Heisman Forecast: Gordon vs. Mariota defined by one major debate

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (left) has already gone over 2,000 yards on the season, while Marcus Mariota has Oregon in line to make the playoff.

It’s Melvin Gordon vs. Marcus Mariota.

Ballots were sent out this week to the 929 voters to decide a Heisman Trophy race that has boiled down to these two contenders, giving us one simple question to answer: dominance at the position that has ruled the game or a season for the age?

Dual-threat quarterbacks have won four of the past seven years (five if we include Jameis Winston, a dual-threat that doesn’t run much) and Oregon’s Mariota is simply the best this season.

He’s the FBS leader in pass efficiency (185.2), is fifth in total offense (336.4 per game), boasts a 32:2 touchdown to interception ratio and has already accounted for 42 touchdowns — the most in Pac-12 history — with two games to play.

Mariota’s narrative is strengthened by his keeping the Ducks in position to make the first College Football Playoff, and his numbers aren’t far off from the last true dual-threats to win, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton, who averaged 4,811 yards and 48 TDs.

At Mariota’s current pace, he’ll finish with 4,372 yards and 49 scores, spectacular numbers that underscore that he’s having a great season in the age of spread offenses.

But if that’s the argument for the Oregon star, it only solidifies the case for Gordon.

Think about it, the Wisconsin running back — should he and the Badgers clinch a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game by beating Minnesota on Saturday — has 2,109 yards with two games before votes are due to try and catch Barry Sanders’ single-season record of 2,628. As detailed last week, only one player since 1968 (Cornell’s Ed Marinaro in ’71) set the single-season mark and didn’t win the award.

Sanders’ yardage, a figure that has seemed untouchable, especially as the game has become more QB-centric, is likely going down if you add in a bowl game and Gordon’s current average of 191.7 per.

Is that Heisman worthy? Is operating at a high level at the position du jour and keeping a team in the title picture? We have two weeks to decide.

Before we look at who is set to rise and fall in the race in Week 14, here’s how things would likely stack up in the voting.

After going over 100 yards in each of the first four games and six of eight week, it’s been more than a month sine Cooper hit the century mark. Suffice to say, his candidacy has lost all of its steam, though Auburn should provide a spark for the Biletnikoff Award finalist. The Tigers rank 74th in pass defense (232.5) and have already allowed 121 to Kansas State’s Curry Sexton, 118 yards by Texas A&M’s Malcome Kennedy and Ole Miss’ Evan Engram and 106 by the Rebels’ Vince Sanders. Cooper is obviously the best of that bunch and is expected to be ready for the Iron Bowl after suffering a bruised knee against Western Carolina. He still has a shot at getting to New York, something no wide receiver has done sine Pitt’s Larry Fitzgerald in ’03.

This weekend is all about the setup for Hundley. He tumbled out of the race in consecutive losses to Utah and Oregon, but he’s led the Bruins back into the playoff hunt, but in order to set up a rematch with the Ducks he’ll have to get past Stanford first. What Mariota did to the Cardinal — he threw for 258 yards and two TDs and ran for 85 yards and another two scores — is going to be Hundley’s measuring stick. He’s had at least 300 yards of offense in each of the past five games, so things could get interesting on the Left Coast.

Finish your turkey and tune in to Boykin and the Horned Frogs against Texas. It’s a marquee opponent in name alone, not the kind that the TCU passer truly needs to challenge for the award. But the Longhorns defense has been stout, giving up just 192 yard to Oklahoma State and in three November games had allowed 12 points per game and they’ve had success against the Frogs, keeping them under 300 yards in their first two Big 12 matchups. Of course, this isn’t the same old TCU offense, which is scoring 45.9 per game and racking up 541.6 yards per game. Expect Boykin to take advantage of this stage and rise in a crowded group of contenders for the No. 3 spot on ballots.

To be clear, Prescott is probably going to have a monster day in the Egg Bowl against rival Ole Miss and keep the Bulldogs in contention for an at-large berth in the playoff. But what’s hurting him is what happened to the Rebels a week ago. Needing a bounce-back signature win after the loss to Alabama, Prescott looked primed to get it before Ole Miss was shut out by Arkansas. Now, what was going to be a fifth game against a top-10 opponent is now against a squad that slid from eighth to 19th in the latest selection committee rankings. That doesn’t exactly scream opportunity.

As if anyone needed another reason to pick apart the defending winner, Winston provided it in shoving an official out of the way last weekend against Boston College. From a more concrete standpoint, the Seminoles star’s numbers are down substantially as he’s on pace to throw for almost 300 less yards and is 21 TD passes below last year’s 40. ON a positive note, Saturday’s opponent, Florida, is 32nd in passing yards allowed (301.1) and Winston has thrived against the best Ds he’s seen, throwing for 304 vs. Miami, 365 against NC State and 401 vs. Louisville. He may keep Florida State in the playoff hunt, but it’s a real possibility he may supplant Tim Tebow and Manziel (fifth in ’09 and ’13, respectively) for the worst finish of any winner who didn’t miss multiple games with an injury.

The Bears’ schedule was set up with a few games down the stretch that could get Petty back into the mix, but he squandered an opportunity against Oklahoma State with 262 yards and his second multi-interception game of the season in a narrow win. He may well tee off on Texas Tech and its 93rd-ranked pass (249.6) and can follow up with a strong performance in the regular-season finale vs. No. 12 Kansas State, but Petty looks to have missed his chance to get himself back into the level of true contenders.