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Why Oregon Fans Should Revel in The Glory Now

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Puddles, the Oregon Duck

Assuming Marcus Mariota’s game against Utah cemented his Heisman front-runner’s status and that he’s leaving for the NFL in 2015, history shows Ducks football fans should revel right now in the highs of this season.

That’s because the last 25 years of Heisman-winning quarterbacks who did not return to college football is replete with significant drop-offs for their schools’ records the following season. 

In other words, enjoy what’s happening now with Mariota and Oregon. Last week’s game against Utah clearly shows why. 

The Ducks needed to be both lucky (If Kenny Wheaton’s 1994 interception is immortalized as “The Pick,” let’s call Joe Walker’s fumble return against Utah“The Pick-Up.”) and good to beat the Utes on the road.

The Ducks won because they could rely repeatedly on the best player on the field and in college football—Mariota didn’t hesitate to run when he had to (rushing for 114 yards) and passed for 239 yards and three touchdowns. The only bigger understatement of the week than “Mariota is irreplaceable” is that “Notre Dame is no longer a contender this season.”

But Heisman history underscores just how irreplaceable, irrespective of incoming recruiting classes or returning stars at other positions.

Eight of the last 10 times a school had a Heisman-winning quarterback who did not return to college the following season, the team’s record declined.

And often, the records declined not just by a little bit.

After Robert Griffin III left Baylor, the Bears fell from 10-3 in 2011 to 8-5 in 2012. After Cam Newton left Auburn, the Tigers plunged from 14-0 in 2010 to 8-5 the following season.

After Eric Crouch left Nebraska, the Cornhuskers freefell from 11-2 in 2001 to 7-7 And after Chris Weinke left Florida State, the Seminoles dropped off from 11-2 in 2000 to 8-4 the next season.

The one exception to the trend was USC. After Carson Palmer left, the Trojans actually improved from 11-2 in 2002 to 12-1 the following season. Of course, USC also had Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.

So what’s the upshot of all these numbers for Ducks fans? 

Use the bye week to treasure every moment of this season for Oregon and Mariota.

Oregon has gone 9-1, playing increasingly impressively after losing to Arizona. 

The Ducks will be heavily favored to win their last two regular-season games against Colorado and Oregon State, which should leave them in the selection committee’s final four.

The Ducks are already in the Pac-12 championship game, and a win there against a tougher opponent would certainly send them to the national semifinals. 

And with all appropriate prayers to the injury gods, Mariota is poised to do what Joey Harrington and LaMichael James could not do—win the Heisman for the first time in Oregon’s football history.

Of course, there is one more number to chew on during the bye week. 

Of the last 10 quarterbacks to win the Heisman, six ended up returning for the following season. And Mariota is only a junior …

A native Oregonian, Hank Stern had a 24-year career in journalism, working for more than a decade as a reporter with The Associated Press in Oregon, New Jersey and Washington, DC. He worked seven years for The Oregonian as a reporter in east Multnomah County, Washington County and Portland’s City Hall. In 2005, he became Willamette Week’s managing news editor and worked there until 2011.

Banner Photo Credit: Scott Enyeart via Flickr


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