Oregon's Marcus Mariota

Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Oregon Ducks runs against the UCLA Bruins on October 26, 2013 at the Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) (Jonathan Ferrey / November 6, 2013)


One of the Heisman front-runners faces arguably his biggest challenge of the season on Thursday night. Here’s a closer look at the top five Heisman Trophy candidates:

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

The Buzz: Oregon had a bye week leading into this Thursday’s monumental showdown with No. 5 Stanford. It’s probably the toughest challenge that Mariota has faced this season and a win over the Cardinal could be the signature victory the redshirt sophomore needs to lock up a spot as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. So far this season, Mariota has thrown for 2,281 yards and 20 touchdowns while adding 511 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on the ground. He was named one of 16 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien Award, which is given to the top quarterback in the country. In 21 career starts with the Ducks, Mariota is 20-1 with the only loss being a 17-14 loss in overtime to Stanford.

Next up: Thursday, at Stanford

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

The Buzz: The irony isn’t lost that Jameis Winston’s chances at a Heisman Trophy – and Florida State’s shot at a possible national championship – hinge on Oregon and Mariota stumbling in the coming weeks. The phenom freshman struggled in the first half, but finished strong in leading the ‘Noles to an impressive 41-14 win over Miami. He threw for 325 yards – his fifth game with more than 300-yards passing this season – while throwing a touchdown pass in his first eight games. Winston did have a career-high two interceptions and now has six picks on the season. He’s over 2,500 yards passing and 24 touchdowns and shouldn’t have any problems this week against a struggling Wake Forest team.

Next up: Saturday, at Wake Forest

Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

The Buzz: Much like his Oregon counterpart, Bryce Petty has a critical Thursday night showdown that could go far in determining not only Baylor’s national championship hopes, but his Heisman Trophy odds as well. Through seven games so far this season, Petty has thrown for 2,453 yards and 18 touchdowns while adding 73 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. In 2012, former Baylor QB Robert Griffin III jumped into the Heisman discussion, in part, because of a phenomenal game against Oklahoma – the Bears opponent this week. Can Petty do the same? Well, RGIII finished that season with close to 5,000 total yards and 47 total touchdowns. Petty would need to finish strong and go undefeated for that to happen.

Next up: Thursday, vs. Oklahoma

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

The Buzz: Johnny Manziel was 16-of-24 for 273 yards and four touchdowns while adding 67 yards rushing and two more scores in less than three quarters of work in the Aggies’ 57-7 romp over UTEP Saturday. On the season, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has 3,431 total yards of offense and 34 total touchdowns. Compare those numbers to the same ones he had over the same amount of games last season where he had 3,449 yards of total offense and 31 total touchdowns. He has three more touchdowns and only 18 less yards. Manziel won’t gain national steam until the final two games of the season – a showdown against No. 13 LSU and No. 8 Missouri.

Next up: Saturday, vs. Mississippi State

AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama

The Buzz: AJ McCarron has 33 career victories heading into Saturday’s showdown with LSU. Last season, he guided the Crimson Tide on a late touchdown drive the propelled Alabama to a 21-17 win that sent them to the SEC Championship and eventually a national championship. While he’s not putting up the gaudy numbers of most of the quarterbacks on this list, he does something just as important: wins. On the season, he’s passed for 1,862 yards and 16 touchdowns with only three interceptions. Another win over the Tigers could impress enough voters to put him on the finalist list for the Heisman Trophy.

Next up: Saturday, vs. LSU

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