Oregon’s Dominance Prevented Marcus Mariota From Being a 2012 Heisman Finalist

Mariota handing off to Kenjon Barner in their game against Arizona State last season

Stephanie Baldwin Photography

Mariota handing off to Kenjon Barner in Oregon’s game against Arizona State last season

Marcus Mariota’s omission from the Heisman finalist group last season wasn’t the biggest travesty in world history, but he definitely should have been there. In fact, he played just as well as Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Unfortunately, two things – both out of his control – prevented Mariota from getting the Heisman finalist spot he deserved: the team he played for and his opponents.

Texas A&M fans probably think it’s ridiculous to suggest that anyone but the great “Johnny Football” deserved the Heisman. They’re in the SEC after all. But let’s compare Manziel’s and Mariota’s numbers.

Manziel threw for 3,706 yards, with 26 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He also ran for 1,410 yards and 21 TDs.

Mariota threw for 2,677 yards, 32 TDs and 6 INTs, while running for just 752 yards and 5 TDs.

Other than Mariota’s slight advantage in passing TDs and INTs, Manziel’s numbers look significantly better. End of story, right, Aggies fans?

Wrong, Aggies fans.

Manziel accumulated more total yards and rushing TDs because he had more opportunities to rack them up. He passed 434 times last year; Mariota passed 336 times. Manziel also had 201 rushing attempts, nearly twice as many as Mariota who had 106. Also, 14 of Manziel’s 21 rushing TDs were 20 yards or less, showing just how often he ran in red zone situations. The Ducks actually had more red zone opportunities than Texas A&M; they just relied on their quarterback much less in those situations.

Mariota also completed a higher percentage of his passes and rushed for more yards per attempt than Manziel.

De'Anthony Thomas

Kevin Cline Photography

De’Anthony Thomas

All this makes you wonder how much better Mariota’s stats would have looked had he just been given as large a workload as Manziel. It is possible Mariota wouldn’t have been able to handle more passing and rushing attempts, but that seems unlikely given the weapons around him.

Those weapons, in fact, likely hurt Mariota’s Heisman chances more than anything else.

For one, it was hard to determine Oregon’s most valuable offensive player. Mariota wasn’t even the team’s Heisman front-runner for much of the season, that was Kenjon Barner. Before the season began De’Anthony Thomas was getting the most hype as a Heisman candidate. Additionally, Mariota had receivers like Josh Huff and Colt Lyerla. Fair or not, voters often discredit a quarterback’s true level of performance when he has so many great players around him.

The abundance of offensive threats around Mariota also reduced his opportunities to be involved in the offense, especially because Oregon was so run-oriented. Manziel didn’t have superstars like Barner or Thomas taking possessions away from him. He was the most involved Aggie player on offense by far. A big reason why Mariota had much fewer passing and rushing attempts was because he wasn’t the clear-cut most dangerous player on his team.

Then there’s the other major reason why Mariota wasn’t involved in as many plays: his team blew out so many of its opponents.

Other than the loss to Stanford and a 62-51 win over USC, Oregon beat every opponent by 17 or more points. Before that USC game, people made jokes about Mariota never making big plays in the fourth quarter … because he never played past the third.

Manziel, on the other hand, played in five games where both teams were within 17 points of each other. In fact, the final point differentials from each of those games were five points or less. So, Manziel got to play all four quarters much more often than Mariota. Plus, because the scores were so close, Manziel got more chances to pass or scramble. The Ducks trounced their opponents so often and so early in games, Mariota would only get a couple of quarters to make plays before the offensive scheme turned decidedly conservative or the backup QB was called in.

These blowouts also prevented Mariota from having those “Heisman Moments” voters love so much. You probably remember this crazy play Manziel made last season:

That play came in a game against the eventual National Champion – a game that Texas A&M won by the way. Many consider it Manziel’s top Heisman Moment.

Mariota never had a play of that caliber, mostly because he didn’t play in many tight games against top 10 opponents.

