Why Marcus Mariota's Heisman Chances are Worsening

It happened this last Wednesday morning.

When my alarm went off, I did not wake up realizing that the proverbial clock was about to strike midnight on a young quarterback's Heisman campaign -- one week before his 20th birthday, no less.

After turning on the television, I sat in confusion for a moment as Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was before me, a microphone in his face and a witty response to a reporter's question on his tongue. After a couple of seconds I noticed the four-letter logo in the corner of the screen, and after about a minute the picture cut back to the all-too-familiar set of SportsCenter. There sat Chris McKendry, explaining that after leading Florida State to an absolute decimation of Clemson in front of a national audience, there was no way ESPN wouldn't carry Winston's weekly press conference live.

That's when I knew it: Jameis Winston is the new front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy, even if almost none of the polls have him at number one right now.

McKendry continued, remarking along with Todd McShay how witty, funny and charming Winston is. She then proposed the idea of Winston winning the Heisman (which many have, so no real surprise there), before punctuating the hypothetical in a way that seemed strange:

"I can't wait to hear his speech," she said.

I understand that odds are she was speaking strictly in regards to the hypothetical and my pause was likely little more than my own neuroses about the English language, but one has to admit: to the causal listener, Chris McKendry's use of past tense made it sound like the vote was already cast.

To an extent, I think it was.

After carrying Winston's weekly press conference and all the talk about his great personality, McKendry and McShay began dissecting how the freshman rarely used first person pronouns like "I" and "me" when fielding questions from reporters -- the same way "experts" analyze to death every single aspect of a presidential candidate's posture, speech patterns, attire and so on during a televised debate. Without realizing it, ESPN may have unconsciously announced it had found "Johnny Football 2.0."

Unconvinced? Let's break it down: What are the three things all modern-day Heisman Trophy winners need?

1. Charismatic personality

See Cam Newton, RGIII (remember the socks?) and Johnny Manziel, just to name a few.

2. Signature win(s) and/or that "Heisman Moment"

Newton had the run vs. LSU and the comeback win in the Iron Bowl. RGIII had wins over Oklahoma and Texas, as well as announcing he'd won the award before he'd actually won the award. Manziel had the win over Alabama and the play where he almost fumbled, then hit an open receiver in the end-zone.

3. The media coverage

How much are these players talked about when one of their games isn't on? How often are the examples from the first two points listed above brought up and analyzed during daily sports talk shows?

And this is where we find Marcus Mariota. Let's review him using the same criteria:

1. Charismatic personality

You're far more likely to get a witty response from Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich than Mariota. He's a quiet kid who needed more than just a gentle nudge from the coaching staff to become a more prominent leader this year. Also, during the Ducks' win over the Virginia Cavaliers, it was noted how Mariota sat or stood off by himself most of the time when he was on the sideline.

Mariota has become more comfortable as a leader and interacting with teammates on the sideline as the season has progressed, but he still doesn't seem like the type to drop a quote on the level of Winston's pre-game speech at Clemson (not with a camera in the room, at least). When he does speak, Mariota very much echoes the Oregon Way: Talk about the team, about one game at a time, faceless opponents and how he can get better so as to help the team. But ask him about the Heisman, and he almost sounds like he'd be more interested in rotating his tires and getting the oil changed in his car.

2. Signature win(s) and/or that "Heisman Moment"

Mariota still doesn't have either of these. The potential signature wins are still in front of him (at home against UCLA, on the road at Stanford), since Oregon's biggest wins to date are against a Washington team that was humiliated against Arizona State, and a Tennessee team that hadn't done much before it beat South Carolina on a last-second field goal. It also doesn't help that no undefeated teams remain on the Ducks' schedule after UCLA and Stanford dropped games to the Cardinal and Utah Utes, respectively. While both teams are still in the top 15 of the BCS right now (Stanford is 6th and UCLA is 12th), wins against either opponent wouldn't carry the same weight as if one or the other was undefeated.

As for that "Heisman Moment," it's going to have to come on the field, since I highly doubt Mariota will announce at the end of the last game before a trip to New York that, "Oregon just won its first Heisman." As for the play itself, if history is any indicator it will have to be one that breaks down and almost ends in disaster, only to have Mariota turn the broken play into points (through skill, ingenuity, luck or some combination of the three). Manziel ran into a teammate and had to snatch the ball out of the air before throwing his touchdown pass, and Newton almost hit the deck before regaining control and carrying one last defender on his back as he crossed the goal line. The problem for Mariota is that something has to go wrong before it goes right, and very little goes wrong when he's running Oregon's offense.

3. The media coverage

No witty soundbites? No signature wins (yet)? No obvious "Heisman Moment" of which to speak? Does he even have a weekly press conference? You can hear the yawns from pundits and writers already. Even so, being the quarterback of one of the top teams in the country and putting up the kind of stats that Mariota has still earns you a fair amount of TV time (which he has received). But even when Mariota is getting the airtime, more of the talk has either been on how high he could go in the next NFL Draft or why Jameis Winston or Johnny Manziel deserves this year's Heisman over Mariota.

Don't believe me? Let's go back to Wednesday morning's SportsCenter. When a graphic was put up for the purpose of comparing Mariota, Manziel and Winston from a numbers perspective, only four statistics were used: Completion percentage, passing yards, touchdown passes and interceptions. Mariota is third among the three in pass completion (62.4%), second in passing yards (2,051), second in touchdowns (19) and the only quarterback of the three to not throw an interception so far this year.

In the context of those statistics alone, Mariota doesn't really separate himself from the other two quarterbacks. But consider some other stats that ESPN chose not to talk about nor include in their graphic: rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, yards per carry, total touchdowns and QBR -- a statistic that ESPN itself created.

Mariota leads Winston and Manziel in all five of those subsequent categories. Even just looking at QBR, Mariota leads the pack with a 96.6 rating on the season thus far, while Winston comes in second with a 92.5 rating and Manziel brings up the rear with an even 90.0.

But it's not even just ESPN. Go to's web-page for their Heisman rankings, and you'll see that Marcus Mariota is still listed as the frontrunner. However, if you click on the video under Mariota's name, you'll hear him mentioned exactly once before hearing how shocked Dennis Dodd is that Jameis Winston is not the front-runner in CBS Sports' Heisman rankings.

"I'm surprised," Dodd declares. "I think Winston is the ‘it' quarterback of the moment."

So what's the next step for Mariota? College GameDay coming to Eugene helps. A win and a strong performance on national television in east coast prime-time could be huge. Still, don't be surprised if Jameis Winston continues to grab the majority of headlines after the weekend is over.

Winston may be "the ‘it' quarterback of the moment," but it's up Mariota to determine just how long that moment lasts.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of SB Nation or the Addicted To Quack Moderators. FanPost opinions are valued expressions of opinion by passionate and knowledgeable Oregon fans.

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