By Kevin McGuire-
(CBS Local) The final weeks of the college football season are here, and the Heisman Trophy race is coming down to the wire. By this point in the season, we have seen some top contenders rise from the rest of the pack, but which player will claim the 2014 Heisman Trophy?
Bovada recently trimmed the betting odds down to two players, which should offer a suggestion on where this race is heading. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota looks to be the favorite this season, but Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon also has a decent shot to win the award. Everybody else may be playing for third place.
Mariota entered the year as one of the favorites in this year’s Heisman Trophy race. His 2013 season may have been easy to overlook as the Ducks lost twice to fall out of the national spotlight, and that is a shame. A season after passing for 3,665 yards and 31 touchdowns with just four touchdowns, Mariota is on track to have an even better 2014 season. With one game left in the regular season and a Pac-12 Championship Game coming up next week, Mariota has thrown for 3,103 yards and 32 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He has also added 597 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. That puts him on track to have better rushing totals this season compared to last season as well. Unlike last season though, Mariota has kept Oregon in the national championship hunt. The Ducks holding a top two seed in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee can help a Heisman campaign, so it is no shock to see Mariota considered a favorite to win the first Heisman Trophy in Oregon school history.
The Heisman Trophy has become a bit of a quarterback award as the game has evolved, but this has been a strong season for running backs as well. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon has had the best year of them all. Gordon has already eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark as the nation’s leading rusher with one game to play, and a potential Big Ten Championship Game within sight. Gordon is making a legitimate run towards the single-season rushing record held by former Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders, although it should be noted that Sanders set the record in 11 games and did not have his bowl game rushing total counted. Regardless, what Gordon has done this season is incredible, leading the nation with 2,109 yards and with 25 rushing touchdowns.
Mariota and Gordon should be locked down to head to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation, but who will join them in the Big Apple? This, of course, depends on how many finalists are invited by the Heisman Trust for the ceremony, and this number can fluctuate from year to year. Last year saw six finalists sent to New York, but that may be a reach this season.
TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper all could be expected to fly to New York. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett could also have a solid case for an invite, but his rise may have been flying under the radar a little too long to make that a reality this season. What about last year’s Heisman Trophy winner? History was always likely to go against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, but he absolutely deserves to be mentioned in the conversation based solely on his on-field performance. But how much does the off-the-field image come into play for voters, and is his season as impressive as other options?
Heisman Trophy Spotlight Games of the Week
Rather than single out one particular game this week, here are the key games for late Heisman Trophy impressions for some of the most likely contenders.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 15 Auburn: The Iron Bowl will put the spotlight on Amari Cooper as the Crimson Tide looks to possibly lock up the SEC West and stay in the playoff hunt.
No. 19 Ole Miss vs. No. 4 Mississippi State: Go get it Dak Prescott. This might be your last chance to show something.
Texas vs. No. 5 TCU: If Boykin can lead the Horned Frogs to a win against an improving Texas team, Boykin could make a case for New York.
No. 6 Ohio State vs. Michigan: J.T. Barrett gets a chance to pad stats against struggling Wolverines.
No. 8 UCLA vs. Stanford: Don’t forget about UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. Getting hot at the right time could make for a late push worth noting.
No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 18 Minnesota: Melvin Gordon will be tested by relentless Minnesota.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football.