EUGENE — Aloha can be used to say hello or goodbye.
Marcus Mariota said he doesn’t know if the latter will apply on Friday night when Oregon’s dynamic starting quarterback walks off the field at Autzen Stadium following the regular-season finale against Oregon State.
The redshirt sophomore from Honolulu will still have two years of eligibility remaining after the Ducks’ bowl game. Of course Mariota, a rare talent with a 6-foot-4, 211-pound frame, a strong, accurate arm and sprinter speed (when healthy), is also eligible to enter the NFL draft.
“Not at all,” Mariota said Monday when asked if he had thought about the possibility of the Civil War being his final home game at Oregon. “I’m being truthfully honest, I’m not sure. After the bowl season I’ll go home and just kind of talk through this with my family and see where is the best fit for my family.”
The left knee injury Mariota has been playing through could be looked at two ways:
1. It demonstrates how quickly a player’s fortunes can change in the violent sport of football. The risk of returning for another college season is not worth the reward of a first-round NFL contract.
2. It may have prevented Mariota from winning the Heisman Trophy, the Pac-12 championship and an opportunity to play for a national championship. The risk of returning for another college season is worth the chance to make another run at those individual and team goals with the Ducks.
“I’d like to see him go back to Oregon,” ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said of the 20-year-old Mariota during a recent media teleconference. “These third-year sophomore quarterbacks, even though they have played a couple seasons, the more you can play, the better you will be in the NFL. That has been proven, and it is something NFL teams believe in. The more experience, the better you will be.
“Obviously, a lot hinges on what some of these other kids’ decisions may be, that could affect Marcus’ decision. I think he’s still in the early first-round discussion. If you need a quarterback, you look at him.”
Kiper has Mariota ranked as the No. 5 overall prospect on his “big board” behind South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Neither Mariota or Bridgewater will win the Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback) or Maxwell Award (best overall player) this season. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Florida State’s Jameis Winston were named the three finalists on Monday.
Meanwhile, Mariota was doing his best to make sure the Ducks regroup from the stunning 42-16 loss at Arizona. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich’s policy is not to discuss injuries, but his quarterback self-reported that he did not suffer a concussion.
“I’m good. I just got my bell rung a little bit,” said Mariota, who sustained a blow to the back of the helmet while attempting to make a tackle following a fourth-quarter interception. “I went after the guy. I was kind of more mad that I threw the interception than anything. It’s a learning process. …
“Just the typical protocol, I passed everything and my symptoms are good.”
Byron Marshall, Oregon’s leading rusher, was on crutches Monday after limping out of the Arizona game with a leg injury. De’Anthony Thomas figures to have a big role in this year’s Civil War after finishing with 157 yards of offense against the Wildcats.
“We’ll see. I’m not really worried about it,” Thomas said on possibly leaving early for the NFL. “Just trying to focus on this game and finish the year strong.”
Kiper does not give Thomas a first-round grade but he ranks Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu as the No. 18 overall prospect. Both players are juniors.
“De’Anthony Thomas is a wild card, a situational dynamo. This league can use a guy like that,” Kiper said. “You see the type of ability he has shown, running the ball and catching it and in the return game. He is a multi-dimensional player who can light up the scoreboard. I’d say second or third round for Thomas. …
“You look at what (Ekpre-Olomu) has done at cornerback, he has enormous talent. Is he a lock-down corner? Maybe, possibly. This league only has a couple of those right now. I think he is in the top 15-20 where I project him right now.”
Oregon center Hroniss Grasu, another junior who could be drafted in the first two or three rounds, said he will also meet with his family after the bowl before thinking about the NFL.
Right now the Ducks (9-2, 6-2) are focused on sending the seniors out with another victory over Beavers (6-5, 4-4). Despite the recent struggles of both teams, this Civil War is going to be a sentimental game for many of the players.
“I’m going to be very sad coming out running through the tunnel for the last time, seeing the true fans, seeing the emotions that it brings to Autzen,” Oregon senior wide receiver Josh Huff said. “Just being around my teammates for the last time is going to be very emotional for myself. I just hope to go out with a bang.”