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Fair or not, Mariota a Heisman finalist at best after loss at Stanford

By Chip Patterson | College Football/Basketball Writer

Marcus Mariota faced heavy pressure from Stanford's front seven the entire game. (USATSI)
Marcus Mariota faced heavy pressure from Stanford's front seven the entire game. (USATSI)

For the second year in a row, a seemingly unstoppable Oregon team faced Stanford as a double digit favorite and loss. But this year's loss affected more than the BCS title race, it displaced Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota as the frontrunner in the Heisman Trophy race.

While other teams try to contain the Ducks explosive offense, Stanford was blitzing linebackers from the very first possession. The pressure got to Mariota, who was visibly bothered by a knee issue and appeared hesitant to break free from the pocket and scramble. By the end of the game, Mariota was held to -16 yards rushing -- that number includes 24 yards lost to sacks, but is also well below Mariota's average of 63.9 rushing yards per game.

Fair or not, the loss to Stanford will be impossible for Mariota to overcome in the Heisman Trophy race. Deemed the consensus frontrunner ever since Texas A&M's second loss of the season, Mariota will still have the statistical production to be in consideration as a finalist. But when it comes time for Heisman voters to fill out their ballot, Mariota's stats will not be enough to erase the images of Thursday night's struggles.

Mariota's rise to prominence and rapid fall from Heisman contention is reflective of what the award has become in recent years. Because of the bright spotlight created by national television and Heisman hype, each week seems like a waiting game for so-called contenders to either "have a Heisman moment" or crumble under the pressure.

Mariota didn't exactly crumble under the pressure. In fact, the Ducks quarterback was able to battle through the early struggles and apparent injury to lead two fourth quarter touchdown drives. But the short attention span of the Heisman hype train has no time for injuries, and definitely no time to listen to explanations for nationally televised losses. For Heisman voters, Friday morning opened with a feeling of "on to the next one."

Next up is Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston ranked No. 2 in the CBSSports.com Heisman Watch heading into the weekend, but now he sits in the dangerous spot of being considered a frontrunner. If Florida State wavers, at all, from their apparent BCS bound path, Winston will suffer the same fate as Mariota.

Like Mariota, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty struggled early on Thursday night. However, with a 41-12 win against Oklahoma he remains very much in the hunt but tied closely to his team's success. One loss and Petty could see his Heisman chances, even as a finalist, disappear faster than a Baylor touchdown drive.

Until Thursday, Mariota had been Heisman-worthy nearly every time he set foot on the field this season. He won't fall entirely from Heisman consideration after the loss, but he joins Johnny Manziel in that fringe group of spectacular quarterbacks who happen to have a loss on their resume.

But of all the contenders listed above, the one Heisman Trophy candidate tied closest to his team's performance is the one with two BCS titles as a starter. AJ McCarron has never been considered a Heisman frontrunner, and avoiding that kind of pressure and scrutiny might be the reason why he is still in the mix come December.

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