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Heisman Watch: Marcus Mariota in command entering rivalry week

Heisman Watch: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota leads race heading into rivalry week.

It’s that time of year again: Heisman Trophy balloting has officially opened. Voters can cast their ballots online any time between now and Monday, Dec. 8.

Week 13’s sleepy slate of college football didn’t exactly shake up the playoff picture, and the Heisman race stayed largely intact, too. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon remain atop the leaderboard with two weeks left until the voting deadline.

Those two weeks might not be equal, however. Mariota is guaranteed two more games thanks to the Ducks’ clinched spot in the Pac-12 championship. But if Gordon and Wisconsin lose to Minnesota next Saturday, he’ll miss out on a Big Ten title game berth. That could be an interesting wrinkle moving forward.

STAPLES: Rivalry week will shape playoff picture; Punt, Pass & Pork

Heisman Watch Week 13

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
2. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
3. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
4. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
5. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Rising contenders

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

Saturday’s game against Colorado was likely Mariota’s last at Autzen Stadium. The redshirt junior has one season of eligibility remaining, but is widely expected to declare for the 2015 NFL draft. That’s why this performance was unique.

“If this was my last game at Autzen, it was truly special,” Mariota said afterward. “It will be one of those things I will hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.”

Mariota made the most of it. He went 24-of-32 for 323 passing yards with three touchdowns, and added 73 yards and another score on the ground. Mariota did his work in just over three quarters of a 44-10 rout of Colorado.

With his four total scores, Mariota set a Pac-12 single-season record for total touchdowns (42). He has four or more scores in eight games this fall, the most of any player in the FBS. Moreover, Mariota leads the nation in passing efficiency (185.2) and is tied at No. 1, with Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson, with an average of 10.0 yards per attempt. Mariota’s two interceptions are the fewest among the country’s top-10 quarterbacks in completion percentage.

The Ducks now must travel to Corvallis to face Oregon State. There’s no telling which Beavers squad will show up: They upset Arizona State 35-27 on Nov. 15 before losing to Washington 37-13 on Saturday. But at this point Mariota controls his Heisman destiny. Even if Wisconsin emerges as the Big Ten champion, Oregon would secure a Pac-12 title and a College Football Playoff invite if it wins out. Mariota is the Heisman winner if his stats stay consistent in that scenario.

RICKMAN: Between the Hashes: The good, bad and weird of Week 13

Falling contenders

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

It’s unfortunate when an injury hurts a Heisman contender’s chances. Cooper is still in the running, but Alabama’s stellar receiver took a hit after missing most of Saturday’s game against Western Carolina.

Cooper left the 48-14 win after the first series with what coach Nick Saban called a “bruised knee.” Saban said it wasn’t serious, but the team just didn’t need him.

“Coop just has a bruised knee,” Saban told reporters. “He could've gone back in the game and played. We don't have a problem with him.”

That’s good news for the Crimson Tide heading into Saturday, when Cooper can reassert himself as a potential Heisman finalist. Alabama hosts Auburn in the Iron Bowl and would head to Atlanta for the SEC title game if it wins. That’s potentially two big chances for Cooper to state his case.

Keep in mind, though, only two primary receivers have won the award: Notre Dame’s Tim Brown (1987) and Michigan’s Desmond Howard (’91). With just two weeks left until votes are due, Cooper’s receiving numbers compare favorably to the stats of those previous winners.





















Yet those numbers don’t illustrate the versatility of Brown and Howard. Both returned kicks and punts during their Heisman-winning seasons and also rushed for at least 144 yards and a touchdown. Cooper has not returned a kick or punt this year and has carried the ball four times. As a pure receiver, Cooper might be the best of the bunch, but history suggests Heisman-winning pass-catchers must be more than a one-trick pony.

Outside looking in

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State

Prescott had four total touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 51-0 trampling of Vanderbilt on Saturday. Mississippi State is in the playoff hunt, but Prescott’s Heisman campaign hasn’t recovered from a 25-20 loss at Alabama on Nov. 15. He lacks a signature moment on his résumé. Next week, however, that could change in the Egg Bowl.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

Remember when Hundley was a legitimate Heisman threat? Well, Hundley and the Bruins seem to be peaking at the right time. They’ve won five straight, including Saturday’s 38-20 win over rival USC, when Hundley passed for 326 yards and scored four total touchdowns. UCLA will play in the Pac-12 title game against Oregon if it beats Stanford this week. Hundley could sneak his way to New York with a huge performance in that game.

Heisman video of the week

After Oregon’s win over Colorado, a student reporter told Ducks coach Mark Helfrich that only three things matter: Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota. That counts as a Heisman moment, right?

Heisman look-ahead

Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
No. 6 TCU at Texas (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)

Boykin and the Horned Frogs barely survived Kansas two weeks ago. They were on bye last week, so Boykin’s Heisman campaign has gone quiet. He could change that with a big day at Texas on Thanksgiving. He’ll have the spotlight to himself.

J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Michigan at No. 7 Ohio State (Saturday, Noon ET, ABC)

This rivalry isn’t what it usually is due to Michigan’s recent struggles. In fact, the Wolverines will miss a bowl game if they don’t upset Ohio State. Still, Barrett could cap his regular season with an impressive outing.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
No. 3 Oregon at Oregon State (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC)

Mariota’s Heisman candidacy had sputtered by the time he faced Oregon State last season. He threw two interceptions in that game, but his touchdown pass to Josh Huff with 29 seconds left sealed the Ducks’ 36-35 win. The same drama this time around could prove icing on the cake ahead of Mariota’s Pac-12 title appearance.