ARLINGTON, Texas -- Cardale Jones started the year as Ohio State's third-string quarterback and led the Buckeyes to a national championship, while Heisman winner Marcus Mariota's season ended without the honor that mattered to him most.
Both are now left pondering a jump to the NFL.
Entering Monday night's game, Mariota said he would trade the Heisman Trophy he won this season for a national championship because the team honor was more important to the Oregon Ducks' junior quarterback.
Instead, Jones and the Buckeyes overpowered the Ducks for a 42-20 victory in the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T.
It might have been Mariota's final game with Oregon. He has until Thursday to decide whether he will skip his senior season and declare for the NFL draft. Mariota, who already has completed his degree, is expected to be a top pick.
Did the devastating loss change his mind about coming back?
"I'm sure it will weigh in a little bit, but there's a lot of other things that have to play into that decision," Mariota said. "There's starting grad school, coming back for another year to improve, there's a lot of other things that could bring me back. It's just not specifically this loss."
Jones, a third-year sophomore, is also eligible to enter the draft. It's now a feasible option after the way he played in the final three games of the season, and since there's no guarantee he'll be the Buckeyes' starter next season.
He was the MVP of the Big Ten championship game, a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin, in his first college start. He then led the Buckeyes to wins over Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and Oregon in Monday night's national championship game.
Asked about the NFL, Jones said, "It's definitely a 'who knows?' right now."
Jones threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns against Wisconsin in his first college start. He passed for 243 yards and another TD in a 42-35 win over Alabama. He turned in another solid performance in the title game, despite an odd play that resulted in a fumble, completing 16 of 23 passes for 242 yards and a score with one interception.
"It's up in the air, sort of, because my No. 1 priority is graduating from Ohio State University and walking away with something that no one can take away from me," Jones said.
The soft-spoken, lead-by-example Mariota had a stellar season despite the loss.
In addition to the Heisman, Mariota was named The Associated Press Player of the Year and the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, among a slew of other awards.
He set a conference record for touchdowns in a season with 58. He had 42 via pass, 15 on the run and one touchdown catch. He also set the conference mark for career touchdowns with 136. He has thrown at least one touchdown pass in all 41 games he has started in his career, the second-longest streak in NCAA history behind Marshall's Rakeem Cato (46). And Mariota is one of four quarterbacks in FBS history to pass for more than 10,000 yards and run for more than 2,000 in his career.
But Mariota faced challenges against Ohio State.
Oregon's receiver corps was hit earlier in the week when redshirt freshman Darren Carrington was declared ineligible for the game because of a failed NCAA drug test. Carrington did not travel to Texas for the biggest game of the season. The team already had lost freshman receiver Devon Allen, who also runs on Oregon's track team, on the opening kickoff of the Ducks' 59-20 victory over Florida State in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual.
Junior tight end Pharaoh Brown had six touchdown catches for the Ducks this season before he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Utah. And before the season started, junior receiver Bralon Addison tore a ligament in his left knee.
"It's tough. It happens. It's a part of football," Mariota said about the injuries. "But I thought that the guys who played stepped up and made plays."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.