Marcus Mariota has been the closest thing to quarterbacking perfection in the history of the college game. Whoa, there’s a mouthful. But take a minute to drink in and savor the career numbers: 10,115 passing yards, 101 passing touchdowns, only 12 interceptions — yes, 12 — and 2,136 more yards and 28 touchdowns with his legs.
Are you done?
The numbers alone border on the unfathomable. Yet they only begin to define Mariota the player.
Heisman Trophy voters wanted to vote for Mariota, the ideal successor to Florida State’s Jameis Winston and, before Winston, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. Why ideal? Because No. 2 Oregon’s Mariota, only a junior — again, look at those numbers — is one of the good guys. A good citizen. A true leader by example. A bookish learner of the game.
“On the field and off the field,” said Ducks coach Mark Helfrich, “our team is made up of a bunch of guys who are in his mold, and a lot of that is due to his leadership. Obviously, that speaks for itself. But if you want your son or daughter to have a role model, pick this guy.”
The appeal of this Rose Bowl national semifinal is, above all else, the Heisman-vs.-Heisman matchup of Mariota and Winston. It’s about one of the good guys vs. a player and 2013 national champion, Winston, who surely is rooted against by many. Winston’s checkered off-the-field history includes a rape allegation that brought no charges — nor a violation of the FSU student-conduct code — yet, fairly or not, positioned him and the No. 3 Seminoles as antiheroes.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has repeatedly stuck his own neck out in public support of his best player.
“He’s elite. He’s special. He’s different than anybody I’ve ever been around,” Fisher says. “And he cares about his teammates, and he can compartmentalize. When he has a job to do and people counting on him, that’s what a man does. And when you know the truth and you know the facts, you can put your head on the pillow at night and go to sleep. And I’m blessed to be a part of his life, I know that.”
Winston is unbeaten as a college quarterback; the Seminoles have won 29 games in a row. But only four FBS quarterbacks — and none in the Power 5 conferences — have thrown more interceptions this season than Winston, who has 17. Next to his modest total of 24 touchdown passes, that’s a terrible number.
Yet Winston has led FSU back from one deficit after another — against North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami and others — and a comeback victory over the Ducks would simply be more of the same.