Oregon’s 26-20 loss to Stanford has dealt a severe blow to Marcus Mariota’s Heisman hopes. The sophomore (20 of 34, 250 yards, 2 TDs, -19 rush yards) was ineffective for much of the game and his chances to put up big numbers were limited due to Stanford’s near-monopoly of the time of possession. While the damage to his candidacy was not as bad as it could have been — he rebounded late and nearly led Oregon on an amazing comeback — his inability to keep his team in the game early was costly. Even more important was the fact that the loss makes it unlikely that Oregon will get to play in the Pac-12 title game, which not only would’ve given Mariota another spotlight moment, it would’ve also given him one more game to pad his stats resume.
But while Mariota is down, he is not yet completely out of this race. Some observers of the Heisman seem to think that a loss automatically disqualifies a candidate. But four of the last six Heisman winners were on teams with at least one loss and three of those had at least two losses. One could counter that losing a game after October is what matters. After all, the last Heisman recipient to lose a game after October was Jason White, whose Oklahoma team lost in the the Big 12 title game a week before he won the trophy. But it happened four times in the 1990s, so it’s not that uncommon.
It’s important to remember that the circumstances for each Heisman race are different. Collin Klein let last year’s Heisman slip out of his fingers thanks to a late loss to Baylor. The narrative surrounding Klein’s candidacy before that was that he was the gritty leader of a Cinderella team on its way to the BCS title game. The loss destroyed that narrative. Klein’s production was not enough by itself to win the Heisman and, as a result, he finished a respectable third.
In Mariota’s case, there is more to his candidacy than just his team’s success. Oregon is a consistently successful program so its national image does not live or die on the outcome of one game or season. Furthermore, Mariota does have excellent production to fall back on. Going into the Stanford game, he was on pace to have over 4,500 yards and 48 total touchdowns by the time the Heisman vote was due, a season that would rank in the upper echelon of past winners. Could a player from a respected 11-1 team with superlative statistics win the Heisman in certain years? Absolutely. Can Mariota? That will require a bit of luck and another changing of this year’s Heisman narrative.
One player who might play a role in that is Baylor’s Bryce Petty, who helped lead his team to a huge victory over No. 10 Oklahoma. Petty started out slow but came back to account for five touchdowns as the Sooners were routed, 41-12. I saw some people on Twitter obsess over the fact that Petty completed just 13 of his 26 passes for 204 yards and they used that as evidence of him not playing well. But such minutiae will be forgotten at season’s end when his resume is viewed from a broader angle. A month from now, people will see that Petty produced five touchdowns in a win over a ranked team and that’ll come across as a good thing.
Overall, it looks like Petty is on his way to a special season. He already leads the nation in passing efficiency and is on pace for 4,100 yards of offense and 44 total touchdowns. But he’ll need to lead Baylor to an undefeated season if he is to have a shot at winning and, even then, it may not be enough. If he finishes really strong, he has the potential to overtake the race’s current front runner if that player’s numbers fall off a bit.
And who is that front runner?
It’s Florida State’s Jameis Winston, who now has a very good chance of becoming the second-straight freshman to win the Heisman.
Here’s how the race would go if the vote was held right now:
1. Jameis Winston
2. Johnny Manziel
3. Bryce Petty
4. Marcus Mariota
5. AJ McCarron
And here are the four candidates by likelihood of winning:
Who do I think is going to New York? Winston, Manziel, Petty, Mariota
Still a month to go and a lot can happen, but it looks like FSU might be on its way to its first Heisman since 2000.