Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has dreamed of his Heisman Trophy moment since his days as a youth-league football player in Hawaii. But he always saw himself wearing a different uniform while making college football history.
“Growing up, I was a big USC fan,” said Mariota, whose earliest Heisman memory involves former Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart claiming the stiff-armed trophy in 2004.
Barring a shocker at the ballot box, Mariota will join Leinart on that elite list when the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner is announced tonight in New York. Mariota, a junior who won the 2014 Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, looms as the prohibitive favorite for the honor based on a record-setting season that has seen him lead No. 2 Oregon (12-1) to a Jan. 1 Rose Bowl berth against No. 3 Florida State (13-0) as part of the College Football Playoff.
Mariota (6-foot-4, 219 pounds) leads the nation in passing efficiency (186.3 rating) with a 68.3 completion rate and 3,783 passing yards. His 38-2 ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions is the nation’s best. He also rushed for 669 yards and 14 touchdowns, making him responsible for an NCAA-high 52 touchdowns this season.
Even his fellow finalists gathered in New York for the award ceremony, Alabama receiver Amari Cooper and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, acknowledge they do not envision a lot of drama about the outcome. Mariota’s collection of postseason hardware already includes the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Award, both given to college football’s top overall player.
In addition, the last four O’Brien winners have gone on to win the Heisman in the same season. That double-dip has held true in seven of the past eight seasons.
“I really like the way Marcus Mariota leads his team,” Cooper said. “They’re winning and they’re winning by a lot. He’s thrown for a lot of yards and he only threw two interceptions. He’s obviously doing great things over there.”
A Heisman triumph by Mariota, a native Hawaiian, would make him the first player of Polynesian descent and the first player born in the islands to claim college football’s top individual honor. It is a distinction he does not take lightly. The same is true for his status as a role model for children at the Boys & Girls Club in Eugene, where he is a frequent volunteer.
“I really do believe the Heisman does represent a lot more than the player on the field,” Mariota said. “Anybody who wins it will be a great representative of themselves and the school and where they come from.”
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