Once more into the fray with our MNC Wednesday miniseries entry scrutinizing Heisman Trophy history, and in 58 seasons overall, we have confirmed just 17 vote winners—which is pretty insane. This season we look at today was the first for the College Football Playoff, and for better or for worse, it still rules the day in the sport. That doesn’t change our analyses here, but there is a correlation between the media coverage of the CFP and the Hypesman Trophy, obviously. Oh, why do we even bother?!
2014 Heisman Trophy winner: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (original); Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona (revised)
The Oregon Ducks went 12-1 to win the Pac-12 and earn a spot in the inaugural CFP. Their quarterback, Marcus Mariota, won the Heisman vote after leading the nation in QB rating (181.7) and compiling 5,250 total yards along with 48 total touchdowns against just 4 interceptions. All these video-game statistics came against the No. 9 schedule in the nation, too, as Oregon began the season ranked third and finished it ranked second. This looks like a very good profile here, but as we have seen, you never know.
As is often the case, there are always other quality candidates to consider, and this is our final list of firmly vetted Heisman candidates for the 2014 Heisman Trophy, a list that is pretty intense, actually:
- Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: 2,740 total yards and 32 TDs (No. 52 SOS)
- Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: 1,750 total yards and 16 TDs (No. 5 SOS)
- J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State: 3,772 total yards with 45 TDs and 11 INTs for a 169.8 QB rating (No. 17 SOS)
- Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona: 164 tackles, 31 TFLs, 15 sacks, and 5 FFs (No. 8 SOS)
Gordon helped the Badgers reached the B1G Championship Game, but getting shutout there hurts his candidacy. He had just 76 yards on 26 carries in that game, demonstrating perhaps the lack of support he had on his roster. Plus, that SOS is pretty middling. Meanwhile, Cooper led the Crimson Tide to the SEC title and a berth in the CFP, and his SOS is better than Mariota’s mark, although we will have to see what kind of supporting cast he had at Alabama. But Cooper tops Gordon, for sure, based on SOS.
Barrett, who was injured before the B1G title tilt, had an outstanding freshman season for the Buckeyes, leading them to the B1G Championship Game. But with his numbers, QB rating, and SOS all lower than Mariota’s levels, we will just have to pat him on the side here. Besides, retrospectively, what does it say that Ohio State went on to win the first CFP title without him? That may not be fair, but it is what it is. And that leads us to a defensive candidate here: Wright’s numbers certainly do belong in the convo.
The Wildcats went 10-2 to reach the Pac-12 Championship Game against an elite schedule, and Wright led the nation in TFLs and FFs. So our debate comes down to Mariota, Cooper, and Wright; all three guys played tough opponents and still posted awesome statistics, as each team reached its conference title game, too. Thus, the peripherals are all even, and if we just look at stats, then we see it as Mariota, Wright, and then Cooper. But all stats need context, and that’s our drill here once again:
- Alabama: QBs tossed 32 TDs and 10 INTs, while two RBs compiled 2,282 total yards
- Arizona: QBs tossed 29 TDs and 10 INTs, while a RB ran for over 1,350 yards and a WR put up over 1,000 yards
- Oregon: a RB ran for over 1,350 yards and a WR put up over 1,000 yards
The Tide had better QBs than the Wildcats did, for sure, and having two excellent RBs all but eliminates Cooper from this discussion. The Alabama offense was loaded, even with the merely “decent” QB play. The Arizona offense was competent, to put it kindly (QB rating barely over 130.0), so the team really had to rely on its defense for help; even with Wright, the Wildcats defense still finished 81st in points allowed. Arizona went 5-1 in games decided by a TD or less, and you have to figure Wright into that.
Mariota finished third on his team for yards from scrimmage, and he even caught a TD. The Oregon defense wasn’t elite (31st in scoring defense), but it also didn’t need to be with the offense. Mariota certainly made the offense work, but it’s not like he was its only threat. He was just its best threat. Meanwhile, Arizona started the season unranked and worked itself all the way up to No. 8 in the polls before losing to the Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship Game. So much of that was Wright’s ability to alter the game.
In the end, we think Mariota had a lot more support than Wright did, and it surprises even us to name a defensive player the winner of this award. We have not done that yet in our analyses, but Wright’s season was a perfect storm of incredible impact, team success, and value on a championship-level team. There’s a first time for everything in our world, so there you have it. We wouldn’t argue with anyone who insists that Mariota should keep this hardware, either. Sometimes, though, things just happen.
Congratulations to Scooby Wright, the real Heisman Trophy winner for 2014.