Naturally, these two games are huge when it comes to the Heisman race.
Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota is already the Heisman front runner coming into the day, but his performance against the Cardinal could make or break his candidacy. As you might recall, Stanford ruined Oregon’s season last year with a 17-14 overtime win in Eugene. Mariota has a chance to get redemption for that disaster and put the Ducks on a glide path toward the BCS title game.
Leading Oregon to a win is first and foremost on the agenda for Mariota. Assuming he at least plays solidly against the Cardinal, he’ll get a lot of credit for beating a quality team and bolster his Heisman resume in the process. A magnificent performance has the potential to put him far enough in the race as to make the end result a fait accompli. A mixed performance in a win will keep him in the front runner spot, but might perhaps cause some voters currently leaning toward Mariota to shop around a bit before making their final choice. A gallant performance in a loss would not knock him out of the race (though some will claim this is the case) but he’d have to finish the season very strong to have the stat sheet needed to stave off the allure of the Jameis Winston candidacy, which is likely going to feature an undefeated season. Obviously, a poor performance in a loss will probably make his Heisman fate completely dependent on what the rest of the field does from here on out.
What constitutes a good performance in this game? I believe we will know it if we see it. We always do.
As for Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, this should be his coming out party to a national audience. To date he’s put together one of the best seven-game stretches you’ll ever see for a college quarterback, but he’s done it against lesser competition. That is the main reason why he is currently floating around the periphery of the Heisman race. Voters suspect he is a great player — the numbers sure point to it — but they need to see what he does against a quality foe before he is validated in their eyes. The game against Oklahoma affords him the perfect opportunity to prove himself. The Sooners feature a top 10 defense that is loaded with talent. If the Baylor juggernaut keeps rolling against OU before a national TV audience, it will no doubt be because Petty played well and he’ll reap a lot of the credit. Beating Oklahoma for the second time in school history — the first time featured that monumental Heisman moment for Robert Griffin III — would catapult Petty into the thick of the Heisman race. Naturally, a loss by Baylor would render his chances of winning remote.
By the time Thursday night is done, I believe we’ll have a pretty clear picture of the overall Heisman race. The eventual winner might even come into focus.