers (with the only non-quarterback being Alabama running back Mark Ingram in 2009).
Oregon's running game this season could tip the Heisman scales in QB Marcus Mariota's favor.
History also likes the fact that he's a redshirt junior. Nine of the last 10 Heisman winners were non-seniors (Ohio State senior Troy Smith won it in 2006).
And again, history clings to Mariota (at least in the Mariota-Jameis Winston debate) when considering the fact that only one player has won the Heisman twice, Ohio State running back Archie Griffin (1974 and '75).
The injury bug caught Mariota last year, hampering the Ducks' season. And though he has stayed healthy so far this year the bug seems to be hovering just close enough to him to still have an effect. First it was wide receiver Bralon Addison, who tore his ACL during the first week of spring camp. Then it was left tackle Tyler Johnstone, who tore his ACL during the first week of fall camp. Losing a top receiver and the left tackle who has protected a quarterback's blind side for the past 26 games isn't exactly favorable.
But again, history says that a bit of adversity during a Heisman season is a good thing.
Quarterbacks Winston, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M's and Cam Newton of Auburn -- three of the last four winners -- were first-year starters. They really hadn't built any kind of chemistry with any of their players (plus, the Aggies were going through the Mike Sherman-to-Kevin Sumlin transition).
Those three didn't have tremendous experience with their batch of players during their Heisman seasons, but what they did have -- and what Mariota lacks -- is experience at wide receiver.
Winston's top three receivers last season were also in the top five for Seminoles receivers in 2012. Manziel got the No. 1 and No. 3 receivers from the 2011 team in his 2012 arsenal. When Robert Griffin III won the Heisman in 2011 (he's the only multi-year starter of the last four Heisman winners), four of the top five receivers from the previous season were back for the Baylor attack. And Newton had three of the top five 2009 receivers during his 2010 Heisman campaign.
That means that -- on average -- each of the last four Heisman-winning quarterbacks returned three of their teams' top five receivers from the previous season.
Mariota has just one -- Keanon Lowe, who caught 18 passes in 2013.
More importantly, for each of those four quarterbacks, their team's top receiver from the previous season returned to the team for that QB's Heisman year -- Winston had Rashad Greene, Manziel had Ryan Swope, Griffin had Kendall Wright and Newton had Darvin Adams.
Mariota isn't just missing his top receiver from 2013. He lacks his No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 receivers.
Inexperience isn't a death sentence for Heisman campaigns. But it's not necessarily welcomed, especially when Mariota's main competition for the Heisman this year, Winston, again welcomes back his top receiver in Greene.
Where the footing seems to be a bit more in Mariota's favor -- against Winston and history -- is in the run game. Including Mariota, the Ducks return four of their top five rushers from last season. Of the last four Heisman winners, no guy has had as much returning help as Mariota will get in the backfield.
In fact, of the Winston-Manziel-Griffin-Newton batch, none had their top rusher from the previous season return in their Heisman season. Mariota returns his No. 1 and No. 2 -- Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner.
Last year, Winston had two of the top-five 2012 rushers on board for 2013 (Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr.). Manziel also had just two of the team's top five rushers from the previous season in his rushing attack -- Ben Malena and Christine Michael. Griffin had two of his top five rushers from the previous season, while Newton had three.
Could the experience and talent in the Oregon run game be enough to make up for the lack of experience in the pass game? Is that enough to help Mariota take the Heisman? It's possible. If the rushing attack is as good as the Ducks believe it can be, then teams are going to have to put more guys in the box in order to really corral the ground game, leaving opportunities for the young receivers downfield. Maybe most coaches wouldn't want to throw at a redshirt freshman or sophomore. But if it's a one-on-one against a defensive back and the ball is coming from the pin-pointedly accurate hands of Mariota, doesn't that swing the scales a bit?
History is split, but history doesn't decide. Mariota has anywhere between 12 and 15 games to make his own case and write his name in history books outside of the Pac-12.