Marcus Mariota: Final loss does not define the season
Just because his team ultimately came up short against Ohio State in the national championship, it doesn't diminish what the Ducks accomplished together as a team, he said.
When history judges the 2014 Oregon Ducks, however, it will likely be remembered as the year of Marcus Mariota.
The junior quarterback was the face of the 13-2 team that defeated Florida State in the Rose Bowl in college football's first playoffs, but then fell 42-20 to the Buckeyes. Ohio State ended the season ranked No. 1, Oregon was No. 2.
''Being the champions from the Pac-12, being Rose Bowl champions, that says a lot about what we were able to do this year,'' Mariota said. ''Proud of the guys. We fought through a lot of stuff and just ended up short, but it shouldn't take away from what we were able to do this year.''
Mariota won every major award he qualified for, starting with the Heisman Trophy, as well as AP Player of the Year and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.
He set a conference record for most touchdowns in a single season with 58; 42 via pass, 15 on the run and a touchdown catch. He set the conference mark for career touchdowns with 134.
He threw at least one touchdown pass in all 41 college games he started in his career, the second-longest streak in NCAA history behind Marshall's Rakeem Cato (46). And he's one of just four quarterbacks in FBS history to pass for more than 10,000 yards and run for more than 2,000 in his career.
By Thursday, he'll have to decide if he's going to forgo his senior year and declare his eligibility for the NFL draft. He left the door slightly open for a return to Eugene following the loss to the Buckeyes.
''There's starting grad school, coming back for another year to improve, there's a lot of other things that could bring me back,'' he said.
But many expect that this was the humble team leader's last season as a Duck.
''I love this guy, and will forever,'' coach Mark Helfrich said. ''Absolutely couldn't be luckier to coach him and be around him every day.''
Then the question becomes: Who will replace him?''
He backup this season and heir apparent for the job - at least for now - is Jeff Lockie, a 6-foot-2 redshirt sophomore. He attempted 27 passes this season, completing 21 for 207 yards and a touchdown.
But elsewhere on the offense, Oregon will return two players who emerged as freshmen.
Royce Freeman rushed for 1,392 yards and 18 touchdowns, earning Pac-12 offensive freshman of the year honors. He is the first true freshman at Oregon to rush for more than 1,000 yards. He also tossed the touchdown pass that Mariota snagged.
Charles Nelson was not only a key contributor on special teams but he also emerged as one of the team's top receivers - picking up the slack when the group was beset by injury. Nelson caught two touchdowns in each of Oregon's last two regular-season games, and had 104 yards receiving in the Pac-12 championship victory over Arizona.
Other standouts included converted junior running back Byron Marshall, who became the first Oregon player to rush for at least 1,000 yards in one season (1,038 in 2013) and have 1,000 yards receiving in another (1,003, this season).
The conference title win avenged Oregon's regular-season loss to the Wildcats - which many players credited with shaking them out of complacency for the run toward college football's first playoffs.
Overall, Oregon ranked third in the nation in total offense with an average of 547 yards per game. The Ducks' passing offense under Mariota was ranked 10th nationally with an average of 312.5 yards a game. Mariota's passer efficiency rating (181.7) topped the nation.
The Ducks have never won a national championship, but they've played in the title game twice. They capped the 2010 season with a loss to Auburn for the title.
''I mean it hurts,'' Mariota said about falling short in the final game. ''You put so much work, you put so much effort into the year and it's tough. It's tough to go out with a loss.''