Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, honored Thursday as the 2014 Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award winner, points to another sport when explaining how the Ducks’ up-tempo offense helped him emerge as college football’s top quarterback.
“It’s an opportunity for me to dish the ball like a point guard in a fast-break offense,” Mariota said, breaking out a basketball analogy. “I really get a joy out of it. There’s so many good playmakers around me in that offense, it’s just fun to dink and dunk and watch those guys do their thing. There’s so many good athletes who can turn a 5-yard out route into a 60-yard touchdown.”
Mariota, a junior, leaned on those connections to lead the nation in passing efficiency (186.3 rating) while leading No. 2 Oregon (12-1) to a Rose Bowl berth against No. 3 Florida State (13-0) in the first round of the inaugural College Football Playoff.
He completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 3,783 yards, the fifth-highest yardage total among FBS quarterbacks. His 38-2 ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions was the nation’s best. He also rushed for 669 yards and 14 touchdowns, making him responsible for an NCAA-high 52 touchdowns this season.
Mariota, the only quarterback among three finalists for the 2014 Heisman Trophy, edged TCU’s Trevone Boykin and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott in balloting by members of the O’Brien selection committee. He will be honored Feb. 16 in a dinner ceremony at the Fort Worth Club.
Mariota (6-foot-4, 219 pounds) called it “a real honor” to become the first Oregon quarterback to receive the O’Brien Award. His triumph Thursday bodes well for his chances Saturday in New York when the Heisman winner is announced. The past four O’Brien winners have gone on to win the Heisman in the same season.
Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, a finalist for the 2014 Jim Thorpe Award, cited work ethic as the key to his teammate’s success.
“I’ve never seen him not prepared for a game or that he looks rattled,” Ekpre-Olomu said. “He’s one of those guys that works so hard in practice, the game seems easy to him.”
For fans wondering why Alabama players seemed low-key about being selected as the No. 1 seed in Sunday’s announcement of the CFP playoff field, Crimson Tide receiver Amari Cooper offered an explanation.
Cooper said he received the information before the broadcast from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin despite the supposed live announcement on ESPN.
“Coach Kiffin knew we would face Ohio State and Oregon would face Florida State, for some reason,” Cooper said. “He told me right before they announced it. And I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re probably right.’ So I wasn’t surprised at all because Ohio State had a great last game and got their spot.”
The move inside the playoff mix by No. 4 Ohio State (12-1) knocked No. 6 TCU (11-1) and No. 5 Baylor (11-1) out of the four-team field. TCU, No. 3 in the previous set of weekly rankings, fell three spots Sunday despite a 55-3 rout of Iowa State to cap its regular-season slate.
Boykin took part in Thursday’s pre-show activities after missing Wednesday’s news conference because of multiple flight delays that stranded him at DFW Airport for seven hours.
“It was an all-day adventure, but we made it safely,” Boykin said. “I talked to some of the other guys and they’re pretty cool. Hopefully, I can get back to this same spot next year.”
Asked about Sunday’s playoff snub, Boykin said: “It hurt us a lot. I felt like we did everything we possibly could to be one of those top four teams. And for us to drop from three to six, it still doesn’t make sense to me today. But we’ve got to use it as motivation. The guys will just have to pick themselves up and that starts with me being a leader on the team.”
TCU coach Gary Patterson accepted the Home Depot Coach of the Year Award during Thursday’s program.
From the dais, Patterson addressed the Horned Frogs’ playoff snub and Dec. 31 game against No. 9 Ole Miss (9-3) in the Peach Bowl by spinning the experience in a positive direction.
“This is our chance to build our résumé,” Patterson said, looking toward the first preseason poll of the 2015 season. “We’ve got most of our team coming back.”
Asked about his positive approach, Patterson said: “Very few things anymore, whether it’s football or politics, is about being positive. To come up a little bit short as far as the playoffs are concerned, obviously it hurts. But how you handle things is important. You want to handle it a certain way … and I don’t see very many people doing it anymore. For us to get an opportunity to do that was something I felt like I needed to do.”
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said he is satisfied his Seminoles (13-0) drew the No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoff despite being the nation’s only undefeated FBS team.
FSU meets No. 2 Oregon (12-1) at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. FSU would have played its opening game in New Orleans, at the Sugar Bowl, if given the top seed that went to No. 1 Alabama (12-1).
“I don’t think we were slighted,” Fisher said during a news conference with the four participating CFP coaches. “When people get involved, it comes down to opinions. The key was getting in the playoff, whether you’re first or fourth.”
Notable award winners
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Amari Cooper, Alabama
Scooby Wright, Arizona
Brandon Scherff, Iowa