Also, let’s be honest, Manziel’s play above was about as fluky as fluky plays get. He literally dropped the ball, somehow recovered it, and threw a TD. If Alabama had recovered that loose ball and ended up defeating the Aggies, Manziel might not have won the Heisman. It’s crazy that one play can mean that much but what are you gonna do?

As insane as it sounds, the Ducks’ dominance last season might have been the biggest reason why Mariota didn’t win the Heisman.  At a minimum it prevented him from becoming a Heisman finalist (he was definitely better than Collin Klein).

If Marcus had played in more tight games, he would have been involved in more plays and had more potential Heisman Moments. If the Ducks played tougher opponents, his already gleaming numbers would shine even brighter. If he had fewer nationally elite players around him, he’d get more credit for his team’s success (Texas A&M also had much lower expectations than Oregon going into last season).

Every Heisman contender depends on factors, that are out of his control, going his way. There’s nothing egregiously wrong with that, either, it’s just the way the award works. If Mariota wants to win this year’s Heisman he has to hope Manziel, Marqise Lee and the other candidates don’t have record setting seasons. He also needs his team to be good, just not too good.

Ducks fans aren’t going to root for their team to be less dominant this season, nor should they, but a few closer games might net Oregon its first ever Heisman winner.

Print Friendly
Victor Flores

Victor Flores

Victor is a senior at the University of Oregon, majoring in journalism and minoring in psychology. Victor was born and raised in San Francisco, CA. He is a fan of the San Francisco Giants, San Francisco 49ers, and Golden State Warriors and has naturally fallen in love with the Ducks since he became a UO student. He currently works for the UO campus radio station 88.1 KWVA as a news and sports contributor and hopes to one day become a professional sports reporter. While he loves several sports, baseball has always been his greatest passion.

  • Jamie

    I’ll betcha Marcus would trade a crystal football in the Oregon trophy case for a Heisman Trophy on his mantel any day.
    The Oregon scheme dictates a greater degree of selflessness than A&M’s “one-trick-pony” offense.
    Not to take anything away from JM, because he was without a doubt his team’s most important player, and the reason they won many of their games last season.
    Not that Marcus isn’t a superstar in his own right either, because he is. His ability to read a defense, and choose the best weapon in his arsenal, in a split-second, and then execute to the degree he has thus far, will take him farther than Johnny’s Heisman will carry him.
    And while he is our most important player also, when the individual stats are compiled, it just isn’t as obvious.

    If they gave trophies for efficiency (points/minute) we KNOW who would win it.
    If they gave a trophy for decision making, I think we know who would win that one too!
    Regardless of the backfield, I believe Marcus’ best chance at the Heisman is through the NCG.

    I know, “no pressure” huh?

  • FishDuck

    If there is nothing I like better…and that is an opinion piece supported by facts to better state your case. You were a fine baseball analyst for us this spring, and now you are combining those analytical skills with your writing…and we love the result.

    This article gets me thinking in many directions on this….the real objective of the Heisman, the type of team you need to be on…all stimulated from the premise. I learned..I was entertained. Great stuff.

  • David Walker

    Johnny played a total of 10 games time-wise last season. It would seem his team’s dominant performances hurt his stats somewhat as well, if that’s the sole comparison here. Two great quarterbacks. Hopefully you get by Stanford this season and meet us in the BCS. Love the uni’s.

  • j10eff

    I agree, I bet MAriota would have won the heisman hands down if he actually played in the second half of most of the games last year.

  • Nichole Brown

    I totally Agree! Best QB We’ve seen in a very long time. I predict he’ll play even better than he did last year- especially with more reliable WR targets this year. Let the campaign begin!!! -Oregon Blogger, gridirongirl.org

  • Milissa

    I want to know how many minutes both of them played the whole season. No one is looking into that. Our duck was only on field for 6 games, you cant make a rank for something if your not putting EVERYTHING on the table.