Mariota’s first Heisman test


The rash of late-breaking Heisman winners in recent years can be partially blamed on the dearth of high profile September matchups in college football. Heisman voters need information on how players perform against quality opponents and, lately, that data hasn’t reached a critical mass until rivalry week or the conference championship games.

But this Saturday’s game between No. 7 Michigan State and No. 3 Oregon gives voters a rare early-season opportunity to make a clean assessment of the qualifications of current Heisman front runner Marcus Mariota.

Not only do we have two ranked teams from power conferences meeting up for the first time since 1999, we also have two distinct styles colliding as Oregon’s uptempo spread offense goes up against the physical, swarming, 4-3 defense of defending Rose Bowl champ Michigan State.

All eyes will be on Eugene for this one. If you have any questions about Mariota, they should be answered.

Not that those tuning in will be doubting Mariota’s physical talent; there is broad consensus that his skill set will lead to a very early selection in next year’s NFL draft (though he is eligible to return to Oregon for one more season). Nationally, the Ducks command a tremendous amount of respect as a program due to their 67 wins in the last six seasons. But the one thing Oregon has missed during the Mariota years is a signature win over a top 10 opponent.

That’s what voters will be looking for on Saturday. They want to see a transcendent Mariota.

Simply put, if Mariota works his magic against Pat Narduzzi’s defense while leading the Ducks to a victory, the Heisman will be his to lose. It’s not common for that to be the case so early in the season, but the level of respect for Michigan State’s defensive prowess is so high right now that any player who can make it look mortal will be seen as superhuman — if not Heisman worthy. All else being equal, a win over the Spartans would be Mariota’s trump card against his Heisman competition.

Though the rewards will be great if Mariota shines, this game is also fraught with peril for his candidacy. If he stumbles against the Spartans and his team falls, then the margin of error for reviving his quest will be razor thin the rest of the way.

I doubt we’ll get a mixed Heisman outcome from this matchup. Afterwards, I think we’ll either be exalting Mariota’s talents, or shaking our heads in amazement over that Spartan defense.

Can’t wait.

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The College Football Experience: Ep. 6 – Sparty invades Eugene

There are many big matchups this week and @kentbrown34 & @HeismanPunditJr have them all covered. Also, @BaldBryan of the @AdamCarollaShow joins in to break down the USC-Stanford game. Plus, more about MSU-Oregon and ND-Michigan. Check us out on iTunes!

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Picking this week’s games

I went 5-5 against the spread in my season debut. Here’s to a stronger week two. Now for my 10 plays of the week, lines courtesy of (picks in bold):

Arizona -8 at UTSA

Boston College +4.5 vs. Pittsburgh

Washington State -4 at Nevada

Navy -3 at Temple

Michigan State +11.5 at Oregon State

Missouri -4 at Toledo

Auburn vs. San Jose State 65.5 total (OVER)

Notre Dame -4 vs. Michigan

UCLA -23.5 vs. Memphis

Hawaii +10.5 vs. Oregon State

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The Round Up

Here’s what the media is saying about the Heisman Trophy race this week:

Did you know Central Louisiana has its own Heisman poll? I did not. Anyway, Todd Gurley tops this week’s charts in Cajun Country.’s Corey McCartney also has Gurley atop his list.

A vote for Kenny Hill from the AZ Central. says Gurley is the way-too-early front runner.  As does

This Wisconsin blogger said Melvin Gordon did just enough to stay in contention.

A platoon of backs is replacing Boston College’s 2013 Heisman finalist Andre Williams.

Kenny Hill is atop Dan Hinxman‘s list.

Three voters in Columbus prefer Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who is also tabbed by USA Today’s Paul Myerberg.

Herschel Walker thinks Gurley is “the best back in football.”’s Zac Ellis is sticking with Winston, his preseason pick. says that Winston needs to get back to ‘playing loose’.

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Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel play William Tell

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Thoughts from week one


There’s nothing like an 18-hour college football Saturday. Here are a few thoughts on the Heisman race and the rest of it….

Todd Gurley made the biggest splash of the weekend by rushing for 198 yards and three touchdowns — with another TD on a 100-yard kickoff return — against Clemson. However, I think it’s pretty silly to say that it’s his Heisman to lose or that he is even the front runner right now. For one thing, it’s really no one’s Heisman to lose when it’s this early in the season. If it was early November and Gurley was still producing like he did against Clemson, then it might be his to lose. Point being, you can’t build a Heisman resume off just one game. And in determining the front runner, it’s important to take into account a long view of the season. How does the schedule set up? What kind of numbers is he likely to have when the votes are due? How will his team perform throughout the season? All those factors are why I have Marcus Mariota as the current front runner. Of course, if doesn’t play well on Saturday against Michigan State, that calculus will change a bit.

— More on Gurley. I’ve been high on him since he came out of high school. At that time, Georgia had a rather overhyped, average back named Isaiah Crowell. All the pundits had convinced themselves that Crowell was an elite back. So when he was suspended for a drug charge, the lament was that Georgia’s running game was in trouble. I didn’t think so as I had seen tape of Gurley and knew that he had rare speed for his size (10.75 100m in high school) as well as very good athleticism. Plus, there was also the very talented Keith Marshall coming to Athens. When I tweeted that both were better than Crowell, people didn’t want to believe it. I’d say it turned out well for Georgia.

