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Meet Oregon's unsung weapons

If what we knew of Johnny Manziel was that "he ate Skittles, drank beer and won the Heisman" (according to his father), then what we know of Marcus Mariota is that he took golf class, volunteered at the Boys & Girls Club of Emerald Valley and won the Heisman ... on his way to being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Right?

We know that freshman running back Royce Freeman is a man-child who has averaged 5.6 yards per carry, that he never ate baby food as a baby (seriously, his parents just put normal adult food in a blender and fed it to him) and that his biceps are larger than most Division I athletes' quads.

And we also know all about the offensive line's struggles. Please, oh please, let's not write more about the offensive line's struggles. Because they were in August what they were in December -- shuffling of personnel due to injuries. First Tyler Johnstone, then everyone ranging from Jake Fisher to Andre Yruretagoyena to Hroniss Grasu. Long story short: If you're an Oregon offensive lineman and you managed to go the entire season without an injury, you're the exception, not the rule.

And we know a lot about the other injuries that the Ducks have suffered of late -- losing versatile tight end Pharaoh Brown during the Utah game, then Jim Thorpe Award finalist Ifo Ekpre-Olomu during bowl prep and then speedy wide receiver Devon Allen on the first play of the Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual.

But what you might not know is what (or, rather, whom) those injuries allowed for. There are some guys on the field who are big names to know ... even if you don't know them.

Out of the Shadows: Troy Hill

Hill Hill
Position: Cornerback
Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio
Class: Redshirt senior
Calling card: Shutting down opponents' deep threats
Though it was Ekpre-Olomu who garnered most of the attention out of the Oregon secondary this season, it was Hill who was tasked with covering Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene in the Rose Bowl. And how'd that go? Pretty well. Hill held Greene to 59 yards on six catches. Not bad for a guy who came into the season fighting for a starting spot in the secondary. Hill enters this Ohio State matchup with a bit of a personal chip on his shoulder: He grew up hating the Buckeyes, despite living just three hours from Columbus and growing up in Youngstown (where Jim Tressel coached during part of Hill's childhood). In a family full of OSU fans, Hill grew up a Michigan Wolverine. "I just liked growing up and doing things against my family and rooting for the other team to make them mad," Hill said. "That was just me though. I liked the Lloyd Carr era, the A-Train, all of them back in the day. That's why I really rooted for them." He moved to California when he was 15 and was never recruited by the Buckeyes, but his brother Taylor did play briefly at Michigan for Rich Rodriguez. It doesn't hurt to make the game a little personal, as it seems Hill -- and his family -- are doing. "They're rooting for me, but they're excited just because it's Ohio State," Hill said. "They know a lot of people around the community are talking a lot of smack about the game."

The Professor: Keanon Lowe

Lowe Lowe
Position: Wide receiver
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Class: Redshirt senior
Calling card: Leading one of the nation's least experienced receiver groups
Lowe has recorded only 25 catches -- none since Nov. 22. As far as statistics go, he's the fourth-best option the Ducks have (and would be sixth if everyone were healthy). But if you ask anyone around the program about the wide receiver group, one name keeps coming up as the reason that young position group has accomplished so much. "I think it really, honestly, starts with Keanon Lowe," Mariota said. "Keanon taught a lot of these guys what they're doing out there on the field, and they all look to him as their leader." It's definitely not just lip service. There has to be a reason why such a young receiving unit has done so well this year. Part of that, obviously, is Mariota and his ability to place the ball perfectly and make any decent receiver look great. But there also is the element of leadership within the position group itself -- teaching the freshmen how to handle themselves in and out of games. And that, it seems, is credited to Lowe. Coach Mark Helfrich said that while Lowe didn't show up in the Florida State stat sheet, he "dominated that football game in a lot of ways and didn't ever touch the ball."

Small but Mighty: Charles Nelson

Nelson Nelson
Position: Wide receiver
Hometown: Daytona Beach, Florida
Class: Freshman
Calling card: Packing a major punch considering most opponents can see the top of his head
Though he hasn't contributed as consistently as Freeman, Nelson has been a huge asset to Oregon's offense of late. He spent the early part of the season on the scout team making his mark. Time and time again, reporters asked Helfrich when Nelson might get some serious minutes on either side of the ball. (Rumors had been swirling that both defensive backs coach John Neal and wide receivers coach Matt Lubick had been making their cases for Nelson.) The freshman had his breakout game against Colorado, when he tallied two touchdowns on just three receptions. He followed that up with another two-touchdown performance against Oregon State, and in the Pac-12 championship game and the Rose Bowl, Nelson -- though he didn't find the end zone -- had a combined 144 yards on 11 catches. His dynamic playmaking ability has made him a nuisance on both special teams and offense, and though his size might fool some (the roster lists him at 5-foot-9, but that might be generous), his No. 6 jersey has some Oregon fans harking back to the days of their other favorite No. 6 -- all-purpose threat De'Anthony Thomas.

PTP (Prime-time Player): Darren Carrington

Carrington Carrington
Position: Wide receiver
Hometown: San Diego
Class: Redshirt freshman
Calling card: Coming up big in the biggest moments for the Ducks
In the Ducks' last two games, Carrington has recorded three touchdowns and 291 receiving yards on 14 catches. His 165-yard performance against Florida State was a season best for any Oregon receiver, and his emergence as a threat couldn't have come at a better time. With the loss of Allen, the Ducks' receiving corps has gotten even younger but with Carrington, Nelson and Dwayne Stanford, the collective effort has been able to get it done. But if Carrington continues on his upward trend of the past two games -- and his ability to play his best in the biggest games -- then there's a good chance he could become a household name after the national title game. The Buckeyes have given up 15 passing touchdowns and they're stingy about giving up big pass plays. Ohio State has allowed only 18 completions of 20 or more yards this season, second nationally. The Buckeyes have allowed just over 50 percent of completions to go for a first down or touchdown, which puts them in the top 20 nationally. The only two teams that Oregon has played that rank above Ohio State in that category are Michigan State (11th) and Stanford (ninth). If the Ducks can get the passing offense going and get some big plays under their belt, there's a very, very good chance that it'll be Carrington on the receiving end.