About the flashiest thing quarterback Marcus Mariota has done off the field all season is wear a T-shirt boldly emblazoned with the word “Success.”
His showy moments have instead come during games for the playoff-bound Oregon Ducks: His touchdown flip against Wyoming, a creative on-the-run shovel pass against Michigan State, or a perfectly faked handoff for a keeper in the Pac-12 championship game against Arizona.
Spartans coach Mark Dantonio summed it up: “Mariota is an outstanding quarterback. What he does is lead. What he shows is toughness. And what he does is create.”
Like Dantonio, all of Oregon and Mariota’s opponents this season became big fans.
“He’s tough to contain. You put pressure on him and he doesn’t feel it. He escapes the pocket, throws the ball down the field,” Stanford coach David Shaw said after Mariota and the Ducks routed the Cardinal 45-16 this season, summing up: “He’s special.”
Mariota goes into Saturday’s Heisman Trophy ceremony as the clear front runner. Here’s how he did it: Mariota set a Pac-12 record this season with 53 total touchdowns, including a school-record 38 via pass, 14 keepers and one TD reception. He leads the nation with 10 games of four or more touchdowns this season. His 38 touchdown passes are also an Oregon record.
Overall, Mariota has thrown for an Oregon record 3,783 yards and just two interceptions, and he’s the Ducks’ second-leading rusher with 669 yards.
The mobile junior from Hawaii has thrown for at least one touchdown in each of the first 39 games he’s played in at Oregon, an FBS-level record. He’s only lost four games as Oregon’s starter.
He has set seven different career and season Oregon records, and his 129 total touchdowns to date surpassed former Trojan Matt Barkley’s previous Pac-12 career record of 122.
“He’s so good. Somebody was talking to me the other day about how easy he makes it look sometimes. What he’s doing is really difficult. His decision-making, competitiveness, his command of the team is so outstanding,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “It’s great to be around him because he makes you want to work harder as a coach. The other guys feed off of him.”
Mariota, however, doesn’t take any credit. The guys around him are what make him better, he says.
Soft-spoken, Mariota instead leads by example. When a player is hurt on the field, Mariota often lingers close by to offer encouragement. Teammates have said they’ve never heard him raise his voice in anger.
“I don’t care what anybody says, because he’s the best quarterback in the nation,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said after the Buffaloes were routed 44-10 at Oregon.
The Ducks (12-1) defeated Arizona 51-13 to win the Pac-12 championship on Friday. Two days later, Oregon was slotted No. 2 in the final College Football Playoff rankings and will face undefeated Florida State in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 for a chance to play for a chance to play for the national championship game.
HE’LL WIN VOTES FOR:
Three Heisman-worthy moments. Among his four touchdowns in Oregon’s 48-14 victory over Wyoming was an acrobatic second-quarter keeper where he somersaulted over receiver Keanon Lowe and a Cowboys defender for the touchdown.
Then there was a creative shovel pass to freshman running back Royce Freeman that gave the Ducks a key first down in their 46-27 victory over then-No. 7 Michigan State.
And although the Ducks would lose 31-24 to Arizona back on Oct. 2, Mariota got creative to start the second quarter when he handed off Freeman, who lobbed the ball back to Mariota for a 28-yard touchdown.
HE’LL LOSE VOTES FOR:
It’s just not in Mariota’s nature to promote himself. So it really came as no surprise when he was consulted about a Heisman Trophy campaign — remember the Ducks went all out with the Times Square “Joey Heisman” billboard for Joey Harrington in 2001 — and he said he didn’t want Oregon to do anything. “I didn’t really want all that attention,” he said. “I’m glad they were kind of able to accept that and respect that decision.”
He may be downgraded for his turnover on what would turn out to be Oregon’s final drive in the loss to Arizona. Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Scooby Wright sacked Mariota and stripped him of the ball for a turnover with 2:11 to play to seal the Wildcats’ upset.
Most pundits say Mariota will be among the first five players taken in the draft, but it remains to be seen whether Mariota or Florida State’s Jameis Winston will be the first quarterback to be selected. Winston won last year’s Heisman but was left out of the group of finalists this year. The main question is whether the success Mariota’s had in Oregon’s system can translate to the NFL.