If Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota wins the Heisman Trophy, a new trend will be established in college football.
Every player to win the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year will have won the Heisman.
This is the first year of the Polynesian award, announced Tuesday in Honolulu, Mariota’s hometown, and he sent a gracious response, “I hope this opens the doors to other Polynesian athletes. Aloha, Mahalo and Go Ducks.”
Mariota is the clear favorite to keep alive a winning streak that continued Thursday at the college football awards show in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where he won the Maxwell for the top college player and Davey O’Brien as the top quarterback.
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The Heisman, the most recognized individual trophy in sports, will be presented in New York on Saturday (7 p.m. on ESPN).
The other finalists are Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, players with dominant seasons, the best at their positions. Thursday, Gordon won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back and Cooper the Bilentikoff Award as the game’s top wide receiver.
Perhaps both would have a good shot, if a strong quarterback candidate hadn’t emerged.
But Mariota was that good.
He brought a wave of momentum into the season, having led the Ducks to 23 victories over his first two years and produced outstanding numbers.
But Mariota’s junior season has been his most productive, with 3,773 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing for 669 yards and 14 scores. He’s thrown a touchdown pass in each of his 39 career games.
Those are Heisman numbers, and the team accomplishment should put Mariota’s candidacy over the top.
Mariota threw two for touchdowns and ran for three others in Oregon’s 51-13 victory over Arizona in the Pac-12 title game, a victory that vaulted the Ducks into the Rose Bowl for a College Football Playoff semifinal against Florida State on Jan. 1.
The game will pit Mariota against last year’s Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, who faced an uphill battle to win the honor for a second time.
Winston’s key numbers — 24 touchdowns, 17 interceptions — lag behind several top candidates and those of his own fabulous freshman season. The statistics alone would have made repeating difficult, despite the Seminoles’ undefeated season.
But Winston’s candidacy has failed on another level. His off-field issues, which started surfacing with an allegation of sexual assault last year, continued with a shoplifting incident last summer and vulgar comments this season that earned him a one-game suspension.
The Heisman Trophy Trust mission statement said the trophy recognizes outstanding performance and the “pursuit of excellence with integrity.”
The vulgar comments, an Internet catch phrase that got Winston suspended for the Clemson game in September, presumably fell short of that standard.
Nothing remotely similar stains Mariota’s dossier.
“If this guy isn’t what the Heisman Trophy is about, then I’m in the wrong profession,” Ducks coach Mark Helfrich said after the Pac-12 title game. “If you want your son or daughter to have a role model, pick this guy.”
Oregon has ranked among the nation’s top programs for the past 15 years, but Mariota bids to become the first Duck to win the Heisman. He’s the program’s third finalist. Running back LaMichael James finished third in 2010.
Quarterback Joey Harrington, the subject of a brash Heisman campaign that included an 80-by-100-foot billboard for “Joey Heisman” across from Madison Square Garden, finished fourth in 2001.
No promotional stunts have been waged on Mariota’s behalf, and as he heads to New York with his trophy case starting to fill, it’s likely none will have been required to land college football’s biggest individual prize.