It's Heisman Saturday.
Usually, the Heisman ceremony means only one thing for Oregon fans--it means the first weekend without college football. It's a day of mourning. A realization that the bowl game is still a few weeks away, then football is gone for an eight month hibernation, leaving us to a winter, spring, and summer of doing without. People who celebrate Lent give up something desirable for 40 days. We are forced by the calendar to give up football for far longer. The three-week interlude between the final regular season game and the bowl is merely a foreshadowing of the silence to come.
But this year's ceremony is different. Sure, Oregon has had finalists at the ceremony before. But Joey Harrington finished a distant fourth in 2001. LaMichael James was a distant third in 2010--besting Harrington's finish--but still Miles away from winning the hardware. Both years, we knew our players weren't going to win. An Oregon player has never won. Until now.
The question isn't whether Marcus Mariota is going to win, the question is how big will the margin be. And it may be one of the biggest of all-time. It will mark not only Oregon's first Heisman Trophy, but only the third Heisman ever for a Pac-12 player who doesn't play for USC. Not since Stanford's Jim Plunkett in 1970 has a Pac-12 player who is not a Trojan won the award. East Coast Bias exists in college football, but Mariota transcends it. Being responsible for 53 touchdowns while throwing only two interceptions will do that.
The Heisman is an individual award at its core, even though it has come to symbolize something very different in recent years. It is supposed to go to the most outstanding player in college football, with some bit about integrity in there as well. Lately, it has gone to the best player on a top ten team, with the big about integrity being throw out. There is no challenge for the voters this year. The best player is on one of the best teams and appears to have integrity in spades.
The only knock on Mariota is the lack of a "Heisman moment," in which something absolutely incredible happened. I'd argue his scrambling thirty yard shovel pass against Michigan State or his reverse scramble downfield strike to Darren Carrington in the Pac-12 Title game were Heisman moments, but i'd also argue something more important: his ruthless efficiency made such a moment completely unnecessary. Mariota was always completely in control.
The trophy will be a win for Mariota. It will be obviously a win for Oregon, which will become only the fifth Pac-12 school with a Heisman, joining USC, Stanford, Oregon State, and UCLA.
Rather than a prelude to a long winter's nap, Heisman Saturday is a celebration this year. A celebration that we've seen the best player in the country suit up for our team all season. Affirmation that not only has this happened, but everyone knows it.
We'll check off a huge box on the program checklist after today. With Marcus at the helm, it may only be a few more weeks until the checklist is done.