If after all the mad Saturdays, it does shake down to either Marcus Mariota of Oregon or Dak Prescott of Mississippi State, let us all crave a tie. They could sever the trophy whereupon each player would get one leg and one arm, appropriate because both use both.
The problem is, sitting here in late October, each appears a deeply worthy winner. Mariota throws more passes but runs gorgeously; Prescott runs more but throws like a pro (and better than some pros). Mariota dazzles as some sort of spritely optical illusion; Prescott leads with a great big sense of presence and will. Mariota makes you want to watch to the point it’s annoying when the opponent has the ball; Prescott makes you want to join the team and do whatever he says.
In national quarterback ratings, Mariota ranks second, Prescott seventh. Mariota has completed 68.8 percent of his passes, Prescott 60.3, and Mariota’s touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio of 24-1 trumps Prescott’s 15-5. Prescott has rushed for more even if college rushing statistics are inscrutable given the long-accepted stance of treating sacks as rushing plays, an absurdity that has blighted our nation’s history.
Yet while Mariota has sustained the idea of Oregon as a titan within the Pac-12, Prescott has established the idea of Mississippi State as a leader within the SEC, a league that has won seven (and within 13 seconds of eight) of the last eight national titles, and has spawned entertaining if ludicrous resentment from elsewhere over the idea that any league winning that much would get a lot of attention.
Start parsing Mariota versus Prescott, and you might even lift the lid on some huffy feelings that involve geography and conference affiliation and runaway local pride.
So at least there’s that enticement.
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: It’s probably irrational even to have a national trophy that attempts to choose from the thousands of football players in the world’s third-largest country. You’re going to look at this guy with 71 receptions in for 1,132 yards in eight games, and with nine for 224 at Tennessee Saturday night, just the sheer look of him, and say there’s some better football player out there?
Shaq Thompson, LB/RB, Washington: OK, so with the Huskies’ backfield in a pinch, he rushed 21 times for 98 yards and zero touchdowns in a 24-10 home loss to Arizona State, and that’s tepid, but wait, he’s also an NFL-bound linebacker with four defensive touchdowns this season. How is that one not the best football player?
Devon Johnson, RB, Marshall: Maintaining partiality toward those who demonstrate across-the-board football value, here’s a guy who has gone from linebacker to tight end to running back, at which he just rushed for 272 yards on Saturday for his seventh 100-yard game. Better yet, he reminds the Huntington Herald-Dispatch’s Chuck Landon of John Riggins, which has enabled Landon to teach Johnson (born in 1993) about John Riggins.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska: At some point after your fourth 200-yard game, the numbers stop talking and start shouting.