Which College Football Star Will Win the Heisman Trophy? - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Which College Football Star Will Win the Heisman Trophy?

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Rotoworld's NFL draft and college football writer Josh Norris breaks down the three Heisman finalists.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon Ducks

With 38 passing touchdowns and only two interceptions to go along with another 14 rushing touchdowns, Mariota is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. He has taken advantage of the Ducks' wide-open, fast-paced offense but he is much more than a Ducks system signal-caller. While some may be quick to point out that he is not the only Oregon QB to put up gaudy numbers in this system (Darron Thomas, Jeremiah Masoli, Dennis Dixon), but Mariota is at a different level than his predecessors. He is much more of a pocket passer and despite conflicting reports, he does a good job of working through his progressions.

Mariota has also done a great job this year of handling pressure and finding space to throw, despite dealing with a banged-up offensive line much of the season. His tremendous athletic ability, which he used to rush for 669 yards on 5.9 yards per carry, also helps him move outside the pocket to avoid pressure all while keeping his eyes downfield. 

If there are any knocks on Mariota -- in terms of pro potential -- it is that he tends to fumble too much, doesn't work from under center and is not an incredible vertical passer (but he is a very good one who has shown he can hit tight windows). Despite these concerns, Mariota is expected to be the first quarterback taken this year and could potentially go No. 1 overall. Furthermore, he would have been the highest-ranked QB in last year's draft ahead of Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles.

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama Crimson Tide

Cooper has put up some eye-popping numbers -- 115 receptions, 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns -- for the No. 1 team in the nation, which has earned him a trip to New York City. More than anything, this shows just how injured he was last year after missing time with nagging foot and toe injuries.

He continues to show an uncanny ability to create separation from his defenders and then sustain that separation. Cooper has also been much better this season in contested situations than he has in the past with less drops as well. On top of being healthy, he has stood out this season in Lane Kiffin's system. The Tide's first-year offensive coordinator always seems to put him in the best situation to succeed and he isn't afraid to force feed the ball to Cooper.

Max-protection plays have been particularly productive for the Crimson Tide this year -- and have even resulted in Kiffin throwing up the TD sign before the ball is even thrown. How is this possible? Kiffin knows that Cooper can create separation whenever he runs long, deep progressing routes and as long as the offensive line gives QB Blake Sims enough time to throw, Kiffin knows Cooper will be open deep and able to take it to the house.

While Cooper is tremendous in the short game and at creating separation, it remains to be seen if he can consistently win on the deep ball and at high-pointing passes.

Overall, he will likely be the first receiver drafted but Oklahoma's Dorial Green-Beckham, West Virginia's Kevin White and Louisville's DeVante Parker should also be considered. Furthermore, had Cooper been in last year's stellar receiver class, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr. would all be ranked above Cooper (and all the other receivers as well).

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin Badgers

Despite Gordon's 76 yards rushing (2.9 yards per carry) against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, it's important to remember that was only one of two blemishes (38 yards against Western Illinois in Week 2) on Gordon's incredible season. He has rushed for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns, while averaging 8.9 yards per carry. He also temporarily broke the FBS record for rushing yards in a game with 408 vs. Nebraska in Week 12. Gordon's record only held for one week after Oklahoma's Samaje Perine rushed for 427 yards vs. Kansas in Week 13.

Gordon is a very decisive runner who takes advantage of the Badgers' zone-blocking scheme by finding the correct running lanes and hitting the hole hard, despite running against many eight- and nine-man boxes. Yes, Gordon is a true home run hitter who can take it to the house every time he touches it, but he can also break tackles at the second level.

If there are any knocks on him, it's that he can be a little too patient at times waiting for the hole to open up and he hasn't had a ton of exposure in the passing game. This year, he only has 17 catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns. Prior to this year, he only caught three passes over the previous two years.

Overall, he is a top-20 pick who could very likely go in the first round and be the first running back selected (Georgia's Todd Gurley will also likely be considered). Gordon, whose ceiling is similar to Jamaal Charles, would have likely been the first running back drafted last year ahead of Jeremy Hill, Bishop Sankey and Carlos Hyde.
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