Later this week the Heisman Trophy will add one new member to the most exclusive fraternity in sports. It is widely expected that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota will hear his name announced as the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, which would make him the first player in program history to win the highest individual honor in college football.
Mariota was one of three finalists named for this year’s award. Mariota will be joined by Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper in New York this week. Each Heisman finalist may be the absolute best at their respective positions this season, but history and trends appear to favor Oregon’s quarterback this year. As good as Gordon and Cooper are, the Heisman has developed a knack for honoring quarterbacks before any other position in recent years.
A year ago, six players were named finalists in what was expected to be a runaway year for Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. It was, which suggested five others were sent along to spice things up a little bit in a season when the Heisman race seemed to be over by mid-October. Somehow, Mariota was left out of that expanded Heisman finalist group, the largest in the award’s history, despite throwing for 3,412 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushing for 582 yards and nine more touchdowns in the regular season. Two losses in regular season play derailed Mariota’s Heisman chances in 2013 more than anything else.
Already entering the season regarded by many as the best quarterback in the country, Mariota did nothing to suggest otherwise in leading the Ducks to a Pac-12 championship and a spot in the first College Football Playoff. Mariota passed for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns with just two interceptions this season. On top of that, Mariota rushed for 669 yards and 14 touchdowns. As Mariota was continuing to string together big numbers and win games for a national title contender, other likely and supposed Heisman contenders stumbled or practically took themselves out of the running for off-field issues or concerns.
Winston’s off-field concerns have been thoroughly documented, but his on-field performance has struggled enough to ensure there will only be one two-time Heisman Trophy winner (Ohio State’s Archie Griffin). History was always against Winston from the start. Georgia running back Todd Gurley looked to be the best bet from a non-quarterback to win the Heisman until having to serve a four-game suspension in the middle of the season. Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott lost games late. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin and Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett each were worthy of consideration to be invited to New York, but neither would have been likely to finish ahead of Mariota. Their omission from the finalist list may be more of a reflection of just how clear it is Mariota is lined up to win this year’s Heisman Trophy.
As finalists, the work done by Gordon and Cooper should not go unnoticed however. Gordon has rushed for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns this season for Wisconsin, leading the nation in both categories. But Gordon was shut down by Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, as were the rest of the Badgers. If Gordon was going to challenge Mariota for the Heisman Trophy, the results from championship weekend likely put that idea to rest.
Cooper is without a doubt the best wide receiver in college football and may finish higher than any wide receiver in the Heisman voting since Pittsburgh’s Larry Fitzgerald finished second behind Oklahoma quarterback Jason White in the 2003 voting. The only other time a wide receiver finished in the top three since 1990 was when Desmond Howard of Michigan won the Heisman Trophy in 1991 and Notre Dame’s Raghib Ismail finished second behind BYU’s Ty Detmer in 1990. Wide receivers simply do not fare well in the Heisman Trophy race, but Cooper will have the best chance in over a decade.
Having three players that have been the best at their respective positions is appropriate, but this year’s award seems destined to go to a quarterback for a fifth straight season, and a 13th time since 2000.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.