AMARI COOPER, Alabama wide receiver
▪ Why he’ll win it: Did you see the third quarter of the Auburn game? Cooper was spectacular with two touchdown receptions that changed the momentum of the Iron Bowl. His 224 receiving yards tied his single-game school record, and he has 115 receptions for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. Also, the best-player-on-the-best-team theory also applies.
▪ Why he won’t: Cooper is a special talent, and in a different season, he’d have a shot from a position that rarely wins the award (Johnny Rodgers, Tim Brown and Desmond Howard make up the Heisman wide receiver clique). But quarterback Marcus Mariota has had an overwhelmingly good season, and quarterbacks have won the last four and seven of the last eight Heismans.
▪ Best Heisman finish from Alabama: The last non-quarterback to win it was Crimson Tide running back Mark Ingram Jr. in 2009. He remains Alabama’s lone Heisman winner.
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MELVIN GORDON, Wisconsin running back
▪ Why he’ll win it: Only three running backs in the game’s history have rushed for more than Gordon’s 2,336 yards and two of them — Southern California’s Marcus Allen in 1981 and Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders in 1988 won the Heisman. None of them were better for one game than Gordon against Nebraska this season, when he rushed for 408 yards.
▪ Why he won’t: Gordon rushed Wisconsin into the Big Ten title game with five games of at least 200 rushing yards. But he ran into a brick wall upon arriving in Indianapolis, rushing for 76 yards in a 59-0 loss to Ohio State. The Heisman voting remained opened through the weekend, and Gordon likely lost votes after the Badgers’ performance.
▪ Best Heisman finish from Wisconsin: Gordon bids to become Wisconsin’s third Heisman winner following running backs Alan Ameche in 1954 and Ron Dayne in 1999.
MARCUS MARIOTA, Oregon quarterback
▪ Why he’ll win it: Mariota has the numbers, like 38 touchdown passes and two interceptions. He plays for a conference champion, tossing five touchdown passes in the Pac-12 title game victory over Arizona. And unlike some previous winners — like Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Auburn’s Cam Newton —there’s not a hint of scandal or embarrassment. Mariota is the total package.
▪ Why he won’t: You’ve heard of West Coast bias? How about Pacific Northwest Heisman bias. The only player from an Oregon or Washington school to win the Heisman was Oregon State quarterback Terry Baker in 1962.
▪ Best Heisman finish from Oregon: Running back LaMichael James was third in 2010. Since we mentioned the Pacific Northwest, Washington’s best Heisman finish was fourth by defensive lineman Steve Emtman in 1991. Washington State’s Ryan Leaf finished third in 1997.
Blair Kerkhoff’s projected Heisman finish
▪ 1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
▪ 2. Amari Cooper, Alabama
▪ 3. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
▪ 4. Trevone Boykin, TCU