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MailTribune.com
  • Heisman hype picking up steam for Mariota

    The quarterback has No. 2 Ducks off to 6-0 start
  • The Heisman hype is everywhere except in Marcus Mariota's personal space.
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  • The Heisman hype is everywhere except in Marcus Mariota's personal space.
    The Oregon sophomore quarterback has hit the halfway point of the regular season as either the favorite for the Heisman Trophy or the co-favorite with Texas A&M sophomore Johnny Manziel, according to most college football analysts. He may also be halfway toward guiding the 6-0 and second-ranked Ducks back into the BCS Championship Game.
    Mariota ranks sixth in the nation with 358.3 total yards per game by averaging 287.3 yards passing and 71 on the ground, guiding the Ducks to 630.5 yards and 56.8 points per game, which both rank second in the country. He is fifth in the country in passing efficiency with a 182.40 rating
    Despite not playing in the fourth quarter until Saturday's 45-24 win at Washington, the 6-foot-4, 211-pound Mariota has put up plenty of Heisman-caliber highlights.
    He has run and passed for a touchdown in every game this season, a streak now at eight straight games. He has thrown for at least one touchdown in all 19 career games.
    Mariota ran for more than 100 yards in the first two games of the season against Nicholls and Virginia and threw for a career-high 456 yards and four scores in the third game against Tennessee. He set the modern Oregon record with seven total touchdowns in one game — five passing and two rushing — against Colorado to earn Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors.
    Mariota made it two straight weeks with that honor Monday after passing for 366 yards and three touchdowns plus running for 88 more and a score in the win over No. 16 Washington. It was a heavily hyped game that featured ESPN's College GameDay on site and a handful of national college football writers in the press box.
    Mariota was also named the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback of the Week and the Athlon Sports National College Football Player of the Week.
    Those weekly awards may be surpassed in a couple months by the biggest individual honor in college football, but Mariota said he has not paid attention to the national pundits pegging him for the Heisman.
    "I wouldn't say I'm unaware of it, but I do my best not to pay attention," said Mariota, who went national as a guest on The Jim Rome Show on radio Monday.
    Mariota is soft-spoken and humble, beginning Monday's session with the media by saying, "Good morning, how are you guys doing?" as a couple of dozen reporters circled around him to ask about the Heisman watch he seems intent on ignoring.
    "Honestly, I hear him answer questions and most people, when they answer tough questions about themselves, they're kind of programmed to answer questions about the team and not themselves," offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. "With Marcus, that's genuine. He doesn't have to come up with clichés, that's the way he's honestly thinking."
    Oregon coach Mark Helfrich recently said on a national radio show Mariota is such a good person and football player at times he seems to be make-believe, joking he will someday run out of batteries and turn out to be fake.
    "He has been the same, his approach has been great," Helfrich said. "Hopefully, that is our team approach. ... I think it is impossible with media and all the social media out there to completely mute the noise, we realize that and hope our approach stays the same."
    Frost knows the noise after leading Nebraska to an undefeated national championship in 1997.
    "I've been down that road and Marcus is going through it now," Frost said. "He's doing as good a job as you can do on focusing on what's important."
    Mariota has completed 100 of 165 passes for 1,724 yards and 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. He has thrown a school-record 233 consecutive passes without an interception dating back to last season and is the only quarterback ranked in the top 60 in passing yards without an interception in the country.
    Mariota has run 41 times for 426 yards — an average of 10.4 per carry — and eight touchdowns. Add it up, and Mariota has 25 touchdowns without a turnover despite more than 200 combined passing attempts and rushes this season.
    "It comes down to practice, the coaches always focus on finishing every single play with the ball," Mariota said. "It becomes second nature.
    "Hopefully, I can continue to make good decisions. I am not dreading it. Sometime, it will happen, obviously. Taking care of the ball is critical in this offense because we are building a rhythm."
    Mariota threw six interceptions last year when he was the first freshman quarterback in 23 years to earn first-team all-Pac-12 honors.
    "Last year, I would bet that half of his interceptions, at least, were not his fault and one of his biggest strengths was knowing that," Helfrich said. "As a freshman, that is unique because usually you think that it had to be my fault."
    Helfrich saw plays Saturday from Mariota that showed his improvement this season.
    "He fit a couple balls in that were great throws given the limited window there and guys went down and got it and made a play," Helfrich said. "Probably, last year or in years past, it would have been intercepted. Decision-making, timing, accuracy all go hand-in-hand for something like that. It is pretty impressive."
    Asked about Oregon's offense after the Washington win, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said Frost was "driving that car real fast and it looks real pretty", but Frost said it is Mariota behind the wheel.
    "I don't feel like I'm driving, I feel like I'm the little GPS system for Marcus," Frost said. "I'm just telling him which road to go down. He's the one driving the car and he's doing a great job."
    Barring an unexpected crash along the way, Mariota's ride seems headed toward New York for the Heisman ceremony Dec. 14.
    "He's at the top of the Heisman list for a reason," Oregon senior receiver Josh Huff said. "He's an exceptional player."
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