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1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Last Week: 346 total yards (33 rushing) & 5 touchdowns (3 rushing) in win vs. No. 7 Arizona
Outlook: On the first Thursday in October, Arizona went into Eugene and beat the Oregon Ducks 31-24. The Wildcats centered their game plan on running the football, and marginalizing Mariota’s legs. Arizona finished with 208 yards on the ground, while Mariota finished with one yard on nine carries.
Two months is a lifetime in college football, though. Following the defeat to Arizona, the Ducks went into overdrive. Instead of caging Mariota, coaches allowed him to use his legs more. He only ran for three touchdowns their first five games. He has rushed for 11 over their final eight. He finishes the season with 4,452 yards (669 rushing) and 52 total touchdowns. The latter is a Pac-12 record.
We won’t know until January whether Mariota’s season is historically great, as his résumé is still missing a national championship. However, on Saturday, Heisman voters will overwhelming conclude that he is 2014's most oustanding college football player.
The only drama left is to see who finishes No. 2 and No. 3.
2. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Last Week: 12 receptions & 83 receiving yards in win vs. No. 16 Missouri
Outlook: In a game that’s more dependant on the pass than ever before, it’s quite remarkable that in the Heisman’s history only two receivers (Notre Dame’s Tim Brown and Michigan’s Desmond Howard) have ever won the trophy. If not for Mariota, Cooper may have been the third. He finished his '14 campaign with 115 receptions -- an SEC record -- for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.
It’s no sure thing that Cooper finishes No. 2, as TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon III both have compelling cases to finish as the runner-up.
Alone Cooper’s performance against Missouri isn’t enough to elevate him to No. 2 status. Even his body of work isn’t the main reason. Availability is Cooper’s biggest advantage over Boykin and Gordon. An Alabama game was usually on a major network and in a marquee timeslot. TCU and Wisconsin were much more difficult to find on Saturdays.
3. Melvin Gordon III, RB, Wisconsin
Last Week: 76 rushing yards in loss vs. No. 5 Ohio State
Outlook: In the biggest game on Wisconsin’s schedule, Gordon was a bust. It’s not fair to place all the blame on him. In fact, Ohio State took Wisconsin out of their comfort zone by getting up quickly on them. The Badgers lose when they have to lean on the pass.
Nonetheless, Gordon didn’t help matters. He averaged 2.9 yards per carry, gaining 76 yards on 26 carries. With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, he fumbled the ball, and Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa scooped it up and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown. Overall, it was an embarrassing performance by Wisconsin, and anyone associated with it looks worse 24 hours later.
Heisman voters now need to decide how badly to punish Gordon. Does one game overshadow an entire season’s body of work? We’re not just talking about any ordinary season, either. Gordon scored 26 touchdowns, and broke the Big Ten single-season rushing record with 2,336 yards. While his record-breaking 408 rushing yards against Nebraska only stood for a week, it still serves as the best Heisman moment of any contender.
Voters can’t ignore what happened on Saturday. As a result, I think a slide from No. 2 to No. 3 is his most probable finish.
4. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
Last Week: 504 total yards (44 rushing), 5 touchdowns (1 receiving), & 1 interception in win vs. Iowa State
Outlook: Boykin improved his Heisman standing on Saturday. He undoubtedly picked up a few more second and third place votes with his 460-yard day. Iowa State is an awful team, though, so I don’t think he’ll get enough to budge from the No. 3 or No. 4 position.
Regardless, as a redshirt junior, Boykin has one more year of eligibility left. He has every incentive to return next season since he’s not going to be a high draft pick. Pencil him in as one of next year’s Heisman frontrunners.