When Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota claims the Heisman Trophy, as expected this weekend, he will have many people to thank, teammates and coaches among them. Add to the list Jim Plunkett and Stanford for making it all possible.
In the late 60s and 70s, college football was a running game. Not completely, but mostly. As discussed in A Coach at Heart, Stanford returned the passing game to the big stage, while San Diego State delivered the system used for decades afterward. Otherwise, you had teams running out of the I-formation or wishbone.
It took some time for offenses to gravitate toward the thrown ball, but it did happen. Stanford in some ways begat BYU, which begat Miami, and we were off and…throwing.
To illustrate how the game has changed over the years, Plunkett passed for 2,980 yards in his Heisman Trophy-winning campaign of 1970. He completed 54 percent of his passes and heaved 19 touchdowns. And how is this for a TD-INT ratio? It was 19-19.
And Stanford players tell me they had no doubt Plunkett would walk away with the award over Joe Theismann of Notre Dame and Archie Manning of Mississippi, and he ultimately led the voting in a landslide.
Compare that to Mariota’s pinball-like stats for this season: 3,783 yards, 68 percent completions, 38 touchdowns and two picks.
Mariota is well-deserving of the Heisman, perfect for the Ducks’ spread offense. He comes off as a great kid. Well-grounded, ironically. He’ll be building off a legacy that started 44 years ago. Since Plunkett, numerous great passing quarterbacks have come along to win the trophy signifying college football’s best player — Pat Sullivan of Auburn, Doug Flutie of Boston College, Vinny Testaverde of Miami, Andre Ware of Houston, Ty Detmer of BYU and others.
For whatever reason, few Heisman QBs tear it up in the NFL. Out of those named above, Plunkett and Flutie had fine careers and Detmer made a living. None posted the huge stats of, say, John Elway or Dan Marino.
Mariota is about to carry along a great legacy. Next, he’ll seek to break that trend.