Heisman Trophy winners can often pinpoint the one game that truly kicked off their campaigns. For Johnny Manziel, his upset of Alabama last season set things in motion for his monumental victory. For Robert Griffin III, his late, game-winning touchdown strike against Oklahoma in 2011 sparked his run at the trophy.
It wasn’t that both Manziel and Griffin were unknown commodities, of course; the college football world simply hadn’t seen a Heisman-caliber moment from either player until those particular games.
It’s possible we witnessed the beginning of another campaign this weekend. Marcus Mariota’s performance in second-ranked Oregon’s 45-24 win at No. 16 Washington might be remembered as the launching pad for his own Heisman credentials. The game was the first true test on the Ducks' schedule, and the their sophomore quarterback picked apart a tough Huskies defense in a hostile environment. Mariota's brilliance silenced many critics -- including this one – who had knocked him for having beaten only inferior opponents. But more than that, the way Mariota led Oregon to victory may have shown that he is the best player in college football.
That’s why there’s a new leader in the Heisman Watch for the first time since Week 2. In what has proven to be a quarterback-heavy race, it’s hard to argue that anyone but Mariota deserves the top spot at the halfway point of the season.
Heisman Watch -- Week 7
1. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
2. Tajh Boyd, QB Clemson
3. Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M
4. Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
5. Aaron Murray, QB Georgia
6. AJ McCarron, QB Alabama
7. Braxton Miller, QB Ohio State
8. Bryce Petty, QB Baylor
9. Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville
10. Zach Mettenberger, QB LSU
Player of the week
Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
Week 7 stats: 24-of-31 for 366 yards, three touchdowns; 13 rushes for 88 yards, one touchdown
National exposure plays a major role in the Heisman race, and Mariota simply hadn’t been on the field much in many of the Ducks’ blowout victories. In fact, he had yet to play into the fourth quarter this season before Saturday. Against Washington, however, Mariota found himself in a tight contest heading into the final 15 minutes of the game, and the quarterback -- as Heisman contenders are supposed to do -- delivered.
Oregon led only 31-24 at the end of the third quarter, but in the fourth Mariota ran for a touchdown and threw for another to help the Ducks pull away. The Huskies twice climbed to within seven points of Oregon in the second half, but each time Mariota led scoring drives on the Ducks' ensuing possession. He completed a season-high 77.4 percent of his throws against a Washington defense that came into the game ranked third in the country against the pass.
Mariota might be productive -- he's thrown for 17 touchdowns, and rushed for eight more -- but he’s also not making mistakes. He has yet to toss an interception. Oregon takes on Washington State next Saturday, after which we’ll see if Mariota’s prolific run can continue. The Ducks face a challenging Pac-12 two-step against ninth-ranked UCLA (Oct. 26) and No. 13 Stanford (Nov. 7) in consecutive games.
Mariota’s excellent day may have shot him past Boyd in our Heisman rankings, but it shouldn’t take away from the Clemson quarterback's own impressive outing in a 24-14 win over Boston College. The Tigers remained unbeaten thanks to Boyd's six-yard touchdown run that put Clemson up 17-14 in the fourth quarter, spoiling the Eagles' upset bid. Boyd also completed 30 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown. He could make a strong case to reclaim the top spot if he comes up big against Florida State and quarterback Jameis Winston this Saturday.
Johnny Football was once again an offensive machine. Manziel put up 459 yards of offense (113 rushing, 346 passing) as Texas A&M squeaked by Ole Miss in Oxford. His six-yard touchdown run at the end of a 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter tied the game 38-38, and the Aggies knocked in a game-winning field goal on their next series. A&M’s quarterback didn’t pass for a touchdown, but his completion percentage (79.5) and rushing yards (113) against the Rebels were both season highs.
Baylor’s offense wasn’t its usual explosive self against Kansas State, but the Bears’ quarterback was nevertheless effective in the win. He threw for 332 yards – his fifth straight 300-yard game – with three touchdowns and no picks to keep Baylor undefeated. He also punched in his fourth rushing score of the season. Even if the Bears' offense slows down, there’s plenty of reason for Petty’s Heisman hopes to stay alive if Baylor remains atop the Big 12.
Few folks are talking about McCarron, but that will happen when your last two opponents are Georgia State and Kentucky. Still, Alabama’s normally reserved quarterback threw for a career-high 359 yards as the Crimson Tide dominated the Wildcats. McCarron will continue to fly under the radar as Alabama cruises through the soft part of its schedule, but don’t be surprised if his name comes up again when the Tide plays LSU on Nov. 9.
An unbeaten Missouri team earned plenty of respect after holding off Murray and Georgia 41-26 on Saturday. The Bulldogs' senior quarterback turned the ball over three times (two interceptions, one fumble lost) against the Tigers, while dealing with an injury-depleted arsenal at running back and wide receiver. Georgia was only down by eight points late in the fourth quarter, but Murray threw an interception with 4:25 remaining that set up a seven-yard touchdown run by Missouri’s Henry Josey. That was the end of the Bulldogs' comeback bid.
Perhaps we’re all being a bit harsh on Bridgewater, who seems to get more criticism for minor mistakes than any other quarterback. Still, against a weak schedule (which isn’t his fault), the fact is that the junior has to be near-perfect every week in order to garner serious Heisman consideration -- and Bridgewater simply wasn’t sharp against Rutgers. He threw an interception in the end zone and fumbled in the fourth quarter while also overthrowing receivers on numerous occasions.
Tweets of the week
One of Oregon’s best players ever?
Now that’s a stat:
The elusive Johnny Manziel:
Video of the week
Johnny Manziel reverses direction in mid-play to punch in a six-yard touchdown and tie the game against Ole Miss: