Mariota might be playing his last game at Oregon
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) Many people believe that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is bound for the NFL after this season is over. That means Saturday's game against Colorado could be the junior's last at Autzen Stadium.
Mariota decided after last season that he'd give the Ducks another go. So far that choice is appearing to be wise: The quarterback is among the top candidates for the Heisman Trophy, and Oregon is No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings and poised to appear in the first playoffs.
Mariota hasn't offered any hints about his future this season, going as far as saying he hasn't really thought about it yet. So he's trying not to put too much weight on the finality aspect of the last home game, at least for himself.
''It's tough to kind of think about those things because it can become a distraction,'' he said. ''But for the most part, just enjoy it. Enjoy it with these seniors. A lot of these guys that are going to be leaving as seniors are some of the closest friends that I've made here. It's going to be an awesome experience and Autzen is always fun to play in and no matter what we'll enjoy it.''
Should Mariota decide to go to the NFL, many expect him to be selected in the top five picks.
But first things first, and that means Colorado. Oregon (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12), No. 3 in the AP rankings, was a 32 1/2 -point favorite at home against the Buffaloes (2-8, 0-7).
Mariota is a big reason for the advantage. He has set seven career records for the Ducks, including passing yards (9,122) and touchdown passes (92). With nine yards rushing against the Buffaloes, he'll become the fifth in an exclusive group of quarterbacks who have thrown for 9,000 yards and run for another 2,000. Among the names on that list are Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick.
Here are some other things to look for when the Ducks host Colorado on Saturday.
UNCERTAIN STARTER: Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau, who has thrown for 26 touchdowns this season, hasn't officially been cleared to play after sustaining a concussion. Backup Jordan Gehrke will get the start if Liufau can't. Liufau said he's ready to go, but coach Mike MacIntyre said earlier this week that he's not at 100 percent. ''It's just been a normal week. Obviously, I think we're splitting more reps. Obviously, we want to make sure I don't have any relapses with my concussion but it's fine and normal,'' Liufau said.
OREGON'S INJURIES: The Ducks are coming off a bye, which gave them a chance to rest up from an injury-plagued victory over Utah. Oregon lost tight end Pharaoh Brown for the season with a right knee injury. Also injured was center Hroniss Grasu. But Oregon should see the return of tackle Andre Yruretagoyena, who has missed eight games with a left leg injury. Doug Brenner, who has taken over at center in Grasu's absence, said: ''It was funny, we jogged over for pass rush in practice and I don't think any of the D-line guys knew that (Andre) was back yet and they all cheered a little bit when he went out for the first rep. So that was cool.''
SPOILER? Don't think the Buffaloes weren't paying attention when unranked Oregon State, sitting in the basement of the Pac-12, pulled off a 35-27 upset victory over then-No. 7 Arizona State last Saturday. ''We just want to go in there and go 1-0. It sounds cheesy, but if we spoil them and win, that's all cool and all and everyone calls us a spoiler. But, we honestly think that we can win and that's our goal and the mentality that we're going in with. We just want to go in there and win,'' Liufau said.
THE DUCKS WERE PAYING ATTENTION, TOO: Arizona State had jumped to No. 6 in the CFP rankings and appeared to be on a collision course with Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game when the Beavers pulled off the big upset. It was a lesson for the Ducks. ''It doesn't matter what your record is when it gets to this point in the season. It really matters who executes the best,'' Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekre-Olomu said.
THE LAST TIME: Mariota set an Oregon record with seven total touchdowns - five via pass and two more on the run - in a 57-16 victory over the Buffaloes in Boulder.