GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Oregon’s expectations for a national championship in its final Pac-12 season fell six points short.
Behind a record-setting quarterback, the Ducks will head east to the Big Ten with a big trophy in tow.
Bo Nix threw for 363 yards and five touchdowns to cap a stellar career, and No. 8 Oregon closed out its Pac-12 era by rolling over No. 18 Liberty 45-6 in the Fiesta Bowl on Monday.
“Really, this game is about unfinished business and we said we’re wrapping up the last chapter of our book,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said. “I thought our guys were a phenomenal chapter.”
Nix played like a Heisman Trophy finalist after opting to join his teammates on the field one last time, throwing for 257 yards and four touchdowns as the Ducks built a 31-6 halftime lead. Nix finished 28 of 35 in just over three quarters and completed 77.44% of his passes this season, breaking the NCAA record of 77.36%, set by Alabama’s Mac Jones in 2020.
Tez Johnson had 11 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown, part of a 584-yard afternoon by the Ducks (12-2).
Considered a national title contender at the start of the season, Oregon missed the College Football Playoff with a pair of three-point losses to No. 2 Washington.
Winning the Fiesta Bowl won’t erase the disappointment of coming so close to the CFP, but earning the massive Fiesta Bowl trophy is a nice way to close out Nix’s career.
“I have played a lot of football, but every time I went out there it slowed down more and more,” said Nix, who started his career at Auburn. “And by the end of it, I just had a really comfortable feeling. I think this year with what we were doing offensively, schematically, we were very efficient.”
Liberty (13-1) overcame the death of freshman offensive lineman Tajh Boyd early in camp with the best season in the program’s short FBS history.
Playing in their fallen teammate’s honor, the Flames had the nation’s best rushing attack and an opportunistic defense that led the nation in interceptions.
Liberty got off to a fast start in its first New Year’s Six bowl, moving 75 yards in six plays in an opening drive capped by Keidon Salter’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Bentley Hanshaw.
The Flames ran into waves of Ducks after that.
Liberty’s offense had some small successes after the opening drive, but few big plays.
After limiting Oregon to a field goal on its opening drive, the Flames’ defense got pushed around by the Ducks the rest of the afternoon to see their undefeated season come to a crashing end.
“They obviously laid it on us today,” Liberty coach Jamey Chadwell said. “We knew we’d have to play really well to compete and have a chance to win the game and they did a lot of things that made it challenging.”
Salter began his college career at Tennessee without making it to fall camp and had an injury-plagued first season at Liberty.
Fully healthy this season, Salter showed off his unique skill set and caught the eye of former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin Jr., who said he will be in the Heisman Trophy conversation next year.
“Once I got this job, I knew the team’s going to have my back and I had to do everything that I can do to put us in the best positions on the field,” Salter said.
Salter did just that, throwing for 2,750 yards and rushing for 1,069 while accounting for a school-record 43 touchdowns.
Liberty: The Flames were no match for the bigger, faster Ducks, but set a solid foundation in their first season under Chadwell.
“Doing something special like this is so hard to come by at our level and we didn’t take it for granted,” Chadwell said.
Oregon: The Ducks did what they do best after a slow start, improving to 3-1 in the Fiesta Bowl, while Nix added an exclamation point before heading off to the NFL.
Liberty: Salter is a sophomore, running back Quinton Cooley is a junior and a large chunk of the defense should be back to keep the Flames on the rise.
Oregon: Nix, RB Bucky Irving, WR Troy Franklin and DB Khyree Jackson are among the underclassmen who have declared for the NFL draft. Oregon will replenish quickly after pulling in the No. 6 recruiting class in the early signing period, according to the 247 Sports composite.