He Helps His Team, Not Yours
On Saturday night at the Best Buy Theater in Manhattan, we gathered to witness the announcement of the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner.
Well, not really… we already knew. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota had clinched the Heisman, although the formal announcement awaited its national audience.
In this column, we won’t indulge in the hypotheticals of “what if he didn’t?” No condescension intended.
The likelihood of Mariota not securing the trophy this year is slimmer than Baylor and TCU sneaking into the 4-team playoff.
Yet, it’s not just a one-time occurrence. Melvin Gordon’s performance has been exceptional, and Amari Cooper has dazzled as a big playmaker at wide receiver.
However, when scrutinizing Mariota’s track record, he would have emerged victorious in the Heisman race against any field since 2000.
The most glaring piece of the puzzle is that Mariota has posted remarkable statistics in an era obsessed with numbers.
Leading one of the most formidable offenses in recent college history to a #2 ranking and a genuine shot at a national championship, he achieved this without being involved in a slew of frivolous off-field incidents or projecting a spoiled demeanor.
While I personally don’t place too much emphasis on that aspect of the award (it essentially remains an MVP award no matter how you look at it), I recognize its significance to the voters. And ultimately, that’s what matters.
Mariota presents the kind of candidate with impressive statistics and a seemingly untarnished reputation that a Heisman voter can wholeheartedly support.
His stats alone would make him a shoo-in, even on an 8-foot rim.
Factor in his refreshing demeanor and the reasonable assurance that he won’t have to relinquish his trophy in the years to come, and Mariota’s selection is as close to a certainty as you can get in this process.
However, what truly sets this candidacy apart from all others becomes evident when you examine the statistics he has not achieved.
For reference, here are the relevant stat lines for each of the Heisman winners dating back to 2000:
2014 Marcus Mariota
3783 Yds, 38 TDs, 2 INT, 14 rushing TDs
2013 Jameis Winston
4057 Yds, 40 TDs, 10 Int, 4 rushing TDs
2012 Johnny Manziel
3706 Yds, 26 TDs, 9 Int, 21 rushing TDs
2011 Robert Griffin III
4293 Yds, 37 TD, 6 Int, 10 rushing TDs
2010 Cam Newton
2854 Yds, 30 TDs, 7 Int, 20 rushing TDs
2009 Mark Ingram
271 Att, 1658 Yds, 6.1 Avg, 17 TDs
2008 Sam Bradford
4720 Yds, 50 TDs, 8 Int, 5 rushing TDs
2007 Tim Tebow
3286 Yds, 32 TD, 6 Int, 23 rushing TDs
2006 Troy Smith
2542 Yds, 30 TD, 6 Int
2005 Reggie Bush (it happened)
200 Att, 1740 Yds, 8.7 Avg, 16 TD
2004 Matt Leinart
3322 Yds, 33 TD, 6 Int
2003 Jason White
3846 Yds, 40 TD, 10 Int
2002 Carson Palmer
3942 Yds, 33 TD, 10 Int
2001 Eric Crouch
1510 Yds, 7 TDs, 10 Int, 18 rushing TDs
2000 Chris Weinke
4167 Yds, 33 TD, 11 Int
In any Heisman candidacy, it ultimately comes down to a combination of statistics and standing. You need both.
Exceptional stats on a losing team won’t cut it. Solid stats on a strong team give you a good shot. Outstanding stats on a formidable team practically guarantee success.
As we review the list of past winners, Mariota clearly ranks among the most prolific passers in terms of total yards and touchdowns thrown.
He does concede the lead in rushing touchdowns to some of the candidates like Manziel, Newton, Tebow, and Crouch, who were dual-threat quarterbacks with higher running totals.
However, this isn’t the most crucial factor when assessing a quarterback’s overall performance.
What sets Mariota apart is his minimal interceptions despite his impressive passing production.
Playing alongside a quarterback who puts up high numbers while also throwing many interceptions necessitates other elements for victory.
You rely on a solid defense to step up when the quarterback grants the opposing team free possessions.
Mariota had only two hiccups (just two!) throughout the entire season. That’s astounding.
It’s a third of what any previous winner on this list had. Ultimately, this means that Mariota contributed more significantly to his Oregon team’s success than these prior winners.
He produced without giving away opportunities, allowing Oregon to dominate many opponents this season.
Without so many blowout games, Mariota’s yardage and touchdown totals would likely have been even more impressive.
However, they didn’t need to be because he rarely afforded the opposing team a chance.
Mariota ensured that the overall accomplishments were noteworthy, but the specific numbers were relatively secondary.
The context indicates that the fundamental passing benchmarks (yards and touchdowns) could have been higher… if only he had performed worse.
This, my friends, is the epitome of a flawless statistical Heisman case.
Last night, Mariota added the Maxwell Award for the nation’s most outstanding player, the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, and the Walter Camp Player of the Year award to his collection.
These are undoubtedly impressive accolades, but the ultimate prize awaits him on Saturday night.
In football, there’s always a deeper narrative than a single statistic can convey.
However, when a quarterback navigates real-life defenses like a pro in Tecmo Bowl, all while not giving anything back at a level unprecedented in quarterback history, you can pretty much predict how things will unfold.
And in today’s landscape, when his off-field demeanor is without a hint of reservation…
You might as well send that trophy directly to Mr. Mariota.