Oregon star Marcus Mariota wins Heisman Trophy

Oregon's Marcus Mariota won college's most coveted individual award Saturday night (©GettyImages)

After three years of being considered one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in the country, Oregon's Marcus Mariota finally got his due. On Saturday night, the junior was voted as America's newest Heisman recipient.

Clear choice

The race this year wasn't even close. Mariota received 788 first-place votes (and only 894 were cast). Mariota finished with 2,534 points in the 3-2-1 format, which eclipsed the totals of Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon (1,250) and Alabama wideout Amari Cooper (1,023).

The tale of Mariota's talent has always been evident on the tape. He has thrown for at least 3,600 yards the last two seasons, with more than 30 passing touchdowns the last three.

Even more eye-catching though has been Mariota's accuracy this season: With 38 touchdowns to only two interceptions, he has been a model of consistency. He also completed 68 percent of his passes with an average of 10 yards per attempt.

The Ducks quarterback's video-game numbers make him well deserving of the Heisman. But his ascent to Heisman relevancy was not always a certainty, and it's easy to track where he almost missed out — and how he eventually pulled away with college's most coveted award.

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All he did was win

On a basic level, the reason why Mariota previously didn't win this award already was that his team wasn't succeeding enough on the field to warrant it.

Sure, Oregon has had great victories the past few years. But when No. 14 Stanford defeated Oregon in a 17-14 overtime game in Mariota's inaugural year as starter, the Ducks were pushed to the Fiesta Bowl with one loss.

Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel took the award that year, becoming the first freshman to win the prestigious title of Heisman. Sure, Manziel's team had two losses, but he played in the rugged Southeastern Conference and almost single-handedly beat top-ranked Alabama on prime-time television.

And in 2013, Mariota and his Ducks lost two games, again to Stanford and another to Arizona, which relegated them to the Alamo Bowl. Because Oregon played in a weaker conference than other contenders, Heisman voters wanted to see the team go undefeated for Mariota to be seriously considered.

Luckily for Mariota, stars aligned this year with a college football playoff that made it possible to play both an easier schedule and have one-loss, and still make the postseason.

With Oregon finishing as the second-ranked team this year and playing in the playoff, it wasn't hard for voters to finally make the leap and pick Mariota.

Other would-be contenders

Mariota also benefited by drop-offs from two notable Heisman contenders who could have derailed his big opportunity.

The first was Todd Gurley, Georgia's all-everything back who seemed like the front-runner early in the season. But the Bulldogs faltered, most notably in an early-season loss to South Carolina, and then Gurley got caught getting paid illicitly for signing autographs. That resulted in a four-game suspension and when he returned to the field, then promptly tore his ACL, his once-hopeful season ended prematurely.

The second was Mississippi State's Dak Prescott, another star quarterback who led his squad to unlikely victories over three top-10 teams in three weeks: No. 8 LSU, No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 2 Auburn.

But when Prescott lost a close matchup against fifth-ranked Alabama, 25-20, and then to in-state rival Ole Miss, ranked No. 19, his Heisman candidacy was dead in the water.

That left Mariota to finally reach college football's highest individual achievement — and now he faces third-ranked Florida State to determine if he will also reach the pinnacle of the team sport.

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