“You want there to be an exclamation point on the end of the season, rather than a dot-dot-dot,”
- Mark Helfrich, 2013
The University of Oregon is the Wile E. Coyote of college football plagued by falling anvils. Absurdly complex draftsmen whose schemes and play calls encompass colors, geographic rudiments, marine fauna, fast food marketing campaigns, and close-ups of Lee Corso’s sweaty forehead, to name a few options. Where others uphold tradition, they sponsor novelty. When others painstakingly push through wet-sanded offense, the Oregon Ducks construe time of possession as a glowing time bomb that’s perpetually ticking down, a snare to set hastily. They’re renowned for their cunning, but it’s paradoxically foiling the first season under head coach Mark Helfrich.
This isn’t to say the Ducks entirely underwhelmed in 2013, they’re the tenth best team in the nation at 10-2. But when you’re placed in the top five on almost every preseason ranking, 2nd in the Pac 12 North is lackluster. They averted their gaze and were left to rearrange their traps in the dust of an animated desert – and nobody understands it more than their players.
2006 was the last time the Ducks lost a non-BCS bowl matchup. In that same timeframe, the University of Oregon has been catapulted into the elite echelon of college football, garnering prolific recruits, copious uniforms, and heavy exposure. The Valero Alamo Bowl may not have been the Oregon Ducks’ aspiration in August, but that doesn’t remove it of its significance. In actuality, this game means quite a bit for the Ducks who can validate a season of wiles made hollow by outside expectancies.
The Texas Longhorns have struggled to play Road Runner all season; successfully dodging booby-traps only to succumb the next weekend. When chatter clouded the Longhorns Big 12 Championship desires, the University of Texas-Austin adopted a propensity for getting milled by ranked opponents. In their four losses this season (three of which were against top twenty-five foes), the Longhorns have lost 67-152. It’s charred the burnt orange fandom to near ash and now has prolific head coach Mack Brown on his way out after 16 years with the team. There may never be a more determined faction of Longhorn orange bloods than the one assembling in San Antonio on Dec. 30, 2013.
Last Thursday, the Head Coaches Press Conference at Sonterra Golf Club brought the two teams together for the first time; Brown holding 228 more wins than Helfrich, so we’ll give him the experience edge. Sitting adjacent a football demigod, Helfrich appeared poised and confident in his team’s ability to compete one final time this season. Although Wile E. Coyote often fails without repercussion, this game denotes much more for a program that has only recently found the crested shoreline. And with every shoreline comes a tide that can move the course to rise or fall.
With Marcus Mariotta (QB, R-Soph.) and Hroniss Grasu (C, Jr.) announcing a return to the team next season, this game carries minimal weight maintaining the core for next year’s roster. However, for standout athletes De’Anthony Thomas (RB, Jr.), Keanon Lowe (WR, Jr.), Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Jr.), and Terrance Mitchell (DB, Jr.), this matchup may decide their future with the program. Oregon’s roster depth supersedes Marianas Trench, and while these players hardly can be seen as auxiliary, this game will amalgamate next year’s players or detach them.
Finishing outside of the top ten would be foreign for the Ducks, but recruitment is the foremost reason to care about this matchup. The state of Texas is amongst the most fulsome pool of big catch athletes in the nation. There’s a reason why the television series and major motion picture namesake Friday Night Lights amassed transcendent ratings; it’s grounded on authenticity. There are currently seven Texans on Oregon’s roster; including starters Josh Huff (WR, Sen.), Bralon Addison (WR, Soph.), and former great LaMichael James – and three of the Ducks’ commitments heading into the 2014 season. If Oregon hopes to refrain Texas from dislodging their pipeline, this game should be approached as an ultimatum.
Since Oregon’s rise to prominence over the past decade, never has a more unique bowl matchup materialized. The 2011 BCS National Championship was the summit, but they didn’t have to win the game to capture infamy; they were the substantial underdog, the team happy to be involved. Similarly, their Rose Bowl appearances came after the apex of Pac 12 Championships and sizeable progress relative to the program’s lineage. This season there’s little in Oregon’s arsenal to claim as upgrades or areas of improvement. There’s only this matchup – the last stop on Mack Brown’s 5,840-day tenancy – for the Ducks to holistically validate a year of Chip Kelly blues.
The Longhorns have played in 25 more bowl games than the Ducks, are second all time in wins as a program, and are playing a shade over an hour from home. There’s no better way for Mark Helfrich to start the ball rolling on next year’s narrative than by his Oregon Ducks capturing Road Runner – and all the history affixed to its feathers.