Stephen M. Smith, TDAM staff writer
Saturday night will be golden, as college football fans descend upon New York City. The Best Buy Theater will have an early Christmas feeling as one individual will join 78 other members of the Heisman fraternity. It’s been a mixture of upperclassmen and younger players in recent seasons, but Saturday’s presentation will involve only upperclassmen.
Marcus Mariota—Junior, Quarterback, Oregon
Oregon’s quarterback Marcus Mariota is a comeback story. He could have pursued a career in the National Football League after his sophomore season, but unfinished business lured him back to Autzen Stadium (Eugene, Ore.).
Mariota is the most prolific passer in Oregon’s history. He completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 3,665 yards, 31 touchdowns and four interceptions in 2013. Mariota has dismantled opposing defenses this season, totaling 3,783 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and two interceptions.
He is one of the few dual-threat quarterbacks in the Pac-12 Conference. Mariota’s registered 1,389 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns combined in the last two seasons. He’s had a stellar career at Oregon, collecting 10,125 passing yards, 101 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Losses to Stanford and Arizona plagued Oregon in 2012 and 2013. Vengeance was paid this season. He led Oregon to a 45-16 victory over Stanford and a 51-13 thrashing of Arizona to capture a Pac-12 championship. The Ducks finished 12-1 (8-1 in the Pac-12) and are the No.2 overall seed in the College Football Playoff.
Mariota collected numerous prizes at the Home Depot College Football Awards, including Davey O’Brien Award, Walter Camp Award, Maxwell Award and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. He’s been recognized as the Offensive Player of the Year in the Pac-12, yet Mariota still needs a Heisman to complete his repertoire.
Melvin Gordon III—Junior, Running Back, Wisconsin
Ohio State is in the College Football playoff, but Wisconsin’s running back Melvin Gordon has carried the Big Ten Conference on his shoulders all season. The Badgers lack of a passing game placed double duty on Gordon. He recorded 1,609 rushing yards (7.8 yards per carry) and 12 touchdowns in 2013. The combination of Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy at quarterback generated more carries for Gordon this season. He has 2,336 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns.
Gordon’s finest performance came against Nebraska. He rushed for 408 yards, setting a new FBS single-game rushing record. Gordon totaled four touchdowns and out played his counterpart, Ameer Abdullah. Wisconsin defeated Nebraska 59-24.
Gordon’s guided Wisconsin to a 10-3, despite a poor performance against Ohio State in the Big Ten Conference title game. He was the recipient of the 2014 Doak Walker Award. Gordon has had an outstanding career, posting 4,664 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns. He has a chance to be the 37th running back to win a Heisman.
Amari Cooper—Junior, Wide Receiver, Alabama
2014 was coined as a rebuilding year for Alabama. Junior receiver Amari Cooper has turned it into a 12-1 season and one of Nick Saban’s best coaching jobs to date. He was dazzling as a freshman, but Cooper’s leadership took a step forward this season.
Alabama’s offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, used Cooper in a variety of ways. He’s abused man-to-man coverage and has gotten his teammates involved. Cooper’s totaled at least eight receptions in 11 games. He torched Florida, Tennessee and Auburn for 200+ yards receiving.
Frustration and a toe injury kept Cooper from breaking records in 2013, but he achieved it this season. Cooper finished the regular season with 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.
He is Alabama’s all-time leading receiving, accounting for 219 receptions for 3,392 yards and 29 touchdowns. Cooper’s set a new record in the 2014 Southeastern Conference title game with 12 receptions. He exited the Home Depot College Football Awards as the first Alabama receiver to win the Fred Biletnikoff Award.
Tim Brown and Desmond Howard stand as the only two receivers with a Heisman Trophy. Cooper could become the third and the second Alabama player (Mark Ingram, 2009) to hoist a coveted bronze award.