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Beginning of the end? Title game may be Mariota’s finale

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota responds to a question during media day for the NCAA college football playoff championship, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, in Dallas. Oregon is scheduled to play Ohio State on Monday. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

DALLAS (AP) — There’s one thing that Marcus Mariota would trade for his Heisman Trophy: A national championship.

That’s just like Mariota. Team first.

“Being a part of this program now for a few years, you’ve got to understand that team goals are much more important than your own goals,” Mariota said this week. “I think for us, if we’re able to accomplish that team goal, it would say a lot about this team and a lot about the character that we’ve got.”

Helping the Ducks to their first championship title could be the perfect cap to his college career. Although he hasn’t said it, this is likely to be the last game for Mariota before he departs for the NFL. The humble quarterback from Hawaii is projected to be a top pick.

Oregon has never won a national championship. The Ducks’ last appearance in the title game was following the 2010 season, when Mariota was a senior at St. Louis High School in Honolulu. Oregon fell to Auburn 22-19.

“To win it would — I wouldn’t know how I’d describe that feeling. To be the first team to win it from Oregon would be just an incredible deal,” he said.

Mariota has until Thursday — only 72 hours after Monday’s game — to announce whether he’ll forgo his senior season and declare his eligibility for the NFL draft. Mariota, who has already completed his degree, insisted this weekend that he hasn’t yet made the decision.

“After this game is done, I’ll take a couple days to make that decision with my family,” he said.

Even without a championship, Mariota would leave a legacy in Eugene.

In addition to the Heisman, Mariota was named AP Player of the Year and the Pac-12’s offensive player of the year. He also won the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp player of the year, along with the Davey O’Brien and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, which go to the nation’s top quarterback.

He has set conference records for most touchdowns in a single season with 56. He had 40 via pass, 15 on the run and a touchdown catch. He has also set the conference mark for career touchdowns with 134. And there’s still one more game.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has noted the 6-foot-4 dual-threat’s accomplishments.

“Our biggest concern is the guy playing quarterback,” Meyer said. “I think he’s one of the finest to ever play the game.”

Mariota is soft-spoken and unassuming. His bold moves on the field — he flipped into the end zone to score early this season against Wyoming — belie his shy demeanor off it.

He’s a consummate professional. This season, even after the team’s lone loss against Arizona, Mariota always lingered on the field after games, shaking hands and posing for pictures.

His only real downtime this season was a quick trip he made back home to Hawaii between the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York and the 59-20 Rose Bowl victory over Florida State — which put the Ducks in the championship game.

Coach Mark Helfrich says that what sets Mariota apart is that he’s always looking to grow and improve.

“He won the Heisman Trophy, and we’re sitting in our offensive meeting, and he’s taking more notes than anybody else in the room combined,” Helfrich said.

Mariota said he always dreamed of being a part of a national championship. So he’s going to relish every moment with his teammates — even if it is his last game with them.

“The amount of work that each one of us have put into this, it means a lot to be here and have an opportunity to play for the national championship,” he said. “It’s a privilege, and we’re just going to try to make the most of this opportunity.”


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