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Dr. Saturday

Manziel or Mariota? Let’s have a Heisman debate

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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As we inch closer to the end of the season, choosing candidates for some of the nation’s most coveted awards starts to become serious. And there’s no more coveted award than the Heisman Trophy.

Texas A&M’s quarterback Johnny Manziel is the reigning Heisman winner and this season he’s shown that he wants another bronze statue to add to his collection. But Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is giving Manziel all he can handle by putting up stellar numbers and helping his team stay undefeated.

Who deserves the Heisman at the midway point of the season? Dr. Saturday’s Nick Bromberg and Graham Watson debate.

Let’s start with something simple, who has the best case through the first half of the season?

Let's break down Manziel's statistics through the first six games of 2012 and 2013:

2012: Completed 128-of-190 passes for 1,680 yards, 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Rushing: 91 carries for 676 yards and 10 touchdowns.

2013: Completed 131-of-179 passes for 1,835 yards, 14 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Rushing: 67 carries for 438 yards and 5 touchdowns

[Heisman Watch: Georgia's Aaron Murray out of the conversation]

So as you can see, Manziel's passing statistics are up, while his rushing statistics are down. The rushing numbers make sense; teams know that Manziel's best asset is his ability to scramble, so teams are willing to see if he'll beat them with his arm. And he is. His completion percentage is up significantly -- he has three more completions in 11 fewer attempts in the same sample size.

Oh, and his best game came against Alabama, much like last year. It's not his fault that his defense couldn't stop the Crimson Tide.

Yes, Nick, Manziel’s passing numbers are up, but so are his turnovers. He’s had turnovers in big games and against Alabama it cost his team a win. You know who doesn’t turn the ball over? Marcus Mariota.

Mariota has no turnovers this season. In fact, let's take a look at the Oregon quarterback's numbers:

He’s completed 100-of-165 passes for 1,724 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed 41 times for 426 yards and eight touchdowns. And he’s done all of this in fewer quarters than Manziel because his team has handled its opponents so effectively.

Mariota might be a product of his offensive system, but this young man is a solid quarterback. And while he might not be as flashy as Manziel, he has similar, if not better, passing and running ability and he actually values ball security.

How has each player handled their schedule and what lies ahead?

Up until the 45-24 drubbing of Washington last week, Mariota had not played in a fourth quarter. He had gotten his team out to such ridiculous leads that they didn’t want to waste him in the final period, instead keeping him fresh for games like Washington where the Ducks needed to make emphatic statement against a ranked team.

The best part of Mariota’s game is his versatility. He can hurt you in so many ways that it’s difficult to make a defensive gameplan against him. Granted, Oregon has only played one Top 25 team so far this season (Washington), but it dominated that game. The Ducks also traveled to Virginia early in the year and destroyed Tennessee at home.

[Watch: Top 5 worst college football mascots]

Yes, it’s hard to make a case that Mariota has played a tougher schedule than Manziel. He hasn’t. But he’s dominated the schedule he’s been given and he’ll face at least two ranked teams (and possibly three) before the season is out, not to mention the team he faces in the Pac-12 championship.

Oh yeah, Oregon is probably going to play in the Pac-12 title game. How’s about A&M?

Trumping Oregon playing in the conference title game? Next thing you know you're going to tell me that AJ McCarron is a better candidate than Manziel.

Texas A&M has three games remaining against top 25 teams, plus a nonconference game against UTEP. The UTEP game will allow him to pad his statistics and the two toughest games remaining are the final two games on Texas A&M's schedule. That's perfect for a repeat Heisman run.

A&M finishes the season on the road at LSU and at Missouri, and barring a catastrophe or an injury, Manziel will pile up numbers against Auburn, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and the Miners. That means all Heisman eyes will be on him for the two road games and if he makes a few signature Manziel moments in the Tiger Test, the Archie Griffin mentions will start to roll in.

How do you think each player is perceived?

Ever since he won the Heisman last year, Manziel has been a newsmaking machine. And while the autograph accusations, casino visits, fake Texas tattoos and Texas frat party appearances may have rubbed some Heisman voters the wrong way, the off-field stories have subsided now during the season.

That's why it's a tad dangerous for his Heisman hopes if Manziel lets the internet pick his Halloween costume and pictures start popping up all over. That instantly turns the focus back to his off-field activities. Manziel has proven that he plays well in the face of adversity, however, it just takes one thing outside the football field to fire up the questioning columns. But since he's returned from the suspension against Rice, it's been so far so good.

You know why no one knows much about Mariota’s off-field life? It’s because he doesn’t put it out there.

He’s not tweeting about parties or taking pictures with the guys from Nike drinking on Bourbon Street. He’s just going about his business as a star quarterback while maintaining the respect of his teammates.

Are there some skeletons in Mariota’s closet? Probably. I mean, he is a college student, but we knew Manziel was trouble before he even won the starting job. Remember the shirtless mugshot? Hey, I like Manziel. I like the fact that he’s not afraid to be who he is. But there are a lot of people who don’t like it, who think a Heisman winner should act a little more mature – a little more like Marcus Mariota.

[Watch: Jameis Winston, Tajh Boyd key to FSU-Clemson battle]

Does one player get a leg up because of his conference?

Many contend the Pac-12 is the second-best conference this season behind the SEC. I think it could go either way. Both conferences have their strong top teams and middle-of-the-road teams that would rival the top of many conferences. And both conference have a couple duds. That’s just part of the territory.

Sadly, Mariota doesn’t play as many ranked teams as Manziel and that might hurt him with voters.

However, if Mariota continues to dominate the competition like he has been doing and continues to make statements against ranked teams, there’s no voter out there who could hold Mariota’s schedule against him. Solid play – as long as the competition is decent – should be the deciding factor. If Mariota continues to protect the football, make big plays and lead his team to wins, he should be hoisting the Heisman in December.

The schedule factors heavily here too. Mariota plays in a conference that has television deals with ESPN and Fox and the Pac-12 had to step in to make sure that the Ducks' game against UCLA on October 26 would be televised on ESPN rather than Fox Sports 1, a cable channel that just launched in August and has fewer viewers than ESPN and the Fox network.

Manziel doesn't have that issue. Who's the most popular player in college football? And does Marcus Mariota have a trademark? We all know he's a great player, but when say "That's so Manziel," everyone knows what that means. Does anyone even make Mariota comparisons?

All but one of Texas A&M's games have been on an ESPN network or CBS so far and those games against LSU and Missouri will be either a 3:30 kickoff on CBS or a primetime game on an ESPN network.
Combine that exposure with the perception that the SEC is the nation's superior league (no matter how close the Pac-12 is in reality), and the number of people watching Johnny Football over the last half of the season will dwarf Mariota.

Now it’s your turn. Who’s a stronger Heisman candidate, Manziel or Mariota?

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter!

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