PASADENA, Calif. — Marcus Mariota has already proved himself to be the best player in Oregon history. With one more victory, he will cement himself as one of the best college football players of all time.
With a 59-20 victory over Florida State in the Rose Bowl on Thursday, the Ducks find themselves one step away from claiming their first national championship in school history. In a year that has seen many Oregon firsts, including its first Heisman Trophy, a national championship would be the most significant.
The Ducks have come close before, but never this close with Mariota.
Without him, the Ducks wouldn’t even be close to sniffing a national title this season. With all due respect to Oregon’s Rose Bowl-winning team in 2011, the current version of the Ducks is better, and it is because of the reigning Heisman winner.
It should be noted that Mariota didn’t dismantle Florida State and win the Rose Bowl by himself. He needed a little help from his friends, and boy did he ever get it.
Oregon’s rushing attack gained 301 yards, and the defense, which has been fantastic over the past five games, forced five FSU turnovers, three of which came on consecutive possessions.
The Ducks got huge contributions from running back Thomas Tyner (124 yards rushing and two touchdowns), who had missed the past three games, and wide receiver Darren Carrington (seven catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns), who is turning into a superstar for the Oregon offense.
But, per usual, Mariota was the star of the show and earned the Rose Bowl offensive MVP award. On the night, Mariota was 26-of-36 for 338 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 62 yards, including a game-clinching 23-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Mariota's offense absolutely torched Florida State in the second half. The Ducks gained 639 total yards on the night, and the Ducks broke the all-time single-game Rose Bowl record for points with 59. The offense scored 52 of those.
After a slow start and a first-half interception by Mariota, his third of the season, the Ducks turned on the jets in the second half. In total, the Ducks scored 27 points in the third quarter and 14 in the fourth. The Ducks won the second half by an unthinkable margin of 41-7.
Mariota’s 2014-15 Heisman Trophy campaign is beyond compare at this point. On the year, he’s thrown for 4,121 yards and 40 touchdowns. He’s also run for 731 yards and 15 touchdowns. More importantly, has led the Ducks to a Pac-12 title, a Rose Bowl win and a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship.
Mariota is now one step away from becoming one of the all-timers. Who comes to mind when you think of the best college quarterbacks of the past 20 years? Tim Tebow? Matt Leinart? Vince Young?
Each of the all-time greats have one thing in common: a national title.
Mariota has all the records and accolades. He has most of the hardware to boot. But the one piece of hardware he doesn’t have is THE trophy. In 11 days, he’ll have his one and only shot.
Without a national title in his arsenal, he cannot be considered one of the all-time greats.
Mariota knows it. While he said he was proud of his team for its performance against Florida State, he knows it's one win short of its ultimate goal. Late in the fourth quarter, with the game in hand, the Ducks players thought about showering head coach Mark Helfrich with a Gatorade bath. However, Mariota and his teammates nixed the idea. According to Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com, Mariota said, “There’s still more work to do.”
Indeed there is.
The Ducks won the Rose Bowl in convincing fashion and proved the doubters wrong along the way. They’ll also be the first to tell you that their journey isn’t done just yet.
Mariota and the Ducks are on the precipice of immortality. If he is able to lead it to victory on Jan. 12, Oregon may as well retire the No. 8 and build him a statue.
Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.
Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.