Rose Bowl notes: Oregon's Marcus Mariota likely faces bright NFL future

Returning for another season can be risky, but it worked out well for the Heisman Trophy winner

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is too polite to state the obvious: He will enter the NFL draft just as soon as the season ends.

His college career will end after the Rose Bowl on Thursday or the College Football Playoff title game on Jan. 12.

"Honestly, I try not to focus on that," he said when asked about his NFL future at the Rose Bowl media day on Monday.

No one would blame the humble, hard-working Hawaiian for letting his mind wander to the riches ahead.

Mariota played a winning hand in returning for his fourth-year junior season. He won more admirers and the Heisman Trophy, vastly increasing his NFL value along the way.

He now seems a certain top-five NFL pick with a future as bright as former Pac-12 Conference quarterback stars Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer.

Coming back can be risky. Quarterback Matt Barkley returned to USC and watched his value plummet. Mariota's teammate, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, was a likely first-round pick who returned to Oregon this season only to have his dream deferred after suffering a season-ending knee injury this month.

There is no reason Mariota should return for another year at Oregon, but he's not ready to say that.

"Whenever the last game is, I will take a couple days with my family, and we will hash it out and figure out what's best," Mariota said.

Mariota has already graduated from Oregon and nothing that happens Thursday, or on Jan. 12, can taint a spectacular career in which he has 101 touchdown passes with only 12 interceptions.

The biggest question regarding Mariota's NFL future is whether he might be too shy to lead grown men, though his 35-4 record at Oregon suggests he has what it takes to lead.

"I don't like the spotlight," Mariota said. "I would prefer just to go about my business and not have to deal with some of the stuff like this."

His demeanor should not be confused for indifference. His emotional acceptance of this year's Heisman Trophy offered a glimpse into just how much Mariota cares.

"I think you wouldn't be playing this game if you didn't have the competitiveness," Mariota said. "I'm a competitive person when it comes to anything, if it's video games, cards, you know, I hate losing. Doesn't matter what it is."

Time will tell whether Mariota's personality will be the right fit in the NFL. It might depend on the team and the coach.

Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel has more swagger in his left pinkie than Mariota has in his whole body. But what, so far, has that gotten Manziel in the NFL?

The NFL may have to warm up to Mariota as much as he warms up to the league.

"People that question his fire and passion just haven't been around him," Oregon Coach Mark Helfrich said.

Front and center

Oregon's offensive line could get a big boost with the return of All-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu, a senior who missed the last three games with a lower-leg injury. Grasu, the emotional leader on Oregon's line, seems close to making good on his vow to return for the postseason.

"I'm getting better every single day," Grasu said Monday. "I've done all I can. I've been doing more at practice every single day, and I feel really good right now."

Grasu would not divulge what his chances were of playing. "We'll see Thursday how it goes," he said.

Coaches corner

It seems that Florida State's Jimbo Fisher was geographically destined to become a successful football coach.

Fisher hails from tiny Clarksburg, in the north-central part of West Virginia. The small towns of that region have produced some very big names in the college game.

The lineage begins with Fielding H. Yost, who coached at Nebraska, Stanford and Michigan — among other schools — around the turn of the century. John McKay came from nearby Everettville to lead USC to four national championships. Nick Saban, who returned Alabama to being a powerhouse, grew up near Fairmont.

"I think the big thing is probably work ethic," Fisher said. "Being from the coal mining areas of West Virginia, being farmers and coal miners, it's extremely difficult to live, putting in work and doing the things you've got to do."

Pace setters

Oregon's fast-paced offense won't be completely new to Florida State — the Seminoles have faced uptempo teams such as Auburn and Clemson. Still, they are bracing for a challenge.

"We've gotten extra conditioning," defensive back Jalen Ramsey said. "The scout team has done an amazing job of hurrying up to the line, having plays ready, going really fast."

The preparation for defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. has gone well beyond special drills.

"I'm entering this game at 278 [pounds] where, earlier in the season, I was three bills easily," he said. "For me, I've been eating right and conditioning."; Twitter: @DufresneLATimes; Twitter: @LATimesWharton

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times