DALLAS — If you judged Monday night’s matchup in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship Game by the résumés of the two starting quarterbacks, it would seem as though there was little reason to go through the trouble of playing it.
Oregon (13-1) has Marcus Mariota, still cradling the Heisman Trophy in his talented arms, making scarcely a misstep as he piloted the mighty Ducks to this national stage.
Ohio State (13-1) has Cardale Jones, the backup’s backup, who failed to beat out J.T. Barrett in preseason practice to be Braxton Miller’s understudy.
Now Jones just beats down the opposition, having led the Buckeyes to a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game and a 42-35 upset of Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
A more unlikely pair may never have played for a prize this big — though considering it’s the first time major college football has decided its championship with a playoff, maybe it will take some time to figure out how big it is.
Perhaps by their play, Mariota and Jones can help make it even bigger.
Their teams meet at 7:30 p.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The game will be televised on ESPN and virtually all of its related platforms.
There’s a Twitter hashtag out there called #SuperMariota. That’s hardly hyperbole.
The Hawaiian-born Mariota is on the verge of completing what may be the greatest season for any college quarterback.
Entering Monday’s game, he’s 280-of-408 for 4,121 yards with 40 touchdowns and just three interceptions while rushing 135 times for 731 yards and 15 more touchdowns.
In his three-year career, which many expect will see its final chapter against Ohio State before he declares for the NFL, Mariota has thrown for 10,463 yards with 103 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions.
“His leadership and his playmaking” are what he admires about Mariota, Jones said. “But his decision making is unbelievable. A guy throws 40 touchdowns and (three) interceptions? It’s crazy.”
No crazier than Jones’ meteoric rise to fame.
It was widely expected that Ohio State’s championship hopes were dashed in August when Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Then Barrett came on and turned in a Heisman-worthy season before breaking his ankle against Michigan.
Enter Jones against Wisconsin after having thrown just 10 passes all season. He went 12-of-17 for 257 yards and three touchdowns in torching the Badgers, then went 18-of-35 for 243 yards and another touchdown against Alabama.
“What he’s been able to do is incredible,” Mariota said at Saturday’s CFP media day. “His ability to step up and lead his team says a lot about who he is. … He’s a freshman, and he’s playing at a level so high right now.”
Actually, Marcus, he’s a sophomore, which says a lot about the obscurity that Jones has come from.
“Well, of course I’m not a freshman,” Jones said. “There’s a couple of rumors that I’m just back there playing backyard football, and they don’t understand how much work really goes into each play.”
And ability. Jones, who wears No. 12 and has the nickname “12 Gauge” because of his shotgun-like arm, has always had ability.
He just didn’t always know how to channel it.
“J.T.’s best, physically, isn’t as good as Cardale’s,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said frankly. “He’s a freak. He’s 6-5, 250, can throw it through a wall, and he can run.
“But Cardale’s bad was really, really bad. From dropping snaps to throwing really ridiculous interceptions in camp or being really inaccurate or having awful footwork.”
Finally, his opportunity came, and he was ready to seize it.
“Cardale has always had talent,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “But really something happened in the last couple months. I know he had a little baby girl (named Chloe).
“Everybody in life has a chance to push restart. Not many people on a grand stage like Cardale has, and he pushed restart and he hit the right button. That’s one of the great stories in college football and one of the great stories I’ve witnessed.”
Mariota never had to hit a reset button. Just a go button.
“It’s awesome,” he said of his job. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s like being a point guard on a basketball team. It’s fun to dink and dunk and watch those guys make plays.”
There is one burden Mariota has to bear that Jones doesn’t.
Ohio State is trying to win its eighth national championship, though its first since 2002. Oregon, a once downtrodden program, is trying to win its first after losing the 2010 BCS championship to Auburn.
“To win it would — I wouldn’t know how I’d describe that feeling,” Mariota said. “To be the first team to win it from Oregon would be just an incredible deal.
“It means a lot to be here and have an opportunity to play for the national championship. It’s a privilege, and we’re just going to try to make the most of this opportunity.”
It’s safe to say both quarterbacks have done that.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.