Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty
Last Friday night, quarterback Marcus Mariota led the Oregon Ducks to a 51-13 rout of the Arizona Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship, throwing for two touchdowns and running for three more in avenging his team’s lone loss of the season that came in Week 5.
But while it was a performance that guaranteed Mariota a seat at the table in New York City next week for the Heisman Trophy Presentation Ceremony, by no means did he outright win the award with his play.
Instead, he’d win it 24 hours later.
Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon, who had emerged as the other candidate in what had become a two-man race for college football’s most coveted individual prize, needed 369 rushing yards against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big 10 Championship on Saturday to break Barry Sanders’ 1988 record for rushing yards in a single season. And since Gordon ran for 408 yards against the Nebraska Cornhuskers earlier in the season to break LaDanian Tomlinson’s 1999 single-game rushing record, it didn’t seem impossible.
Final score: Ohio State 59, Wisconsin 0. Gordon’s stat line in the loss? 76 rushing yards, zero touchdowns.
And the winner of the 2014 Heisman Trophy is: Marcus Mariota.
Now, this isn’t to say that Mariota will win the Heisman solely because Gordon’s rushing and total yards diminished every week following his record-breaking performance against Nebraska — it’s also about what Mariota did himself in the same time frame: In the three games following Oregon’s bye week (the same week Gordon broke the single-game rushing record), Mariota accounted for fifteen total touchdowns: nine passing, six rushing. Gordon, meanwhile, accounted for four touchdowns over that same stretch: three rushing, one receiving.
Yes, Melvin Gordon still had a spectacular season despite being on a Wisconsin team that finished with three losses. Yes, he broke the single-game rushing record against Nebraska. Yes, Gordon is the fastest running back in history (in terms of number of attempts) to get to 2,000 rushing yards in a season. Yes, Gordon is a lock for the Doak Walker Award.
But Melvin Gordon is not the best player in the country, and he will not win the Heisman Trophy.
His single-game rushing record? It lasted a week. Barry Sanders’ record? Untouched. Games with 0 rushing touchdowns and less than 100 rushing yards? Gordon had two, including one in a conference title game his team was favored to win. Simply put, Gordon was the greatest threat to Mariota’s Heisman campaign, and he failed to perform on the biggest stage under the brightest lights.
The question is no longer whether or not you can justify voting for Marcus Mariota to win this year’s Heisman Trophy.
After this last weekend, how can you justify voting for anyone else?