SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Marcus Mariota made a strong final impression in his bid for the Heisman Trophy, and No. 3 Oregon left no doubt about whether the Pac-12 champions will get a chance to play for the national title.
About the only question now is who the Ducks will face next.
Mariota threw for 303 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a career-high three scores, and Oregon all but assured itself a spot in the first College Football Playoff by overwhelming eighth-ranked Arizona 51-13 in the Pac-12 title game Friday night.
“There are a bunch of big smiles, and I’m proud of that,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.
The Ducks (12-1) entered the week ranked second in the playoff standings and are expected to land in the Rose Bowl for the semifinals. Alabama (11-1) is No. 1 and TCU (10-1) is third followed by Florida State (12-0), Ohio State (11-1), Baylor (10-1) and Arizona (10-3), which is now just hoping to make a Jan. 1 bowl.
Even that is no longer certain.
On a rainy night in Silicon Valley, Oregon wiped out the Wildcats in front of a sparse but rowdy pro-Ducks crowd — announced as 45,618 — that sprinkled the red seats at the $1.3 billion Levi’s Stadium bright yellow and green. Mariota also boosted his credentials for college football’s most prestigious award as the Ducks turned the patchy field into their personal playground.
Oregon outgained Arizona 617 yards to 224. The Ducks ran for 301 yards and held the Wildcats to 111 on the ground.
“This is a huge accomplishment for us,” said Mariota, who won game MVP honors. “Now we need to continue to improve and get better for whoever comes next.”
The victory avenged Oregon’s only loss this season — a 31-24 setback to Arizona on Oct. 2 in Eugene — and a 42-16 loss in Tucson last year that kept the Ducks out of the conference championship game.
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez benched banged-up quarterback Anu Solomon — and later backup Jesse Scroggins — in the second half trying to find a spark. By then it was too late, and Rodriguez’s scrunched face on the sideline exemplified his team’s frustrations.
“Outcoached us, outplayed us,” Rodriguez said.
It was quite a turnaround from the last meeting between these teams, when Arizona held the Ducks to a season-low 144 yards rushing. The Wildcats also sacked Mariota five times and forced two fumbles in that game.
This time, Mariota completed 25 of 38 passes and ran for 33 yards on 10 carries. He extended his conference record to 53 touchdowns this season — 38 passing, 14 rushing and one receiving.
“If this guy isn’t what the Heisman Trophy is all about, then I’m in the wrong profession,” Helfrich said. “If you want your son or daughter to have a role model, pick this guy.”
As wide as the final margin was, it could’ve — and probably should’ve — been even wider.
Oregon settled for four field-goal tries — making three — in the first half. The Ducks also finished with 12 penalties for 74 yards, including a holding penalty that erased Royce Freeman’s 37-yard TD run and back-to-back false starts that pushed back the failed field-goal attempt in the second quarter.
Mariota made up for most of Oregon’s errors, though, running for two TDs just before the break to give the Ducks a 23-0 lead. It was the first time Arizona was held scoreless in the first half since a 49-0 loss to Oregon on Sept. 22, 2012.
“We wanted to show people that we could play with Arizona and come out and show them how Oregon football is supposed to be played,” said Freeman, who finished with 114 yards rushing on 21 carries.
The Wildcats briefly broke through when Scroggins found a wide-open Cayleb Jones for a 69-yard TD pass with 9:34 remaining in the third quarter. Scroggins finished 3-of-9 passing for 79 yards and also had an interception.
Solomon, who has dealt with ankle and leg injuries this season, completed six of 12 passes for 34 yards before third-stringer Jerrard Randall took over late, running for a 25-yard touchdown on the final play of the game.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP