It’s only the middle of June, but the familiar sound of the Heisman buzz has already started.
The Pac-12 is no stranger to preseason Heisman buzz. Andrew Luck had it. So did Matt Barkley. Marcus Mariota had it for a while last season. And, along with reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston, Mariota is again in the spotlight.
Earlier this week ESPN.com Insider Phil Steele started looking at potential Heisman candidates for the 2014 season. And Mariota’s name is at the top of his list.
Steele made his case for the Oregon quarterback Wednesday when he wrote:
Last year, Mariota became the first Oregon quarterback to top 4,000 yards of total offense (4,380) while accounting for 40 total touchdowns and just four interceptions. He accomplished this despite wearing a knee brace for much of the second half of the season, which limited his mobility. With added rest for the bowl game against Texas, he ran for a season-high 133 yards. Now 100 percent healthy, he has a solid shot to top last year's remarkable statistical totals while leading a Ducks team that figures to play a huge role in the first College Football Playoff.
If you’re an Oregon fan, all of those things have to make you feel awful giddy. But Mariota isn't the only Pac-12 quarterback getting some love. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley should also see his fair share of hype, and he checks in at No. 6 on Steele’s list of top-10 candidates.
It is dangerous putting Hundley this low, as I think the Bruins have a great shot at making the College Football Playoff. Last year, despite playing behind a questionable offensive line that allowed 36 sacks, Hundley threw for 3,071 yards, completed 67 percent of his passes, posted a 24-9 TD-INT ratio and became the first UCLA QB to lead the team in rushing (748 yards) since 1964. This year, Hundley has a healthier offensive line and a strong supporting cast with 16 returning starters that not only has Bruins fans thinking Pac-12 title, but also their second Heisman in school history (Gary Beban in 1967).
Steele also looked at the top-15 quarterback units in college football, examining the depth of the position groups. One-third of his teams come from the Pac-12, including UCLA, Oregon, Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington State. This should come as no surprise. The conference is as quarterback-heavy as it's been in recent memory -- maybe ever.
Here’s what Steele had to say about the Cougs’ QB depth.
Last year Connor Halliday set Pac-12 single-season records for completions (449), attempts (714) and passing yards (4,597) while leading the Cougars to their first bowl game since 2003. He also tied a NCAA bowl record with six touchdown passes and had a solid 16-5 TD-INT ratio in his last five games. Now in his third year of head coach Mike Leach's pass-happy offense, he could even top last year's outstanding numbers. His backup Tyler Bruggman (PS No. 29) was highly regarded coming out of high school and Lucas Falk had a solid spring.