It takes something very special for a Heisman winner to be something other than a quarterback. Marcus Mariota was great enough this season for Oregon to win the award, which is what’s going to happen when the winner is announced, leaving the other two finalists, Amari Cooper of Alabama and Melvin Gordon from Wisconsin, slightly disappointed.
The change this year? After two years of Freshman winning the award, it’s back to representing the experienced and the “old”. Mariota, a Junior that will probably leave to the NFL when this season is over, led the nation in passer rating with 186.3, throwing 38 touchdowns and just two interceptions this season, leading Oregon to a 12-1 record, which includes winning the Pac-12 championship and going into the playoff as the number two team in the nation, facing Florida State in the Rose Bowl. Mariota threw for 3783 yards, ran for 669 and for 14 more touchdowns.
Gordon at some point looked like the big name, but running backs need to have a historic season while not facing any serious quarterback challenge, just like Mark Ingram did a few years ago. Gordon set a new record for Division I rushing yards with 408, but that was broken a week later by someone else. Gordon has run for 2336 yards, the most in the nation, averaging 179.7 per game. Wisconsin have one more game to play – the Outback Bowl. He’ll need a better effort than his performance against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game to break Barry Sanders’ single-season record of 2,628, set in his Heisman-winning season of 1988 with Oklahoma State.
As for Cooper, wide receivers don’t win this award. They might be the best players on their team and seem like the better prospect of the trio to succeed in the NFL, but it’s not enough for the Heisman. He set SEC records with 115 receptions, 1656 yards and 14 touchdowns during the season, as Alabama lost one game (to Ole Miss) but did enough to win the SEC West, the conference (against Missouri) and be ranked number one by the playoff committee, facing Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
Mariota, regardless of what happens in Pasadena and maybe later in Arlington, was the best quarterback and player in college football this season. It doesn’t mean anything about his chances to succeed in the NFL as quarterback, but it won’t hurt his chances to be the first player from this position to be taken off the board.