Marcus Mariota isn’t one for words. Ask Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon.
“I spoke with him once or twice,” Gordon said of the Oregon junior quarterback. “He seems like a really cool dude, but it doesn’t seem like he says much.”
Of course, Mariota doesn’t need to talk much. His stats already scream.
And those stats are why he’s widely considered the favorite to win the 80th Heisman Trophy on Saturday in Manhattan.
Mariota threw for 3,783 yards, 38 touchdowns and two interceptions in 13 games and was the driving force behind Oregon’s stellar season. He also ran for 669 yards and 14 touchdowns and even caught a 26-yard touchdown pass as the 12-1 Ducks earned the No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff and playing Florida State and last year's Heisman winner Jameis Winston in the national semifinals on New Year's Day.
If Mariota wins, he would become the 13th quarterback in the last 15 years to win the award (including running back Reggie Bush’s since-forfeited 2005 victory).
Mariota wasn’t at Friday’s finalist roundtable because he was attending the presentation of the Johnny Unitas Golden Award in Baltimore. But that didn’t stop the other Heisman finalists -- Gordon and Alabama receiver Amari Cooper -- from raving about him.
“I saw him against Michigan State,” Gordon said. “My best friend, [Michigan State cornerback and former high school teammate] Trae Waynes, I was trying to watch him, and [Mariota] threw to his side. He did some crazy things against that Michigan State defense, which is a great defense. He played phenomenal against them.”
Cooper said he hasn’t watched Oregon play, but he noted Mariota’s role on offense and his production.
“Quarterbacks have such a huge responsibility out there on the field, so I think Marcus deserves the trophy, Cooper said. “I haven't watched him play. But he's only thrown two interceptions. That's crazy."
That's not to say Gordon and Cooper are slouches.
Gordon ran for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns, both FBS-bests. He said the 2,000-yard mark was a goal of his entering the season but didn’t expect to have this strong of a season.
“It's just how the cards played out,” Gordon said.
Cooper, who is trying to become just the third wide receiver to win the award, had an SEC-record 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns to help 12-1 Alabama earn the top seed in the College Football Playoff. He credited head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin with helping him develop this season.
“[Kiffin] made the offense player-friendly, not too hard,” Cooper said. “I think that was the biggest thing.”
With Mariota around, however, it’ll be tough for either of them to win the award. A Heisman win would help Mariota cement his status as one of the top draft-eligible players, if not the No. 1 overall pick on April 30.
Gordon, who declared for the draft earlier in the week, said he wouldn’t mind taking handoffs from Mariota in the pros.
“Me and him in the same backfield, that’d be crazy, that’d be special,” Gordon said. “Maybe it will happen, maybe not. You never know.”