Is Heisman Trophy race a foregone conclusion or is there more to it?

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports

When Heisman Trophy voters cast their ballots online, we have to check a box saying we won’t disclose our votes before the ceremony Saturday night.

I don’t like strong-arming the voters into a vow of secrecy – we’re in the news business, not the withholding news business.

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But I checked the box Monday, or else I could not have filled out my ballot. Thus, I regretfully inform you that I cannot divulge whom I voted for in a year when there is zero suspense about who will win.

However, this would be a pretty short and uninformative column if it ended right here. So, ahem, I will list three guys who had a really nice season in college football. Any appearance they may have made on my Heisman ballot would be purely coincidental.

Nobody played better in 2014 than Marcus Mariota. And no, it’s not close.

Heading into the College Football Playoff, the Oregon quarterback has a pass efficiency rating of 186.33. That’s third-highest in FBS history, trailing only Russell Wilson (191.78) and Robert Griffin III (189.7), both from 2011 – and by the time the season is over he might have surpassed them. Only five quarterbacks in the last seven years averaged more than his 10.2 yards per attempt. Mariota has thrown 38 touchdowns and two interceptions, a 19-to-1 ratio bettered by only one QB in the last seven seasons (South Carolina’s Connor Shaw was 24-1 last year). His 9.1 yards per play running and passing is third-highest among all quarterbacks in the last seven seasons.

Oregon's Marcus Mariota has a strong case for taking home the Heisman Trophy on Saturday. (AP)
Oregon's Marcus Mariota has a strong case for taking home the Heisman Trophy on Saturday. (AP)

He has had to make big plays and simultaneously be nearly error-free in taking care of the football – especially in an up-tempo offense, where the decisions come fast and furious. Yet Mariota has done it. He’s run or passed on more than half of Oregon’s 966 plays. He is by far the biggest reason why the Ducks are 12-1, champions of the Pac-12 and the No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff.

And unlike the previous two Heisman winners, Mariota is a refreshing bore off the field. Never been suspended. Never says anything dumb. Rarely does anything dumb – closest he’s come to a brush with infamy was a recent speeding ticket.

It’s long past due for the Heisman Trophy to return to the Pacific Northwest – believe it or not, 1962 was the last time the winner hailed from that area. That was Oregon State quarterback Terry Baker. The only other winners from the West Coast have hailed from California – none from the state of Washington, none other than Baker from Oregon. Mariota would be the first Duck. He’d also be the first winner from the state of Hawaii – though he would be the second finalist from the Aloha State in the past three seasons, joining Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.

I’m not saying I voted for Mariota. I’m just saying he had a great year.

You know who else had a great year? Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. He leads the nation in rushing yards (2,336). He leads the nation in rushing yards per game (179.7). He leads the nation in rushing touchdowns (26). He leads the nation in yards per carry (7.56) for anyone with more than 200 carries – and Gordon has 309.

Gordon is Mr. Big Play. His 54 rushes of 10 yards or more, 31 rushes of 20 yards or more, 20 rushes of 30 yards or more and 16 rushes of 40 yards or more all lead the nation.

He’s single-handedly rushed for more yards than 85 FBS teams. And he’s single-handedly rushed for more yards than Wisconsin has gained passing – by a margin of nearly 400 yards.

I’m not saying Gordon is on my ballot. I’m just saying he was really good.

There are a lot of other players who were really good in 2014, too: Amari Cooper of Alabama; Dak Prescott of Mississippi State; Trevone Boykin of TCU; Tevin Coleman of Indiana; Scooby Wright III of Arizona. I could go on.

But one other guy who deserves special mention is Washington linebacker/running back Shaq Thompson. He is the most versatile player in college football, the best all-around player, and it’s a shame he hasn’t gotten more consideration for the Heisman.

Thompson has started multiple games at both linebacker and running back for the Huskies. While most games he’s been an either/or player, concentrating on just one side of the ball, he’s excelled no matter where he played. Offense or defense, he’s a stud.

Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin's performance in the Big Ten title game may have hurt him in the Heisman race. (AP)
Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin's performance in the Big Ten title game may have hurt him in the Heisman race. (AP)

Thompson averaged 7.5 yards per carry while rushing for 456 yards and two touchdowns. He also has 70 tackles, returned three fumbles for touchdowns, returned an interception for a touchdown, has made two tackles for loss, a sack, three broken up passes and a forced fumble. In a game of increasing specificity, he’s a football Renaissance man.

Why hasn’t that resonated with the Heisman electorate? I don’t know.

In 1986 and ’87, Holy Cross running back/defensive back Gordie Lockbaum landed in the top five of the Heisman voting – powered largely by a Rick Reilly story in Sports Illustrated. While it’s true that Lockbaum played both ways almost the entire game, every game, he also was doing it at the FCS level. Thompson is starring on both sides of the ball at the Pac-12 level, but it hasn’t been the genesis of any off-the-wall Heisman media push.

Unless this counts.

But then again, I’m not saying I voted for Shaq Thompson. I’m just saying – well, you get the point.

 

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