At this point, we expect college football players to make The Leap sometime in Year 3.
By then, they’ve started to feel comfortable in an offense, at ease around campus, accustomed to the rigors of college life, friendly with teammates and personnel.
But should they be able to leap tall buildings?
Run faster than a speeding bullet?
Be more powerful than a locomotive?
Around Corvallis, Ore., maybe. Maybe the S in Oregon State is just a little better than the O and the U.
How else to explain junior Sean “Super” Mannion?
There’s got to be something to account for his nation-leading 25 touchdowns — six more than
No. 2 Derek Carr of Fresno State — and nation-leading 2,511 passing yards, 210 more than second-best Keith Wenning of Ball State.
“Sean is very, very diligent,” Beavers head coach Mike Riley said. “He’s a studier, a very hard worker at what he does. He loves football and spends a lot of time with it. And the other thing is he’s played a lot now. He’s had a couple years of experience, he understands things better. The tangible parts — he’s making good decisions quickly and he’s accurate with the football.”
It’s not just Mannion’s mammoth numbers that are magnified, but his minuscule marks as well.
That’s what riles Riley up; not the 25 touchdowns, but those three meager interceptions.
This is not a careful quarterback, mind you. Last season as a redshirt sophomore, Mannion had 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 309 attempts. Two games, he had four picks; another, he had three.
He was a different Mannion then, wounded and wary. After a 4-0 start, Mannion was felled with arthroscopic knee surgery and never regained his early season mojo before Cody Vaz began to sneak up from behind him.
Vaz, a then-junior backup-turned-starter, had 11 touchdowns and three interceptions last season as he alternated starts after Mannion returned from injury. Neither quarterback claimed a vise grip on the position, and entering fall camp, Riley kept the competition open.
It took until late August for Riley to settle on a starter as Mannion won the job because of his decision-making.
“You hope that through that competition that both guys will rise,” Riley said. “Frankly I wasn’t surprised in camp; they didn’t make it easy for us. They both came in and looked good.”
Riley, however, has come out and looked downright fantastic midway through the 2013 campaign.
After a season-opening upset loss to FCS Eastern Washington — no fault of Mannion’s, as he had 422 yards, three touchdowns and a 191.5 quarterback rating — the Beavers have reeled off five straight wins. Mannion has games of six, five, four (twice) and three touchdowns in his last five games, and the team has averaged more than 42 points per game.
In a 44-17 win over Colorado on Sept. 28, Mannion tied a Beaver record with six scores while throwing just one interception.
“He has an extremely strong arm, and he’s kind of a daredevil when he throws it,” Colorado coach Mike McIntyre said. “He threw it into double coverage three times against us, and three times (Brandin) Cooks came up with it. We shoulda had three picks, but Sean Mannion can throw the football. He can make every throw.”
If Mannion has become a superhero this year, so too has the junior Cooks. He’s Batman, to SuperMannion, if not the Flash.
Their otherworldly connection has Cooks atop the rankings in receptions (63), yards (944) and touchdowns (11).
“I don’t know they’re necessarily running mates off the field – I think they are very, very close and they have spent a lot of time in the quiet hours in the middle of the summer,” Riley said. “Their chemistry is not an accident either.”