— It was a good weekend if your surname was Hill. Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill threw for 511 yards and three touchdowns in a thrashing of South Carolina. BYU’s Taysom Hill put up 405 yards of total offense and five combined touchdowns against Connecticut. Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill had 278 all-purpose yards in his FBS debut. Arizona’s Austin Hill returned from injury to catch three passes for 110 yards, including a 92-yard touchdown reception. Bronson Hill of Eastern Michigan rushed for 114 yards on 19 carries against Morgan State. And, okay, call it a stretch, but LSU’s Kenny HILLiard rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries against Wisconsin.

— Great players make great plays at crucial moments and that’s what Jameis Winston did against Oklahoma State when he hurdled his way to a decisive 28-yard touchdown against Oklahoma State. But Winston was rather ordinary for much of the game against the Cowboys and his passer rating was below 140 for the second-straight outing. The Heisman talk is now centered around guys like Gurley, Hill and Mariota. Just goes to show you how tough it is to win that second trophy. But there’s plenty of time for Winston to get back in the conversation (though he won’t win, of course).

— I have to admit, it was pretty funny seeing the ‘Kiffin Cam’ during the Alabama-West Virginia game. The body language coming from the Alabama offensive coordinator on the sidelines was priceless — the slumped shoulders, the blank stare, the Why do bad things always happen to me? look after a poorly-executed play. Saban, of course, defended his coach, noting that the Tide had 538 yards of offense against the Mountaineers. Of course, this misses the point as Kiffin is the king of producing meaningless yards.

— Oregon’s offense has a bit of a new twist. It’s using more two-back sets and utilizing Byron Marshall as a wide receiver in some situations. Marshall lined up all over the place and caught eight passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns against South Dakota. The combination of Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman gives the Ducks a formidable and versatile backfield.

— Navy is a machine. That is not a fun team to play. But it certainly is fun to watch.

— As expected, Auburn’s offense was still explosive despite missing Nick Marshall for parts of its game against Arkansas. But I think it was pretty impressive for the Tigers defense to hold the Hogs to 328 total yards. Arkansas’s talented running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams combined for just 102 yards.

— UCLA certainly looks to be a long way from contending for a playoff berth right now, but the Bruins have to be excited about their pass rushing situation. Defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa was impressive against Virginia after returning from an injury that kept him out all last season. Also noteworthy was the play of lightning quick sophomore linebacker Deon Hollins. Both are going to be tough for opposing lines to handle from here on out.

— Hawaii looks much improved in Norm Chow’s third year. I thought quarterback Ikaika Woolsey showed some promise against Washington while 245-pound running back Joey Iosefa was a real load. It appears the Warrior offense is finally getting untracked, as its 424 total yards against a stout Washington defense comes on the heels of 624 and 608-yard efforts to close out last season. I’m hoping Hawaii can find some success this season to hold off the drive to eliminate its football program.

— Finally, this catch by Nebraska wide out Jordan Westerkamp was so impressive, one of my straw poll voters put him on his Heisman ballot this week:


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Todd Gurley takes early lead in Heisman race

Gurley (2)

Todd Gurley’s 293-yard, four touchdown all-purpose performance in Georgia’s 45-21 victory over Clemson this past Saturday has vaulted the Bulldogs running back to the top of HeismanPundit’s Heisman Straw Poll released on Tuesday (Sept. 2).

The junior from Tarboro, N.C., collected five first-place nods from the 10-member panel of Heisman voters from around the country. He appeared on every ballot and totaled 23 points, placing him well ahead of Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill, who placed second with 14 points (and two first-place votes). Hill’s 511 yards passing in A&M’s rout of South Carolina led to the sophomore being named on seven ballots.

Preseason straw poll leader Marcus Mariota dropped to third with three first-place votes and 13 points. Oregon’s showdown with Michigan State this coming Saturday will present an early-season test for the Ducks quarterback.

Reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston dropped to fourth place with five points. Five other players — three of them with the surname Hill — tallied one point each.

Now in its ninth season,’s Heisman Straw Poll is the college football world’s most trusted gauge of Heisman voter sentiment. It has been the most accurate Heisman poll in the country during the past seven seasons, with the final 2012 poll correctly picking the top five finishers and the final 2011 poll picking the top seven. This year’s poll is made up of 10 anonymous Heisman voters from across the country. Each week during the season they will pick three players. Tabulations for the preseason poll are tabulated like a real Heisman ballot, with three points awarded for a first-place vote, two points for a second-place vote and one point for a third-place vote.

Each week’s poll is released on Tuesdays throughout the season at .

The Heisman Straw Poll, 9/2/2014

Total Points (with first place votes in parentheses)

1. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia — 23 (5)

2. Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M — 14 (2)

3. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon — 13 (3)

4. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State — 5

5. (tie) Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska — 1

Tyreek Hill, RB, Oklahoma State — 1

Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA — 1

Jordan Westerkamp, WR, Nebraska — 1

Taysom Hill, QB, BYU  — 1

Number of ballots

Gurley — 10

Kenny Hill  — 7

Mariota — 5

Winston — 3

The rest — 1 each

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