GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Bo Nix rolled out to his right early in the second quarter while calmly surveying the field before flinging the ball across his body and into the end zone — a perfectly placed dart to Gary Bryant Jr. for a 2-yard touchdown.
The Oregon quarterback exuded the confidence of a man who has made throws like that before.
That’s because he has. Many, many times.
The Heisman Trophy finalist’s five-year college football odyssey came to an end on Monday when the eighth-ranked Ducks beat No. 18 Liberty 45-6 in the Fiesta Bowl. Nix finishes his career — which included three years at Auburn before two at Oregon — as one of the most productive quarterbacks in NCAA history.
“It’s been a great career, it’s been a lot of ups and downs,” Nix said. “There’s been some great adversity, too, that I’ve been able to learn from. I wouldn’t be here without every year, every step. It’s been a journey.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The 23-year-old took advantage of a fifth year of eligibility that he gained because of the COVID-19 pandemic to make 61 career starts, which is the most ever in the Football Bowl Subdivision. He finishes with 15,352 career passing yards (fifth in FBS), trailing only Houston’s Case Keenum, Hawaii’s Timmy Chang, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell. His 16,965 total yards are second behind Keenum.
“I feel like I’ve played a lot of football,” Nix said, grinning. “Every time I went out there, it slowed down more and more. By the end, I had just a really comfortable feel. I think this year, with what we were doing offensively, schematically, we were very efficient.”
Nix’s Fiesta Bowl numbers were typical of his production over the past two years: 28 of 35 passing for 363 yards and five touchdowns. His accuracy on Monday allowed him to break the NCAA’s single-season record for completion percentage: Nix connected on 77.44% of his passes, surpassing Mac Jones, who had 77.36% accuracy for Alabama in 2020.
The Ducks fell into an early 6-0 hole before the quarterback went to work on Liberty’s overmatched defense, hitting Bryant for the 2-yard touchdown, Terrance Ferguson for another 2-yard score, Kenyon Sadiq for a 3-yard touchdown and Traeshon Holden for a 17-yard TD and a 31-6 lead just before halftime.
Nix’s final passing touchdown of the afternoon — his fifth, which tied a Fiesta Bowl record — came early in the third quarter on a trick play with a reverse and then a flea-flicker. The quarterback handed off to Tez Johnson, who handed off to Bryant, who flipped back to Nix, who calmly threw it to Johnson for a 24-yard touchdown.
Johnson finished with 11 receptions for 172 yards in his final game catching passes from the QB he considers his brother. Johnson began living with the Nix family as a high school student in Pinson, Alabama, where the pair played football together for Nix’s father, Patrick.
“He’s done a lot for this program, he’s played a lot of elite ball,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said of Nix. “We’re really proud of him.”
It was an exclamation point for Nix, whose career was resurrected at Oregon after an awkward split with Auburn following three up-and-down seasons. The Pinson native was the Southeastern Conference’s Freshman of the Year in 2019, but struggled with consistency as the Tigers suffered through disappointing seasons in 2020 and 2021.
But Lanning — a fellow SEC transplant who was familiar with Nix as an assistant at Georgia — saw some untapped potential.
He was absolutely right.
Oregon’s had no shortage of great quarterbacks over the past decade, ranging from Justin Herbert to Marcus Mariota, but Nix is right there with them and he now has the program’s single-season passing yardage record with 4,508. The quarterback was a big reason the Ducks were in the College Football Playoff hunt throughout this season.
A pair of three-point losses to Washington, including one in the Pac-12 Championship game, ended that dream.
Like most of the Ducks, Nix was hurting after the second loss to the Huskies. With the NFL in his future, many thought the quarterback might opt out of the Fiesta Bowl and prepare for the draft.
Nix decided to play one more game. He left to loud cheers from the Oregon crowd in the fourth quarter.
“Even though, maybe, you can say it didn’t go how we wanted to this year, I think it ended how we could control it,” Nix said. “We did everything we could with the opportunity that presented itself. We were in the Fiesta Bowl and we were able to come out here and play.”
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football