How Heisman history shows Ducks may be destined for 8-5 finish
Last week when Oregon dropped out of the AP poll, it snapped the Ducks’ streak of Top 25 appearances at 98 weeks, which was the second-longest active streak in the country.
Utah’s crushing 62-20 win over Oregon at Autzen was enough to knock the Ducks from the rankings, since they’d already lost one game earlier on the road at Michigan State. The stunning blowout home loss to the Utes also triggered a lot of chatter about how Oregon’s Duck Dynasty was crumbling.
Whether the Ducks are actually in the midst of a downfall is unclear. The program is 27-6 under Mark Helfrich and 16-4 in the Pac-12. (About a week earlier Alabama was hearing much of the same talk, but that was also before the Tide smashed Georgia in Athens.) One thing is certain: Oregon really, really misses Marcus Mariota.
This should hardly come as a surprise considering that we’re talking about one of the most dynamic players in the history of college football and the best player Oregon’s ever produced. But it’s still pretty eye-opening to see just how much the Ducks are missing him and just how much of a drop-off there has been. Keep in mind, the Ducks’ receiving corps are actually much more talented than its group from last year with Bralon Addison back. And Royce Freeman and Taj Griffin give the Ducks the kind of jolt in the backfield that we’ve become accustomed to.
But without Mariota, Oregon has gone from ranking No. 2 in the nation in the all-important yards-per-play stat down to No. 23 this season. The Ducks have led the Pac-12 in that stat in each of the previous five years, but are now just No. 4.
But stuff like this happens when a program loses a transcendent QB. This leads us to a pretty amazing stat — the last five programs that lost a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback have all ended up 8-5 the following season:
In 2009, the year when Sam Bradford missed almost the entire season because of a shoulder injury, the Sooners — 23-5 the previous two seasons — went 8-5 and 5-3 in Big 12 play.
In 2010, the year after Tim Tebow left Florida, the Gators — a team that had gone 26-2 the previous two seasons — went 8-5 and 4-4 in SEC play.
In 2011, the year after Cam Newton left Auburn, the Tigers — coming off going 14-0 and winning the BCS title — went 8-5 and 4-4 in SEC play.
In 2012, the year after Robert Griffin III left Baylor, the Bears — coming off a 10-3 season — went 8-5 and 4-5 in Big 12 play.
In 2014, the year after Johnny Manziel left Texas A&M, the Aggies — a team that had gone 20-6 in its first two SEC seasons — went 8-5 and 3-5 in league play.
The Ducks aren’t the only program trying to rebound from losing a Heisman Trophy-winning QB this year. Florida State is dealing with life after Jameis Winston. So far, the ‘Noles are handling it pretty well. They are 4-0, although they have yet to face anything close to a ranked team, and their offense — which lost a lot more than just Winston — has been shaky.
FSU, having played teams that are a combined 7-11, is No. 47 in scoring. In the previous two years, the ‘Noles averaged 42.7 ppg — almost 10 points more than they are this season. They’re also averaging 75 yards per game less than they did in the previous two seasons.
As Oregon coaches said last year when praising the greatness of Mariota, he had the ability to turn "bad" play calls into good ones with his uncanny play-making ability. Talking to coaches of the other departed Heisman guys, that talent is probably the toughest thing to overcome when turning the page. That, and the experience you lose in a guy so versed in running the offense.
Mariota, not surprisingly, is off to a fantastic start in the NFL. He just won the league’s Rookie of the Month honors after throwing eight TDs and just two picks as he tied Dan Marino’s rookie record for most touchdown passes in his first three games.
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FS1. He is also a New York Times best-selling author. His new book, “The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks,” came out in October 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB and Facebook.