The Heisman Trophy is the preeminent honor in college football. On Saturday, three finalists will be in attendance at Best Buy Theater in New York to learn if they join elite company by winning one of the most iconic trophies in sports.
Three different voting groups will determine if Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Amari Cooper, Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon or Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota become the 80th winner of the award. According to the Heisman Trophy Trust, there will be 929 total votes, composed of 870 sports media members, 58 previous Heisman winners and one fan vote facilitated by Nissan and ESPN. The fan vote has ended, with Mariota winning by a large margin. The junior received 25 percent of the tally, while Cooper receiving nine percent and Gordon six percent.
The one-hour “2014 Heisman Trophy Presentation” begins on Dec. 13 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on ESPN.
The three candidates, all juniors, each had exceptional seasons and offer voters a wide range of reasons to think hard about who they choose.
Quarterbacks have historically been favored over players at other positions. Of the past eight winners, seven have been quarterbacks, with Alabama running back Mark Ingram winning in 2009 with 46.99 percent of the vote, the lowest margin of victory for any of the winners in that span. Last year’s winner was Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who won by 79.20 percent.
Mariota is the clear frontrunner, and is a -900 “chalk” favorite to win the award, and well ahead of Cooper, who is at 20/1, and Gordon at 25/1.
The Case For And Against Mariota
Mariota has led No. 2 Oregon with dazzling plays on the ground and the air. He rushed for 669 yards and 14 touchdowns and has thrown for 3,783 yards, 38 touchdowns, and just two interceptions for a 186.3 quarterback rating. The two interceptions did not come in the Ducks’ lone loss, so Mariota deserves credit for much of the team’s success. Mariota’s ability to scramble separates him from other quarterbacks, like when he rushed for 114 yards on 18 carries against Utah. He has been exceptional from the start of the season to the end, and has helped lead the Ducks to the third best offense in the nation (46.3 points).
What may hold back voters from choosing Mariota is the Ducks’ high-octane system. Before Mariota became a starter in 2012, Darron Thomas rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions in the 2011 season, and had rushed for 486 yards and five touchdowns and thrown for 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2010. In 2007, Dennis Dixon threw for 20 touchdowns and four interceptions, and also rushed for 583 yards and nine touchdowns. Though Thomas and Dixon posted strong numbers, both missed out on the Heisman. Mariota has posted better numbers than Thomas and Dixon, but there might be hesitance to vote for a quarterback in such a high-scoring system. He also only finished third in the Pac-12 in passing yards.
The Case For And Against Cooper
Cooper’s stats are also staggering. He leads the nation is receptions and receiving yards in arguably the most competitive conference in college football. Not only did Cooper lead the No. 1 team in the nation in receptions (115), no other receiver on the talent-rich squad was even close. Cooper caught nearly half of all the passes thrown by Crimson Tide quarterbacks, and had more receptions than the next five top receptions leaders on the team combined. It’s hard to imagine Alabama winning the SEC without Cooper’s big games. He caught 13 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns against an Auburn squad that was ranked No. 15 at the time.
But some of the Cooper’s best games were against weak competition. He caught 13 passes for 189 yards against a Florida Atlantic squad that only won three games, and Cooper only caught two passes for 22 yards against Arkansas in a game that Alabama barely won. For a wide receiver to win the Heisman, voters may want better results than what Cooper has accomplished. The last time a wide receiver won the Heisman was 1991, when Michigan’s Desmond Howard was also a punt returner.
The Case For and Against Gordon
Not only did Gordon finish with the most rushing yards in college football, he finished ahead by 300 yards. With 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns, Gordon is regarded as the best Wisconsin running back since Ron Dayne, who won the Heisman in 1999, with 2,034 yards. Gordon also put up better stats than Ingram’s 2009 Heisman season (1,992 total yards). One game stands out for Gordon’s bid – a then-record 408-yard rushing performance against then-No. 16 Nebraska. To add to the impressive effort, Gordon sat out the fourth quarter. Gordon even torched a historically stingy SEC defense when he rushed for 140 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries against LSU in the season opener in Houston.
It may be hard for voters to place too much emphasis on Gordon’s season after Ohio State trounced Wisconsin in their last game, 59-0. The Badgers also lost to LSU and Northwestern, which weakens the case that Gordon carried a top team on his shoulders. Another factor that hurts Gordon is receiving. He only caught 17 passes for 151 yards.
Prediction: Mariota in a landslide