Finals week left Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota a bit stressed.
Just ask his face.
Mariota appeared before the media on Saturday with enough stubble to qualify for wearing a beard-type thing.
Call it the product of being too busy with school work to pick up a razor.
“My mom is probably going to see the video and tell me to shave,” the third-year sophomore from Hawaii told reporters.
With school concluded for winter break the Ducks returned to the practice field to prepare for the Dec. 30 Alamo Bowl against Texas.
Mariota said the team practiced with great energy.
“I think guys were just happy to be out there just worried strictly about football,” he said. “They kind of go through a week and finish up academics and now all you have to do is really focus on getting better as a football player.”
But are they motivated to finish the season on a high note after falling flat late in the season?
Six weeks ago the Ducks thought that come mid-December they would be preparing for at least a Rose Bowl appearance if not a national championship showdown.
But after a rough month of November the Ducks (10-2) find themselves in a second-tier bowl game against a down but first-rate program in the 8-4 Longhorns.
According to Mariota, Oregon has put its troubles behind it.
“It is in the past,” he said. “Something that we can’t control. Obviously it hurts a little bit. You kind of miss out on the BCS party. But we’re not at all disappointed. It’s an honor, it’s a blessing to play in the Alamo Bowl.”
As Oregon faded down the stretch, so did Mariota’s Heisman Trophy chances. So much so that he went from being the frontrunner before the Stanford loss to not finishing among the top-10 vote getters when the award was handed out Saturday to Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.
Despite how ridiculously silly that equation is, Mariota said he was relieved that the Heisman talk was over wit and he no longer had to field questions about his chances of winning.
Now the questions are about the team’s chances of overcoming disappointment to end the season with a win over Texas.
Senior wide receiver Josh Huff, who is from Houston and is eager for some payback against the Longhorns who snubbed him as a recruit, admitted that the Ducks had become a bit full of themselves late in the season when they were ranked No. 2 and appeared headed to the BCS title game.
“We’ve been caught with our heads in the clouds a little bit,” he told reporters. “After that Arizona loss it brought us back down to earth a lot.”
Now, he said, the team is looking to use the Alamo Bowl as a building block for the program.
Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said he believes the players get the bigger picture.
“I can’t predict what’s in the minds of young men and how they perceive this thing but we’ve never been to the Alamo bowl,” he told reporters. “We’re playing a great team in Texas, in my opinion, as far as a named team with a named coach [Mack Brown] with a lot of football tradition. That’s exciting.”
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said he hopes the entire team will recognize how much is at stake.
“There’s so many things to play for,” he told reporters. “You get to play another game. This will be the last game of a bunch of guys’ careers. It’s the last game of this team’s existence…Ending with a win makes for a lot better offseason.”