Sean Mannion for the Heisman Trophy?
Buckle in your seat belt because the redshirt junior quarterback's exceptional numbers amassed during Oregon State's 3-1 start irrefutably deserve consideration for the most coveted individual award in sports.
Mannion leads the country in total passing yards (1,604) after four weeks with a sizzling 71.5 percent (133-for-186) completion rate and a dazzling ratio of 15 touchdown passes compared to one interception.
His closest competitor (Brett Smith of Wyoming) trails by 289 passing yards, and Mannion is one of just three quarterbacks in the top 12 nationally with a single interception to his name.
In the wake of his remarkable 38-of-55, 367-yard, three-touchdown performance in the frantic 34-30 victory over San Diego State at Qualcomm Stadium on Saturday night, Mannion is the first quarterback in school history to throw for 350 yards or more in four consecutive games, extending his own school record.
With the regular season one-third complete, Mike Riley agreed with the proposition that the time had come to start mentioning Mannion alongside other genuine Heisman Trophy contenders.
"I'm not adverse to any of that," Riley said Sunday night during his weekly teleconference with reporters. "He belongs in any conversation right now. He's playing really good football. It's a good sign of preparation and talent meeting one another. He's playing confidently. He made a lot of throws with a lot of heat (Saturday). That's why I'm really proud of him. He had a pretty good day."
Mannion's passing yardage could have been even higher, but OSU receivers dropped five passes, Riley said.
"It's just a matter of consistency as you go and he continues to do this and we continue to win," Riley said in assessing Mannion's Heisman chances.
An outgrowth of Mannion's impressive start has been OSU's perfection in the red zone. Through four games, the Beavers are 22-of-22 (18 touchdowns, four field goals) when they penetrate inside the 20-yard line.
Saturday, Oregon State out executed San Diego State in the red zone, scoring four touchdowns in four trips compared to one touchdown and two field goals for the Aztecs.
"We made it a point to our team the other day that when we get down there, we need touchdowns," Riley said. "That's hard to do when you're not running the ball very well. The best way to be good in the red zone is run it in. So, we've had to find ways for Sean to throw it in."
Causing Mannion's numbers to stand out even more is this detail: the Beavers are straining mightily to run the football consistently. OSU totaled 10 yards rushing on 20 attempts in the win over San Diego State, a miniscule average of 0.5 yards per carry.
Truth be told, Mannion's supreme accuracy throwing the ball has hidden OSU's troubles in the ground game. Saturday, the Beavers ran the ball just 20 times out of 75 offensive snaps.
Oregon State has run the ball just 35 percent of the offensive plays (105 of 299 snaps) in the first four games.
"We're seeing a lot of people in the box and we saw 80 percent blitzes," Riley said. "You can hit runs and we probably should try more. That's probably my doing. I just have great confidence in our passing game right now." So, I call that more, and I haven't given our running game enough of a chance to build any confidence, especially (Saturday)."
Mannion guided the Beavers on a pair of key 10-play scoring drives in the second half against the San Diego State defense. The first march sliced SDSU's lead to 27-21 with 12:27 remaining, while the second was an 81-yard masterpiece culminating with a 10-yard pass to Terron Ward with 2:40 left. The latter drive took just 2:38 off the clock.
"The plays that were made on that last drive were big-time plays," Riley said. "We were in a position that all we were doing was throwing and we had to score. We were going no-huddle. Guys were making plays and Sean was being outstanding."
Nine seconds later, Steven Nelson's Pick-6 on an errant screen pass by the Aztecs quarterback provided the Beavers with the winning points.
Who will block for Mannion along the offensive front when the Beavers face Colorado at noon on Saturday at Reser Stadium remains in flux. Center Josh Mitchell is the latest offensive linemen hampered by injury. He sprained his right ankle on Saturday and will be evaluated daily during the week, Riley said.
Saturday's game marked the third time this season for OSU that the outcome boiled down to the final possession of the game. The Beavers looked sluggish for three quarters before outscoring the Aztecs, 20-3, in the fourth quarter, rallying from a 27-14 deficit with less than 13 minutes remaining.
"I was very frustrated with a lot of our play," said Riley, who kept a cool demeanor on the sideline. "I tried to keep myself from going crazy and I had a hard time with it actually. I was so frustrated with the false starts and the unnecessary penalties at the end of plays. We were just killing ourselves and not giving ourselves a chance to win."
Oregon State has outscored the last three opponents, 45-27, in the fourth quarter and overtime.
"I'm extremely proud of our team just to stay with it and play the whole 60 minutes because that's what it took and we made enough plays to be able to do that," Riley said. "We knuckled down at the end and made some big plays to win. We played some good football in the last five minutes. That's a good sign.
"I'm glad we won, but there is a lot of coaching to be done. We have a lot to clean up. We know we can't win many games playing like we did. We fumbled the ball. We had 13 penalties, seven of which were false starts, which is ridiculous. At one point, I thought this is disintegrating into nothing. We gave ourselves no chance, but we pulled it together and played some good football at the end and won the game."
In years past, Oregon State would have probably lost a game like Saturday's, but this team has displayed a tenacity throughout the three-game winning streak and a propensity for making winning plays down the stretch.
"There is a real good spirit about this team and the commitment," Riley said. "They don't want to lose. It looked like we wanted to lose for a long time (Saturday) because we were doing some stupid stuff. But the reality of it is they care. But that's not always going to pull you through. You also have to play well.
"We were fortunate and we made our good fortune."
* Sean Harlow played right tackle on Saturday night, becoming the third true freshmen to play for the Beavers in 2013 (Victor Bolden and Darrell Songy are the others).
* Riley said "everybody is pretty beat up" following the San Diego State game and fired off a long list of injured players:
Mike Morovick (LS) - swollen right knee (MRI on Monday)
Sean Martin (CB) - right shoulder (evaluated Monday morning);
Brandin Cooks (WR) - quad contusion (questionable for Monday's practice);
Tyler Anderson (FB) - tweaked hamstring, didn't play in San Diego State game;
Storm Woods (RB)- recovering from concussion; may be able to practice by Wednesday.
Siale Hautau (DT) - still sidelined by right tricep injury
Grant Enger (OL) - could return after the bye week (Oct. 5)
Connor Hamlett (TE) - limited with quad contusion;
Richard Mullaney (WR) - limited with hip contusion;
Caleb Smith (TE) - ankle
Gavin Andrews (OL) - will begin conditioning workouts; doubtful for Colorado game.
* Riley hopes the injury woes boost OSU's depth down the road because younger players have been asked to step up.
* Riley said redshirt freshman Rommel Mageo, who started the season fourth on the depth chart, will probably start at middle linebacker against Colorado on Saturday.
* Riley said D.J. Alexander is "getting more comfortable playing again" as he continues to climb back after suffering a back injury in preseason camp. Alexander is wearing a brace, Riley said.
* Riley on unbeaten Colorado (2-0): "This guy is a good football coach (Mike MacIntyre). They'll become a good program. They're already solid. They have a quarterback we compared to Travis Wilson (of Utah) as an athlete and a player."