ATLANTA (CBSMiami) – Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston is the odds-on Heisman Trophy favorite heading into championship weekend in college football, but the coach of one of those championship teams believes another quarterback deserves Heisman consideration, Auburn’s Nick Marshall.
One thing you can say about Marshall this season is that he’s been cool under pressure. Auburn has come from behind multiple times this season including during last Saturday’s upset of the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
His play has led Auburn to the SEC Championship Game this season, just one year removed from the Tigers not winning a single conference game. That’s enough for his coach to say he belongs in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
“I don’t get to watch other teams like all of you (reporters) do but he should be in the mix,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “He is one of the better players in college football. He is leading our team.”
Marshall’s story is very similar to the 2010 National Championship Auburn Tigers. That year, quarterback Cam Newton led the Tigers on an improbable run to the title just one season removed from him playing in junior college.
Marshall has had a long road to become Auburn’s starting quarterback. He started his collegiate career as a defensive back at Georgia before transferring to a junior college and eventually landing at Auburn. He had just one preseason camp to master Malzahn’s complex offense.
Where Marshall is lacking is in eye-popping statistics. He’s played in 11 games for the Tigers this season and has passed for 1,627 yards and 11 touchdowns while running for 922 yards and 10 touchdowns. But he’s been clutch when the Tigers needed it most.
He threw the game-winning Hail Mary pass to beat the Georgia Bulldogs, though that was luck as much as it was skill. He threw a touchdown pass against Alabama with less than a minute remaining to tie the game and set the stage for the game’s epic ending.
He also led a go-ahead touchdown drive late against Texas A&M and completed a pass to C.J. Uzomah with just 10 seconds left in the game to seal a 24-20 victory over Mississippi State earlier this year.
When Marshall has had success, Auburn is nearly unstoppable, even without much of a passing game. In a November 9 game against Tennessee he was 3-7 passing for 35 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. But he ran 14 times for 214 yards and two touchdowns.
Where Marshall has been especially lethal is in the read-option running game. Auburn runs the play and gives Marshall the option of handing the ball off to running back Tre Mason, who’s rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season, keeping the ball and running himself, passing the ball, or a host of other options.
With Marshall’s running ability and quickly developing passing game, Auburn has been able to use multiple formations and lots of motion before the ball is snapped to confuse every defense the Tigers have faced this season.
Only one team was able to shut down Marshall and the Tigers and that was LSU who beat Auburn 35-21 in the fourth game of the season. But since a victory at Texas A&M on October 19, Auburn’s offense shifted into high gear.
The offense Marshall keys runs at a breakneck pace to wear down defenses and has averaged 42.8 points per game since the victory over the Aggies.
Marshall and the Auburn offense will be facing arguably the deepest and most athletic defensive line the team has seen all year in the SEC Championship Game against Missouri. Mizzou leads the SEC in quarterback sacks (37), tackles for loss (95), interceptions (18), and has the second-best running defense in the SEC.
The Tigers from Missouri are also coming off a SEC East-clinching victory over the Aggies last weekend that saw the defense completely shut down defending Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and his dynamic wide receiver Mike Evans.
Manziel rushed 11 times for 21 yards and was 24-35 for 195 yards and a touchdown through the air. It was one of the lowest totals of his entire collegiate career.
Regardless of whether he wins on Saturday or not; Marshall, like Auburn and Missouri, has had an improbable rise to the top of the college football world.