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College Football Thursday: Heisman Ramifications
By Matt Horkman

The story of the 2013 Heisman race remains untold. Many are quick to proclaim frontrunners, but the weekly reactionary cycle squeezes the juice out of any candidate that suffers a setback. For example, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd fell off the map after his dud against Florida State, though that remains his only bad game of the year. Because of the immense quality of candidates, this year’s Heisman race is shaping up as a thriller.

Tonight’s games featuring Oklahoma against Baylor and Oregon against Stanford are likely to play a significant impact in how this Heisman’s story ends.

Three candidates currently hover above all. 

The first is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. He’ll enter tonight’s game having accounted for 29 touchdowns and 2,792 yards. He’s also yet to throw an interception, which is a stat so good that it could make the difference in a cloMarcus Mariotase vote. With the Ducks in position to challenge for a national title, Mariota has the statistics and record to win the Heisman trophy.

Stanford’s the best remaining opponent on their schedule, though the Ducks shouldn’t discount rival Oregon State in the season finale, plus, it’s probable they’ll face UCLA or Arizona State in the Pac-12 championship. Regardless, if Oregon loses, it’ll likely be at the hands of the Cardinal. A loss would send shockwaves through the college football landscape. Oregon would drop in the polls, while Stanford would rise as high as No. 4. Mariota’s Heisman standing would also plummet, though I’d suspect it’d rebound after the media’s hyperbolic reaction subsides.

Nonetheless, Mariota cannot win the Heisman with one loss, while Florida State’s Jameis Winston leads the Seminoles to an undefeated season. The Florida State freshman is sitting comfortably right now. The Seminoles won’t have another tough game until the ACC championship, which will likely be against Virginia Tech or be a rematch with Miami (FL). Either way, it’s seems unlikely Florida State will lose in 2013.

Given their recent dominance (40-plus points in every game this season) and soft remaining schedule, the Seminoles are the safest bet to remain unbeaten. As a result, that makes Winston the safest Heisman pick. It also leaves him without upside, though. People will remember Mariota’s performance tonight more than Winston’s performance against the Hurricanes. A strong outing and victory from the Oregon quarterback would put Mariota in the driver’s seat.

The final candidate is Johnny Manziel, who happened to win the Heisman in 2012. Many have speculated that Manziel’s off-field controversies are hindering his Heisman standing. That’s simply not true. Last year, Manziel had an outstanding season against a weak crop of candidates. This year, he’s having an outstanding season and is apart of one of the most competitive races in recent memory. Simply put, he is No. 3 because Mariota and Winston have their teams in the national title conversation. If Mariota loses tonight (or any other night) and Winston loses once, then expect Manziel to win the Heisman.

After the big three, we enter the unknown with Baylor. The Bears possess two long-shot contenders who’ll make or break their candidacy tonight versus Oklahoma. Both quarterback Bryce Petty and running back Lache Seastrunk are having outstanding seasons. Petty has 300-plus passing yards in each of Baylor’s seven games this season. Meanwhile, Seastrunk has 100-plus rushing yards in six of those games.

It’s difficult for two players from one team to compete for the Heisman, as they tend to hold each other back. Moreover, Baylor’s played a soft schedule. Tonight’s game against Oklahoma begins a three-game stretch, where Baylor will play teams ranked within the top 25.

The stakes tonight couldn’t be higher. The results will separate the contenders from pretenders. We’ll learn about Petty and Seastrunk. We’ll also get Mariota’s response to Winston’s underwhelming performance against Miami (FL). The national title implications go without saying, but Heisman lurks in the shadows.

When this year’s Heisman story concludes in early December, tonight may mark the climax of its arc.

Draft Watch
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Outlook: No position in the NFL is changing as fast as tight ends are. Blockers and red zone targets have given way to athletes and their versatility. Amaro fits the latter. He can play a number of positions. He’ll line out wide or play the slot. He can even lineup as an H-Back or fullback. While he’ll drop the occasional ball, he does a great job of using his size to out position defenders when going up for a catch. Whoever drafts him will have a versatile weapon that’ll influence the passing game from a number of positions.

Stock: Up

Couch Potato Lineup
Last Week: 2-1
Season Record: 18-9

No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 6 Baylor
Time/TV: 7:30 PM EST, FOX Sports 1 (Thursday)
Prediction: We don’t know how good Baylor is, so this game plays into the contender or pretender theme more than any other does. The Bears have scored 50-plus points in six of their seven games, but they’ve done it against inferior opponents. The Sooners are on their level. They possess an offense capable of scoring points, if quarterback Blake Bell avoids turning the ball over. Bell is an immense talent. He has a good arm and is capable of running for 100 yards. He’s also inconsistent. In his last two road starts, he has 264 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. He’ll need to throw for 300-plus and four scores if Oklahoma is able to outscore Baylor‘s balanced offense. In a game that’ll feature little to no defense, the better offense wins.

Baylor 49 Oklahoma 45

No. 3 Oregon at No. 5 Stanford
Time/TV: 9:00 PM EST, ESPN (Thursday)
Prediction: Last year, Stanford went into Eugene and upset Oregon by playing keep away. Their win put them in control of the Pac-12 and was the reason they played in the Rose Bowl and not Oregon. Once again, the onus is on their offensive line to push Oregon’s defense off the ball. In addition, the Cardinal must get wide receiver Ty Montgomery -- who is among the most explosive payers in college football -- touches and hope he springs a return or two. It’s a good plan on paper, but the Ducks have an improved defense. It’s gone unnoticed because of Mariota’s ascension into college football stardom, but they shutdown UCLA and Brett Hundley two weeks ago. That’s the difference in this game. Oregon has a better defense in 2013 than they did in 2012, while Stanford’s defense has slightly regressed. Mariota will take advantage of it en route to a victory.

Oregon 34 Stanford 24

No. 13 LSU at No. 1 Alabama
Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST, CBS
Prediction: You know it’s an amazing week of football when LSU traveling to Alabama is somehow flying under the radar. Both teams have had two weeks to prepare for each other, which suggest Alabama has the advantage. Nick Saban is a mastermind and two weeks is plenty of time for him to concoct a game plan to slow down Cam Cameron’s passing attack. Still, for the most part, Saban’s defense last test was against Texas A&M, where they displayed vulnerabilities against the pass. This isn’t your normal LSU versus Alabama showdown, where both teams try to outmuscle one another. Each team features an improved passing game.  Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron is playing his best football and LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger is now on NFL radar. In addition, Mettenberger has two NFL caliber wide receivers in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. If the Tigers’ receiving duo makes plays, then LSU has a chance. If not, Alabama is going to win this game. I have a sneaky suspicion that both receivers will play well.

LSU 30 Alabama 24

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